For quick, easy hikes and long treks alike, having the right hiking shirt and outerwear is step number-one. After all, enjoying the nature around you becomes infinitely more difficult when you're trapped in a sweat-soaked or restricting top.
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But what exactly does a good hiking shirt, vest or jacket entail? We chatted with a hiker and physical therapist (who treats and trains hikers) to give you the full scoop on the best hiking shirts for men and women — and what to look for when you buy.
Most companies make and market hiking tops according to gender, so we have listed both women's and men's picks below. The main difference is the fit. However, materials, quality and comfort should be the same between gender-labeled pairs. Choose whichever fit feels best to you.
1. Best T-Shirt: Patagonia Capilene Cool Trail Shirt
A lightweight tee is a hiking clothes essential, according to Melissa Garcia, DPT, CSCS, a Washington-based physical therapist who works with hikers and recreationally hikes, herself. Unlike cotton (which absorb moisture and stay damp), this shirt's moisture-wicking fabric help pull sweat away from your body.
Another bonus? The tag-less design on this men's and women's hiking shirt helps prevent unwanted chafing and irritation, which can get particularly annoying during long treks.
2. Best Long-Sleeve: REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Long-Sleeve Crew Top
A long-sleeve shirt is a versatile, must-have while hiking in cooler temperatures, according to Garcia. Thanks to this REI hiking shirt's lightweight and breathable fabric, it layers nicely under a sweatshirt or vest. Or, you can wear it on its own during your hike or as a pajama top while camping.
Also worth noting: The lower back hem on this top stays in place even when you raise your arms above your head. Especially when hiking through dense woods, it's important to take steps to keep little intruders like ticks off your skin.
3. Best Sweatshirt: REI Co-Op Sahara Shade Hoodie
This sweatshirt from REI moves like a tee and doesn't feel bulky, thanks to its lightweight polyester fabric, Garcia says. Unlike chunkier fleece shirts, this tops' fabric keeps your body cool and sweat-free.
Its material is also sun-protective and anti-microbial, so you don't have to worry about any odors if you happen to get caught in the rain. Another bonus? This top has thumbholes to keep your hands warm on a brisk morning.
4. Best Vest: Vuori Topanga and Truckee Insulated Vest
Hiking vests are especially versatile because they keep your trunk warm, while allowing your arms full mobility, Garcia says. And keeping your core warm helps keep your entire body warm, according to Penn Medicine.
This Vuori vest is also water-resistant, which is a big plus. Layer it on top of long-sleeve shirts to keep your core warm and dry, she says.
5. Best Rain Jacket: Columbia EvaPOURation Rain Jacket
Nothing ruins a hike like wet clothing. So, keeping a waterproof hiking jacket in your backpack is a wise choice, particularly if you frequent rainy trails. And as someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, Garcia loves this option from Columbia.
Whereas the synthetic fabric on most waterproof jackets seals in heat, this one breathes well, making it a comfortable top layer, she says.
6. Best Zip-Up: REI Co-Op Midweight Base Layer Half-Zip Top
This half-zip shirt is a mid-weight base layer, meaning it provides more warmth than some lighter, more breathable tops (like the long-sleeve tee above), Garcia says. This is one of the best hiking tops for cold-weather layering.
This shirt features flat seams, which are another thing to look for in your layers. When you wear several layers, the fabrics can start to rub together, causing your skin to chafe or irritate. But flat seams can help prevent friction by sitting flat against your skin.
7. Best Down Jacket: Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket
This top offers all the warmth of a down-filled jacket, while providing the flexibility, stretch and lightness of a sweater. (And with an adjustable hood.)
And unlike some bulkier down jackets, this one can easily fold into a small space or backpack, which is ideal for hiking, Garcia says.
3 Considerations When Shopping for Hiking Shirts and Outerwear
1. Weather Conditions
The weather is the biggest determining factor when shopping for any kind of hiking clothes, Garcia says. When you hike, you're completely exposed to the elements, so you want to be equipped for any kind of temperatures that might come your way.
Base layers are the clothes that come in direct contact with your skin, underneath your jackets, vests and hoodies. Keep these lightweight and comfortable, Garcia says. These can sit comfortably under a jacket or on their own in more moderate temps. Breathability is crucial, too — after all, climbing up rocky trails in heat-trapping or damp clothes isn't exactly a fun experience.
Water-resistant, waterproof or wind-resistant top layers are also a priority. If your hiking conditions are more mild, you may not necessarily need an insulated jacket. But having a weather-proof jacket or vest in your pack can help you stay protected from the elements, Garcia says.
Colder temperatures demand insulation to keep your body heat close to your skin for as long as possible. Down-filled jackets (or featherless vegan alternatives) are generally light and provide enough warmth for snowy trails.
2. Fabric Type
For shirts and base layers, Garcia recommends fabrics that wick sweat and breathe well. The first layer against your skin usually gets the sweatiest, so you want to avoid cotton because it tends to hold moisture. Read the product label and prioritize quick-drying materials like polyester and spandex.
Sun protection is an easily-overlooked factor when shopping for a hiking top. While any kind of clothing can shield you from the sun, try to find shirts with a UPF of 50 — this level blocks about 98 percent of the sun's rays, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Also, look for flat-lock seams wherever possible (generally, you can find out if a hiking top has these by reading the label or running your fingers over the shirt's seams). This seam construction sits flush against your skin, so you don't have to worry so much about chafing.
3. Little Details
Particularly on longer hikes, little details make a big difference.
For one, zippered pockets are a game changer. As inclines get steeper, there's nothing more annoying than carrying a phone or set of keys in your hand. But a zip pocket can keep these valuables safe.
Thumb holes are another bonus, especially for that in-between temperature that's too warm for gloves but too cool for bare hands. Plus, having your fingers and thumbs free can make it easier to hold your trekking poles.