Photo by True New Zealand Adventures. Used under Creative Commons.
Clothes make the man (or woman) even if you're only camping or hiking in the wild. Obviously, we're not telling you to dress fashionably. But what you wear while you're out camping is very important. A poor choice in clothing could turn what should have been an enjoyable trip into an extremely uncomfortable one. And sometimes, your clothes could mean life or death in the wild.
So, what do you wear when you go camping or hiking? Well, most of what you will need will depend on what season it is and the location you're planning on visiting. If the weather’s cold or you’re going to be high up in the mountains, obviously you’ll need clothes that will keep you warm. Hotter weather will mean lighter or less clothes. Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of clothes though, we’ll first focus on the one thing that matters most – your shoes.
What's the big deal with shoes? Well, should you happen to buy hiking or camping clothes that aren’t quite right, you can always supplement or subtract. If the weather is too cold for what you’re wearing, then you can wear more clothes. If it's too hot, wear clothes that are lighter (or just take off a layer). Unfortunately, if you're wearing the wrong shoes, you’re stuck like a pig who mistook quicksand for a muddy paradise. Your shoes can only go on or off. They don’t adhere to the supplement or subtract principle. With the wrong shoes, you’re risking foot pain, discomfort, or even injury (not great when you depend on your feet to get you home). So, if you're going to go hiking, there's only one option for you - hiking boots.
Hiking boots provide your feet ample comfort while making sure that there is limited flexibility at your ankles which prevents you from easily twisting your ankle (or worse) when you slip, stumble, or fall. They also help you maintain your balance even if you're walking on uneven ground. And if you’re against having sloshy muddy feet as you hike, you’ll definitely want hiking boots. They are usually 5-7 inches high, so your feet will be protected from any mud or water you encounter on the trail. (They incidentally also act as a great place to carry a small survival knife like the Cold Steel Super Edge 42SS).
Photo by Rebecca Siegel. Used under Creative Commons.
To choose your hiking boots, the only thing you'll need to concern yourself with is the fit. While it's also good to listen to the advice of a salesperson or, better, an experienced friend, their recommendations won't be worth anything if the boots don't fit your feet comfortably.
Toe Space: Make sure that there's enough space in front of your toes when you're trying a boot on. This "feature" ensures that your toes won't keep hitting the front of the boot whenever you're hiking down a steep hill (an instant recipe for ingrown toenails).
Ankle Space (or lack thereof): Also, your boots of choice should not give your ankles much space. Too much space can cause your foot to slide up and down inside the boot while walking causing blisters.
Heavy Hiking Socks: Another tip you should keep in mind is to bring heavy hiking socks with you when you buy boots. This way, you can test the boots without having to guess how much space the socks will take up.
Take a Stroll: Lastly, try to spend as much time as you can walking with the boots on while you're inside the store before you consider buying one to ensure that you have found the right fit.
The next on our list is rainwear. No matter what the weatherman says, there's always a chance of rain especially high up in the mountains. Sure, a little bit of rain never hurt anyone, but getting soaked will not only be particularly uncomfortable, it can also lead to hypothermia if you stay wet when the weather is quite cold.
Your rain gear should be waterproof rather than water-resistant. This is because the latter only means that it will prevent you from getting wet when it's just light rain but not if it's a drenching one.
Your rain gear should also be breathable; it should allow your sweat to evaporate. It wouldn't do you any good if you got drenched by your own sweat rather than rain. Sweat is not any dryer or more comfortable.
Another consideration is venting. Your rain gear should have venting features like pit zips to increase its breathability. Adjustability and fit are features that you will also need to take into consideration. Having a rain jacket and pants that have an adjustable hood, cinch cords, and cuffs can help seal out the rain better. Your rain gear should also have enough space for you to be able to wear layering underneath while also allowing you to have a full range of motion.
When it comes to hiking clothes, anything made of cotton is a no-no. Though cotton is really comfortable to wear, it has no insulation value when it gets wet, whether it be from rain or your sweat.It also gets another strike on the “fail” board because it is extremely hard to dry out. So, what should you choose? You want to get clothing that is made up of synthetics, wool, or silk - all of which provide excellent insulation even when they're wet. In addition, you should choose clothes that easily dry out when wet. The easier they are to dry, the less clothing you'll have to bring with you.
Another tip that you should keep in mind is layering. Though it makes sense to bring heavy, warm clothes if you're going to be hiking in cold weather, it's actually better if you choose several lighter layers of clothing to wear. This is because air is trapped between the layers (actually adding to the insulation value of your clothes). Another plus with layering is that you can take off layers when it's too hot or put more on when it becomes cold.
What else will you need? Below are some of the other types of clothing recommended for hiking:
- heavy synthetic/wool socks or liner socks
- roomy nylon "convertible" pants that can become shorts if needed
- synthetic or silk underwear
- nylon or synthetic t-shirt
- light, fleece sweater
- shell parka or windbreaker
- wool or synthetic knitted cap or hat
As you get experience in different terrains and in different seasons, you’ll fine tune your excursion wardrobe to be perfect for you. If you’re not at that point yet, follow these clothing guidelines and your hiking trip is sure to be a success.