Layering Clothes for Day Hiking

When it comes to clothing for day hiking, I don’t have any strong recommendations as far as brands or specific items. I am going to suggest that the concept of layering clothes for hiking is the best way to go, and simply share with you what we have found works well for us. I bet layering will work well for you, too!

This is why we hike! The vineyards of the Langhe with Serralunga and the Alps in the distance.

This is why we hike! The vineyards of the Langhe with Serralunga and the Alps in the distance.

Since we travel for long periods, often several months at a time, we have to pack clothes that will work in several climates and seasons. (See how we Pack Like a Pro and Pack Like a Pro for Women) To do this, we layer lighter clothes for greater efficiency and flexibility. I’m going to start with what we wear when we are layered to the max, how we layer for cold weather, and then offer some specifics.

Layered to the max in Vatnajökull, Iceland

Layered to the max in Vatnajökull, Iceland

Starting from the bottom, we wear quality hiking shoes and a good pair of hiking socks. Moving up, a pair of long johns and our hiking pants. In warm weather, just a pair of shorts does the trick. On top we’ll layer a t-shirt, a thermal top or long sleeved t-shirt, a sweater or fleece, a thin puffy jacket, and a raincoat. Depending on conditions, we’ll wear a knit hat (a touque for our Canadian friends!), a Tilley, or a ball cap. We finish with gloves and a scarf. As conditions get warmer, we start shedding layers until we are comfortable. It’s as simple as that!

Let’s talk specifics. For shoes I wear Keen Targhee III and Betsy wears Merrell MOAB. Comfort ranks supreme followed by support and grip. I really like the ankle support of a mid boot but they are hard to pack, so I end up wearing them on travel days.

For socks I really like Wigwam. My favorite is the Ultra Cool-Lite Quarter. I use their light and mid weight socks as well. I find Wigwam to be of high quality and quite affordable. Betsy uses Wigwam as well and also has some Smartwool PhD that are a little heavier.

Long sleeve t-shirts always a good layer. Sinta, Portugal

Long sleeve t-shirts always a good layer. Sinta, Portugal

Why specifically hiking socks? They have a compression property to them that feels good, keeps them in place, and helps prevent blistering. They are what I wear almost all the time now unless I’m wearing dress shoes.

For long johns we each have ClimateSport pants and tops by Cuddl Duds. We bought them as a set and they were a bargain compared to some other brands we were looking at. They are a great base layer for hiking in cold weather.

With our Columbia hiking pants on Mount Etna

With our Columbia hiking pants on Mount Etna

We both also have hiking pants by Columbia. Mine are the Silver Ridge and Betsy has Saturday Trail. Both are lightweight, fast drying, comfortable and have extra pockets that come in handy on the trail. The Silver Ridge features a little stretch in the fabric. They are also both available in a convertible option where the legs zip off and you have a pair of shorts.

These double as our work pants when we’re on the road and we can even turn them inside out if we’re painting so any splatter doesn’t show. My first pair I wore over ten years and I finally left them after our second year at the winery in Dogliani for some future WWOOFers. I’ll bet they’re still kickin! There are certainly better looking, more stylish hiking pants out there but we like the utilitarian aspect of these pants. Plus they are very affordable!

On top we just layer things we would normally have with us. Other than the thermal ClimateSport top, we layer t-shirts and sweaters until we are warm enough. We both now have Dale sweaters from Norway and we love them. They are a bit of a splurge but they are incredibly versatile and stylish. We wear them all the time!

Our coats are lightweight puffy jackets. Mine is a Columbia Voodoo Falls. It is incredibly lightweight and packs very tight. It is nice and warm in the snow but not too heavy for spring and autumn days. I find it to be the perfect coat for our kind of traveling.

Columbia Voodoo Falls Jacket

Columbia Voodoo Falls Jacket

Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket

Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket

Betsy has a Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket. It is a little “puffier” than mine but still compresses down very tight for packing. It has been a great jacket for her for years and is just now needing to be replaced.

Our raincoats double as our windbreaker/top layers on coldest days or they work as a light jacket on a cool spring evening. Mine is a Venture 2 by The North Face and Betsy has a Columbia Arcadia II. They are both simple but functional and do the job. 

In the winter we both have wool knit hats for cold days. I’ve told you about our Tilleys. Sometimes, if it is raining a lot, we like to wear a ball cap under our rain hoods for better visibility.

For gloves, lately we have been wearing Burton Touch N Go. They are really glove liners but have a touchscreen finger material so we can use our phones or take photos without taking off the gloves. If it is really cold we can layer a heavier glove over top.

Betsy with her Columbia raincoat and Burton gloves

Betsy with her Columbia raincoat and Burton gloves

I said I had no strong recommendations when it came to clothing but I do want to mention how happy we have been with our Columbia outdoor gear over the years. When we took our first European trip back in 1990 it was over our winter break and we bought Columbia 3 in 1 jackets for the trip, which worked great. We had those jackets for well over 20 years and used them every winter on ski trips, shoveling snow, hiking, and more. We finally got rid of them not because they were breaking down but because our children shamed us into getting new ones with colors that are more in fashion. Since that first purchase we have gone back to Columbia time after time for a combination of high quality and fair pricing. The couple of times we have had an issue with a zipper or a tear they have replaced the item at no cost. We are big fans.

So there you have it. Layering is the key to keeping warm and keeping it simple. You can spend a lot of money on hiking specific clothing but other than a set of thermals for cold weather and a t-shirt that has some wicking properties, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Just layer up and get outside!

This is why we hike! The incredibly steep vineyards of the Mosel Valley, Germany

This is why we hike! The incredibly steep vineyards of the Mosel Valley, Germany

Dreaming of hiking in Europe when things open up again? We can help with that! We are here for your custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, the UK and all of Europe. We are experts in creating custom travel itineraries and leading small group trips to European destinations. We also book European cruises! Feel free to reach out via email — We’re always available to talk about travel!

We can also help with trips in the US while we wait for Europe to open up. We’ve traveled extensively throughout the US and visited many of our National Parks as well as wine regions, major cities, and tourist destinations. We just love to help people travel!


Greg Ball – Greg is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries and counting! He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.

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