What to wear the first time you go hiking

Despite what most of Pinterest will tell you, if you want to try out hiking, you don’t need to buy much of anything. Honestly, 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 aside: “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 if that’s what you’re in search of).

Ok, let’s get into it.

On Top

Throw on an old t-shirt. Seriously, you’ll be fine.

Moisture-wicking fabric is really only important on either end of the weather spectrum. You want something wicking your sweat and keeping you as dry as possible if it’s a little chilly to make sure you stay warm, particularly if the sun starts going down. 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.

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 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 err on the side of bringing more clothes since you never know exactly what you’re going to get at the trailhead. Always stuff an extra layer in your backpack (take a look at my packing list here).

If you’re hiking in a national or state park, you can usually look up the location on Weather.com. Make sure you go to the website 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 old athletic shorts will do. I actually even just wore regular khaki-like 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 inner thigh chafing.

What To Wear On Your First Hike

Even if it’s cool out, jeans are generally a mistake. They’re just not comfortable if you get wet. Sweaty denim is about as enjoyable as wet denim, in that it is completely miserable. Wear sweatpants, leggings, yoga pants, anything that qualifies as pants that have as much elastic as possible.

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, 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. I love these from REI, and my proudest accomplishment is hanging on to them for two whole years (and still going!).

Feeties

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. For help finding your first pair of hiking boots, click here.

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 are 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 (try to ignore the fact that you’re spraying harsh chemicals all over your skin). 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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