Prepping for a day on the trail can be overwhelming. What if you’re too hot? Too cold? What if you get blisters 15 minutes in? What if you run out of water and snacks? Or you can’t fit everything you think you need into your pack?
I’ve been there more often than I would like to admit. However, after hiking a respectable number of miles, I'm confident I can help you find the best hiking gear for women.
I am an avid hiker and backpacker, and I have racked up my fair share of one-mile days and 20-mile days on the trail. My daily-wear consists almost entirely of outdoor clothing. With more hiking and backpacking gear than one could possibly need — no thanks from my wallet — I'm always prepared for a day on the trail.
My goal is for all women who hike to feel as safe and comfortable as I do on the trail! I have created a guide with my favorite tips for choosing the best hiking gear and clothing below.
Hiking Clothing For Women
The ultimate goal here is maximum comfort. Nothing ruins a day in nature more than being uncomfortable. Think: itchy, blistered, or restricted. The best outdoor clothes prevent all of that.
Your hiking clothes are an investment; you want them to be able to withstand the elements with as much vigor as you do. They should wick moisture and allow your body to breathe, not trap you with your sweat all day. Hiking is a dynamic activity. Your clothes should let you walk, march, and flow comfortably, not restrict your ability to move.
There are three key things you should focus on when choosing hiking clothes. They are:
From jackets to underwear, I’ll discuss additional features to look for in the top ten essential items of hiking clothing below. I’ll highlight the best brands for each item and guide you in finding what works best for you. Next time you jump on a hiking trail, you’ll be peak-prepared.
First, you’ll want to determine the conditions that your jacket is likely to encounter. If you are planning to hike in an area that sees a lot of rain, I recommend a shell with a hood, as well as zippers at the armpits for breathability. Shells tend to be a bit roomier, so you can layer up underneath as needed.
If you’re venturing into ultra chilly temperatures, a down jacket — aka a puffy or puffer — is the way to go. With this type of warm jacket, you’ll pay for quality, but as I have found with my puffy, its warmth and durability make it indispensable.
For hikes in cool fall or spring temperatures, you’ll want a lightweight, water-resistant, versatile jacket. Breathability and packability are essential because your body will warm up while you hike. If you warm up enough to take it off, it should fit easily into your pack so you can stow it quickly and keep on trekkin’.
Hiking boots can quite literally make or break a hike. The perfect pair is going to provide support, stability, and comfort. They should also be breathable and lightweight. Depending on the type of trails you’re hitting, water resistance may be an important factor to consider as well.
Don’t forget that hiking footwear, like most shoes, has a break-in period. Read reviews, and wear your boots around the house or on shorter hikes several times before taking them on any full-day hikes. (This is imperative information I wish someone had told me before I embarked on a 175-mile trip. My new hiking boots had less than 10 miles on them, and I was bleeding from my feet by mile seven.)
La Sportiva, Altra, and Teva produce affordable, high-tech hiking boots that will have you putting mile after mile behind you this summer.
Ah, the controversial hiking sandal. Hiking sandals are ideal for easy to moderate hiking trips, especially when there’s potential for a stream crossing. You’ll want to search for sandals that provide traction and feel both stable and secure. Many hiking sandals offer a “barefoot” feel, while others have thick soles and ample arch support.
Design simplicity is another considerable factor. You don’t want to be the one holding your crew up because you’re fumbling with your sandal straps.
I swear by my Bedrocks — I wear them for everything. I’ve heard the same about others’ experiences with Chaco and Teva sandals. If you need extra arch support, I recommend a sandal from Chaco. Bedrock offers options ranging from flat, barefoot-style sandals to thicker-soled, contoured sandals. You’ll encounter higher price points with Chaco and Bedrock, while Teva carries more budget-friendly alternatives.
You can always find me hiking in pants, regardless of the weather. I enjoy the protection from the sun and overgrown plants on the trail in the warmer months, and the protection from the low temps in the cooler months.
