The Best Hiking Clothes for Any Budget
I’ll admit it, the price of hiking clothes is on the rise. However, there comes a point in any outdoor adventurer’s career where it’s time to pay to play. Since I’m out and about nearly every week, I’ve had the opportunity to try out a lot of different hiking clothes. This post is a labor of love, years of testing have culminated into this one moment: the best hiking clothing for any budget. Each genre is broken down to suit your budgetary needs.
Please note: This post participates in affiliate linking. That means when you click on an item and purchase it I get a small kickback at no added cost to you. It allows me to keep this site running, and delivering you awesome free content. As always, I never recommend a product I haven’t fully vetted.
Treat Your Feet to the Best: A Note About Footwear
I’ll be the first one to tell you if you’re going to splurge, splurge on protecting those tootsies. However, I’m not going to give you any recommendations on footwear. Here’s why.
When it comes to feet, it’s personal. I’d never recommend purchasing footwear online. Go into a gear shop, be a person, talk to someone, and get fitted properly. Footwear reviews aren’t very helpful, except when it comes to durability. Below are a few brands that offer excellent durability.
- High-end: Lowa
- Mid-range: Oboz
- Budget-friendly: Keen
Shoes may be a custom item, but socks, well socks will make or break your day. I typically opt for a sock that offers a medium to a heavy cushion. Typically, since I’m wearing boots or traveling over tougher terrain, I’ll opt for a crew cut, but that is a matter of personal preference.
The important thing about socks is your feet are covered so your shoes don’t rub and you aren’t wearing any cotton. Cotton allows for sweat to build up in the sock. The result is soggy feet with socks that rub and create friction, ultimately causing blisters.
High End: Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion ($21) Review
Pros: These never smell, last forever, and come in fun colors.
Mid-Range: Smartwool Men’s Hike Medium Crew Socks ($18.95) Review
Pros: They last forever and keep their fluffy loft. I wore these socks every day for 11-straight days in Nepal. Yes, they smelled after that, but they were still just as comfortable as day one. I pretty much solely wear Smartwool socks, even for every day. I couldn’t recommend these enough.
Cons: I can never seem to find the women’s version in a pinch. Maybe it’s because they are literally that popular. As a result, I confuse them with my boyfriend’s pairs quite a bit.
Budget-Friendly: REI Coolmax Midweight Hiking Crew ($13.95) Review
Pros: They perform well for the price point. They do tend to smell after a few days.
Cons: They don’t offer as much cushion as the Smartwool’s.
Bonus: REI Silk One Liners Review
These are a game-changer if you have issues with blisters. Since I started wearing silk liners, which is pretty much always, I have yet to get even a hot spot on my feet, even in rental ski boots. I’m not kidding folks, these will change your life.
Start with the Basics: The Perfect Base Layers
I’m throwing base layers and hiker tee’s in here together. I typically wear both of these throughout the year, using a moisture-wicking tee shirt under my base layers in the winter for super-cold days.
Long Sleeved Base Layers for Warmth in a Pinch
Below you’ll find a few options for base layers, I primarily wear Patagonia base layers. They aren’t cheap, but I’ll snag them during their annual 50% off sale. The other items tested here come from Squirrel’s recommendations.
Best Long-Sleeved Base Layer: Pagatonia Capilene Midweight ($59)
Pros: These light-weight base layers work in all sorts of conditions. The elastic is built to last and Patagonia stands by their product. They provide ample warmth and their checkered, Polartec Power Grid lets them balance between warmth and breathability. Not to mention, they use recycled material in their synthetic material.
Cons: Price. Honestly, I haven’t bothered with anything else for years. I’d love to compare the Capiline to the 150 Merino by Smartwool.
Runner-Up: REI Merino Midweight Half-Zip ($43.99)
Pros: Squirrel is convinced this will keep you warm and snug. He’s worn his on super cold days.
Cons: He sometimes complains that they don’t breathe that well, but he runs extremely warm.
Looking to backpack? Check out my guide to backpacking gear and learn where to spend and how to save.
Best Hiking Tee’s for Women
I’ve been frustrated at the lack of options for women’s hiking tees. Why is it so hard to put a graphic on there? All the sudden it’s $20 more?!? Outrageous. Needless to say, here are my favs.
High-End: Women’s Vapor Tee by Duckworth ($60)
Pro: This merino shirt fits like a dream. It’s slouchy, loose look is great from the trail to the town. It also doesn’t feel like it’s trying to strangle me on the trail.
Cons: The price tag is certainly steep, but I got it as a gift. It’s made here in the USA with sustainably-sourced wool. Also, I consider this tee a two-for-one. Wash it before wearing, it itched the first time I put it on.
