From novice hikers to advanced, our clothing choices can make or break our hiking experience. Knowing the best clothes for outdoor activities can be hard to gauge, especially if you haven’t done much hiking in the past.
We are not going to go over what you should wear in this article. Instead, we are focusing on what you should avoid wearing. There are some very common clothing choices that hikers make that either add discomfort or can even be potentially dangerous. We will cover those top ten mistakes below.
10 materials and clothing items you should not wear while hiking:
The clothing items on our list will vary from materials to specific types of items. They are not ranked according to which one is the worst. They should all be seen as items and materials to avoid when deciding to take a hike.
The first item on our list is denim. Now, I was going to only include jeans in this section, but I decided to leave it as an overarching material. Denim jackets and overalls are starting to become more common again, and they should also be avoided.
The reason denim is not ideal for hiking is that it absorbs moisture really easily. This means sweat, rain, or even river water will be soaked up. Having a material that collects water versus wicking water can be potentially dangerous, depending on the area’s current weather.
When your denim jacket or pants gets wet, it can also cause chafing in armpits and inner thighs. That is uncomfortable for you, and anyone that sees you walking by.
Cotton is on the list for similar reasons to denim. Cotton is an absorbent material, so if you get wet from sweat or rain, it will soak it all up and won’t dry very fast, either. In hot weather, cotton will leave you feeling sweaty all day, and in cold weather, it will make you cold quite quickly.
When it comes to cotton materials, I’m not just talking about shirts either. Cotton underwear, bras, and socks should be avoided as well.
So, silk isn’t as bad as cotton or denim, but it generally doesn’t do well during strenuous hiking. Basically, if you plan to sweat a lot, avoid silk! It has a modest amount of moisture-wicking ability, but unless it is chemically treated, it will usually hold on to moisture.
Plus, silk is really good at holding onto unpleasant odors. Although it is a lovely, luxurious feeling when you wear it, it is also usually quite thin. Thin materials can be nice for airflow, but when snagged on a rock or branch, they’ll tear easily.
4. No-Show Socks
No-show or ankle socks may work for some folks, but the type of sock you wear is a big deal when you hike. You want a sock that will not work its way down and bunch up in your shoe. This leaves the back of your foot exposed and rubbing against the inside of your shoe as you walk. You can correct this as you go, but then you have to stop more frequently.
Generally, you want a sock that covers your ankle and is made of wool or a synthetic polymer. Additionally, a sock that fits your foot is ideal. If your sock is loose, it will rub up and down as you walk. The extra movement will, at the very least, irritate your feet, but in most cases, it will give you a blister or two.
5. Flimsy Shoes
Since hiking is essentially walking in the woods or on a trail in the wilderness, you want a shoe that will support you all the way. Most hiking trails have a fair share of rocks, river crossings, or sharp plants like cacti. In those conditions, you need a shoe that can protect you from the elements around you during the entirety of your hike.
You also want a shoe with plenty of treads on the sole. While some hiking trails will be flat, many hikes have a few inclines and declines. You may even run into some rock scrambling if you’re lucky! When you get into these situations, you want a shoe that will grip the ground below you and prevent you from sliding around.
Some hikers prefer to have hiking boots that support their ankles as well, but that is a personal preference. I generally stick to trail running shoes or climbing approach shoes, and they work just fine.
6. Bras with Clasps
As a woman, I had to mention appropriate bras to wear while hiking. As mentioned earlier, it is best to avoid cotton bras, but you should also avoid bras with clasps. These could be metal or plastic clasps, but either way, you don’t want them.
Usually, even for a day hike, you will be wearing a pack of some kind. Your pack will sit directly on your back and likely shift as you walk. This movement, along with the inevitable sweating, leads to irritation on your skin.
Even if you don’t have a pack on, it is best to avoid clasps on a bra. Your build-up of sweat and movement throughout the hike will be enough to irritate your skin. Think of it this way, if you wouldn’t wear it to go running or hit the gym, probably not a great idea to wear for your hike.
7. Bunchy or Bulky Pants and Jackets
Clothing that is too heavy or too loose can be potentially problematic on a hike. I sometimes like to wear flowy or loose shirts when it is warm outside, and that works well. Still, I tend to avoid pants that are too loose or jackets that are too heavy.
