A Newbie's Guide on How to Dress for Fall Hiking & Running
The great American naturalist and nature essayist, John Burroughs, once said: "I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order." And he’s clearly not alone.
Fitness buffs and adventurous types worldwide have embraced hiking to clear their minds and exercise their bodies.
But if you’re going to start hiking for the first time, especially during the fall, it’s crucial that you know what to wear. Your comfort and safety depends on wearing the right gear.
Fortunately, this guide will help you choose the right hiking equipment from the get-go.
Fall Hiking Wear - Put Your Head in the Game
Let’s start at the top. Your head is highly sensitive to the environment and its surrounding elements. You’ve probably heard that you lose the majority of your body heat through your head - 40% or so - a hypothesis that’s largely been proven false! Nevertheless, you should cover your head for various reasons.
First and foremost, when you cover your face and head, you will feel warmer even though your body temperature hasn’t changed at all. Again, this relates to the fact that your head is highly sensitive to external temperatures - the illusion of being covered makes the difference.
Also, your nose and ears receive less blood flow, making them feel colder, especially when the temperature drops. Closely related to this point is the fact that the constriction of blood vessels (vasoconstriction) is less effective in the head, meaning your blood flow doesn’t slow down as much when your body cools down. This ultimately will make you feel colder faster.
Finally, your head simply has less subcutaneous fat, meaning that it has less insulation to keep you warm.
So if you’re wondering whether you need a hat or not, science has given you an answer. It’s clear to see that you should protect your head while you’re out hiking.
What Clothing Should You Wear for Fall Hiking? Build Your Base
For comfort-sake, you really want to focus on wearing the right clothing for the body. After all, when it gets cool, cold or bone-chillingly frosty, you tend it to feel it the most in your torso. That’s why it makes sense to bundle up your upper body for maximum warmth.
Base layering for hiking is your starting point. To put it plainly, a base layer is the clothing that sits closest to your skin. They’re designed to provide comfort and warmth, and they are often the difference between blissful or miserable fall hike.
There are a few principles to keep in mind when choosing base layers for hiking.
Base layers for hiking should be effective at “wicking”. What on Earth is “wicking”, you ask? It’s the process of helping to move moisture away from your body so that it quickly evaporates off of the surface of your clothing’s fabric. With that said, some fabrics do a better job of this than others, which we’ll discuss a bit more later on.
When air gets colder, as it does in the fall, water close to your skin will sap your body of heat. Fabrics with high wicking ability move this moisture away from your skin, meaning that you hold onto more heat and feel more comfortable.
Base layers for hiking made with wicking fabrics create less friction. This is a big deal because too much friction caused by your base layer may cause chafing and blistering, which we don’t need to tell you is very uncomfortable. The only burn you should ever feel should come from exertion, not friction.
Additionally, you should consider the weight of your base layer items. Lighter items tend to have a higher wicking ability but provide less warmth and protection. On the other hand, heavier items provide more warmth, but will also take more time to wick away that extra moisture. There are typically four levels of baser layers for hiking.
Keep in mind that none of these layers are technically worse or better than each other. It’s just that some will suit you well depending on your activities (and their intensity). For hiking, lightweight base layer fabrics are ideal because they provide a balance of high wicking ability and insulation for cool to moderately cold temperatures.
Finally, give thought to the make of the fabric as well. Certain fabrics are better at wicking than others, while doing double (or triple) duty of providing insulation and comfort.
Synthetic fibres such as polyester, spandex and nylon fit this category. These types of fabrics dry the quickest and tend to be the toughest of all fibres out there.
Silk is another good fit in this regard. It wicks moisture away a bit slower than synthetic fabrics, but chemically-treated silk still does a great job of wicking moisture. It’s also one of the softest and most comfortable fabrics out there.
Finally, there is merino wool. It’s not as effective as synthetic and silk clothing when it comes to wicking, but it does a better job than they do of retaining heat even when it’s wet.
So with all of that mentioned, what should your base layer for hiking look like?
Our Recommended Base Layering for Fall Hiking
A nice, lightweight transitional top for Fall would be the Winter Woolies Cameo Raglan top for ladies, or the Mock Raglan top for men. Both are lighter weight fabrics but dense enough to keep you cuddled up. They are high-performance fabrics but these new additions do not have the thermal quality you may require when it gets a lot colder. They are air-dry fabrics which means they are highly breathable and have great wicking, fast-drying capabilities.
What Should You Wear for Fall Hiking? Pants, Tops & Jackets
Once you’ve built your base, the next step is to throw on the right pants and tops over those surface layers. Depending on where you live and when in the fall you hike, the amount of clothing you throw on top of your base layer can change. But assuming you’re in North America where winters can get cold fast, keep in mind that fall temperatures are often quite cool and extra layers will be your best friend. A shortlist of these items include:
Long-Sleeve Shirts - You’ll want to wear a top that is both comfortable and warm. T-shirts will suffice in the summer, but for the fall you’ll want to go with a long-sleeve. Again, you’ll want the materials to provide good wicking ability and a comfortable level of warmth.
Slightly Loose Pants - Pants are on your list, but you need to choose the right pair. We’ll sound like a broken record here but you’ll want to pick a pair of pants with quick-drying fabrics (for good wicking). Also, they should be slightly loose as opposed to being tight so that your skin can breathe.
Gloves - Fall temperatures usually aren’t so bad that you absolutely need gloves (like winter). However, if your hands get cold easily, then you’ll want to keep them warm with a pair of gloves that are insulated and waterproof.
