The weekend is here and you’ve got a hot date planned with a new trail – but there’s one question – what to wear when hiking?

If you’re new to hiking, first of all – welcome – we know you’re gonna love it here. Second, don’t be put off by all the terminology that comes along with hiking gear. Moisture-wicking, mid-layers, gaiters… gahhh, what is all this stuff? Luckily, we’re here to answer it for you – in this one comprehensive guide to hiking clothes and apparel.

As I start to write this guide, the question strikes me – where are we hiking? In Australia alone we could be stepping out in search of a tropical oasis in Far North Queensland, braving the chill of Tassie’s Three Capes Track, or traversing the trails in the Red Centre. That’s not to mention New Zealand’s epic treks and endless other inspiring overseas destinations.

These different trails and different conditions will require different sets of clothes and gear for hiking. However, there are some standard rules you can follow such as choosing the right fabrics and layering your clothes.

To make it simple, we’ve broken down this guide by what to wear hiking in both summer and winter – with some notes on what to wear in between. So what are you waiting for? Get reading!

What To Wear for Summer Hiking

1. Hat

Let’s start at the top for summer hiking gear – with protection for your noggin. With Australia’s not-so-UV-friendly climate, a hat should be a staple in your hiking wardrobe.

When you think about the potential hours you’ll spend outdoors exposed to the elements on hikes, it makes sense to put a little thought into choosing the right hiking hat.


Kings Canyon, man, gorge, NT, photo by Tourism NT/Jess Caldwell & Luke Riddle

Photo thanks to Tourism NT


A wide-brimmed hat will keep the sun off your head, neck and potentially your shoulders as well. A peaked cap is good sun protection for your face and can be paired with sunscreen and a collared shirt to protect your neck.

A legionnaires hat (a cap with a flap at the back) is also a great option – there are some lightweight, trail running ones that are great for hiking as well.

2. Sunglasses

A good pair of sunglasses will give your eyes the right UV protection and prevent you squinting your way along the trails. Look for sunglasses that meet the Australian / New Zealand Standard for UV protection.

Also look for a style that will give your eyes the most coverage from all angles – wrap around glasses and those with wide side arms will give you the most protection.

3. Hiking Top

For summer hikes the most important thing to consider when choosing what top to wear is the material. As a base layer, it needs to be made from a breathable material that can wick moisture away from your skin – such as wool, polyester or nylon.



These fabrics will wick the sweat away, allow your skin to breath and prevent chafing. Merino wool in particular is light and soft – and, unlike synthetic fabrics, won’t smell bad even if you’ve worn it for a couple of days.

Whether you choose a hiking shirt or a t-shirt is up to you, as long as it gives you enough cover from the sun.

4. Sports Bra

Sports bras are a lot more comfortable under hiking clothes than regular bras. Ditch the underwire and choose a sports bra with the right level of support. Bonus points if it has moisture-wicking properties to keep you dry and comfy.

5. Extra Layer

It’s always wise to pack an extra layer in case conditions change or you stay out longer than planned. In the peak of summer a fleece jacket or top should do the job. It’ll keep you warm but is lightweight and breathable which is great for summer.


My Jacket and Me – A Piece of Clothing With a Lifetime of Memories, Chagi Weerasena - North Face, Rain Jacket, Hiking, Walls of Jerusalem - Tas, Rain

Photo by Chagi Weerasena


A wind or rain proof layer can also be invaluable in case the conditions change. Most rain jackets will pack down small, making them an easy item to take with you. They can also be used as an outer layer for hiking in cooler conditions so there’s no excuse not to have a rain jacket as part of your hiking wardrobe.


Read more: The Best Waterproof Jackets for Hiking

6. Hiking Pants / Shorts

Choosing between shorts or pants for summer hiking is mostly a personal preference, but there are some general things to consider – such as the materials and the type of trail you’ll be hiking.



Shorts or pants designed for hiking – made from a breathable, water resistant, quick-dry material – are going to work best. If you get caught out in rain or sit on wet earth, you won’t be left soaking for the rest of your hike.

Also consider the conditions of the trail you’re planning on exploring. Hiking pants will offer more protection against insects and scrapes from low twigs or branches.

If you’re planning to hike in multiple seasons, or even for multi-day treks where the weather will be cooler at night, zip off pants might just be your versatile bottom layer – giving you the best of both worlds.

7. Socks

Socks might not seem like an important consideration when hiking, but we’re here to tell you they are! Choosing socks made from the right materials will save you from chafing and blisters. Two things that can absolutely ruin a hike.