Mid Range: Patagonia Capilene Daily Graphic Tee ($39)
Pros: I love the graphics, something that’s tough to come by with a hiking tee. The synthetic material is nice to the touch and keeps moisture at bay. They can build up a smell overtime, but not as quickly as other synthetic shirts
Cons: You pay an extra $10 for the graphics. The plain tee’s in this lineup are just as great and only run you $29. Wait until they go on sale.
Budget Friendly: REI Sahara Heather T-Shirt ($29.99)
Pros: These synthetic tees have been re-designed to be less tight, allowing for better movement. Also, REI did away with the seam in the center of the back, which I appreciate. They also now come in plus sizes!
Cons: They are still on the pricey side for what they are, but if you watch closely, they do go on sale for half off. I also wish they had a few more color offerings, this season’s colors are uninspiring.
Best Bottoms for Hiking: Shorts and Pants that Function and Make You Look Fabulous
Whether you hike in shorts, pants, or convertibles, pants always seem to be a nightmare. It took several hours in a dressing room to find a pant that delivers function, fit and durability. Therefore, I only have two items for each listed here. Maybe one day, the pant goddesses will smite the outdoor industry to creating a more flattering look for females on the trail. Oh and I should mention I hate hiking in leggings, I’m not in yoga class. I want something with deep pockets that will actually keep me comfortable. If it’s your jam though, your options are endless and your price point lowers substantially.
Mid-Range: PrAna Sage Convertible Pant ($89, on sale for $53)
Pros: Mobility everywhere you need it. I can do anything in these. I’ve summited mountains, climbed rocks, and backpacked with these bad gals. I own them in every color. An added perk? They make my butt look nice.
Cons: When you dry them in a dryer the drawstring comes out, you can fish it through again, but it’s a pain. I wish the short conversion was a little shorter, I look kinda goofy with long shorts.
Mid Range: North Face Paramount 2.0 Convertible Pants
Pros: Finally! A woman’s pant that converts into a shorter short, but still keeps its pockets usable. What a miracle! I love these. They are a bit more durable than the Pranas, but they don’t flatter me quite the same way.
Cons: They don’t have a great color selection and the fit isn’t the most flattering.
Best Hiking Shorts: PrAna Olivia Short ($59)
Pros: I can wear these anywhere and you’d never know that I use them for hiking. They are cute and not too short, which is great on the trail when you don’t want your junk hanging out and you need to use your pockets.
Cons: I wish there was a button on the pocket so stuff didn’t fall out when I sit
Runner-Up: Patagonia Baggies ($55)
Pros: They dry quick and repel water. The fun designs make them an awesome addition to any wardrobe. I actually have a sample pair, so I’m pretty sure my design is unique, I haven’t been able to find it anywhere. The pockets are deep, unlike the barely baggies, so I can actually use them.
Cons: Again, they don’t flatter my tiny, athletic tushy.
Budget-Friendly: A Pair of Cheap Running Shorts
I don’t have a particular product in mind here since I don’t hike in shorts very often. But a cheap pair of runners from Target is a great way to have a moisture-wicking pair of hiking shorts.
Insulate with These Hiking Mid-Layers
Midlayers or a fleece, offer added protection from the cold. This is a great layer to stash in your bag on a summer day. Sounds crazy, but if you’re in the high-alpine and you sweat, you’ll want something to cover up with when you stop for a break.
High-End: La Sportiva Stellar Pullover ($85)
Pros: Lightweight and warm. It’s got thumb holes. Who doesn’t like thumb holes?
Cons: The snug fit isn’t for everyone. The colors are bold in true La Sportiva fashion. Although I got mine on sale, the price point is off-putting
Mid Range: Patagonia R1 Zip Up ($79-$159)
Pros: I live in this thing it’s so cozy. The checkered fleece pattern allows for me to breathe and also stay warm.
Cons: Doesn’t pack down well. Still a bit pricey. This goes on sale twice a year, so wait. Or, alternatively, opt for the pullover version (half zip) and save about $10.
Budget-Friendly: Hit a Thrift Store
Fleeces are a dime a dozen these days. Thrift stores in an outdoorsy area have TONS of fleeces to choose from. These stores often don’t understand how much that gear is worth and you’ll pay pennies on the dollar.
What is Life Without an Excellent Puffy Layer
Puffies are life. They are versatile, provide a ton of warm for your dollar, and they are an essential layer in the mountains. With that being said, they are not cheap. But this item is designed to last you a long time.
High-End: Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody ($299)
Pros: So much warmth for a synthetic it’s unbelievable. Durable. Allows for movement and breathing. All-around awesome (read my review here)!
