The thing about hiking, besides our own fitness level, is having the right gear. That can make a difference to how good you feel about the hike. For this article, I’ll be talking about hiking clothes.
Packing for multiday backcountry hikes is a balance between comfort and weight. Ie. Not lugging around half your closet. We’ve been through the various stages from being true blue amateurs to a better level now but we’re not experts. Our first multiday hike together at Berg Lake, Mt Robson, saw us bringing cooler bags and eggs in an egg tray. We did eat very well on that hike I must say.
We didn’t see that as anything wrong at that time and it isn’t. Equipment and hiking style can be subjective and it is based on personal preference. We were oblivious to the looks we were given on the hike. It’s funny to think about that now. Not that we’re such expert hikers now, but we’ve progressed a lot through learning the hard way and research. However, despite our gear we’d brought at that time, I thought it was one of our best camping trips, for so many reasons.
One factor was probably the weather we were hiking in. It was summer in Canada then when we hiked Berg Lake. Plus, we didn’t have to pack for multiple layers.
Hiking clothes: Technical and Comfort
Change of clothes, especially underwear and socks are important for us and since it’s not an extremely long hike, we weren’t planning to wash our clothes on the hike. So we bring a change of underwear and socks for every day we are on the hike and a set of PJs to change into at camp.
What to wear for sleep?
Depending on where you are hiking, it can still get to about 0 Celsius at night. A good sleeping system is made up of what you sleep in and on – sleeping equipment.
On hiking clothes, a set of light thermals for sleep works for me. Again, this is personal as it depends on your preference on how warm you would like to be while sleeping outdoors. I like to be slightly toasty but not too toasty in my sleep. I’ll share a little more about our sleep equipment later as that forms part of the sleeping system.
What do you wear in the day on a hike?
This again depends on the weather we’re hiking in. I’ve made the mistake of dressing for cold at the beginning of the hike and start overheating about half an hour or so into it. One of the signs is often early exhaustion. It’s often amusing for my partner to see that, as I end up complaining about being overly tired just half an hour in, and start stripping off the layers. I even had to hide somewhere to remove my Icebreaker thermal pants I’d worn under my hiking pants once. So dress a little colder at the beginning of the hike and add another mid layer if you need that should the weather change.
I like my Merino wool long sleeved tops as they provide the right level of warmth and ventilation. Those are more expensive but make great additions to your hiking clothes wardrobe. The alternatives I have are the MEC crew long-sleeved tee which work fine too. One bane I have with these technical fiber materials is how much they stink.
Prana has a range of hiking pants which are good for hikes as they’re lightweight and slightly water/weather resistant. I do bring a few pairs of hiking pants just to change them once every day or two days. I’ve a couple of North Face and Outdoor Research pairs too, but they aren’t as weather proof as the Prana ones. Although they are somewhat weather proof, they seem to have good ventilation and they don’t smell. Hiking clothes which are resistant to elements and smell are important selection criteria.
We bring our outershells which is thicker and heavier than a windbreaker. We made the mistake of not packing something thicker before and only brought our windbreakers as the outershell. They weren’t sufficient for weather changes especially if you intend to hike to higher elevations and if you are hiking later in the summer. We had a freak weather when we were in Norway, in August, one year and did not pack for fall weather. It was cold, windy and rainy for a few days in Norway and we couldn’t go very far up on our hike as we were freezing midway.
The need for thermals depends on the season you’re hiking in. We bring our Icebreakers or equivalent for most of our hikes as we tend to hike in fall or at higher elevations even in summer. In Summer, I would still bring a pair of thin thermal pants as it does still get cold at night – again, this depends on the elevation and where you are. In colder weather, I don’t go without my thermal Rab pants. I recall that they came highly recommended by a retail assistant who has a few pairs herself. I love my Rab pants now and wear them as my camp pants. They are light, warm and so comfortable after a hike. It’s made of Polartec® fabric with light fleece inside.
For women, sports bras/bras are sometimes optional. Some basic bralettes do provide that balance and yet lightweight to carry. I’ve worn sports bras before and didn’t like it for long hikes as they are made to be tight for medium to high impact sports. There is a variety of other sports bras but I recommend one which doesn’t have straps that can press into your skin when you are carrying the backpack. For women do not bring or wear bras with wires. If you prefer wearing bras to sports bras, opt for the wireless types. There are some good ones from Victoria’s Secret.
The basic lycra seamless underwear work well for comfort and wicking away moisture, and they dry fast. Full briefs provide good comfort on the hike. Marks and Spencers offer comfortable lycra seamless basic full briefs or their seamless full briefs which is made up about 85% polyester.
Good hiking socks which wick away moisture and dry fast are important as blisters can spoil the entire trip. I had at least 4 blisters (and a stubbed, sore toe nail) on that Berg Lake hike. It was not pleasant.
Light wool socks work well. There are many socks which you use for usual daily sports which are made of a mixture of materials. Cotton may sound like it will keep you cool, but it’s not recommended. It doesn’t dry well and it has the potential of causing blisters on longer hikes.
After trying a few types of socks, I’ve found that I like the Smartwool ones as they’re light but still provide some comfort. There are some resources which mention wearing liner socks, but I think it doesn’t do very much especially with wool socks which are good enough to wick away moisture. The liner socks can end up causing more friction. Shoes do play a part too. Read about hiking boots here.