Summiting Mt Twynam – Australia's Third Highest Mountain, Winsome Whyte, Wilderness Wear, summit, boots, socks, feet


As a base layer, merino wool, nylon or polyester socks are going to keep your feet comfortable and dry. For summer hikes, look for a sock that has light cushioning for comfort.

If you’re wearing trail runners, a low profile sock will do the job. If you have a higher profile shoe, then a longer sock will keep you comfortable and prevent chafing – but keep in mind it will add extra warmth.

8. Hiking Shoes / Boots

Choosing the right hiking footwear is important. For summer, there are plenty of lightweight hiking shoes or trail running shoes that provide breathability for your feet and enough traction to let you tackle the rougher trails.

Be aware that breathability can sometimes compromise the water-proofing of a shoe – depending on what conditions you’ll be hiking in, this can make a big difference to staying dry.



If you’re planning to carry a heavy backpack you might want more stability around your ankles with a high profile hiking boot. For most hikers, choosing a summer hiking shoe is about personal preference – whether you need the extra ankle support from a high profile boot or are more comfortable in a lightweight, low profile shoe.


Read more: Hiking Boots Vs Trail Runners

9. Sun Protection

Finally – after you’ve followed this guide for what to wear on a summer hike – if there are any parts of your skin still exposed, be sure to cover up with zinc or sunscreen.

This includes your face and neck even if you’re wearing a hat, as UV light can reflect off surfaces such as water. It’s a good idea to apply it before heading out and then reapply again on the trail.

For summer, sunscreen and/or zinc should be a staple in your hiking backpack.


Read more: A Guide To Reef & Ocean Safe Sunscreen

What To Wear Hiking in Winter

10. Beanie

In winter you might want to swap your hat out for a beanie. This will give you extra warmth in a crucial area where heat escapes your body.

However, depending on conditions it’s also important to consider sun protection, in which case sunglasses and a bandana might be a good addition to keep your face and eyes covered.


Catch Sunrise From Mount May (QLD), photo by Lisa Owen, beanie, mountain

11. Sunglasses

Don’t be fooled by a lack of sun, even on a cloudy day sunglasses are essential to protect your eyes from UV exposure. Particularly for hiking near snow or water where the sun can reflect off these surfaces.

Choose a frame that fits your face comfortably and provides extra coverage across the lenses and arm bands. Also make sure the UV protection rating meets the Australian / New Zealand standard.


Oakley Sutro Sunglasses - Lite, Vented or Non-Vented

12. Base Layer – T-shirt or Hiking shirt

Dressing for a winter hike is all about layers. If you get hot you can remove a layer, if you get cold you can put one back on.

Starting with a base layer – one made from breathable, quick-drying and moisture-wicking fabric is going to be your best friend on a winter hike. Snug up against your skin, this layer needs to provide breathability and remove any sweat in order to keep you feeling dry and warm.

Look for a base layer that is made from merino wool, nylon or polyester as these materials will do the job. Cotton tops should NOT be used as a base layer in winter, as they absorbs a lot of moisture and holds it against your skin making it harder to regulate your temperature.

As long as you’ve got the right material, choosing between t-shirts or hiking shirts is really a personal preference for a base layer while hiking in winter.

Read more: Layering For The Aussie Winter

13. Mid Layer – Fleece and Down Jackets

Mid layers are important for insulation while hiking. They prevent you losing body heat and therefore keep you warmer on the trails. Many hikers will use a combination of a fleece and a down jacket.

Ideally your mid layer will be lightweight, quick drying and pack down small, making it easy to carry. We like fleece as it meets all these requirements. For colder conditions you can add a down jacket as well.



Down jackets are a great option as they are light weight and can pack down small to be carried – but they also provide excellent insulation. Down jackets are filled with goose or duck down, which is incredibly efficient at trapping air between the feathers to provide insulation.

For a lesser price – jackets filled with synthetic insulation also do the job very effectively – and they actually work better than real down when wet. In case of exposure to rain or a spilt drink bottle, your synthetic down-filled jacket is going to be more effective out on the trails. They’re also easier to wash!

Read more: 10 Best Puffer Jackets in Australia 2022

14. Outer Layer – Rain / Wind Proof Jacket

In winter your outer layer is going to give you the most protection from the elements. It ideally needs to be windproof as well as waterproof. This will protect you if forecasts change or if you’re taking on different terrains with different weather conditions.



There are a lot of different options on the market and generally the better the quality, the higher the price. However for weekend hikes, or getting into multi-day hikes, a good mid-price-range jacket will do the job of keeping you warm and dry.

15. Hiking Pants

For winter hikes, a quick drying pair of hiking pants is going to keep you dry, warm and comfortable. Hiking pants tend to come in different weights or thicknesses – so you can choose a lightweight pair or a more insulated pair for colder conditions.