Even if I am not wearing my jacket, I will be carrying it. So if I have a heavy jacket, that’s extra weight I need to lug around while I hike. With loose-fitting jackets, they are quite cumbersome as you move. They can cause you to have to adjust your backpack straps or move around too much as you walk, causing chaffing.
The same goes for pants. If you have pants that are too big, they’ll either keep sliding down, or they will cause uncomfortable rubbing over time. All-in-all, you want clothing that fits you properly. Avoid anything too heavy or clothes that shift around too much.
8. Stiff or Too Thin Fabric
Having clothing materials that move with your body is all about comfort and functionality. There have been so many instances on hikes where I’ve had to scramble over rocks, maneuver through a tight canyon, or do a high step-up over a fallen tree. All of these movements require clothing that will move with the flexibility of my body.
At the same time, you also want materials tough enough to withstand being outside. There are times when I choose to wear yoga pants or shorts on a hike, but that depends on the terrain. If you are going to be walking through areas with a lot of plants or rocks, yoga pants can quickly get snagged and rip.
Hiking pants especially need to be the right mix of sturdy and flexible. Having materials that are too stiff will impede your movement. While on the other hand, materials that are too thin and stretchy can easily rip.
9. Sweet or Floral Body Sprays
This last one isn’t necessarily a clothing item, but it is something that you can wear so it was included. In most cases, it is a habit to put on perfume, body spray, or deodorant. Tread with caution if you do! Sweet-smelling sprays or floral aromas can attract bugs quite easily.
Some perfumes also don’t mix well with sweat and can cause skin irritations, especially in hot weather or with extensive sun exposure. Perhaps it is best to leave the body sprays for a night out on the town, and leave them off the trail.
10. Only One Layer
This rule is kind of hit or miss and will largely depend on the area’s climate. For example, I live in the Phoenix, AZ metro area, so if I go for a short day hike, I will usually just wear shorts and a tank top. Only sometimes will I pack a light jacket.
However, I’ve lived in many other climates where this would not fly. The most important thing to remember is that layering is ideal in most circumstances. It is a good rule of thumb to keep up with current weather conditions, and then you can gauge your clothes off of that.
In many instances, I’ve packed at least a light jacket and worn zip-off or roll-up pants. This is especially helpful for early morning starts for hikes that last for most of the day. As the temperatures change throughout the day, you can adjust your clothing. I’ve also had to throw a jacket on when we stop for a snack or lunch because the lack of movement cools me down.
Keep the Climate and Weather in Mind
Many of the clothing materials and items on our list can easily be avoided, even if you don’t have outdoor specific clothing in your closet. The most important thing when it comes to choosing the proper clothing for your next hike is what the weather is like. Then, beyond that, what the climate of the area is in general.
Both the climate and current weather conditions will help you decide how to layer your clothes, whether or not to wear pants or shorts, and even if you should pack a hat or not. If you’re not from the area you are hiking in, it is even more essential to take a look at the weather. There are so many different climates and weather patterns, even in one region or one state!
Another thing to consider is to talk to locals in that area that frequent the trails. This could be park rangers, BLM managers, or even just the folks that work in the local gear shop. Talking to the locals will give you a good idea about the way the temperatures fluctuate throughout the day and if there is a pattern of surprise weather to know about.
Other Environmental Factors
Other than the weather, it can be great to ask locals about and specific clothing recommendations they have. You should know if the area is prone to a certain kind of bug or if there is a lack of shade on the trail.
Is there wildlife to be extra aware of, or should you wear pants even though it is warm to protect you from poisonous plants? Will there be river crossings or snowfields?
All of these questions and more are an excellent way to guide your clothing choices before a hike. Avoiding our top 10 clothing mistakes, doing area research, and listening to recommendations from locals will help make your hike a more comfortable experience.
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From market farming to wilderness survival guide to forestry technician and climbing instructor, Meg has an eclectic work history. But there’s one common factor across all her pursuits: the outdoors. With a formal education in writing, Meg can translate her outdoor experiences into accessible and relatable content for any reader. Now pursuing freelance writing full-time, Meg has found a new base in Pheonix, AZ where she splits her time between writing and new desert adventures.