Jackets - Again, fall temperatures usually aren’t low enough to warrant thick and heavy jackets. A lightweight jacket should work here, but it should be waterproof and windproof since rain and winds can ruin your hike even if the temperatures are manageable.
Remember above we mentioned that base layers for hiking should have a balance of wicking and insulating ability? Well the same goes for pants and tops. But pants, tops and jackets need to meet other criteria as well. They also need to be:
Breathable - Clothing that is breathable allows your skin to dry off more efficiently. When your skin doesn’t dry off properly, you’re more likely to feel cold and irritation such as itching or even rashes.
Waterproof and windproof - Of course, these features are self-explanatory. Just remember though, that items are not completely able to block out water and wind. Nevertheless, it’s better to have items which fit that category so that you’re not totally soaked by rain or blasted by wind.
UV-protective - Sunscreen should definitely be your first line of defence against UV rays, but certain items for hiking can add some protection as well. The key is to read more about your product’s features and its Sun Protection (UPF) ratings.
With that said, here are some of our own pants and tops we avidly recommend for hiking during the fall:
Bottoms wise you can’t go wrong with our Ladies #601 or Mens #701 Active pants (also good for the base layer) any time of the year. For hiking and climbing, you’re wanting flexibility as well as lightweight warmth and comfort. During the early days of Fall you’ll be delighted with these two products for their body conformity, the fact that they ‘stay put’ AT your waist during active movement and their easy packability too. Just scrunch up into a ball in the bottom of your knapsack and have them handy for cooler days and nights. You’ll even be delighted wearing them 24/7, ie for Fall camping they’ll be your new best friend for cool night sleeping in a tent!
For cooler days you’ll want to be able to ‘paw’ through your drawers and hopefully find our new PAWS Basic top for women or the body aligning Basic tops for men. These tops are so soft and brushy inside, you won’t want to take them off. With their amazing body temperature balancing, you can wear them alone under a lightweight jacket at this time of year and be active in comfort and warmth.
What to Wear For Hiking - Find Your Footing
We’ll now end off at your feet. Your hiking “wardrobe” is incomplete without the right footwear. Just think about it - whether you’re on a paved or unpaved road, you will likely come across rocks, sharp objects, rough and muddy terrain and many more unpleasant debris on the road.
You want to ensure that you have the best footwear for hiking possible so that your feet are protected and your shoes will last long. We won’t spend too much time on shoes since there is enough to cover in an entire post on that topic, but we’ll give you a few general points when shopping for a pair.
First, look for a pair of hiking boots or trail shoes that are labelled as such. Ideally, these shoes or boots will be breathable (notice a pattern here), and with a little extra room. The latter is important because your feet do expand over the course of a hike, so having extra room will accommodate your temporarily larger feet.
You’ll also want your hiking shoes to have a high level of traction, because you may encounter surfaces that you could slip on. The last thing you want is to fall and hurt yourself (and leave a bad taste in your math about hiking) because your shoes had no grip.
Your shoes or boots should also be waterproof, lightweight (since heavier shoes can cause muscle fatigue), and provide plenty of ankle support. It goes without saying that affordability is key, but that ultimately depends on the size of your budget.
Non-Clothing Essentials for Hiking
Just to cap things off in terms of hiking advice, we’ll share a few pointers to help you get your hiking endeavours off to a good start. Choosing the right hiking gear takes up a big chunk of your planning, but there are other items you need to consider. Although our expertise falls more on the side of recommending apparel, there are some universally suggested tips for all newbie hikers to follow.
Additional Hiking Equipment and Items To Bring With You
Sunglasses - Although the sun isn’t as blistering in the fall as it is in the summer, it can still be uncomfortable for your eyes. So protect them with a good pair of sunglasses.
Sunscreen - Again, the sun isn’t as intense during the fall, but people with ultra sensitive skin can still be susceptible to sunburns. Your best bet is to wear sunscreen with the appropriate SPF designation.
First-aid kit - You will hopefully navigate the trail without a scratch but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Keep the basics with you - band-aids and moleskin for blisters and cuts, Neosporin for disinfecting wounds and gauze for deeper wounds.
Multi-Tool/Pocket Knife (optional) - If you’re going to hike in a park or local area, you can get away with not bringing a swiss-army tool. However, it’s a good idea to carry one if you’re going into the deep woods.
Phone (or GPS) - It’s not like you weren’t going to bring your phone, but you should consider bringing a portable charger (and batteries). You can bring a GPS or go old-school and carry a compass if you prefer a non-electronic method of wayfinding.
Bug spray (optional) - Bothersome bugs aren’t out in droves in the fall like they are in summer, but some still lurk in the cooler months. If they bug you (excuse the pun), then carry a bottle of spray with you.
Food! - A leisurely hike might not seem too strenuous, but you will tire out if you’re not well fed. So carry snacks with you such as nuts, fruits, beef jerky and granola bars (preferably, low-sugar ones).
In combination with your hiking clothes, having these items in your backpack will give you added comfort and peace of mind.
Take a Hike, But Do it Right
Once you hit the hiking trail, you can literally soak in the sights and sounds around you. Your brain will reset itself and induce a sense of calm that you may have lost, and your body will feel limber and energized.
But you’ll only enjoy these benefits if you prepare for the elements. With the right clothing and gear, you will avoid the discomforts that rookie hikers have faced because of being ill-prepared.
And ultimately, you can agree with Henry David Thoreau who said: “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than trees.”