Hiking is one of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors during the summer months. But figuring out what to wear when you go hiking in the summer is no easy feat.
Ultimately, there is no one “correct” way to dress for summertime hiking trips, though there are some general best practices and principles that most people choose to follow. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the many ways that people dress for summer hiking so you can decide which option is ideal for your trekking style.
6 clothing essentials to wear hiking in the summer:
- Sun hat or baseball hat
- Non-cotton T-shirt or lightweight baselayer shirt
- Non-cotton hiking pants, shorts, or leggings
- Lightweight or midweight non-cotton hiking socks
- Hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail running shoes
- Emergency rain gear and warm clothes
What you should wear while hiking in the summer will depend on the weather conditions in your area and on your personal preferences. But most people wear a non-cotton T-shirt and shorts, leggings, or pants while trekking during the summer. You may also want to wear a sun shirt or wind jacket if you’re in a very sunny or windy environment.
It is also important to bring rain gear and warm clothes in case the weather turns sour during your adventures.
Summer Hiking Clothing System
Dressing for summertime hiking is all about finding a clothing system that can keep you cool, dry, and comfortable, even in the midst of high temperatures and afternoon thunderstorms. However, the specific layering system that you opt for while hiking in the summer will greatly depend on where you’re going trekking and what kinds of clothes you find most comfortable.
You can think of the above list as a sort of “classic” summertime hiking outfit that you’ll see many people wearing on the trail. But that doesn’t mean this is the only way to dress for hiking or that it’s the best option for your summertime adventures.
High Elevation Clothing Considerations
In many situations, you’ll want to supplement this clothing list with extra pieces of gear. For example, if you’re hiking somewhere that’s really sunny or in a high-elevation area, you may want to get yourself a sun shirt that has UPF 40+ protection, like the Fly Free Bamboo Shade Hoody, to help shield you from the sun’s harmful rays.
Alternatively, if you’re hiking in an area that’s not actually that warm, you may very well need to wear an insulating layer, like the lightweight Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket. Some places are also known to get a lot of rain and wind in the summer months, in which case wearing or bringing a rain jacket, wind jacket, and rain pants might also be a good idea.
Rain jackets and wind jackets can often provide some protection from bugs, too, (especially when used in conjunction with bug spray), so they can be great additions to any summertime hiking clothing system.
In fact, even if you don’t anticipate needing a warm jacket, rain jacket, or sun protection during a summertime hike, you should always have them with you on the trail. Warm clothes and protection from the rain, bugs, and sun are part of the 10 essentials of hiking, so you should never leave home without them.
Be Prepared For Any Type of Weather
Even if the forecast is for an incredible bluebird day during your summer hike, always come prepared with extra clothes in your backpack so you are prepared for any eventuality.
Is It Better to Wear Shorts or Leggings When Hiking?
One of the most common questions we hear from summertime hikers has to do with whether it’s better to wear shorts or leggings while in the mountains. The reality is, however, that there’s no universal answer to this question. It all depends on your personal preferences and where you’re planning on hiking.
There are a few key benefits of hiking in shorts, including improved breathability while hiking, a lower chance of ripping your shorts on debris from the trail, and enhanced quick-drying and moisture-wicking capabilities.
But there are many downsides to hiking in shorts, too.
Are Yoga Pants Good for Hiking?
Is It Better to Hike in Pants or Shorts?
This is particularly true if you’re hiking in an area with lots of bugs because shorts leave your legs exposed to mosquitoes and biting flies. Shorts also offer no protection from the sun, so you’ll need to use a lot of sunscreen to protect your skin. Additionally, shorts can’t protect you at all from cuts, scrapes, and bruises if you’re hiking off-trail.
Conversely, leggings don’t provide as much breathability as shorts and some people find that they don’t wick moisture that well (though this depends on the specific model that you buy). There’s also a higher risk of ripping your leggings on sticks and rocks on the trail.
However, despite these drawbacks, leggings do offer quite a few advantages for hikers. In particular, they can offer some protection from the sun and bugs even if they aren’t as protective as hiking pants. Leggings also provide a bit of protection from cuts and scrapes if you’re bushwhacking, though, again, not as much as hiking pants.
So which should you choose—leggings or shorts? This decision is ultimately up to you, but if you’re looking for more sun, bug, and debris protection, leggings are often the better choice. Conversely, if breathability is a top priority, shorts may be worth considering.
Is It Better to Hike in Jeans or Leggings?
While we can debate the merits of hiking in leggings and shorts all day long, the question of whether you should hike in jeans or leggings warrants a fairly simple answer.
The fact of the matter is that jeans aren’t an appropriate clothing item for hiking. That’s because denim is made from cotton, which is considered a no-no in the outdoor industry.
Related article: What are the Best Shorts for Hiking?
The issue with cotton is that, while it is affordable and comfortable, it makes you cold when wet and it takes forever to dry. Jeans are also hot, heavy, and not very breathable, so they’re not a good option for summertime hiking (or any hiking for that matter).
Are leggings the best option for hiking? Not necessarily as they do have their drawbacks, too. You could also opt to wear hiking shorts or pants depending on your personal preferences. But if your only options are jeans and leggings for a hiking trip, non-cotton leggings like the Fjällräven Abisko Trekking Tights are typically the better choice.
Stay Cool & Comfortable While Hiking This Summer
Dressing for a summertime hiking trip is all about finding ways to stay cool and comfortable during your adventures. There’s no one outfit that’s universally best for all summer hiking trips as it will all depend on where you’re hiking and what kinds of clothes you find most comfortable.
We hope this article helped give you some inspiration for your clothing system on your upcoming trip, and we look forward to seeing you on the trail!
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David Parnell is the founder and lead editor at Trail and Summit, who enjoys writing on a wide range of topics from travel trailers to trail running. He’s an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.