Hiking can be enjoyable and invigorating in any season if you are well prepared and dress properly. Wearing layers of comfortable clothing is appropriate in nearly all weather conditions, making it easy to adjust to temperature variations and unexpected inclement weather. Never wear cotton hiking clothes. Cotton traps moisture against the body and can lead to hypothermia if it gets wet in cool conditions. Instead, wear synthetic fabrics and wool.
A few layers of well-designed clothing can make the difference between an enjoyable winter hike and a miserable experience.
One of the most important clothing items for winter hiking is a lightweight, insulated jacket. Wear a long-sleeved, zip-up fleece shell or wool shirt over a long-sleeved non-cotton thermal shirt to stay warm and wick moisture away from your body. Medium or heavy-weight silk or synthetic long johns keep legs warm underneath sturdy, water resistant pants. Two pairs of wool or wool-blend socks keep your feet warm and dry; bring an extra pair in case your feet get wet. Two pairs of gloves are recommended as well. Be sure to bring a warm hat that covers your ears to avoid losing precious body heat through your head.
Hiking in the summer brings opposite factors into play. Dress to avoid heat stroke, dehydration and sunburn, as well as hypothermia. Rain and cool nights can cause hypothermia even in summer. Wear T-shirts and shorts or pants made of synthetic fabrics like polypropylene or polyester to wick moisture away from your body.
Bring a fleece jacket or wool sweater in case the temperature drops. A light, wind and waterproof jacket or shell will provide you with comfort on summits and in rainy or windy weather. Choose lightweight, synthetic socks and bring an extra pair along.
Spring and Autumn
Spring and autumn are usually the most temperate times for hiking, but weather can be quite unpredictable during these seasons. Dressing properly requires a combination of summer and winter-type clothing. You will want to stay warm, but avoid overheating. Layers of lightweight, synthetic fabrics will allow you to add or remove items as needed. Wear a non-cotton T-shirt under a lightly insulated wind- and water-resistant jacket with a hood. Bring a wool sweater or a long-sleeved zip-up fleece. An insulated vest can provide you with the right amount of warmth in moderate weather. Wear light, synthetic socks under a pair of wool socks and always bring an extra pair. Long pants protect your legs from the elements, and if it’s quite cool you may want to wear long johns underneath.
Wear hiking shoes for light hiking. Hiking shoes provide medium ankle support, are breathable, lightweight, usually waterproof and moisture wicking. They have enough traction on the sole for hiking maintained trails or level ground.
If you plan to hike more challenging trails, longer distances or carry a large backpack, hiking boots are a better choice. Hiking boots are waterproof and moisture wicking, have a thicker, sturdier sole with more traction than hiking shoes, and they provide much more ankle support than hiking shoes. Make sure you break in your hiking boots before you attempt a long or challenging hike.
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