Hiking Clothes for 2020
A Hiking Outfit to Stay Safe and Warm
Wearing the right hiking clothes will drastically improve your overall trip experience by making you comfier, faster, and especially safer. In combination with your technical outerwear & wearable accessories, these items form what’s known as the layering system. And that’s where we come in. We’re here to share 40 years of backcountry layering experience by identifying the best deals on the top performing hiking attire of 2020, and sharing tips for how to make this system perform optimally for you.
No such thing as bad weather | Just inappropriate clothing
But first, exactly what is a clothing layering system and how does it protect you in challenging weather? In a nutshell, it is the sum total of all wearable items a hiker carries with them, and it can be defined by the range of temperatures and conditions it allows a person to safely hike and camp. Broadly speaking, a good layering system should be lightweight, affordable, and able to handle all “3 season” conditions. This means it will allow you to live outdoors in temperatures as low as the mid-twenties, through rain, sleet, and snow. The hiking clothes we highlight on this list will allow you to thrive in mountain ecosystems around the world, from Alaska to Patagonia and everything in between. Wherever we’re going, we use the same clothing as a baseline, and modify based on specific needs and conditions.
This Guide is in 6 Parts
- Top 6 Mistakes Layering Hiking Clothes “layering” as practiced most hikers it is flawed. It can be heavy, expensive & improperly used can even make you colder. Learn how to avoid these mistakes.
- List of Our Favorite Hiking Clothes including the “shoulder seasons” of late-Fall & early Spring
- The Essential Techniques to Use these Layering Systems how you use your clothing might be more important than what clothes you bring.
- Shoulder Season Gear Hacks Addendum Table. Non-clothing gear, like shelter and sleeping bag, to help you keep warm in colder shoulder season conditions.
- Is a Fleece Jacket is Better than a Windshirt?
- Key Hiking Clothing for Cold Weather some our favorite clothes to keep warm when the temperature drops, including the great Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoodie (also see full video review below).
A Complete Hiking Outfit
The hiking clothes in this post are our top choices for 3-season conditions (spring, summer, and fall) and for temperatures from the mid-20s °F and up. This clothing has withstood the test of time (some items for over a decade) in all sorts of challenging weather in the US and on 3 continents. And with surprisingly little variation our hiking clothes has worked exceptionally well from the high mountains of Alaska, to Patagonia, to the desert and even the jungles of South America.
Note: Much of this clothing is from our top-ranked Ultralight Backpacking Gear List | 9 Pound. Take a peek at it for an integrated set of gear that won’t weigh you down and break your back.
|CLothing | Item | Oz | Comments|
|Shirt and Baselayer | $45 REI 1/2-Zip Active Shirt 6.5 oz or Smartwool Merino Quarter-Zip 8.8 oz | Neck zipper key to warmth management|
|Shirt and Baselayer (for cold Wx) | Patagonia R1 Hoodie | 12.5 | Think of it as “fur for humans.” possibly the most versatile cold to very cold weather base layer. It works over an astonishing range of conditions.|
|Mid-layer top | The North Face Men’s TKA 100 Glacier Quarter Zip | 7.9 | Sadly it appears that 100 wt fleece shirts like this are a dying breed. You may still be able to find a few. Otherwise go for a 200 wt one, the The Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoody (currently our favorite cold Wx garment)|
|Rain Jacket | 2020 Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket | 6.3 | Light rain-jacket is just as dry as a heavy one (Use as “windshirt” only when very cold) | also|
|Rain Jacket, 3-layer tech (for cold Wx) | REI Co-op Drypoint GTX Jacket | 10.9 | Given that I will likely be wearing my jacket more frequently (both for rain and as a “windshirt” when cold), I favor a more breathable & durable 3-layer construction for shoulder season (SS).|
|Rain Pants (bring them!) | Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants 6 oz or 2020 Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Pants 4oz (super light and breathable) | While we might not bring them on all 2+ season trips, we DO bring rain pants in the shoulder season|
