What to wear the first time you go hiking

woman smiles in front of a panoramic view of the rocky mountains at st marys glacier near idaho springs colorado

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.

What shirt do I wear?

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 or Walmart. I love me some Target for cheap, comfy, and cute stuff to get sweaty in. They have the basics as well as ~trendier~ tops, so it’s impossible to find something you won’t like.

My fellow people with boobs, you will want to wear a bra without a wire. 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. Plus, if you’ve got nice underwire/not sports bras, you don’t want to get them all stinky from hiking. (Breastfeeding people, these nursing bras from Amazon were my go-to!)

Layers are important. In general, I bring one more layer than I need since you the weather can always change by the time you arrive at the trailhead. Just stuff the 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. Pack or re-schedule your trip appropriately!

What pants are good for hiking?

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. If you feel more comfortable in booty shorts, I highly recommend some sort of anti-chafing balm.

If it’s cool enough to need pants, go for something stretchy with pockets. However, if you’re more comfortable in jeans/Dickies/etc, go for it. If you get wet, they will take a while to dry out, but if you want to wear them, get after it.

If your pants/shorts don’t have pockets, make sure something does – a jacket, a backpack, anything. You need somewhere to put your keys and phone, after all!

How do I protect myself from the sun?

As the proud owner of a fivehead, I’m never outside without a hat on since that baby is prone to sunburn. Wearing a hat also keeps your hair out of your face and shields you from any low-hanging plants or branches you may run into!

Sunglasses keep you from squinting AND protect your eyes (particularly important for those of us with lighter eyes) from the sun. 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 used to be a huge proponent of slathering yourself in sunblock, but as more information comes out about the potential harm sunblock is actually doing, I encourage you to first wear clothes, a hat, sunglasses, and try to not be out during the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are strongest.

However, if you’re going to get burned without sunblock, use this handy site to help you find one that is safer. Normally I’m all for the generics to save money, but this is one product where spending some extra cash can be much safer for your health!

If your skin is a problem child like mine, try a sunblock specifically for your face. I also use this sunscreen on Baby OB and really like it, but if you have darker skin (honestly even if you’re super pasty white already) it leaves a lot of white since it’s mineral-based.

If you have darker skin, I’m obviously very white so I’m not a fountain of knowledge for you, but several Black bloggers that I follow recommend this sunscreen (which also scores well on the 2020 Sunscreen Guide site!).

What shoes do I wear hiking?

If you are going on a short hike on a trail without a lot of rocks, wearing your grippiest 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.

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. You can find them cheap at Target or Walmart, don’t worry! You can also consult my guide to socks to find your perfect pair.

Anything else I should bring?

Bug spray. Even if it’s cool out! I’ve been camping in 50 degree weather and still mobbed by mosquitoes. 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.

What about the bebé?

Hiking with Baby OB has been a real trick trying to keep them from getting sunburnt!

They currently pull off all hats and sunglasses, so we’ve been using this hooded swimsuit from Coolibar. However it is 1) expensive and 2) not breathable enough for hiking that’s not in the mountains. It’s ideal for 65-70 degrees. Anything above that gets too hot and sweaty. I do love that it has a hood and is UPF 50.

One hot tip I got from a fellow mom was having the person carrying the baby (if they’re on your front, not your back) wear a giant floppy hat, which will generally also cover the baby up. You can also use aforementioned baby sunscreen!

If they aren’t currently pulling off anything you put on their head or face, these sunglasses worked really well for us!

Published by Laura Cardon

Laura Cardon moved to Colorado as an adult and quickly realized how difficult it was to get started exploring the outdoors in a state full of experts. She founded Outdoor Beginner in 2014 to fill the gap in beginner-friendly content for camping, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. In addition to Outdoor Beginner, she coaches beginner trail runners and works at Runners Roost in Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her spouse and toddler.

%d bloggers like this: