There are few things more refreshing than hitting the trails for a day of hiking. Once you have a route in mind, it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to wear for comfort and defence against the elements. We’re going to look at how best to dress for differing conditions so you can make the most of your time outdoors.
On a warm and sunny day, you need to prepare yourself for heavy perspiration, potential sun damage and the heat. It may be tempting to dress light, but there are several factors to consider when dressing for a summer hike.
Your base layer will keep you cool by wicking moisture away from the skin and evaporating it. This will also keep you comfortable and dry. Aim to wear a short sleeve base layer top to keep you feeling good. Base layer boxers or pants are great too. You don’t want too much material that will add heat, but bases have lots of other benefits suited to hot weather. You can wear a base layer on its own if the weather permits.
Depending on how warm it actually is, you may want to wear a comfortable long-sleeve top or shirt. Mid-layers are traditionally fleeces, but with warmer weather you can go lighter. You may wonder why we’re advising the wearing of long sleeves rather than short – this is to keep your arms out of direct sunlight. Obviously, you can choose to go short-sleeved for a cooler feel, but you’ll need to layer up thickly with sunscreen as you’ll be exposed to the sun for a prolonged stretch. The same goes for trousers. Shorts might seem like a nice idea but don’t offer any protection from the sun or debris. If you wear shorts, prepare for cuts and scratches around tall and barbed vegetation.
Complete your outfit with a fleece jacket for extra warmth. If you’re hiking up a mountain, it will get much cooler as you ascend so make sure to bring this warmer layer. It’s also advised to bring a lightweight packaway jacket or poncho in your pack, because you never know when the rain might start. With any luck, spring and summer showers will be short and light but it’s better to be overprepared.
You can further add to your sun and warm weather protection with some simple additions to your outfit. Make sure to bring a cap with a front peak, maybe even a rear neck protector. This will keep the sun from your face or the back of your neck. Wear sunglasses too to protect your eyes and it’s a good idea to bring a lightweight neck scarf that can help keep sweat from your eyes, even when worn on the wrist to wipe with.
What you wear on your feet can vary depending on where you’re going to be hiking, and in summer it’s generally a good idea to opt for breathability over weather defence. This will help keep your feet dry, cool and comfortable. Lightweight trail running shoes or approach shoes are perfect, or if you prefer stronger ankle protection, try hiking boots with plenty of mesh patches and lighter materials. Avoid leather at all costs!
With the cold weather come tougher conditions. You’re likely to face rain and even snow with higher winds, and most of all, the creeping cold air. Cold weather hiking requires some careful planning and the right kit.
Rather than the short-sleeved top and short bottoms, you’ll want to wear full-length base layers. It’s easy to pick up a top and bottoms set or get them separately if you already have one. You want a snug yet comfortable fit as this keeps warm air close to your body, forming the base of your layering system.
Get yourself a warm fleece jacket for the mid-layer. Fleece is an excellent insulator and comes in different weights for different levels of warmth. Bear in mind that even on a cold day, you’ll generate a lot of heat, and picking the thickest fleece possible may actually cause you to overheat. You could also opt for a lightweight padded jacket. Pair this with long length hiking trousers and you can even add gaiters to secure the cuffs.
For your outer layer, you’re going to want a waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers. While it may not always be raining, these also provide windproofing that is essential for keeping you warm, and the material will further aid heat retention. It may be tempting to wear a ski jacket with its own padding, but bear in mind you can’t remove the padding if you get too hot and it’s often better to bring an extra fleece instead as you can control the warmth levels more effectively.
As we’ve mentioned, gaiters can help secure the cuffs of your trousers while keeping the dampness out. You can keep the cold out from around your neck with a fleece neck warmer that can also be pulled up over your nose for added warmth. Add on a warm beanie to retain heat on your head and gloves with waterproof protection for your hands.
In winter, you want to increase the weather defence of your boots. Mesh is out and leather is back in as you need effective protection against the damp and frigid cold coming into contact with your feet. While you’ll be sacrificing breathability, you need that extra warmth to keep your feet warm on cold ground. You also want to pair these with thick socks that not only protect your feet from the tough materials of your heavy-duty boots, but also insulate lots of heat.
This guide offers you tips for either hot or cold weather, but the same principles apply for everything in between. It’s always better to bring extra layers into your pack to switch, take off and put on when needed, and make sure to check weather reports prior to setting off for a guideline on what you should expect. If you’re hiking and find you’re underdressed for the conditions, turn back. It’s better to stay safe and you’ll remember to bring that extra layer next time you set off.