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What To Wear Hiking In Fall: Essential Tips and Recommendations

Fall’s knocking at the door, and with it comes those killer views, crisp air, and the undying urge to hit the trails. 

But, let’s keep it 100 — wearing your summer shorts ain’t gonna cut it when those autumn winds pick up. 

So, before you trek out to catch those fiery foliage vibes, let’s chat about decking yourself out right for the season. 

Been on countless fall hikes myself, and I’ve got the lowdown on what to rock (and what not to) when heading out this time of year. 

Bundle up, grab that pumpkin spice latte, and let’s dive into some real fall hiking fashion talk!

Understanding Fall Hiking

family hiking in autumn

Trail Conditions

When you are hiking in fall, expect a varied set of trail conditions.

Due to fallen leaves blanketing the ground, the trails may become slippery and obscure potential obstacles.

It’s essential that you pay attention to your footing and wear proper hiking footwear to handle different terrains.

Waterproof boots with a firm grip, such as Columbia Newton Ridge Plus hiking boots, are a good choice for fall hikes.

Their Omni-GRIP non-marking traction rubber sole will provide the necessary confidence and security when navigating unpredictable trail conditions.

Weather Patterns

Fall weather can be unpredictable with a mix of rain, wind, and even snow in some areas.

This calls for layering your clothes to adapt to the changing weather and temperature:

  • Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to pull sweat away from your skin
  • Add mid-layers like a fleece or lightweight insulated jacket to maintain body warmth
  • Finish with a waterproof and breathable outer shell to protect yourself from the elements

It’s also a good idea to pack extra clothing and a hat or beanie to stay cozy and safe on the trail.

Keep an eye on the forecasts and be prepared for sudden changes in conditions.

Daylight Considerations

During the fall, daylight hours decrease, meaning you might have less time to complete your hike.

Plan your start time accordingly to ensure you’re off the trail before it gets dark, and always carry a headlamp or flashlight as a backup.

It’s also important to know sunset times and factor in additional time for breaks and unexpected delays.

Keep your hikes manageable and consider shorter routes, especially if you’re hiking in unfamiliar terrain.

Layering Principles for Fall Hiking

woman hiking with dog

Base Layers

Your base layer is essential for maintaining comfort during fall hiking.

This layer is right against your skin, and its primary function is to wick moisture away from your body.

Choose lightweight, moisture-wicking materials like merino wool or synthetic fabrics for your base layer.

Remember to select a snug but comfortable fit to optimize moisture management and avoid excess bulk.

Mid Layers

The mid-layer, sometimes referred to as the insulating layer, builds on your base layer by retaining the body heat you generate.

For fall hiking, opt for lightweight or mid-weight fleece, down, or synthetic insulation.

This layer provides warmth without adding too much bulk, making it easy to adjust your outfit as the temperature and weather conditions change.

Remember to layer based on your planned activity level and local weather forecast.

Outer Layers

The outer layer is all about protection from the elements. In the fall, you may encounter rain, wind, or even snow on the trail.

Choose a lightweight, breathable, and waterproof shell to help keep you dry and block out the wind.

Materials like Gore-Tex or eVent are popular choices for their durability and breathability.

Keep in mind that it’s essential to adjust your layers as conditions change.

When the rain and wind let up, be sure to remove your shell to prevent overheating.

Remember that layering is a versatile and customizable approach to staying warm and comfortable during a fall hike.

Be prepared to adjust your clothing as needed, considering factors such as temperature fluctuations, changing weather conditions, and your activity level.

By understanding the principles of layering and making informed choices for your base, mid, and outer layers, you’ll be well-equipped for a delightful and comfortable fall hiking experience.

Material Choices for Hiking Clothes

woman hiking in rain

When choosing what to wear for hiking in fall, it’s important to consider the materials of your clothing.

In this section, we’ll discuss the benefits of wool, synthetic fabrics, and cotton, to help you make an informed decision.

Wool and Its Benefits

Wool, particularly merino wool, is a popular choice for hiking clothing.

It offers numerous benefits, such as:

  • Natural moisture-wicking properties that keep you dry and comfortable during your hike.
  • Temperature regulation: Wool helps to keep you warm in cold weather and cool in warmer temperatures, making it perfect for the varying conditions in fall.
  • Odor resistance: Wool’s natural antimicrobial properties help to reduce odor buildup, allowing you to wear your hiking clothes multiple times without washing.
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Synthetics Comparison

Synthetic materials, such as nylon and polyester, have their own set of advantages for hiking attire.