Cons: Doesn’t pack down the greatest. Definitely pricey, but this is another item that is 50% off in the summer.
Mid-Range: Mountain Hardwear Women’s Stretch Down Jacket ($260)
Pros: Warmer than the Nano. Allows for great movement in the jacket, no pinching at the neck or shoulders. Overall great fit for an athletic, broad-shouldered climber, a tough find with down jackets. 750 down fill bounces back to life instantly. Packs down like a champ.
Cons: No hood.
Budget-Friendly: The North Face Ventrix Hoodie ($220)
Pros: Light, breathable, budget-friendly alternative to the Nano Puff. Squirrel lives in his (he wears it on the couch folks…).
Cons: Doesn’t pack down well. Squirrel has noticed some piling on the material after constant wear for a couple of months.
Rain, Rain Go Away Solutions to Keep You Dry
I have to admit, I DESPISE rain gear. I do not understand why a rain jacket needs to cost so darn much. I think it’s criminal. With that being said, I needed a new rain jacket in a pinch last season, so I have two options below.
My Go-To (Mid-range): REI Co-Op Rhyolite Rain Jacket ($93)
I picked this up in a pinch last year because I had a limited budget and a dividend to burn.
Pros: Price point. It repels water well. See how it kept me dry when I made it rain:
Cons: Doesn’t breathe the best, but it breathes. No pit zips.
Budget-Friendly: Sierra Design’s Women’s Neah Bay Jacket ($89)
Now I haven’t personally tried this jacket, but hear me out for a second. My last rain jacket was from Sierra Designs. It lasted me a whopping eight years. Yes, eight dry years, until the fabric just couldn’t keep the rain out. That’s incredible. And for the price (rain jackets are stupid-expensive remember?) I would recommend their latest product simply based on the fact that my last one survived for so long.
Plus-Sized Gear for the Outdoorsy Lady
I may not be a plus-sized gal myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about this issue. I truly believe that if you respect the wilderness, you’re welcome in the hiking community. Since I have no authority to truly speak on the subject, I turned to Hike Like a Woman’s Article on Plus-Sized Gear to shed some light on the options out there for my fellow hiking ladies. So check it out, and let me know what you think!
Accessories with These Must-Have Hiking Accessories
Below are a few extra items to consider when updating your hiking wardrobe. Most of these items are personal preference and each mini-review includes why I put them here.
Gloves Best in Show: Outdoor Research Altai Gloves ($159)
I have given up on budget-friendly gloves. I just can’t make a recommendation that I feel is satisfactory. In fact, I ended up picking up the Outdoor Research Altai gloves out of desperation. I could not find a pair of gloves that would a) keep me warm in winter and b) not make my jacket sleeves push up. The struggle is real! I should note that my hands run fascinatingly cold.
Pros: These ACTUALLY keep my hands warm down to about a negative 5 windchill. They have long cuffs so my jacket/glove situation doesn’t become a mess. They are built to hold ropes and axes, making them ideal for more than just hiking. For most hikers, these are pretty extreme. But if you run cold, ice climb, mountaineer, or any other extreme cold weather activity, these are great. Their liners are insulated and built to be used as a standalone glove. You are getting two for one here.
Cons: The sizing is a bit strange. I can live with it in the name of warmth, but I’d recommend trying them on before you buy.
The Great Glove Liners Debate
This is more in-line with what you need in the summer. I have a pair of North Face Etip liners that I tolerate. They are useless to me below 45 degrees and they looked about three years old after the first wash. Squirrel likes his Burton Spectre Gloves ($45) that he swears by. I found my pair to be totally useless and would avoid ever buying a Burton glove again. So again, this is an item based heavily on your personal needs and preferences.
Why Everyone Needs a BUFF (varies, but most run about $20)
A BUFF is one of those things that you don’t know how great they are until you have one. Mine goes with me everywhere, regardless of the environment. It adds some warmth, keeps my hair out of my face, soaks up sweat and converts to a handy pillow. I’ve had knock-off brands, but nothing performs quite as well as the BUFF brand. Especially when it comes to the thing freezing from condensation.
Should You Hike with a Top Hat?
Umm…probably not, but I got your attention. I like a hat that will fit well under a helmet and keep me warm. Wool hats drive me bonkers, however, PrAna’s synthetic/wool blend has managed to keep me cozy for years. My favorites are the Tawny Beanie and the Addison Headband.
Upgrading your hiking wardrobe can be an expensive challenge, even with budget-friendly options. The gear I’ve provided here has been tested over the course of several years. It’s durable and meant to last, meaning your expensive purchase will last longer. Hit the trails with some performance gear this year and see what a difference it makes.