When searching for the ultimate pair of hiking pants, you’ll want to choose a pair that is resistant to tearing and abrasion. They should be breathable, water resistant, and let you move freely. Hiking can be unpredictable. You never know when you’ll need to stretch your leg all the way up to climb over a boulder, and your pants shouldn’t restrict you from doing so.
Many women enjoy the movability of leggings. Others, like myself, enjoy a baggier pair of lightweight, quick-drying pants with an elastic waistband. I find that these are more breathable, easier to slide on and off during bathroom breaks, and less likely to tear.
Brands like REI, Kuhl, and Mountain Hardware make some of my favorite hiking pants at an affordable price.
Hiking clothes are all about comfort. If you find that you prefer the freedom and exposure of hiking in shorts, then go for it! Just remember to lather on that SPF.
I recommend shorts that allow you to really move. There’s nothing worse than feeling restricted by your clothing every time you take a step. You’ll also want to search for a pair that is sweat-wicking. My favorite components of a good pair of hiking shorts are an elastic waistband and a plethora of pockets — always filled with snacks.
Patagonia, REI, and Outdoor Research make comfortable, versatile hiking shorts at affordable prices.
Layering is a must for outdoor clothing, especially in the colder months. For winter hiking, I recommend at least a base layer and an outer layer. If it’s super chilly, opt for a mid-layer as well.
For any layer touching your skin, merino wool is the best option. It is sweat-wicking, odor resistant, and breathable. Pro-tip: Hang-drying your merino wool clothing will make it last longer.
For warmer temperature hiking, you may prefer long sleeve shirts or t-shirts and tank tops. Lightweight, long sleeve hiking shirts provide sun protection, while t-shirts and tanks let your arms breathe. Both are great options for keeping you cool, but remember to apply sunscreen if you choose a shirt that exposes your skin.
I love my REI and Columbia long sleeve, button up shirts for summer hiking. They are breathable and provide UPF protection, but nothing beats soaking up the sun in a tank top on a warm spring day surrounded by wildflowers.
Socks can make all the difference on a full day on the trail, especially if you’re prone to blisters. Once again, I cannot recommend merino wool hiking socks enough. They are sweat and moisture-wicking, odor resistant, and breathable.
You’ll want to consider cushion and thickness when choosing hiking socks. Thick, heavyweight socks are best for hiking in brisk temperatures. Medium to lightweight socks will keep you cool during the warmer seasons.
Darn Tough makes my absolute favorite merino wool socks. They come in a range of thicknesses, and they have a lifetime warranty. On top of that, they have a plethora of cute and colorful options.
While I am a Darn Tough gal myself, I know plenty of hikers that are loyal to Smartwool, another fabulous maker of merino wool socks. If you are ultra blister-prone, I also recommend getting a pair of Injinji liner socks to minimize friction.
A hiking hat is the ultimate face-and-neck-protector from a relentless sun. It may even aid in keeping those annoying, wispy hairs that won’t fit into your ponytail out of your eyes.
The best hiking hats are protective, lightweight, and breathable. You’ll want to find one that is adjustable or fits snugly in case a windy day threatens to unveil your noggin. You may want to invest in a hat with UPF protection if you are ultra sensitive to the sunshine.
If you are aiming for peak protection, I recommend a hat with a neck cape — a floppy piece of fabric that covers the back of your neck. Outdoor Research and Sunday Afternoons make great neck-cape hats. If you don’t require as much protection, a full-brim hat will do, like one from Filson or The North Face.
Let’s get down to business. Why on earth would someone wear a hiking dress? Believe it or not, I’ve got some pretty solid arguments for this one. First, the breathability of a dress is unmatched. Plus, your range of motion will be completely unrestricted. Lastly, a dress drastically increases the ease of a bathroom break while tallying up miles. On top of all of this, you’ll get ultimate style points for tearing up the trail in a dress.
Just as with other outdoor clothing, you’ll want a dress that’s sweat-wicking, lightweight, and comfortable. Pockets for a phone, keys, and of course, trail snacks are an added bonus. Some hiking dresses come with built-in shorts, so you don’t need to worry about the wind catching you off guard.