Some benefits of synthetic fabrics include:

  • Quick-drying: They tend to dry more quickly than natural fibers, which can be helpful if you experience rain or sweat heavily.
  • Lightweight: Synthetic materials are typically lighter than their natural counterparts, decreasing the overall weight of your hiking outfit.
  • Durability: Fabrics like nylon are known for their strength and resistance to abrasion, making them a good choice for activities with lots of movement.

Keep in mind that synthetic fabrics may not be as effective at odor control as wool, so you might need to wash your clothes more frequently on multi-day hikes.

Considering Cotton

While cotton may seem like a soft and comfortable material for hiking, it’s generally not recommended for outdoor activities.

Some downsides to wearing cotton include:

  • Moisture retention: Unlike wool or synthetic fabrics, cotton absorbs moisture and holds it against your skin, which can make you feel damp and uncomfortable.
  • Lack of insulation: When wet, cotton loses its insulating properties and can actually make you feel colder.
  • Slow drying time: Cotton takes longer to dry than wool or synthetics, making it less suitable for hiking in damp or wet conditions.

In conclusion, wool and synthetic fabrics offer the best material choices for fall hiking.

Whether you choose merino wool for its natural moisture-wicking properties or lightweight, durable synthetics like nylon and polyester, you’ll be well-equipped for your autumn adventures.

Specific Fall Hiking Outfit Suggestions

climber wearing patagonia down sweater jacket

Jackets and Outerwear

When it comes to fall hiking, your choice of jackets and outerwear is crucial for staying warm and dry.

lightweight, insulated jacket is perfect for fall hiking as it offers warmth without being too bulky.

For colder days, consider a down or synthetic-insulated jacket that can be easily packed away when not in use.

For added protection against wind and rain, a waterproof and breathable shell jacket is a great option.

Look for features like adjustable cuffs, sealed seams, and hood to effectively block out the elements.

Legwear and Footwear

In the legwear department, moisture-wicking leggings or hiking pants are your best bet for fall hikes.

These materials allow sweat to evaporate, keeping you dry and comfortable.

On wetter days, you may want to add water-resistant pants for extra protection.

As for footwear, invest in a quality pair of waterproof hiking shoes or boots.

They should be comfortable, provide good ankle support, and offer excellent traction on various terrains.

Don’t forget to wear moisture-wicking socks made of materials like wool or synthetic blends that keep your feet dry and reduce the risk of blisters.


Accessories can make all the difference in your fall hiking comfort.

Have a hat ready to keep your head warm since a considerable amount of body heat can be lost through the head.

neck gaiter can also help to trap warmth and protect your neck from wind and cold.

Lastly, don’t overlook the importance of gloves when it comes to keeping your hands warm on those chilly fall hikes.

Opt for gloves made from breathable, moisture-wicking materials and ensure they offer sufficient dexterity for handling your gear.

Remember to dress in layers, so you have the flexibility to adjust your clothing according to the weather conditions and your activity level throughout the hike.

Clothing Features to Consider

people hiking in coats

When choosing your fall hiking attire, there are a few key features to keep in mind.

Here are some of the most important factors to consider in order to ensure a cozy and comfortable hike.

Waterproof Properties

Since fall weather can be unpredictable, you’ll want to make sure your outerwear has waterproof capabilities.

Look for a rain jacket that is both waterproof and breathable, providing protection from rain and wind while still allowing sweat to evaporate.

In more extreme conditions, consider bringing rain pants to keep your legs dry as well.

Functional Features

Having functional gear is important for a successful hike.

The following aspects can help improve your overall hiking experience:

  • Pockets: Opt for clothing with conveniently-placed pockets to store essentials like your phone, snacks, or map.
  • Cuffs: Adjustable cuffs on your jacket and pants can help keep out the cold, wind, and rain.
  • Zips: Ideally, your clothing should have easily accessible zips to allow for quick adjustments to your layers.

Cozy Extras

Lastly, don’t forget about those little details that can make a big difference in keeping you warm and comfortable on the trail:

  • Hoodie: Having a hoodie on your jacket can help protect your head and neck from the elements and maintain body heat.
  • Beanie: Consider packing a beanie to keep your ears warm during colder temperatures or windier conditions.

Remember to choose the right balance of waterproof, functional features, and cozy extras while preparing for your fall hike.

Having these elements in your clothing will make your hiking experience more comfortable and enjoyable.

Considerations for Changing Temperatures

hikers using trekking poles

When hiking in the fall, it’s important to be prepared for a range of temperatures that can occur throughout the day.

