What To Wear Hiking In Hot Weather (Expert Guide)
You're gearing up for a nine-mile day hike with 2,000 feet of elevation gain in the middle of July. You want to protect your skin from unforgiving sun and sneaky poison oak, but you also want to avoid heat stroke. How can you possibly put together an outfit for hiking in this kind of heat? Let's tackle this question and determine what makes the best hot weather hiking clothes.
For years, I hiked near my hometown in regular summer temperatures of 115°F and UV indexes of 8+ — this is high, by the way. I learned how to best protect my skin, avoid heat exhaustion, and stay hydrated. Below, I'll discuss how to choose hiking clothes to help you thrive on a toasty day on the trail.
3 Summer Hiking Clothes Basics
1. Let your body breathe
Opt for materials that are lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking. Merino wool is an [exceptional] natural, breathable material. It cuts the mustard in all three of these categories, keeping you cool and dry on the trail. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon are great options as well.
Although cotton may seem like an appealing choice as a natural fabric, I recommend steering clear. It lacks the sweat-wicking properties of the materials above, leading to soggy discomfort on the trail.
2. Be reflective
Choose light-colored clothing. Whites, creams, tans, and pastels will help keep you cool in relentless sunshine by reflecting the sun's rays. Dark colors will absorb more light, trapping extra heat.
3. Cover up
UPF-rated (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) clothing is almost always a safe bet. It limits the amount of UV radiation that reaches your skin, providing more protection from skin-damaging rays. Synthetic materials like polyester and nylon can provide exceptional protection from sunshine.Covering up will also provide protection from bugs, decreasing the likelihood of painful welts or itchy bumps.
As with clothing, you'll want footwear that is lightweight and breathable to encourage the ventilation of sweaty feet. First and foremost, go for comfort.
If you have strong ankles, I recommend a sturdy hiking shoe instead of a boot for hot-weather hikes. The low cut of a lightweight shoe allows for more ventilation in high temperatures. For those who desire more ankle support, there are superb lightweight hiking boot options as well.
Although they tend to be more durable, full leather boots or shoes will lose breathability. Some hiking footwear options offer mesh or Gore-Tex uppers, which allow your feet to breathe more freely in the heat.
For the minimalists out there (like myself), an open-toe hiking sandal is about as freeing as it gets. Just don’t forget to lather sunscreen on the tops of your feet! My Bedrock sandals make me feel invincible on the trail, and I don't hesitate at creek crossings or mud. Friends of mine swear by their Chaco sandals as well.
For more on this, check out our article, The best hiking sandals for women.
Disclaimer: Sandals provide no ankle support, and some offer little to no underfoot protection. If you opt to rock sandals on the trail, your feet and ankles will do a significant amount of stabilizing. Don't forget to lather sunscreen on the tops of your feet.
A quality pair of hiking socks will help prevent blisters, wick sweat, and keep your feet cool. I recommend Merino wool socks for ultimate comfort and breathability. Darn Tough makes my favorite hiking socks, and they have a lifetime warranty. Hike them into the ground, then trade them in for a fresh pair.
As with other clothing for hiking, avoid cotton socks. Cotton absorbs and retains moisture, leaving you with boots full of wet cotton.
Even on hot weather hikes, I almost always opt for hiking pants over shorts. They provide extra protection from the sun, defensive plants, and low-hanging branches that prod at you on a narrow trail.
The best pants for hiking are breathable, durable, and mobile. They shouldn't restrict your movement when you scramble up a peak or sit down for a snack break. They will also have adequate pockets — both in number and depth — to hold your essentials, plus some pocket snacks.
Hiking shorts are great for warm-weather hiking when
- The UV index is low or moderate (You can check this on any weather app).
- You aren't concerned about poisonous or thorny plants.
Shorts are an excellent option for extra mobility and letting those legs breathe in high temperatures. I recommend hiking shorts that extend to at least mid-thigh to prevent chafing, which may be a bit tougher to come by in women’s shorts. As with all hiking clothing, stick to lightweight, sweat-wicking fabrics.
For a light summer hike, a hiking dress or skirt is a fun, breathable option. If you find one with pockets, consider yourself ready to rumble.
You may find chafing more difficult to avoid in a dress. Wearing shorts underneath and hiking at a cooler time of day can help reduce moisture buildup and extreme chafing.
We're going for maximum comfort here. Ditch the idea of style, and grab an A-1 pair of hiking underwear (ladies) made of nylon or Merino wool for ultimate breathability. My favorite style of underwear for any outdoor activity is boy-short, but this is strictly personal preference.
Briefs, boxers, and even thongs can be perfect choices for racking up the miles. The breathability and moisture-wicking properties of the fabric are the primary considerations.
Hiking Shirts / T-Shirts
If you're gearing up for an all-day hike, a long-sleeved shirt made of a lightweight fabric is the way to go. A UPF-rated technical fabric will provide effective protection from the sun. Moisture-wicking materials will help regulate your body temperature on a strenuous hike in the summer heat.
