You will smell something AWFUL on the trail. It will be you and your clothes. That’s because you’ll wear the same ones for 3-5 days at a time.
You’ll be tempted to carry more clothing, but you can’t pack multiple outfits and still have room for your gear and food. That’s why it’s important to carry clothing that is multifunctional, durable, and that can be layered. As with every piece of equipment, test each item of clothing in various conditions.
Below is the complete clothing list and some explanations …
All the Clothing You’ll Need
The Complete Clothing List (From Top to Bottom)
- A wool or fleece cap (for camp) – You will want to cover your head at night. Besides helping you to stay warm, it keeps mice from pulling your hair.
- Hat (for hiking) – Most hikers wear a ball cap that shades the face from the sun and rain. Choose a hat made of lightweight wicking material that will dry quickly. Some hats have mesh sides for extra ventilation.
- Bandana or Buff – A bandana is a multi-functional item that you can use during hiking and at camp. Among its many uses are wiping your face, covering your messy hair, warmth around the neck, an oven mitt, and a face guard. You can get a plain square one or a fancy <Buff>.
Stylish drugstore sunglasses
- Sunglasses – There’s plenty of shade on the trail but there’s also plenty of sun. If you have sensitive eyes, bring along your shades. You can go fancy or purchase a cheap drugstore variety. Look for 100% UVA/UVB protection.
- Sports Bra (for females) – Avoid cotton. Choose a sports bra made of wicking material and that is durable. Champion makes a nice sports bra made of nylon for about $17. It’s sold at Target.
- Base Layer Shirt – A base layer should be fitted snug against the skin and made of some sort of moisture wicking material. On really cold days, this shirt can help give you more insulation. At night, you can sleep in this layer. If this is your only night shirt, don’t allow it to get wet. Just remove it if it’s a rainy day. Some name brands are Icebreaker and Patagonia’s Capilene. Polyproplene is another fine and economically priced material.
- Long Sleeve Hiking Shirt (for colder months) – Select a shirt, other than white, that is wicking, that will dry quickly, and wear well over time. Look at running clothing for some cheaper options.
Champion Sports Bra, $17
- A Short Sleeve Hiking Shirt (for warmer months) – Again select a shirt, other than white, that is wicking, that will dry quickly, and wear well over time. If you opt to go sleeveless, beware of the sunburn that can occur on your shoulders.
- Insulating Jacket – In the colder months, many hikers choose a puffy down, monkey fur jacket, or a chunky fleece. There are advantages and disadvantages of each. Avoid getting this layer wet especially if it is made of down. At night, this layer can be put into a stuff sack and used as a pillow. In the summer, it can be swapped out for a thinner down or fleece.
- Gloves – Select fitted gloves that allow you to do things in camp like assemble your tent and hang your bag. There are several now that allow your thumb and index finger to pop out so that you can use your lighter or adjust your iPod. Check out gloves at running or bike shops.
- Rain/Wind Jacket – Select a good water resistant jacket. Avoid a heavy water proof jacket which can make you hot and sweaty. Your rain jacket can also be your wind jacket on really cool and breezy days. Note: During major downpours, your jacket will stop working and you will get wet. The jacket will be for warmth at this point. This rain/wind jacket can be carried throughout your journey. The Marmot Precip is a popular and relatively inexpensive brand.
Glove with thumb flap
- Underwear – Pack 2 pairs of wicking underwear. Males, if you chaff, consider the Under Armour brand that are slightly longer. Females, wear lightweight and breezy underwear that will dry quickly. Avoid cotton underwear.
- Base Layer Pants/Tights – Again, a base layer should be fitted snug against the skin and made of some sort of moisture wicking material. On really cold days, these pants/tights can help give you more insulation. At night, you can sleep in this layer. If this is your only night pants, don’t allow it to get wet. Just remove it if it’s a rainy day. Some name brands are Icebreaker and Patagonia’s Capilene. Tights made of polyproplene are also fine and economically priced.
- Hiking Pants – Look for a fast drying pair of hiking pants other than a light khaki color. These pants will get dirty fast, so go for a darker color if possible. Some people opt for convertibles that unzip at the thigh and become shorts. You might not like how the zipper feels around your thigh, so try it on at the store and squat down in a pair to see.
- Hiking Shorts – Look for super thin shorts (i.e., thinner than a dime) that will dry quickly if it gets wet. Old Navy sells inexpensive thin shorts that are perfect.
- Lightweight Rain/Wind Pants – Some hikers forgo the rain pant and just get wet, but in the snow or extremely cold temperatures, it can be a lifesaver. Like the jacket, look for water resistant rather than waterproof so that you will not get too hot. It can also serve as an extra pair of pants at camp and in town when you are washing clothes. In the summer, swap the water resistant pants out for a super thin wind pant. It will be useful when it rains and you want to stay warm.
- Smartwool Socks (3 total) – You need 2 for hiking and 1 thicker pair for sleeping. In the summer, you can purchase the short Smartwool socks to keep your feet cool. It doesn’t have to be Smartwool. It could be something comparable just not cotton.
- Sock Liners (Optional) – Some hikers need extra protection on their feet to prevent blisters. A pair of sock liners can help. Two pairs should be fine.
