Gear Picks: Clothing Worn

What to Wear: Clothing While Hiking

(2nd in a 5-part Series on Gear Picks)

Neatly folded up hiking apparel, never to smell this nice again.

Neatly folded up hiking apparel, never to smell this nice again.

Before my first thru-hike, I bought exactly one item of clothing brand new. I still have that item (a dress!) and it will be with me for many trips to come. Everything else was bought earlier, typically for trail-running. Note: in thru-hiker convention, items worn while hiking are typically not counted in pack weight. Here I won’t list grams and such.

Montbell Wickron Stretch Trail Dress

$49 direct from MontBell. Lightweight, quick-drying, with sun protection. With my arm sleeves it afforded me comfort and a haven from the Colorado sun. Really comfortable overall, though I could have used an XS size rather than S. MontBell told me they don’t make XS and I could get the equivalent if I bought Japanese sizing since they run smaller. That seems like a lot of extra work. And I’m not that tiny (34 chest, 38 hips, 28 waist). I figured a small should fit, but it was pretty roomy on me. Still really love it.

Arm Sleeves and/or Sun Gloves

Outdoor Research UV Arm Sleeves AND Outdoor Research Sun Gloves
I STRONGLY recommend both arm sleeves and sun gloves if you’ll be hiking above a few thousand feet. I’m in my early 40s and really starting to notice sun damage from a lifetime of “eh, who cares” sunscreen use. COVER UP! Bonus is that, with arm sleeves, you might only need a short-sleeve shirt for hiking: the arm sleeves offer a little warmth even when not needed for the sun.

Bottoms, For Ladies!

Going the shirt and pants route? Consider leaving behind those old-school hiking pants with zip-off legs. They’re heavy, complicated, and might not even be that comfortable under your hip belt. In recent years the prevalence of trail running shorts on thru-hikers has been quick and transformative (and note that with most running shorts you won’t need underwear as they have a liner built-in). Here are some of my favorites, chosen for decent length (no chafing, some sun protection) and minimal waistband stuff going on:

  • Oiselle Long Roga Shorts: everyone on the planet seems to love these shorts. Good pockets, as well.
  • Tasc Performance Challenge Shorts (5″): Good length, UV protection, and glowing reviews.
  • PATAGONIA STRIDER PRO shorts (any length, your choice!): details change constantly with pockets appearing or disappearing from year to year. That said, these remain some of the comfiest and longest-lasting shorts I have ever owned. Quick-drying and flattering as heck.
  • The North Face Better Than Naked Shorts: Kind of hard to source, but usually on Amazon for $50. Also, eBay isn’t a bad place. Ridiculously light and ephemeral. They’re the cuben fiber of shorts. Don’t abuse them too much and they will love you in return. They are SHORT, just be warned.

Undergarments: panties, bras, oh my!

Firstly, let me put a shout out for going commando. ESPECIALLY with a dress or skirt. Here’s the strategy I would use on every thru-hike from now on: carry one pair of favorite underpants, wear sporadically ‘as needed’ to balance out the commando days. Some hikers carry two pairs, but there’s no need for that. Even if you are not a fan of going without, you can survive a day or less after rinsing out your one pair (200′ from water sources, minimum!!) and hanging them on your pack to dry. (Oh, yes, on the outside of the pack! Thru-hikers are a practical lot.)

Ex Officio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Bikinis: The only underpants I recommend. They’re awesome.

What about sports bras? My advice is take your current favorite sports bra, the one that never bothers you no matter how boring it looks, and take that along. That’s it. I found one that doesn’t chafe (usually) and fits well and that’s what I hike in. It’s from Target. I think your sports bra is even more important for thru-hiking comfort than your underwear: after all, you’re wearing your pack right over its straps. Choose wisely, and TEST first!


Like sports bras, you do need to experiment a little and see what works. Here are my favorites over the miles, for several reasons and purposes.

  • Darn Tough Light Hiking Socks, $20 (I like crew height): best thing about these (if you keep your receipt!) is that if you wear them out, send them back for a new pair. For realz.
  • DryMax Trail Lite Crew Socks, $15: When you just want your darn socks to dry out quicker. If you suffer from a lot of foot sweatiness, DryMax might help.
  • SmartWool Cabin Socks, $20+: finally, SLEEPING SOCKS. It’s a good idea to put something clean over your tired and grimy feet before you slide everything into your fancy sleeping bag. When it’s time to go night-night, SmartWool is my pick. Get a thinner style if you want less weight and/or warmth.


