At first, I hesitated to write a series that included a discussion of clothing to wear while hiking. I didn’t want to write about something that on the surface seems simple. However, I have found over the years that few new hikers know what clothes are appropriate to wear in the field. For example, I once went hiking with a person that had never been hiking before. We were planning on entering rough terrain with plenty of noxious plants. I assumed that he would know what to wear. He arrived at the site with tennis shoes, low-rise socks, shorts, and a t-shirt. I told him that he should consider going back to get appropriate clothing. He refused and decided to go forward with the hike. About half way through the hike, he was walking in front of me through a field of thigh high plants on the bank of a creek. I was wearing fairly thick hiking pants and was not paying complete attention to the plants we were walking through. Suddenly, he ran screaming down into the creek and started vigorously rubbing his legs. I looked down at the plants to confirm my immediate suspicion. The plants were stinging nettle and he had walked about 100 yards though them. If he had appropriate clothing, then he would not have been affected by the stinging nettle.
To avoid unpleasant instances like the one described above, I want to give new hikers a brief tutorial on what I use while hiking. Hiking gear can be a very complex and contentious issue. Everyone has an opinion about what is the best gear to have and wear. In reality, it is all about what works best for you. I am a minimalist when it comes to hiking clothes. What I mean by this is I use the minimal amount of clothes for functionality and comfort. I am mostly a warm weather (40˚ F+) hiker/backpacker, so I won’t talk about cold weather clothing here. On a typical summer day while hiking, I will have a pair of lightweight hiking pants, a synthetic shirt, a hat, synthetic socks, a small pack, and a pair of combat boots or hiking shoes (depending on terrain).
I currently have two pairs of lightweight Columbia Sportswear convertible hiking pants. The convertible pants are versatile and allow you to convert from pants to shorts in no time. I must confess that I have never actually converted them to shorts because the fabric is so lightweight and cool that I have never been hot in them, even on the hottest days in summer! The pants are 100% nylon and dry very quickly. Last week I was covered in dew from the saw palmettos I was navigating through. Within 5 minutes of getting out of the palmettos, the pants were completely dry. There are many companies that make synthetic convertible hiking pants. I would recommend getting a good pair.
My choice of shirt has changed radically since I moved to Florida. In Missouri, I would typically wear a cheap partial-synthetic t-shirt. When I say cheap, I mean really cheap! I picked these things up at the local buy-it-all store for $5/5 shirts. The good old days of cheap shirts have passed away for me. Here in Florida I have found copious amounts of mosquitoes that can easily bite through the thin shirts I used to wear. I have switched to vented-back hiking/fishing shirts with rollable long sleeves. The venting and synthetic fiber keeps you cool and the thickness of the shirt repels insect onslaughts. My personal shirts were custom made by the manufacturer and include additional pockets and gizmo holders. In addition, on cooler days I carry a fleece jacket in my pack. I tend to get hot while hiking, so I usually don’t wear it. However, it is nice to have just in case the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Stay tuned for part 3, “Hats, Socks, and Packs”