Consider how hot you usually get while walking and whether you’ll be camping overnight – as more insulation is a winner after the sun goes down.

Look for a pair with pockets – it’s always handy to have a place to stash your keys or phone. If you want a versatile pair of pants for different seasons, grab a zip-off-pair and you’ll have shorts for summer as well.

For extremely cold conditions or overnight camping you might want to wear tights underneath for extra warmth. If you do, make sure the tights are made from moisture-wicking, breathable material – the same as your other base layers.

16. Socks

Even in winter you need hiking socks that are made from breathable, moisture-wicking material as your feet can get sweaty, or wet from rain and puddles. Wool is the most popular option, but polyester and nylon will do the job as well.


Summiting Mt Twynam – Australia's Third Highest Mountain, Winsome Whyte, Wilderness Wear, socks, feet


They also need to match your hiking shoe or boot. If you have a high profile boot, make sure you have a pair of socks that reach higher up your leg to prevent chafing. Look for socks that have plenty of cushioning as these will provide extra warmth as well.

17. Shoes / Boots

The same considerations need to be made for winter hiking boots or shoes as for summer ones. Check the conditions you’ll be hiking in and the level of ankle support you require.

Generally, higher profile hiking boots will work well in winter as they provide extra warmth as well as stability. They will also give you more water resistance than low profile hiking shoes.

However, hiking boots can require more time to wear-in. So it’s best to buy them well in advance of any long-distance hikes – and test them out on shorter trails or day hikes first.


Read more: The Best Waterproof Hiking Boots for Winter Adventures

18. Gloves

Often overlooked, a good pair of gloves is just as important as other winter hiking gear. They’ll keep your hands warm and you won’t have to hike with your hands in your pockets. Instead you can keep them free in case of branches or trip hazards – or to snap a photo of a neat view!

Gloves come in a range of different thicknesses and mittens work well for extra cold conditions.

19. Sun protection

Just because you’re hiking in colder conditions, doesn’t mean you won’t be exposed to UV rays, so wearing sunscreen is a good idea even in winter. Particularly if you’re hiking in snowy areas where the sun can reflect off surfaces and the cold can make the sun feel less harsh. Don’t forget to pack it in your hiking backpack so you can reapply!

Hiking the In Between Seasons – Autumn and Spring

For spring and autumn hikes, depending on the conditions, you can choose a mix of the winter and summer hiking clothes. If you’re doing a multi-day hike in spring or autumn, you may have warm conditions during the day but they will drop overnight – so have your layers ready.

The main things to remember are to check trail and weather conditions, wear sunscreen, and use your layers. It’s also good to keep in mind potential forecast changes and changing weather conditions – you might need to wear or take extra layers with you.


What Not To Wear Hiking

There are a few universally agreed items that are a big N-O for hikers. We’ve covered what you should be wearing for the best protection, comfort, and smell-free hikes. Now here’s our list of what not to wear!


When cotton get wet (from sweat or rain) it absorbs a lot of moisture. Hiking socks or clothes made from cotton are more likely to chafe and won’t provide insulation if you’re hiking in cold conditions. Avoid cotton socks and cotton clothing in general.


Denim is like cotton – it absorbs moisture and doesn’t provide insulation in cold conditions. As tempting as it might be, leave your denim jacket and high-rise jeans at home.

The Latest Trends

Yes, you wanna look good while you’re out hiking (hey, Mother Nature is watching) but fast fashion doesn’t usually translate to providing protection from the elements. Clothing that’s designed specifically for outdoor use is made from durable fabrics and designed to keep you warm, dry and comfortable while hiking.

If you’re planning on continuing hiking well into the future – once you get hooked, we’ve no doubt you will – then it makes sense to invest in the right gear.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need gaiters for hiking?

Depending on where you’re planning to hike, you might appreciate a pair of gaiters. They’re protective clothing that covers the lower legs and ankles, usually with a stirrup that passes underneath your shoe.

They come in lightweight options to protect against sand, dirt or water entering your shoes. Then there’s heavier variations right through to gaiters that will protect your legs against sticks, shrubs, mud and snake bites.

Do I need waterproof pants for hiking?

If you’re likely to face very wet conditions, waterproof pants (aka rain pants) will come in handy for keeping your bottom half dry. Rain pants fit over your hiking pants as an extra layer. Look for a pair with side zips that allow you to take them on and off without removing your boots.

So now you’ve got your layers ready and your sunscreen packed, it’s time to hit the trails!

What are your go-to hiking clothing? Is there a staple item you can’t leave home without?

Let us know in the comments!


Feature image thanks to @rissa.shelton