Everyone’s feet have a shoe preference, based on history, shape, and lots of other factors like pack weight. But look down at the feet of 100 current thru-hikers and you’ll see probably 50+ pairs of Altra trail running shoes, often the Lone Peak model. Lone Peaks acquired beloved status on long trails about 5 years ago and their dominance can be seen in the tread left behind on any section of the PCT. I wore them for most of my Colorado Trail thru-hike last fall, with zero issues.

What should influence your shoe choice? First, your own hiking history. If you have always always always hiked in full-grain leather hiking boots, you will be most comfortable in those, for now. But if your pack weight is significantly less than 30% of your body weight, consider testing out trail running shoes. Light-begets-light in this case. By having less weight on your back, you could need less structure around your feet. And you’ll need to strengthen your feet, too, if they’ve been bound up in boots until now. Already a trail runner? You might be ready to jump right into a pair of Brooks Cascadias or Altra Lone Peaks straightaway.

Followup Notes and Comments

Clothing will always be a lot of personal preference. Some folks like to keep things as cheap as possible, even purchasing items at that “Wal-store” place and justifying the low cost with how many miles they can squeeze out of running shorts or whatever. I have some bias against that place: I’d rather paw through the running shorts section in any thrift store. This way, you’re supporting either a charity or a local business, and getting more use out of something that might have otherwise been thrown away. Heck, I’ve even bought Target brand stuff at thrift: $4 instead of $17.99 is still pretty awesome. And it’s a far cry from a brand new name brand pair of shorts at $50+.

Next up: Kitchen!

The Gear Picks Series Page

3 Things No One Warns You About Post Thru-Hike

Near the end of a thru-hike you’re going to feel this crazy stew of emotions from being on top of the world—a la Jack on the railing in Titanic—to bottoming out as you see the last few stretches of trail before you, panicked about regular life and wanting the miles to just stretch on and on without end.

All of that is normal, and fodder for more posts. But today it’s that aftermath we’re delving into. What happens a day after. A few days. A week, and more. Transitioning back to some kind of a civilized life is fraught with complications from paying rent again to the luxury of using more than 3 squares of TP at a time.

Lots of these things are written about. But no one warned me about a few of them, so I am warning you now. Take heed and you might not get bitten as I did.

If the shoe fits.... otherwise, I guess I'll just shove them in anyway.

1. Normal shoes won’t fit.

Anyone who wears “dressy” shoes (this means women but a lot of men, too!), take note. If you sized your hiking boots or shoes correctly, your feet will have gradually loosed up and your bones spread out as the muscles got stronger and you accumulated miles and miles under weight. I am not exactly the kind of person who has a closet full of high heels or perfectly fitting dress shoes. But even I had some issues with running shoes. Running shoes! My “just barely enough room” pair are now definitely a no-go. My “nice and tight” pair, same thing. I could theoretically wear them with bare feet for walks or easy runs, but socks? Forget it. Plan to need to buy at least a pair or two for your hobbit-sized footies, at least for now.

in-n-out double double

Gluten? Why not?

2. Re-feed bloat is real.

It is pretty well known that after the trail, a hiker cannot just keep pounding down the Probars and the pots full of refried beans with Fritos (still the best trail food ever, IMO). Your metabolism is gonna crash and crash hard in the days and weeks after you finish. Sure, go ahead and have some celebratory meals but pay attention to hunger. If your body responds fairly well, your true hunger should go down to match your activity level. What I didn’t expect is that after becoming a digesting machine on the trail with barely one meal leaving my gut before I felt weak with hunger again, afterwards everything would slow to a crawl. My celebratory meals left me bloated and my *ahem* digestion was suddenly erratic.

Pile of gear to be sorted.

3. Slipping back into the stresses and hubbub of normal life like nothing ever happened.

I’d read a lot about a harsh landing back into normal life. Being overwhelmed by stimuli, stressed out by not having money, unable to handle humans that didn’t smell like BO and eat entire plates of nachos in one go. But no one really mentioned the possibility that one could be back at everything—the stress, the deadlines, the social media—with almost no effort at all. Life went on while you were gone, and now that you’re back everyone else will barely have noticed that you did this epic thing. Don’t let that let you think your trail was insignificant. Don’t gloat about it, but certainly remember what you did and how awesome it was. Write stuff down NOW, especially if you did not keep a trail journal. If you did journal while out there, re-transcribe it so set it more deeply in your memory. “Oh YEAH! The chipmunk that stole my steripen cap!” Remember what you did. It was difficult and amazing and scary and fun. And YOU did it. Even if you go right back into a job or family responsibilities or both, keep little reminders of how strong you can be in your life. Photos, little things you picked up on trail, messages from your buddies still out there. YOU DID THIS THING.

Remember your journey. Keep on with your life, even with your huge hobbit feet, and think about what you’d like to do next hiking season. It will come soon enough, and you’ll be better prepared next time.