|Best Lightweight Rain Jacket 2020For more rainwear see:|
|Warm jacket | REI 650 Down Jacket – great value | 10.5 | For occasional rest stops. Moderate/consistent movement is key to keeping warm when it’s cold|
|Guide to Lightweight Down Jackets and Pants for BackpackingFor down jacket options see:|
|Pants | REI Sahara Pants | 14 | Ex Officio and many others make similar pants|
|Down pants (for cold Wx) | West. Mtn. Flash Pants (6.5) or Montbell Superior Down Pants 8.4 or FF Heilos Down Pants (13) | 6.5 | For colder weather. West. Mtn. pants light & warm! Montbell’s a great value in down pants. Helios crazy warm with side zips.|
|Underwear | ExOfficio Give-N-Go | 2.0 | Dry fast, will rinse/wash most days|
|Gloves | Defeet DuraGloves (2.5) | 2.5 | Great liner glove. Light, warm, durable! (or similar)|
|Rain Mitts (bring them!) | MLD eVENT Rain Mitts (1.2) | 1.2 | Critical for keeping hands warm and dry in cold rain. Also work as great wind shells.|
|Gloves (for cold Wx) | RBH Designs Vapor Mitt | 9.0 | My goto insulated mitts (I have a 4oz UL Version)|
|Gloves – cold & wet conditions | Showa Japanese fishing gloves | 4.5 | Alternative hand-wear for wet & cold. Waterproof, breathable, with grippy rubber-like shell.|
|Shoes | Altra Lone Peak Trail-Running or Brooks Cascadia Trail-Runners | 18 | Altra: Light, huge toe room, super comfortable. Brooks: tried and true trail favorite.|
|Socks | SmartWool PhD Light Mini or Darn Tough 1/4 UL w cushion | 1.8 | Key to keeping feet warm is to keep moving and NOT warmer socks|
|Camp footwear | Feathered Friends Down Booties | For those with cold feet. Put on with dry socks as soon as you get into camp!|
|Warm hat | Warm watch cap/beanie (REI) or OR Option Balaclava (1.8) | 1.8 | Also note that a hooded down jacket is HIGHLY DESIRABLE. And the built in hood on the Patagonia R1 Hoodie is excellent|
|Cold hands and feet | Chemical hand warmer and foot warmer packets | Critical re-warming contingency/backup for hands and feet in case you blow it and get them too cold to warm up again on their own.|
A layering system is really just a set of good hiking clothes. It is supposed to keep you safe and comfortable in a broad range of temperatures and environmental conditions (wind, rain, sleet and snow). The layering system is most useful in cool to cold weather (in warm weather, a light top and bottom usually suffice). Ideally, this layering system should be simple, light and inexpensive.
In cold weather the challenges to staying warm and dry are to
- Not freeze when hiking in low temperatures and/or at low physical exertion levels (e.g. walking downhill)
- But also not overheat and soak your clothing with sweat as temperatures get warmer and/or at high physical exertion levels (e.g. hiking uphill with a pack on)
- To protect you from wind and precipitation
- Finally, have a very warm layer ready (usually a down jacket) to keep warm at rest stops and in camp
Three Essential Techniques for Hiking in Cold & Wet Conditions
1. Keep Hiking When It’s Cold | Avoid stops and/or keep them short
In colder weather, you can spend far too much time stopping to adjust layers. This is especially true on hilly trails where you are consistently getting sweaty and hot going uphill, and freezing while on ridges and going downhill. Moderate but consistent movement, not stopping for layer changes, is the key to keeping warm when it’s cold.
- Hiking to keep warm needn’t be at all tiring or strenuous.
- Even walking 1 to 1.5 miles per hour should keep your internal, metabolic heater going, and keep your hands and feet warm. If you are getting tired you are going too fast!
- Minimize stops to essential needs, and don’t make them longer than necessary. When you stop, you get cold quickly and it takes a long time to warm up again. If you’re starting to chill it’s time to move.
- If you really need to stop for a longer time (over 5 minutes), try to do it in a warmer, more protected area and put on warm clothing (e.g. a high quality down jacket) as soon as you stop. Take your warm clothing off just before you start hiking again. Or after you have been walking for a few minutes. (note: I store the jacket as the topmost item in the main bag of my backpack so I can quickly retrieve it and put it back.)
2. Clothing Adjustments
- When starting to hike, I put on just enough clothing to keep me warm when moving. (It might take 5-10 minutes at a brisk pace to get fully warm. Then I can back-off to my normal hiking pace.)