In this section, we’ll discuss how to dress for chilly mornings and adapt to afternoon warmth.

Dressing for Chilly Mornings

As you set out on your fall hiking adventure, cooler temperatures are common in the morning.

To stay warm and comfortable during this time, consider the following:

  1. Base layer: Opt for moisture-wicking materials like merino, nylon, or polyester to help keep you dry and warm. You can even choose long-sleeve shirts if the temperature is particularly low.
  2. Insulated vest: Wearing an insulated vest can provide an extra layer of warmth without adding too much bulk. It’s perfect for retaining core body heat during those cold morning hikes.
  3. Light hat and gloves: Keep your extremities warm with a light hat and gloves. This will allow you to stay cozy without getting too hot as the temperatures start to rise during the day.

Adapting to Afternoon Warmth

As the day progresses and temperatures begin to climb, it’s important to adapt your clothing so you don’t overheat.

Here are a few suggestions to help you make the transition from chilly mornings to afternoon warmth:

  1. Layering: The key to comfortable hiking in changing temperatures is a proper layering system. As the temperatures rise, shed your heavier layers to prevent overheating. You can always store them in your backpack and retrieve them when needed.
  2. Ventilation: Choose clothing with ventilation options, such as zippered vents or convertible pants, to allow for increased airflow and temperature regulation.
  3. Sun protection: In sunnier weather, make sure you have a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen for proper UV protection.

By dressing appropriately for chilly mornings and afternoon warmth in the fall, you’ll ensure a comfortable and pleasant hiking experience, no matter the fluctuating temperatures.

Footwear for Fall Hiking

hiking boots from back

Choosing the Right Hiking Boots

When preparing for a fall hike, selecting the right footwear is crucial.

During this season, you may encounter unpredictable weather and trail conditions.

It’s essential to invest in a pair of hiking boots that have good traction, support, and waterproofing.

A popular choice for fall hiking is the Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boots due to their comfort, durability, and waterproof design.

For added warmth during colder hikes, consider insulated hiking boots, such as the Oboz Bridger 7″ Insulated Waterproof Boots.

These will keep your feet warm allowing you to focus on the trail ahead.

Remember, comfort should be a top priority, so be sure to choose boots that fit your feet well and provide adequate arch support.

Importance of Good Socks

Equally important as finding the right hiking boots is selecting the best socks for your fall hike. The ideal socks will provide:

  • Moisture-wicking properties
  • Cushioning for support and comfort
  • A good fit to prevent blisters

Choose wool socks specifically designed for hiking, as they offer excellent moisture-wicking capabilities, keeping your feet dry and comfortable even during the most strenuous hikes.

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A great example of quality hiking socks are Smartwool Hiking Socks, known for their natural heat regulation, and odor-resistance.

When selecting hiking socks, look for cushioning in key areas such as the heel, toe, and underfoot to reduce pressure points and improve overall comfort.

Make sure the socks fit snugly, but not too tight, as this will help prevent blisters and promote healthy circulation.

By investing in the right footwear and socks, your fall hikes will be more enjoyable and comfortable, allowing you to fully appreciate the beauty of the season and make the most of your outdoor adventures.

Additional Tips and Hiking Accessories

nalgene water bottle

Hydration and Nutrition

Staying hydrated and well-nourished on your fall hike is crucial.

You should always carry enough water for the duration of your hike.

A good rule of thumb is to pack at least half a liter (17 ounces) of water per hour of hiking.

If you’re hiking for longer periods, consider using a hydration bladder for convenience.

In addition to water, pack some snacks like energy bars, trail mix, or dried fruit to keep your energy levels up.

Helpful Accessories

Here are some accessories you might find useful during your fall hike:

  • Headlamp: Prepare for shorter daylight hours and unexpected darkness by bringing a headlamp. This will help you navigate your way in low-light conditions.
  • Gloves and hats: Fall temperatures can vary, so it’s wise to pack gloves and a hat, even if you don’t end up using them. Lightweight, moisture-wicking materials are perfect for staying warm and dry.
  • Map and compass: A map and compass are essential tools for navigating unfamiliar trails, especially if you venture off the beaten path. Don’t rely solely on your phone as it could lose battery or signal.
  • Multitool: Having a compact multitool with basic tools like a knife, scissors, and tweezers can come in handy for any minor repairs or emergencies that arise.
  • First-aid kit: A small first-aid kit containing band-aids, pain relievers, and any personal medications is always a good idea.

By following these tips and having the right accessories, you’ll be well-prepared to enjoy your fall hike safely and comfortably.

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