When I began researching clothing for my AT thru-hike in 2015, I started stressing. All of this talk about “cotton kills” and “layering” was a little much for someone who had never been on an overnight backpacking trip. I was also concerned about being too cold vs. carrying an excessive amount of weight. After all, I’m a just a scrawny, cold-natured girl. The good news is, I lived and successfully completed the trail with the clothing selection I will share in this post.
Before I list my clothing picks, though, let me cover some of the basics. First, there technically is a science to the different materials that make up our clothes, but it doesn’t have to be complicated unless you just want to make it that way. Sure, there are pros and cons to each material type, but if you’re new to hiking just keep it simple! The three main points to keep in mind are:
- Don’t Wear Cotton
You’ll hear people say, “cotton kills.” Cotton doesn’t actually come to life and choke you out in your sleep, but it can hold in moisture, take forever to dry and cause hypothermia in cold weather. In hot weather, hiking in cotton can lead to chaffing. So, you’ll want to go with materials that dry quickly and wick moisture away from your skin (polyester, spandex, nylon, merino wool, silk, etc.)
- Layering Is Important
When winter strikes in every day life, folks tend to run out and grab their biggest, bulkiest jacket. This doesn’t really work in the backpacking world. You’ll need something more lightweight that you can also use to regulate your temperature. That’s where layering comes into play–it simply means several layers or pieces of clothing as opposed to a single bulky layer.
- Keep A Dry Outfit For Sleeping
You ALWAYS want to have dry clothes to sleep in at night (especially in cooler months). After hiking in the rain for a day, you will be soaked even if you wear rain gear. The next morning, it will be tempting to hike out in the dry clothes you slept in, but if it is still raining, don’t do it! You will warm up while you are walking, so just wear your wet clothes.
Simple enough–right? Anyway, without further delay below is the list of clothing I wore during my thru-hike. You can click the picture to read reviews and additional details on each item. Again, this list is just to give you an idea of what worked for me and what I liked about each item. I have attempted to put the male equivalent for each item to help you fellas out, too.
BOTH COOL & WARM MONTHS
Puffy Coat – Synthetic
I carried a puffy coat, even in the summer. I chose an REI jacket with synthetic fill and a hood. This may not be the exact one, but it’s close. I LOVED having a hood on my coat.
I wore this North Face tank top and rotated out with another one (from Wal-Mart) for a while. At the end of my trip, I sent the Wal-Mart one home to lighten my load. You only really need one, I promise!
The shorts I wore were extremely durable–even through the White Mountains where I did a significant amount of butt sliding on boulders. As long as you’re moving, you’ll likely be warm enough to hike in shorts the duration of the trip. Plus, you’ll want to have shorts to ford rivers.
Women’s Patagonia Barely Baggies – 4 oz
Men’s Patagonia Baggies Long Shorts
I rotated between two sports bras throughout the trail. They were the same brand (bcg), but different colors. In Pennsylvania, I sent home one of them to save weight. It was similar to the one below.
I used two pair of underwear the whole trail. I had heard wonderful things about ExOfficio underwear from both women and men–and the rumors were true. They are amazing! The selling point for me is they are made to reduce odors…which is nice when you rarely bathe.
I changed thickness and lengths of socks based on the weather, but for the most part I only carried 3-4 pairs of socks. One thick pair for sleeping and two thinner pairs for hiking. I carried 4 in the colder months so that I could use an extra pair as gloves if it was needed.
There are a ton of options when it comes to socks! After trying Patagonia, SmartWool and Darn Tough, I would say my favorite brand is Darn Tough. It makes me sad to dis SmartWool like that, because I’ve always loved them, but you just can’t be the lifetime guarantee that Darn Tough offers. If you are going to have wool socks, might as well buy a quality pair. If you’re going to pay for a quality pair, might as well make sure they will last for life. I did not care for the Patagonia brand at all, so I did not include the link for those. Most of the socks I wore at some point on the trail are below.
Rain Coat & Pants
After buying the rest of my gear, I realized I probably wouldn’t be able to spend a ton on rain gear. To be honest, you’re going to probably end up wet anyway, if it rains long enough. For my rain suit, I opted to go with the ‘not so cute’ Frogg Toggs outfit. If I end up with an extra couple hundred dollars at some point, I might invest in some fancy, light rain gear with ‘pit zips. But, for a tight budget, Frogg Toggs are the way to go. I ditched the rain pants once it got hot, but got another pair when it was cold again.
Frogg Toggs UltraLite Rain Suit, Pants – 4.6 oz, Jacket – 5.9 oz.
COLD WEATHER CLOTHES
Long Sleeved Shirt
I really liked the thumb holes in the sleeves of the women’s shirt–especially because I did not have gloves.
I literally wore some leggings that were fuzzy on the inside (from the Body Shop). Nothing fancy about them except they were fuzzy and warm on the inside–something like the ones below. There are certainly better brands that might be lighter or keep you warmer, but these did the trick for me.
WARM WEATHER CLOTHES
Cotton Tank & Shorts – 4.3 oz.
I know what you’re thinking–“You said not to wear cotton!!” I know, I know. I sound like a hypocrite. I only had the cotton shorts to sleep in. I wasn’t hiking in them and there was no risk of hypothermia in the middle of summer. It’s honestly a nice feeling to slip on some soft cotton and sort of let all of the goods air out if you get my drift.
While doing laundry or just hanging out in town, I wore a lightweight cotton dress. Once the weather warmed up, it was too hot to wear rain gear while doing laundry. Plus, it was nice having a soft cotton dress to wear in town.
Getting the Most out of Your Clothing – Layer Up!
I didn’t have a huge wardrobe, but again, it’s all about layering. So, here are some suggestions of how to combine your clothes in different situations:
It’s cold and you’re…
- Hiking in dry weather – Tank top/short sleeve shirt, shorts, thin or thick wool socks. If you are cold, layer up with your puffy coat, long-sleeve shirt and leggings. I even wore my extra pair of socks as mittens. Still cold? Throw on your rain gear!
- Hiking in the rain – Tank top/short sleeve shirt & shorts + rain jacket/pants. Just keep moving and you will stay warm enough.
- Sleeping – Long-sleeve shirt, leggings/long underwear, puffy coat, beanie/hat, thick wool socks. Add rain gear if you are still cold.
- You’re doing – In town, I would wear my rain jacket and rain pants while waiting on my laundry. Also, most hostels offer loaner clothes.
It’s warm and you’re…
- Hiking in dry weather – Tank top, shorts, thin wool socks. It is common for guys to hike shirtless and girls in their sports bras, as well.
- Hiking in the rain – Tank top/short sleeve shirt, shorts, thick wool socks + rain jacket only. I got rid of my rain pants in the summer to save weight, and it was really too hot for them.
- Sleeping – Cotton tank top, cotton shorts. Puffy coat used as pillow.
- Doing Laundry/In Town – I had a light cotton dress that I wore while I was doing laundry and around town. It was worth the extra weight for me. Also, most hostels offer loaner clothes.
I hope that was helpful! If y’all want to ask any questions about my hiking wardrobe selection or you’d like to share some of your favorite articles of clothing please feel free to comment below.