- Overdressing, getting hot and then sweating out is a great way to get wet and then really cold. It’s very easy to get clothing wet, but it takes a long time to dry it out in cold and damp weather. Wet clothing is cold clothing and unhappiness. [Note this is where the better venting fleece jacket outshines a windshirt, allowing sweat to pass through your clothing and evaporate!]
- Temperature adjustments are made without stopping or changing a top or bottom layer. Too hot? take off hat and gloves (put in pants pockets). To further cool unzip fleece jacket and/or your base layer, and possibly push sleeves up. Too cold? reverse the procedure.
- I only add warmer clothing when I can no longer stay warm walking at a comfortable pace (and with a good clothing system, this is a rare).
- If you do need to change layers do it quickly. What most people don’t realize is how much time it takes to stop, take your pack off, put-on or take-off a layer, put your pack back on and start hiking again. It’s plenty long enough seriously to chill!
- If it’s extremely cold and windy, I will use my rain jacket as a windshell (note: unzipping your rain jacket all the way is a major cooling force when needed).
3. Keep your Clothing Dry
- At the risk of pointing out the obvious, put on your rainwear before you get wet. Have your rainwear readily available on the outside of your pack so you can put it on quickly and without opening your main pack bag and exposing your pack contents to rain. (I like to keep it in the large rear pocket.)
- When wearing your rain jacket pay special attention to not sweating out your clothing. Adjust and ventilate your clothing and/or slow your hiking pace as necessary. As above, it’s very easy to get clothing wet, but it takes a long time to dry it out in cold and damp weather.
- And if it’s going to rain for a long time you are going to get wet—it’s inevitable one way or the other. Just try to do your best to keep warm and minimize it. [A discussion on how to deal with long periods of rain (like days), is another whole topic and beyond the scope of this post.]
Shoulder Season Gear Hacks Addendum
The following is excerpted from Why You Won’t Freeze or Starve Ultralight Backpacking. This gear (in combination with the clothing above) will keep you warm and protected with a minimal increase in weight over 2+ season gear.
- Your tent doesn’t keep you warm. The hard reality is that the temperature inside your tent, at best, will only be a few degrees warmer than the outside temperature.
- Your tent just keeps the wind and rain off (very important!)—but so will a tarp or pyramid shelter.
- What does keep you warm is a puffy down sleeping bag and jacket. Usually used in combo when it’s super cold. That is, down get you the most warmth for its weight.
- So get a good down jacket and a down sleeping bag or quilt vs. spending extra bucks and weight on a bomber shelter. That is the difference in weight between a 14 oz pyramid shelter and a 3+ pound tent will get you some incredible warmth in down gear and clothing!
- Don’t believe the dire warnings about getting down wet—it’s hard to do. In over 40 years of backpacking all over the world in all sorts of conditions, I have yet to get my down so wet that it didn’t keep me warm. (New water resistant shell fabrics and water resistant down only improve upon this.)
|Tent | See our Best Backpacking Tents for 2020 | Lightweight & Ultralight 2 to 3 pounds| Pick a light one!|
|Pyramid Tent | Mountain Laurel Des. Solomid XL or HMG Ultamid 2 Pyramid Shelter | Compared to a traditional tent, a Pyramid tent is light, strong, and able to withstand rain, snow and high winds at a fraction of the weight. Super easy to set up (faster than many tents!).|
|For more on Tents see: Best Backpacking Tents | Lightweight & Ultralight|
|Sleeping Bag (a warm one!) | REI Co-op Magma 15 Bag 32 oz | (Tested comfort 28 degrees (F) | A bag rated approximately +20 is best for the shoulder season. Consider using it in conjunction with a warm down jacket to increase its temperature range.|
|Sleeping Quilt | Enlightened Equipment Quilt +10 25 oz | Comfort range ~+10F! |Insane warm and a Great value! ~1/2 cost of sleeping bag and significantly lighter.|
|For more on Sleeping bags and Quilts see: The Art of Sleeping Warm – A Guide to Sleeping Bags and Quilts|
|Sleeping Pad (warm one!) | Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm 15 oz XTherm, R6.9. [Alternate pad: “Women’s” R5.4 pad 12 oz is lighter/warmer than Men’s. Best for for many men too!] A Hack: For a light, low cost hack cut Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest pad in half & put it over the top of your current pad (shoulder to knees) to increase its warmth +R2.0.|