What to Wear Backpacking
A common mistake that backpackers make is either bringing too much clothing or bringing clothing that is inappropriate for the conditions. Learn how to use layers when backpacking to stay warm and dry while taking fewer items.
How Much to Bring?
For most three-season backpacking, you may only need one set of clothes for hiking, one set of base layers for sleeping, several pairs of socks and an extra pair of underwear. Instead of bringing extra tops or pants, consider doing laundry at camp. Simply fill a plastic bag with water and swish the clothes around, then wring out and hang on a tree, rock, or the back of your pack to dry.
Bring a separate pair of base layers and socks just for sleeping. Not only will doing so keep your sleeping bag cleaner, it will also prevent body oils and dirt from affecting the loft and warmth of your bag. It will also help to keep you warmer since clothing worn during the day may be damp from exertion.
Keeping warm: In colder weather, bring an extra layer to stay warm and dry, such as a lightweight fleece top or insulated pants. These items can also be worn with base layers for sleeping if needed. Even on summer trips, a lightweight hat and pair of gloves are essential in case the temperature takes a plunge. In colder conditions, consider wool or fleece-lined hats, insulated gloves and a scarf or neck gaiter for extra warmth.
- How to Layer Hiking Apparel
- Best Women’s Hiking Tops & Pants
- Footwear for Hiking & Backpacking
- Personal Hygiene for Backpackers
What I Take Backpacking
What I Typically Wear
- long-sleeve shirt
- hiking pants
- trail running shoes
- hat with brim
What I Carry in My Pack
- rain jacket (regardless of the forecast)
- puffy jacket
- used only for sleeping: base layer top, base layer bottoms, sleep socks
- 1 pair extra socks
- one pair extra underwear
- lightweight gloves
- no extra tops or pants
For trips longer than two nights
- 1-2 extra pairs of socks
Rainy Weather Additions
- rain pants
- rain mitts
Cold Weather Additions
- lightweight insulated hoodie or fleece
- insulated booties
- down pants
- heavier gloves
For Mosquito Season
I used to apply insect repellent regularly when backpacking during mosquito season, but now I wear a long-sleeve woven top (woven fabric is difficult for mosquitoes to bite through versus knit) and long pants, and I make sure that both layers are loose fitting. Tight clothing makes it much easier for the buggers to land and bite you.
- long-sleeve button-down shirt made from woven fabric
- long pants that fit loose
- head net
For Hot Weather
In hot and muggy conditions, I might take a short sleeve shirt and shorts, but then I would likely need to use more sunscreen and bug protection. Instead, I tend to prefer wear long sleeve shirts and pants with wicking properties, making sure they fit loosely for air circulation to stay cool. Wicking fabric helps to keep you comfortable and dry by pulling moisture and sweat off your skin.