If you are embarking on a shorter hike, you may find yourself more comfortable in a t-shirt or tank top. Bearing this in mind, check the UV index, and apply sunscreen generously. I recommend bringing along a light long-sleeved layer in case you find yourself in need of extra sun protection. Gals: For more detail, check out the best women's hiking shirts.
Just like your clothing, your pack should be breathable and comfortable. A rigid or partially rigid mesh back panel provides ventilation, comfort, and structural support. Comfortable shoulder straps and a snug hip belt will let you trek for miles and miles. Depending on your personal preference, you may find a cushioned hip belt more comfortable, but nylon webbing is perfectly adequate.
If you intend to use a hydration bladder, be sure to get a daypack with a sleeve specifically for your reservoir. A hook at the top of the pack will help to hold your water bladder upright in the sleeve.
Keep your pack as light as possible without sacrificing any essentials. Hiking in the heat is exhausting and dehydrating on its own, and added weight will only magnify the difficulty. There are lots of awesome daypacks designed for women to keep you crushing miles in comfort.
Hats for Hiking
A protective hiking hat will shade your face, neck, and eyes. It should be made of a breathable, light-colored fabric to help counteract the heat. The most protective hiking hats include a neck cape, which serves the same function as a neck gaiter, but you get a two-for-one. Gals, you’re in luck if you’re looking for the perfect hiking hat.
Just like your skin can get sunburnt, UV rays can also cause damage to your eyes. Grab a pair of sunnies that provide 100% UV protection. If you're up for investing in your eye health a bit more, polarized lenses provide extra protection by reducing glare.
As a colors-of-nature-enthusiast, I am always slipping my sunglasses on and off to make sure I see the true colors of the wildflowers and trees. Rocking a sunglass strap — also known as an eyewear retainer — makes it easy to slide them off but keep them handy when I take a shady break or want to inspect a plant.
Water Bottle / Hydration Bladder
Adequate water intake is essential when you are hiking in summer heat. Your body is going to lose water rapidly, especially when you're undertaking demanding physical activity.
How you carry your water depends on your personal preference, but I recommend a hydration pack or hydration bladder that slides into your daypack. A bladder allows you to trek with your hands free and your water easily accessible.
Before I set out for a morning of strenuous hiking, I fill my 2.5 liter water bladder, then bring at least one extra liter of water in a bottle. This gives me plenty of water for 3–4 hours of hiking. If you are uncertain whether or not there are water fill-up points along your trail (i.e. body of water or pump) or if you don't have a water filter, bring extra water.
Leave a bottle of water in the car for when you get back. Even if it's warm, it's better than not having water to replenish with.
I am guilty of letting the excitement of hitting the trail prevent me from applying sunscreen. Every single time, I find myself peeling dead skin off my body a week and a half later, full of regret.
In addition to wearing UPF-rated clothing, apply sunscreen to any exposed skin, including your face, neck, and hands. Reapply throughout your hike — frequently if the UV index is high. The sun's intensity in the hot summer months is unadulterated and can cause permanent damage.
5 More Pro-Tips For Hiking in Hot Weather
- If it's really hot out — 90°F or more — start your hike early in the morning. If it's a full-day hike, break during the hottest time of day, and finish in the afternoon.
- A wet rag or bandanna around your neck will help keep you cool. You can dip a shirt or hat in a stream to help cool your body as well.
- Hydrate early; don't wait until you start hiking to start drinking.
- Take breaks whenever you need. Break in the shade if you can.
- Snack! Salty snacks and drinks with electrolytes are essential for replenishing your muscles and sweat loss.
Summer Hiking FAQs
Can I hike in the summer?
Absolutely! Summer is often the best time to hike, especially for beginners. You're much less likely to encounter snow or mud. You won't be weighed down by extra gear required for cold weather or precipitation.
How do you keep cool when hiking in hot weather?
Wear breathable, moisture-wicking, lightweight clothing. Stick to light colors, and take your breaks in shaded areas. Drink plenty of water so your body can sweat freely and stay hydrated.
What base layer should I wear for hot weather hiking?
Your base layer should be a breathable, moisture-wicking layer. The natural fibers of Merino wool wick sweat efficiently. Synthetic fabrics like polyester wick moisture nearly as well, and they provide more stretch than wool, aiding in comfort.
How do you layer in extreme heat?
While layering during the hottest time of year is not necessary or always beneficial, you may find more comfort in having a lightweight, breathable base layer to pull sweat from your body. If this is you, opt for a loose, thin Merino wool or polyester base layer.
If you're climbing a mountain, you're likely to encounter temperature changes, especially at the summit. A light softshell or fleece outer layer will provide a bit of warmth in shady or high elevation areas.
How do I know if I have heat exhaustion?
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include excessive sweating, fatigue, or muscle cramps. You may also experience headaches, nausea, cold/clammy skin, or dizziness. Read more about warning signs and remedies for heat-related illnesses here.
When you brave the summer heat for a rad view, remember three things:
- Choose lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking clothing.
- Go with light colors. They are more reflective and will keep you cooler.
- Protect yourself from the sun — UPF-rated clothing, sunscreen, long sleeves, and pants are all solid options.
Start your hike early, stay hydrated, and don't be afraid to wet your clothes. Happy trails!
*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.