What To Wear The First Time You Go Hiking

Despite what many Google results 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 all the hiking clothes you’ll need. Let me break it down for you.

On Top

Throw on an old t-shirt. Seriously, you’ll be fine on a short little day hike (aka, you are not going to be out more than a few hours). If you’re already sporty in some other way, use activewear you already own.

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 ass off if your shirt is at least 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’s athletic apparel section. Literally anything from Target is cheap, comfy, and cute. They have the basics and ~trendier~ tops, so it’s impossible to find something you won’t like.

My fellow females, you will want to wear a sports bra. There is no place for vanity in hiking, and you don’t want your boobs pushed up to your chin, even if you’re just walking. 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 a sweatshirt or long sleeve shirt 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.

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. Make sure to look at the hourly forecast and the radar.

Down Below

Same as the top – any old athletic shorts will do. I actually even just wore regular shorts the first few times I went hiking and was totally fine. Keep in mind these were not booty shorts. There is no place for booty shorts in hiking, because chafing.

What To Wear On Your First Hike

Even if it’s cool out, jeans are a mistake. This includes jorts. 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 are not denim or restrictive in any way.

Keep in mind you do want to have pockets in some part of your outfit, whether it’s in a sweatshirt or in your pants. You need a place to hold your keys and phone (which you only brought for pictures and emergencies right? This is a no-tweeting zone). If you don’t have pockets, you can always get a Flipbelt. Mine fits keys, a snack, and my iPhone 6 and is super comfy to wear.

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. Ladies – the SPF in your makeup is not going to cut it. It will be at most 20 SPF and that is no match for the sun if you’re out for a long time, particularly in the mountains.

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 – the CVS and Walgreen’s impersonations of Neutrogena’s face sunblock are equally nice.

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.

There are plenty of hiking/technical fabric hats to choose from, but any hat will do. Obviously, if you’re hiking in cold weather you’ll want to wear some sort of beanie, preferably a moisture-wicking one.

A headband can sub in for a hat if you’re also planning on slathering sunscreen on your face. It comes down to personal preference, so go with whatever you have handy. These are my fave.

If you forgo a hat, you’ll want to wear sunglasses. I have single-handedly kept Target’s sunglasses section in business after losing pair after pair each year. You can go cheap on sunglasses or wear whatever you have.

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 liked these from REI. Since I spent more than $10 on them they’re basically my child, and I’ve managed to keep them intact for a full year. This is a big moment for me.


If you are going on a short hike on a well-maintained trail, wearing your best sneakers is not going to be a tragedy. I totally understand not wanting to shell out the cash for hiking boots before you even figure out whether you like hiking.

If you decide to wear sneakers, be careful since you will not have as much tread or ankle support as hiking boots give you. 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 hiking socks, regardless of how dorky you may think they look with sneakers. There are plenty of shorter styles if you are wearing sneakers, so just wear something that’s not 100% cotton. Cotton socks are your mortal enemy on the trail. They will give you blisters and make your feet beg for mercy. If you listen to nothing else in this entire blog, listen to this one tip.

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 out OFF’s dry feel spray.

WATER. Camelbak has the best water bottles, but any water bottle will do. Just make sure you bring a full one!

Now that you’re ready to go, have a blast! And if you fall in love with hiking, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. For help finding your first pair of hiking boots, click here.

Happy Hiking!


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