High quality underwear is just as essential as every other item on the clothing list. You’ll want something soft, breathable, quick-drying, and odor-resistant. You should also consider their coverage, style (bikini, hipster, boyshort, etc.), and waistband.
The best thing about hiking underwear is that fashion is a complete nonfactor. You are searching for ultimate comfort in this category. Your hiking underwear should stay in place, give you freedom of movement, and be so nonchalant you forget you’re wearing them.
Brands like Icebreaker, Smartwool, and Ridge make some of the best merino wool underwear, but they tend to be a bit steep in price. ExOfficio is a great choice for quick-drying nylon underwear at a more affordable price.
Hiking Gear/Accessories For Women
With an overwhelming number of items available when it comes to hiking gear for women, it’s important that you know your goals. In addition to having fun (of course), your goals should include being comfortable, safe, and hydrated. Depending on the length of your hike, you may also need to stay energized using healthy foods.
There are a few common mistakes beginner hikers make. They often drink an inadequate amount of water and put off bathroom trips until they return to the trailhead lavatory. Another common misstep is bringing too many unnecessary items.
I’ve put together a list of nine pieces of essential hiking gear below, and some advice on how to use these items to avoid making these mistakes.
Think of your daypack like a piece of clothing. You’ll most likely be wearing it for the full duration of your hike, so you’ll want maximum comfort from your pack. I recommend a hiking daypack with easy access to different compartments, useful pockets, and a comfortable hip belt. The panel against your back should be well-ventilated and flexible. Many hikers also enjoy padding here.
A maximum of 30 liters is adequate for most day trips. Your pack should be adjustable to create a perfect fit for your body. Additionally, a water-bladder friendly compartment is nonnegotiable for me.
Gregory and Osprey both produce top of the line hiking packs, albeit at top of the line prices. I use a pack from REI that checks all of my boxes and has more than enough space to carry what I need with a capacity of 28 liters.
2. Water Bladder
A water or hydration bladder is a piece of outdoor gear you will never turn your back on once you’ve tried it. Hydration is crucial, and a bladder is undoubtedly the most convenient way to stay hydrated on a hiking trip.
Bladders typically carry between two and three liters of water, which is sufficient for about four to six hours of hiking. You’ll want to consider your typical hiking time, distance, and temperature when choosing the size of your water bladder.
The best bladders are durable, easy to fill, and lockable. Durability is important to reduce wear and tear when sliding the bladder in and out of your pack. Ease of use will make filling up effortless. Lockability will ensure that you’re not leaking water all over yourself as you hike.
Gregory and CamelBak make reliable water bladders at budget-friendly prices.
3. Water Bottle
A water bottle is a great alternative to a bladder. If you’re not quite ready to commit to the full hydration bladder, or you enjoy removing your pack during a rest, a water bottle is a must.
When deciding on a water bottle, you’ll find that you’ll sacrifice either insulation or weight. Heavier, insulating water bottles like those from Hydro Flask and Klean Kanteen will keep your water cool and refreshing. Classic lightweight bottles from CamelBak and Nalgene will take on the ambient temperature, but won’t weigh you down on your most daunting ascents.
Additional considerations include durability and size. It’s likely that your water bottle will take a spill or two (no pun intended) in the wilderness, and you want it to hold up to the elements. You should also ensure that it fits in the cupholders of your pack so it’s easily accessible.
4. Hiking Belt
For those of you that enjoy a classic waistband on your bottom half, you’ll want to invest in a comfortable hiking belt. The best hiking belts are flexible, easy to adjust, and lightweight. A smaller belt buckle is also desirable so it doesn’t leave impressions on your skin as you move.
My favorite hiking belt is from Arcade, although it is somewhat difficult to adjust. Regardless, I am fond of its extreme stretchiness and side-release buckle. Many hikers enjoy belts with slide buckles from brands like Arc’teryx and Black Diamond.
Whatever you choose, your belt should comfortably keep your pants up while you frolic through meadows or trudge up mountains.
