The Best Hiking Clothes for Any Budget
I’ll admit it, the price of hiking clothes is on the rise and that trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. 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. As with most of my content, this post is a constant work in progress, so give this bad gal a bookmark and check back often for the most up-to-date recommendations.
Finding a Deal: Shopping for Hiking Clothes on a Budget
With a little bit of legwork, you can easily score a good deal on top-of-the-line deals. Keep a running list of what you want and sign up for brand emails. Although sales emails are annoying, you’ll be the first to know about sales (ahem, Patagonia’s 50% off sales, ahem).
Another alternative is to shop at thrift stores and used gear stores. Many gear stores run gear swaps throughout the year and some even have consignment sections. If you’re lucky, a nearby gear shop may specialize in selling samples. These are the things that marketers and gear testers get before a product hits the shelves. Often times, these pieces of clothing have awesome color ways (color schemes and patterns) that aren’t offered anywhere else. Lastly, you can be resourceful and utilize a few hacks to replace key pieces of hiking gear and clothing for with cheaper alternatives.
Utilizing Social Media to Find Budget-Friendly Hiking Clothes
There are a lot of ways to find amazing, gently-used gear. One is to join local hiking Facebook groups. I really love the Grassroots Teams put out by Outdoor Women. There are LOADS of women looking to connect with other outdoorsy ladies (also welcoming to non-binary womxn). Often times, ladies put up their gear and clothing that’s for sale.
You can also ask to borrow something, there are more than enough ladies out there who are happy to lend you some gear in exchange for a beer and a high five. The NextDoor app is also a great place to go if you’re looking to borrow gear.
Alternatives to Brand-Name Hiking Clothes
Hiking-specific clothing is expensive, period. One of the major issues that the outdoor industry has is the cost to enter. However, there are plenty of ways to work around this issue. First, use what you’ve got. I have no shame in admitting I would go for hikes (even backpack) in a cotton tee-shirt, cotton shorts, and steel-toed boots (it was all I had). Do I recommend this? No, cotton can kill, but have I done it just to get outside? Yes. I survived and didn’t start buying outdoor-specific clothing until I had been hiking consistently for over a year. Synthetic gym wear such as leggings/sweatpants and a synthetic tank are far better options than my irresponsible cotton choices. If you find yourself hiking more weekends than not, then it’s probably time to invest in a few key pieces to get you started.
For tees, socks, and layering, just avoid cotton completely. Merino wool is queen (but has a price tag to match her flossy lifestyle). Synthetics are great and places like Target have a full line of synthetic workout clothing that will work just fine in the outdoors.
Budget-Friendly Hiking Clothes to Buy if Your Short on Cash
Remember, a hiker doesn’t need to be decked head-to-toe in Arc’teryx in order to get outside. If you’re working with a limited budget, I would recommend investing your hard-earned dollar in footwear and socks. Your feet are your lifeline in the outdoors. Unhappy feet leads to unhappy hikers. Treat your feet first and the rest will follow.
After footwear, I would recommend a solid mid-layer. A jacket that will keep you warm when your sweat cools is key to survival in alpine environments and shoulder-season hikes. Fleecy mid-layers do double-duty and can be used around town too! Your next big investment should be a puffy layer if you’re in cold climates or places with temperature swings. Down is the gold standard, but if you can’t afford it, there are great synthetic fills, when layered with your mid-layer, will keep you plenty warm.
Rain gear is uber-expensive and I honestly didn’t bother updating my rain gear until last year (cuz who wants to pay tons of money for a glorified piece of plastic?), hell, I’ve even punched holes through a trash bag to stay dry on hikes. Things like gloves, hats, and beanies don’t need to be super high-tech, use what you’ve got until you find that it isn’t serving you anymore.
New to hiking? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Start here with the ultimate guide to hiking for beginners.
Plus-Sized Gear for the Outdoorsy Lady
Okay, so I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve got skinny white girl syndrome, so I’m not going to pretend I know what the heck I’m talking about when it comes to plus-sized outdoor clothing for ladies. So I decided to turn it over to Jenny Bruso, the incredible plus-sized, kick-ass woman behind UnlikelyHikers. She lays down all the juicy recs and gives a real, honest outlook on plus-sized activewear. This incredible post by Jenny is a tell-all, no-holds-barred exemplary piece of writing we need more of in the outdoors. She check out Jenny’s comprehensive post about plus-sized activewear for all of your outdoorsy needs.
How to Find Eco-Friendly Hiking Clothing
You’d be surprised how eco-unfriendly your favorite outdoor activities can be. One way to offset this is to purchase eco-friendly clothing. Unfortunately, eco-friendly and budget-friendly don’t always align. Typically, you will pay more for sustainably made clothing. One HUGE exception to this rule is Recover Brands. I really LOVE their stuff – it’s moisture-wicking, made from recycled plastic, and totally affordable.
If you’re looking for sustainable solutions to hiking clothes, consider looking for BlueSign products, clothing in compliance with the Responsible Down Standard, products made from natural materials such as down and wool, or products made from recycled material. A few of my favorite companies doing great things with sustainability are:
If you’re interested in learning more about what goes into making eco-friendly gear purchases, check out this awesome article on the subject.