- Camp Shoes – When you get to camp, you will want to take your shoes off as soon as possible and slip on something a little more comfortable. The most commonly used camp shoes include Crocs, Tevas, and flip-flops. These shoes will also be the shoes you use to do water crossings and for wearing in town. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. For instance, flip-flops are hard to wear with socks at camp but they fit nicely in your pack. Crocs are bulky to pack but feel nice on the feet.
- Hiking Boots or Trail Runners – Some hikers opt for trail runners over chunky hiking boots. It really is a personal preference. If you have ankle problems, you might consider hiking boots or at least boots with some support around the ankle. If you are carrying a heavy pack (i.e., 30+ pounds) then hiking boots might give you more stability. Otherwise, trail runners are popular because they dry out quickly, are lightweight, and aren’t prone to causing blisters like boots sometimes do. Whatever you go with, consider adding an insole into the shoe that gives an added layer of protection from feeling the rocks.
- Low-rise Gaiters (Optional) – Gaiters are good for preventing rocks and dust from kicking up into your shoes. It’s also helpful during early morning hikes through a dewy field.
Below are some clothing combinations for cold weather vs warm weather…
Clothing for Hiking (Cold Weather)
- Sports bra
- Gloves (if really cold out)
- Base layer top (if really cold out)
- Long-sleeve hiking shirt
- Rain/wind jacket (if really cold out)
- Base layer bottoms/tights (if really cold out)
- Hiking pants
- Regular size Smartwool socks (and sock liners, if needed)
- Hiking shoes or boots
Clothing for Sleeping and Hanging out at Camp (Cold Weather)
- A wool or fleece cap
- Base layer shirt and pants/tights
- Smartwool socks
- Camp shoes
- Insulating jacket such as a down jacket, monkey fur jacket, or thick fleece pullover
- Rain/wind clothing can be put on top of all of these for extra warmth at camp
Clothing for Hiking (Warm Weather)
- Sports bra
- Short-sleeve hiking shirt
- Rain/wind jacket (keep within easy access just in case it rains)
- Thin wind pants (keep within easy access just in case it rains)
- Short Smartwool socks (and sock liners, if needed)
- Hiking shoes or boots
Clothing for Sleeping and Hanging out at Camp (Warm Weather)
- A wool or fleece cap (for sleeping if it’s cool)
- Short-sleeve shirt
- Base layer shirt or thin fleece (to put over your short-sleeve shirt it’s if cool)
- Thin wind pants
- Smartwool socks (short)
- Camp shoes
Cold Weather vs Warm Weather Clothing
In cold weather, you need layers that can be mixed and that are multifunctional. You need a (1) Base Layer, (2) Insulating Layer, (3) Wind/Rain Layer. In warm weather, you need fast-drying and cool clothing. You will still keep the layers but you might get a cooler version of it. For instance, you might swap out your down jacket for a thin fleece. Even though it’s hot in the summer, there will be times that you’ll get cold, namely, at night and when it rains.
Other Clothing Tips
Avoid cotton clothing
- Look for clothing made of wicking materials like: nylon, wool, spandex, polyester, polypropylene, etc. Additionally, some manufacturers have created their own wicking materials such as CoolMax or Dri-FIT.
- Avoid any clothing made of cotton or cotton blends. It doesn’t dry as quickly as clothing made of wicking materials. Imagine a wet cotton shirt in cold weather feeling like a cold compress on your skin.
- During heavy downpours (longer than 10 minutes), your rain jacket will eventually stop working. At this point, your rain jacket’s function will be to keep you warm. There will be many times that you will arrive at camp completely wet. Keep moving to set up camp and get into your dry clothing as soon as possible.
- Expect days when the majority of your clothes will be wet (with the exception of your sleeping clothing which you will never let get wet). Carry what will help you to stay comfortable if it rains.
- If possible, avoid washing your rain jacket and rain pants. They have a special water resistant barrier that will degrade. Spot clean it instead.
- Always keep a dry pair of clothing and socks for sleeping. Put it in a ziplock bag for added protection against the rain.
Select durable clothing
- Your clothing will be washed and dried in town every 3-5 days, so select clothing that will hold up over time.
- Since your shirt and pants will get dirty, choose a darker color rather than the standard light khaki.
- Some hikers carry clothing with a bright color so that they don’t completely blend with nature. You will walk through regions that cross paths with hunters especially in the colder months and will want to stand out a little.
- With the exception of socks and underwear, avoid the temptation to bring multiple articles of the same clothing.
- At camp, change your shoes and socks immediately but wear your dirty, damp hiking clothes for as long as possible. Your body heat will help them dry out.
- A lot of hikers hang on to cold weather clothing until Mount Rogers in Virginia. It’s really up to your tolerance. You will trade out items and send home bulkier clothing. It might happen gradually or all at once.
- Never send your rain/wind jacket home even in the summer.
Keep your rain jacket
- If you ever find yourself getting too cold while you are hiking, prevent hypothermia by pitching your tent and crawling into your sleeping bag.
- A sleeping bag liner will help protect your sleeping bag from your dirty clothing.
- For cheaper clothing options, try price shopping online or look at running clothing which is made of the same material but is sometimes cheaper. For more information about online shopping, see <Finding Bargains>.
- If you are starting out in non-traditional times like January and February, you will need to select the warmest of these clothing items and perhaps add more protection to it.
Disclaimer: This list contains clothing that worked for some thru-hikers. A lot of the clothing is lightweight and bare minimum. In other words, you might want to add some items to this list. It’s always important to test each piece of clothing in various weather conditions before you start your hike.
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