What to wear the first time you go hiking

Editor’s Note: Most of you get here by Googling some form of “Can I wear sweatpants to go hiking?” The answer is absolutely yes. 

Despite what Pinterest will tell you, if you want to try out hiking, you don’t need much. If you’re on a well-maintained trail and go on a day with mild temperatures, you probably already have everything you’ll need.

Quick vocabulary note: “day hiking” is what the outdoor industry refers to what you and I just think of as hiking, going for a walk, or wandering around for a few hours. This post is for day hiking, not a full-on backpacking trip (you’re on the wrong website altogether if that’s what you’re in search of).

Ok, let’s get into it.

On Top

Throw on an old t-shirt. Moisture-wicking fabric is really only important on either end of the weather spectrum.

You may have read the phrase “cotton kills” which I find to be a bit dramatic, particularly if you’re just going to be out for a few hours in the daytime. However, if it’s cold out and you get sweaty, you want something wicking your sweat and keeping you as dry as possible to make sure you stay warm, particularly if you’re in the shade or the sun starts going down.

The same goes for hot weather. It’s not as bad to be sweating your booty off if your shirt is helping you stay dry so your sweating is more effective. But, not the end of the world to just wear a regular t-shirt.

If you want to get something made of technical fabric on a budget, then hit up Target. Everything from Target is cheap, comfy, and cute. They have the basics as well as ~trendier~ tops, so it’s impossible to find something you won’t like.

My fellow females, you will want to wear a sports bra. You will sweat. And you will curse yourself for wearing a bra with an underwire. Target’s sports bras are also awesome, plus come in a million fun colors and styles.

Layers are important. Make sure to bring long sleeves if you are hiking in early spring or fall weather. In general, I bring more than I need since you the weather can always change by the time you arrive at the trailhead. Always stuff an extra layer in your backpack (take a look at my packing list here).

Look up the location on Weather.com ahead of time to get an idea of what to expect. Make sure you go to the website (on a computer if possible) since for some reason parks don’t come up on the app. Look at the hourly forecast and the radar to see if any weather is coming your way.

Down Low

Any athletic shorts will do. I actually even just wore regular shorts from Loft the first few times I went hiking because they were brown and a sturdy fabric so I thought, “Surely, THESE are hiking shorts!”

Keep in mind these were not booty shorts. There is no place for booty shorts in hiking. This is no shade to anyone who wears booty shorts. It just means a lot of chafing.

What To Wear On Your First Hike

If it’s cool enough to need pants, jeans are generally not great. They’re just not comfortable if you get wet or sweaty. Wear sweatpants, leggings, yoga pants, anything that qualifies as pants that have as much elastic as possible. But again, you’re not going to die if you wear jeans.

Make sure you bring something with pockets – a jacket, a backpack, shorts, anything. You’ll need somewhere to put your keys.

On Your Face

Slathering yourself in sunblock is a must, even if you think you will be in the shade most of the time. It’s better to have sunblocked unnecessarily than to be a red, crispy mess.

If your skin is a problem child like mine, try a sunblock specifically for your face. It can be a little bit more expensive, but definitely worth it. You can save a few bucks by going generic – I’ve had good luck with CVS, King Soopers, and Walgreen’s generics.

Beyond sunblock, some sort of hat/headband/sunglasses combination is ideal but not required. As the proud owner of a fivehead, I like to cover it up since it’s prone to sunburn. Wearing a hat not only reduces your risk of getting crispy but also keeps your hair out of your face and shields you from any low-hanging branches or plants you rub up against.

Since you’ll be outside, it should be no surprise that wearing sunglasses will be more comfortable than squinting. You don’t need anything fancy – I have single-handedly kept Target’s sunglasses section in business after losing pair after pair each year.

It can be nice to use croakies to keep your sunglasses from falling off your face and possibly a cliff and/or to buy a sportier pair that hugs your face.


If you are going on a short hike on a trail without a lot of rocks, wearing your best sneakers is totally fine. I completely understand not wanting to shell out the cash for hiking boots before you even figure out whether you like hiking. If you do want to find your first pair of hiking boots, click here for help.

Keep in mind that you will not have as much tread or ankle support as hiking boots give you, so just be careful. That being said, I survived the Billy Goat Trail in Maryland in sneakers:

One of the tamer sections of the BG Trail. These guys were much more prepared than I was! Photo from Howard County Sierra Club.
One of the tamer sections of the BG Trail. These guys were much more prepared than I was! Photo from Howard County Sierra Club.

Please please PLEASE get some non-cotton socks so you don’t get blisters. Again, Target pulls through here. If you’re headed to REI, you can consult my guide to socks to find your perfect pair.

Other Things You Don’t Want To Forget

Bug spray. Even if it’s cool out! It was in the 50s at the campsite we went to last weekend, and there were still bugs everywhere. Get the backwoods/deep woods edition of your preferred brand. If you hate the greasy feel that bug spray leaves, try OFF’s dry feel spray.

WATER. Any water bottle will do – just make sure you bring a full one! Getting a reusable water bottle not only saves the planet, but is a million times cheaper than buying single-use bottles all the time.

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