What to Wear Hiking in the Summer

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Who doesn’t love summer? From a young age, we’re taught that summer equals freedom. That’s why the local trails and parks are packed during this time.  

However, it’s also the hottest time of the year and, if you’re not prepared, you could wind up in trouble. Wearing the right clothing is essential for staying safe and happy on the trail in summer.  

A lot of what to wear hiking boils down to personal preference. Some people like shorts while others prefer pants. If you know what to consider and how things work, you can easily put together the right outfit for hiking in the summer.  

What to Wear Hiking in Summer – Overview 

In the summer you want lightweight, breathable, wicking fabrics. Think loose and flowy. The last thing you want is your shirt sticking to you.  

Light colors like pastels will help reflect light and keep you cooler. Try to avoid vibrant colors like orange, yellow, or white as they attract bugs.   

Also, consider fabrics with sun protection and bug protection built in. Let’s face it, few people reapply that sunscreen or bug spray, but if it’s baked into your clothing you’ll have a leg up.  

Don’t forget that there are additional considerations if you plan to hike in the rain.

Woman sitting on rocks dressed in shorts, blue shirt and hiking boots.

If you want to add bug protection to your clothing, you can purchase permethrin spray. It’s available on Amazon and at most outfitters. You simply take your clothes outside and spray them, then allow them to dry. Poof! You’re protected for the next 7 to 10 washes. (Be sure to follow the instructions and don’t get the spray on your skin. It’s safe when the clothing is dry).  

Permethrin is especially important if you’re in tick country like we are in the southeast. It’s an insecticide so it kills them. 

Lastly, be sure to bring an extra layer. This sounds odd because it’s hot, but 65-degree mornings, or hiking in shaded areas at higher elevations may require more warmth.  

Fabrics for Summer Hikes 

Synthetic fabrics are usually best in the summer because they’re lightweight and breathable, plus they help wick moisture away from your body. This will help keep you comfortable throughout the day. 

Some of the most common synthetics include nylon, polyester, spandex, elastane, or a mix of these fabrics. Another favorite is Merino wool.  

Wool has the advantage of keeping you warm or cool even when wet. It comes in a variety of thicknesses and “weights”. I have more information about wool along with my top wool shirts for hiking in another post.  

Let’s address the elephant in the room, cotton. I know you’ve heard the phrase “cotton kills”. I don’t like this phrase because it implies that if you’re wearing anything other than cotton you’re immune to hypothermia and that’s not true.  

The issue with cotton is that it absorbs moisture and holds it. If the weather cools, you now have a heavy, wet shirt against your skin. Your body tries to rev up your metabolism to warm up, but the shirt is still there, fighting your body’s warming attempts. Eventually, your body runs out of energy and hypothermia sets in. Hypothermia can occur in some people at temperatures as warm as 60 degrees F.  

So, cotton isn’t the greatest material to wear. But humans lose warmth in several ways including evaporation, conduction, convection, and radiation. So, if you stop for a rest on a rock in a shaded area and a cool breeze comes through, you’re losing heat through every means possible, and that nylon shirt is not a safety net.  

This is why we always say to dress in layers. When you hike, you’ll pare down and when you stop, you’ll add a layer. 

A good rule of thumb is to dress for the average temperature and bring a layer to cover temperatures 10 degrees colder.  

Pants Versus Shorts 

Woman sitting on rock overlook in blue shirt and pink baseball hat.

This comes down to personal choice. I like pants that roll up and secure at my knee, or convertible pants which unzip to become shorts. Convertible pants are getting harder to find though.  

A lot of friends prefer shorts.  

For me, pants offer additional protection against ticks, bug bites, briars, other stinging plants, and the terrain. I’d much rather catch something on my pants than my skin.  

Shorts are fine if you prefer those but look for shorts specifically made for hiking with pockets, and durable fabrics. Also, be aware that you’ll need to check for ticks more frequently if you wear shorts.  

With permethrin-treated pants, you’re covered with material and insecticide. With shorts, you’re not. 

Regardless of your choice, look for lightweight fabrics that offer some water resistance. Quick-dry fabrics are also helpful.  

Tank Top versus T-Shirt versus Long Sleeve Shirt 

Woman wearing short sleeve, V-neck, black shirt with tan pants in wooded area.