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 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 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 I’ve dabbled with a few other brands, but I keep coming back to Patagonia.
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. My pairs are pushing four years old and still look just as good as new. 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: The Merino will keep you warm and snug.
Cons: I found that this layer is a tad itchy, I wouldn’t want to wear it without a bra.
Shopping for backpacking clothes? 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? Or account for boobs? All the sudden it’s $20 more if even one of those criteria are met?!? 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 smell overtime, but not as quickly as other synthetic shirts. Bonus points for remaining as good as new after four years of hard use. I also travel with their merino wool tees.
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 ($20 and up) and eco-friendly Recover Tees ($19.00 and up)
Pros: These REI 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.
Recover Brands: the Eco-Friendly, Affordable Hiking Tee
Pros: Recover Brands offers a wide variety of tees with fun graphics that won’t break the bank. They are also made out of recycled plastic and synthetic fibers. These tees are a fantastic way to be eco-friendly without breaking the bank! For more eco-friendly gear, check out my eco-friendly hiking gear guide.
Cons: Some of the tees fit a little snug so if you’re into a looser fit or have broad shoulders (like me) order a size up or reach out to the manufacturer for more info on fit.
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 and I always feel colder in leggings. 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 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. PrAna has stopped making the fully convertible line, so gobble them up before they are gone for good! I also believe they just introduced plus sizing.
Cons: When you dry them in a dryer the drawstring comes out, you can fish it through again, but it’s a pain. The recently did away with the convertible option, but I believe the new ones zip off at the calves.
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.
Budget-Friendly: Leggings from Anywhere
I really can’t stand hiking in leggings, but a lot of women love it. You don’t need to spend $80 on a pair of leggings to hike in. Literally, anything will do.
Pros: Price and flexibility. You won’t have any mobility hinderance with leggings.
Cons: I have yet to find a pocket on a pair of leggings that I like.
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 (which I find useless unless your sitting on a beach), so I can actually use them.
Cons: Again, they don’t flatter my tiny, athletic tushy and make me look like a beanpole.
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
Mid-layers 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. If you’re a three-season hiker, a fleecy mid layer is one of the best hiking clothes purchases you can make.
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 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 (or cold) 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. Alternatively, if you search by brand name (Northface, Patagonia, LaSportiva, Columbia, etc) head over to ThreadUp.com. This second-hand online shop has a bucketload of outdoor gear, it just isn’t presented that way. Look for “active wear” instead.
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, making these recommendations some of the best hiking clothes that money can buy.
High-End: Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket ($280)
Pros: So much warm for so little weight. It comes with a stuff sack that has come in handy more than once. The cuffs have a great design (don’t chafe and finish nicely). A down jacket at this price with a hood is also pretty spectacular. RDS (responsible and sustainble) down. I take my RAB everywhere from the crag to the trail and beyond.
Cons: I’m being a little picky, but a bit better pack down would be excellent.
Mid-Range: Mountain Hardwear Women’s Stretch Down Jacket ($260)
Pros: Allows for great movement in the jacket, no pinching at the neck or shoulders. Overall great fit for an athletic, broad-shouldered lady, a tough find with down jackets. 750 down fill bounces back to life instantly. Packs down like a champ.
Cons: No hood, but you can pay a little more for one with a hood.
Budget-Friendly: The North Face Ventrix Hoodie ($220)
Pros: Light, breathable, budget-friendly alternative to a down puffy. John lives in his (he wears it on the couch folks…). It’s saved me a few times when I forget my jacket. Definitely warm and gives plenty of mobility.
Cons: Doesn’t pack down well. John has noticed some piling on the material after constant wear for a couple of months.
Before you hit the trails this winter, check out these snowy posts:
- The basics of hiking in the snow for not-so-basic babes
- What to expect on your first winter hike
- Snowshoeing with your 4-legged friend
- How not to freeze your ass off this winter
- Ladies, say goodbye to squatting in the snow with this wonderful device
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 and be so unflattering. I think it’s criminal. With that being said, if you hike often in rainy climates, you may want to pick up a rain jacket that is built for activity. Otherwise, any city-slicker rain jacket will do.
My Go-To (Mid-range): REI Co-Op Rhyolite Rain Jacket ($93)
I picked this up in a pinch a few years back 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.
Accessorize 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: Hestra Gloves’ Army Leather Patrol Insulated Glove ($130)
Wow. I finally found them. After over three years of searching for the perfect glove, I finally found a pair that will keep me warm and dry while also allowing me to actually use my hands. The Hestra Army Leather Patrol Insulated Glove offers tons of warmth without sacrificing dexterity. The gloves fit perfectly and have a removable fleece layer. The leather is ultra durable and they pack down nicely for such a warm glove.
Pros: These ACTUALLY keep my hands warm in cold conditions. I retain enough dexterity to hold an ax, hiking poles and even belay a climber.
Cons: Leather gloves aren’t cheap, but I’m never going back. I wish they had a touch more
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. Again, any beanie or hat will do if you don’t ever plan to hike with a helmet.
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 and I am confident that these are the best hiking clothes on the market for women. 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.
Want to hike more? I’ve got an exclusive e-book dedicated to outdoor women that will help you hike further!