Wondering what to wear on a long mountain day hike? You never know what the weather is going to do in the mountains, especially in spring and fall. Therefore, layering your clothing is key. I’ve been on day hikes where I enjoyed sunshine, endured rain, and trekked through snow fall. I have also started out on a cold morning only to have the day heat up resulting in me getting all hot and bothered as I hadn’t layered properly.
Yes, layering can be a hassle, especially if you end up carrying a lot of what you started out with or carrying a lot starting out. Also, layering can feel bulky. Regardless, appropriate layering is so important to wear on a hike. Because of this, I am pretty picky about what I wear as comfort is so important. There are so many variations of hiking clothing, no two people will consistently like the same things. Your personal preferences, age, and comfort level will vary. I know at 53, I am going to probably make different choices than someone 23. The basics are pretty much the same though. The following is a description of the basic layers and examples of what work for me.
A base layer is basically the first item you put on. If it’s chilly or has potential to be chilly you will want a good warm base layer. Its function is to keep moisture off of your skin by a clothing technique called wicking. Basically, a base layer is designed to keep you dry. There are base layers for both cold and warm weather. In cold weather, the base layers are designed to wick any moisture away from your body and therefore keep you warm. In warm weather, the base layer also keeps you dry by wicking away sweat from your body, helping to keep you cooler and controls odor. There are different levels of base layer, lightweight, mid-weight, and heavyweight.
There are many brands of base layers available. Also there are many choices, such as wool or synthetic. Wool is popular, but I don’t personally care for wool tops. I am partial to this particular base layer. Amazing how warm this base layer keeps me. It is comfortable, light weight, and doesn’t feel restrictive. This base layer also has an exterior moisture-wick material that will keep you dry. I am comfortable wearing this, underneath my other layers even in low 30’s (F) weather. I found it perfect to wear on a mountain day hike.
In the summer, your base layer may be a tank or T-shirt, just make sure they have wicking capabilities. Don’t forget the sunscreen as you can burn easily in high altitude. I am an Under Armor fan and I like this type of tank, it’s more loose and works well when hiking. Wicking shirts also work well if you are planing on water activity during your hike because of the fast dry performance. Cotton will absorb moisture and retain it, which takes it a long time too dry.
The mid layer is to provide warmth in cold weather. Fleece is a good mid layer as it provides good insulation to your body and works well to wear on a mountain hike in mild weather, I wear a long sleeve. In warm weather, I wear a long sleeve cotton shirt over my base layer. The cotton provides warmth, and the base layer provides moisture control. In the summer I wear a long sleeve wicking shirt over a tank top. I want both layers to be quick drying and moisture wicking because of the heat.
When it comes to a chilly day hike, I found this Patagonia Fleece to be perfect for layering. It is warm and comfortable yet light weight enough to fit in a day pack. Layering is so important as the weather can change quickly and early morning and late evening can get cold fast. I have been known to add this layer, take it off, add it, and take it off again as the weather changes.
I have found this shirt to be perfect for layering on a warmer day. I layer this over my ColdGear base layer or over a tank top depending on the weather. This shirt is lightweight and comfortable, perfect for when it starts to warm up but not yet warm enough to toss off the long sleeves. Also great for sun protection on your arms.
An outer layer is used to protect you from wind and rain, also snow. Definitely something you will want to wear or pack for a mountain day hike. Such as a shell jacket or rain jacket. There are many styles and materials for this, just make sure it is waterproof. Your outer layer should be breathable to help sweat escape.
I have never hiked in cold enough weather to need a shell. I wear a Frogg Togg rain jacket as my outer layer, similar to this one. It keeps me dry, therefore I stay warm. The elastic in the wrists is snug enough to keep out rain yet not tight or constricting. The hood and neck also are snug enough to keep out rain but not so snug I feel like they are choking me.
When it comes to what to wear on a long mountain hike, there are base layers for pants as well. You can find many different brands, lengths and materials of base layer pants, just like the tops. These Nike-Pro’s are my favorite. I like the comfort and length. They again have wicking capability and I stay warm and comfortable. I have worn them for 5 years and they still are just like new. I also wear them when I go skiing.
When it comes to a mid layer for pants, if the weather is really cold, you could wear insulated pants or thermal long underwear. I have never hiked in weather below low 30’s (F) and have never had the need for any insulated bottom layer. I am always comfortable with base layer pants under my regular hiking pants.
When it comes to an outer layer, I really like my North Face hiking pants in cool and colder weather. Mine are similar to the ones shown, just an older season style. As I said above, if it’s cold, I wear them over my base layer. If it is warm, I wear them alone. These pants are made of wicking material and they have always kept me dry. I like the elastic waist because it moves with me. These are capris, but because I am short, (5’1), they fall right below the opening of my boots. This keeps me dry, but also keep the pants from getting wet or dirty from the trail. I also wear dark grey as it doesn’t show the dirt as much.
In the summer, I wear hiking shorts or hiking skirt. I like the shorts and skorts more than athletic shorts, although I have worn athletic shorts before and they worked fine. The hiking shorts and skorts are my choice because they have roomy pockets and I find them more comfortable. I especially like the skorts because you can move so well in them, great for flexibility. And honestly, I like the skorts because they are cute and girly. I like my PrAna skort because it is shorter than most which works great for my short frame.
Never have I felt the need to wear an outer shell or rain pants. I have rain pants but I can’t give an opinion on them as I have never worn them. When it rains, I have found my North Face capris keep me dry.
Socks need to sty dry as well to prevent rubbing between your skin and footwear, thus creating sore areas and abrasions. Merino wool socks are awesome. They have a natural wicking ability which again keeps your feet dry and they can hold a lot of moisture. I have never had wet uncomfortable feet in my Merino wool socks. I have a few different brands and I like REI and Darn Tough brands the best. They keep my feet warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather.
Merrell hiking boots are both comfortable and durable. They have just enough ankle support and don’t feel heavy to walk in. These are similar to my boots as mine are older and therefore no longer available.
I hope my suggestions are helpful next time you wonder what to wear on a long mountain hike. Of course, just because this is what works for me doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Go out hike and explore and find what works best for you! Happy Hiking!
To read about my mountain hikes you can follow these links:
Diary of a Gen-X Traveler contains affiliate links, including Amazon. This means I get a small commission for each qualifying purchase through my links. Thank you!