How to Choose Clothes for Backpacking – “Must Know” Tips for Beginners

Picking the right outfit for backpacking is paramount to the completion of your journey.

A trek in the wild is not where you get a warm welcome especially when you are alone.

Just visualize yourself in the middle of nowhere carrying a heavy backpack, it’s raining and you get soaking wet!

Or it is a sunny day and you are sweating profusely and you get stinking wet?

Alright, the Nays have it in this debate.

Some of us, that have been out there, understand why proper dressing for backpacking should be taken seriously. We have been bruised and battered and we learned our lessons.

So let’s explore the clothing options for your next backpacking activity for you to enjoy your journey.

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Hiking Clothes


Your outerwear is by far the most important layer. The outer layer comes in handy because you want to trail in the woods whole day long and comfortably.

The weather is always unpredictable which means your outer layer is your first line of defense in whatever situation Mother Nature will present you with.


Starting from the top, a jacket is a great asset in cold situations. Carry a non-breathable jacket for cold weather and consider a breathable pair in dry conditions.

Get a light one that saves you the hassle of packing it.

It should be waterproof to keep you dry when it rains. Save yourself some bucks if you already have a windbreaker, though.

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Hiking Shirts

Consider something light and breathable. Such an outfit is good for strenuous activities as it helps to break away sweat.

Wear long-sleeved shirts for chilly weather and short-sleeved shirts or t-shirts during hot situations.

The advantage with long sleeve shirt is that you can roll up the sleeves when it gets hot. A pair of windproof shirt will do you good in dry conditions.


This is the critical part when hiking as pants or shorts do influence your mobility in the jungle.

Get them heavy and they will wear you down quickly. A pair of light, short running pants is the best for your movements on the wild terrain.

Avoid shorts that require a belt for you to wear. You want to be very light when hiking and a belt on your pants adds some little weight on you.

You still must consider the weather conditions. Shorts might not do well in cold conditions as they keep you shivering while pants might be uncomfortable in hot situations.

That convertible pant you have in your wardrobe will be of great use in all weather circumstances.

Jeans are the worst to wear when hiking – they can keep you sweaty. Only wear them if you have no other option at all.

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The choice depends on the hiking conditions and material options.

Wear lightweight socks for warm weather and easy trails. Moderate to cold weather conditions needs a little bit of advance so you can wear mid-weight socks.

The difference is – lightweight socks are very thin whereas mid-weight are a little thicker and they have extra cushion, especially in the heel area.


Sometimes it can be sunny and it is crucial to protect your face from the sun.

Hiking Hat

It is important to have one in your bag especially if you are hiking for a couple of days. Have two if possible; a full brim hat and a simple cap.

A full-brim hat covers your ears and stretches around your neck area to ensure that you are well protected.

A simple cap is effective in the event that you are facing the sun because it allows you to see ahead better.

Consider the outerwear designs

Outerwear clothing comes in different designs made for different uses. Compare different features when you are looking for outer layer clothing so as to pick the most appropriate clothing that suits your needs.

Look for adjustable openings on cuffs, waist, and neck so that you can adjust to tighten or loosen depending on the weather.

Want to keep your head dry?

Backpacking hoods will do. Find those that can be folded away when not in use.

Look for vents in your clothing for breathability purpose. However, too many vents can leak when it rains so pick wisely on this.

Talking of leaks, consider storm flaps to cover your pockets, zippers and other openings from leaks. Look for sealed seams to prevent water from getting through the stitching.

Insulation Layer

This layer helps you retain heat and the material for proper clothing is what matters. The clothing materials to consider here include wool, goose down and fleece.

Wool is mostly recommended for insulation because it is a natural insulator. It can be worn for several days without washing it.

  • Pros: It keeps insulating even when wet.
  • Cons: It takes too long to dry.

Pick Icebreaker merino wool if the place you are going to hike is ice cold. In cold weather, this material absorbs moisture from the environment to generate heat.

It also contains fibers that serve as air pockets that stores heat to keep you warm.

Icebreaker merino also performs well in warm weather. It is breathable, therefore, it lets sweat escape to the surface of the fabric and evaporate without making you feel damp and unpleasant.

Goose-down is also a very good insulation material.

  • Pros: Works best in dry or extremely cold conditions.
  • Cons: Must be kept consistently dry to maintain its performance. The loft in down also clumps when you wash it, therefore, it can become useless sometimes.

Fleece is another material to consider for insulation. Its properties come very close to those of wool and it is very effective in locking in warm air.

  • Pros: If weight is very important, it is a little lighter than wool. Fleece possesses similar capacity in heat retention in its air pockets and wicks away body sweat just like wool.
  • Cons: Fleece is highly flammable so be cautious when lighting a fire in the wild.


This is the layer that is in contact with your skin. Your underwear should wick sweat away from your body.

For outdoor use, it is anything that lets you loosen up and should fit loosely. It also serves as an extra insulation layer.

Again, the choice of material turns out to be useful.

Avoid cotton for underwear because it absorbs sweat rather than wicks it away. When it gets wet, its air pockets fill up with water and it loses its insulation value. It also takes too long to dry.

Avoid clothes made from cellulose fiber too because their water absorption rate is even quicker than cotton.

The better options however for inner layer are silk and synthetics.

Silk is the best for moderate to cool weather conditions.

  • Pros: It is soft and feels comfortable to wear. Its wicking and insulation properties are superb. It adds no bulk as it is very light.
  • Cons: It requires special treatment including cleaning. It also needs laundering after every use to avoid sweat odor.

Synthetics including polyester are ideal for all backpacking activities and conditions. It is the best material for rainy and hot conditions.

Pros: It’s very elastic and it enhances mobility. It wicks away moisture effectively and creates a dry layer on top of the skin. It also dries faster than most fabrics.

Cons: It’s prone to staining and it can build odor if worn daily during backpacking activities.

Sleeping layer

Most people tend to forget about this part but it is as important as any other layer.

Nature Hiking

The sleeping layer serves as the cleanest pair of clothes to wear at the end of the day. It includes long pants and sleeping socks.

Pick thick pants in cold seasons and light ones in warm conditions. Your socks selection should abide by the same rule too; whether you want to add more warmth or lose heat.

The sleeping layer also serves as an emergency layer in case you lose or reap your other clothing.

In conclusion, for you to enjoy your outdoor venture make sure you plan for the conditions ahead. Have happy hiking!

Karlis Kikuts

Karlis Kikuts

Coffee addict. Digital nomad. Solo traveler and blogger. Camping and hammocking enthusiast. Tiny book worm. In other words, the guy behind