I rarely hike in a tank top because it leaves more skin exposed to the sun and bugs. I get that a tank helps prevent that awful half-arm tan, but I’m just not comfortable wearing one when hiking. Also, think about whether you’ll be comfortable with a day pack on your sweaty shoulders.  

Typically, I wear a short sleeve wool shirt, but yeah, I get the weird tan. I like that a T-shirt covers more body surface area and sops up more sweat. The sleeves also offer additional protection from my pack and bugs.  

Lightweight long-sleeve shirts have been gaining traction lately. They usually have UPF built in along with a hood to protect your head and neck. I’ve tried them and still feel they’re too hot, but a friend hikes in one and swears it breathes and wicks moisture so she’s comfortable.  

The two big names in long sleeve UPF shirts are Outdoor Research and Columbia PFG.

It really boils down to individual preference and comfort. You’ll have to test out a few options to see what works for you.  

Whatever type of shirt you choose, look for lightweight fabrics in light colors. (And don’t forget that extra layer). 

Socks and Shoes 

While a lighter-weight hiking boot or shoe would be great for summer, I don’t have a budget for summer and winter hiking shoes. My hiking boots are my hiking boots. Shoes are important and the decision on what to wear should be based on proper support and protection from roots and rocks. 

The main thing for your feet is having the right socks. Socks can make or break a hike and, in the summer, your feet are going to sweat and swell. I like to wear medium or thick wool socks. While this may sound counterintuitive, they absorb more sweat and offer better protection for your feet.  

If you’re not a fan of wool, there are also synthetic socks which many people like.  

Base Layers for Summer 

This is my polite way of saying underwear. Avoid cotton, but everything else is fair game.  

When it comes to sports bras, underwires are not your friend. Look for supportive sports bras in synthetic fabrics. These are easy to find.  

If you wear a larger cup size, make sure the sports bra offers the support you need and has adjustable straps.  

Accessories for Summer Hiking 

Woman wearing pink hat near waterfall.

A wide-brim hat offers protection for your head, neck, and ears. Another option is a baseball cap with a bandana for your neck. Try to wear a hat with cooling technology and no mesh. Trucker hats with mesh don’t protect the top of your head from the sun. 

Sunglasses are also a good idea, especially if you’re going to be hiking in open areas. Buy a cheap pair of $10 sunglasses for hiking. For some reason, the cheap ones remain with you for years, but the first day you head out with a $100 pair of sunglasses they disappear.  

Other Summer Hiking Gear 

Always, always, always, wear and bring sunscreen. You’ll want to reapply it at least once during your hike. Make sure you get your ears and the back of your neck.  

When it comes to bugs, there are a lot of options to keep them off you. The biggest concern is ticks and mosquitos since they both carry diseases. Not all products work against ticks. It’s important to read the bottle carefully before you head out. 

I’m a huge fan of clothing with bug protection built in (usually permethrin), or you can add this to your clothes separately.  

Bring a lightweight pack to carry everything. You’ll need something to hold your water, an extra layer, snacks, a paper map, car keys, a first aid kit, and other gear.  

Overall Tips for Hiking in the Summer 

Woman sitting on rocks in short sleeve shirt, ball cap and shorts with mountain in background

Always make sure you have extra water in the summer. Heat can take a toll, and it often hits suddenly.  

Try to hike in the morning when it’s cooler. You’ll also avoid those midday thunderstorms.  

You’ll need to acclimate to hiking in hot weather. Yep, acclimating isn’t just for altitude, it’s also for heat. You can’t just wander out for a 10-mile hike when it’s 100 degrees. Go for shorter hikes as the weather begins to warm and work your way up.  

Be careful with pets! Your dog, just like you, needs to prepare for hot weather hiking. Think about leaving them at home if it becomes too hot and always bring a separate water supply for your pet.  

What to Wear Hiking in the Summer – Wrap-Up 

Overall, when you’re hiking in the summer, choose clothing that will keep you cool and dry, and offer protection from the sun, bugs, and elements.  

Think light and wicking. If you’re interested in trying pants and/or a long-sleeve shirt, see if you can borrow one first. They’re not for everyone, it seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it situation. If you can’t borrow, look for inexpensive options in places like the REI Garage Sale

You may have to test a few options first, but once you’ve got the perfect outfit, you’ll be ready to hike! 

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