5. Trekking Poles
Do you want to be able to hike longer distances and later into your life? Trekking poles are truly a life-saver, although “knee-saver” might be more accurate. Poles will relieve your joints from pressure and overuse. They will improve your balance and let you finally embark on that hike with the intimidatingly steep descent you keep putting off.
You’ll want to choose poles that are lightweight, easily packable, and comfortable to hold. They should also be adjustable and durable. Leki, Black Diamond, and Foxelli offer excellent trekking poles in a reasonable price range.
As an avid squinter, I spent several years avoiding committing to a nice pair of sunnies. I claimed that they “mute colors.” I have learned, however, that this does not have to be the case. I can protect my eyes and appreciate the vividness of the outdoors at the same time, as long as my lenses are polarized.
The perfect pair of sunglasses will fit securely and provide 100% UV protection. They should also be versatile for use in different environments and light levels.
Some of the top-tier hiking sunglasses, like those from Ray-Ban and Smith, are going to be rather expensive — you’re paying for quality. Although you may lose some of the features, brands like Goodr and Sunski offer some sweet shades at a more budget-friendly price.
Alright, hear me out. There are absolutely some effective, breathable clothing options out there. But instead of relying on our underwear and trousers to do all the moisture-wicking work, what if we helped them out a bit? One of my all-time favorite hiking accessories is my Kula Cloth. It’s an antimicrobial, non-toxic, and odor-resistant small square of cloth.
I cannot brag about this piece of equipment enough. It’s cute, for starters. Plus, it’s discreet, lightweight, and easy to clean. I clip a carabiner onto mine to make it even easier to use, and I keep it hooked on a belt loop.
Serving a similar purpose, I recommend using an organic, non-toxic pantyliner any time you hike to aid in the absorption of excess moisture. When we’re out there summiting mountains and traversing technical terrain, we get sweaty. A lightweight pantyliner will help keep you dry and comfortable on even the warmest of days.
As people who like to do rad things, even when mother nature is taking her toll, it’s important to feel comfortable and confident hiking at any time of month. My tried-and-true, no trace choice for menstruating while trekking is a reusable menstrual cup or disc. If you’ve never used one, be sure to practice at home first. Once you get the hang of it, you can quickly remove, dump, and reinsert behind the privacy of a tree.
Many people who menstruate prefer tampons or pads while hiking. These are great options, especially if you are familiar and comfortable with them. Just be sure to bring a sealable container to store them in until you are able to throw them away.
Everyone knows that food hits harder when you eat it outside. What’s a day on the trail without an indulgent serving of trail mix? My favorite trail mixes are always custom. I love getting my favorite nuts, seeds, and chocolate chunks and mixing them together in whatever ratios I choose.
For a full day of hiking, you should eat more than you think. You’ll need to account for all the extra energy you’re burning.
Be wary of funky additives in your food. Snacks that have fillers, artificial preservatives, or processed sugars in them will do you more harm than good. Opting for mostly whole foods is typically a good rule of thumb.
In addition to trail mix, my go-to snacks on the trail include granola, protein bars, and veggies with hummus. While I always try to make my snacks myself so I know exactly what’s in them, I enjoy snacks from brands like GoMacro, Purely Elizabeth, and Hope Foods. As a big fan of “pocket snacks,” I always have my pockets full of loose dried fruit, like mango or goji berries.
9. Emergency Blanket
An emergency blanket can prevent hypothermia or even save your life if conditions unexpectedly take a turn for the worse. In cold temperatures, especially with wind and precipitation, trail conditions can change quickly. An emergency blanket is a must-have for winter hiking.
Choose a blanket that is durable, relatively lightweight, and efficient in reflectivity. It also needs to fold out large enough to cover you, so avoid blankets that sacrifice too much size for weight. S.O.L. (Survive Outdoors Longer) is a manufacturer of high quality emergency blankets, along with Grabber and Arcturus.
Now that you’re an expert in the best hiking gear for women, get out there, and put it to the test! Remember that your highest priorities are staying safe and comfortable. With the ultimate pair of breathable pants, the perfect-fit daypack, and a sturdy hydration bladder, you’ll be blazing trails in no time.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.