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What you need to wear on a walk or hike depends upon the type or length of the walk, the time of year, and the expected weather, but being prepared and wearing the right hiking kit is essential for your comfort and safety.
There's an old well-known adage... 'There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing', so use the list below and enjoy your walk without worrying about what nature can throw at you.
Also check out our what to take guide for essential equipment you should take with you to ensure both your safety and comfort including: rucksack or backpack, drybag, water bottle, First Aid kit, map, compass, power pack, sitting mat and whistle. We also look at walking poles, gaiters, GPS devices, water purification and other useful kit.
What you wear on your feet depends upon the type of terrain being walked over, length of walk and time of year. In summer you may prefer lighter walking shoes or even trail running shoes to keep your feet cooler and dry. Many people do prefer walking boots though for the additional stability given by their ankle protection.
If you are out walking in the hills in winter, you should buy an additional dedicated pair of winter walking boots, which will keep your feet warmer, they have a much stiffer sole, are more heavy-duty, and are generally crampon compatible.
Comfortable, stable walking boots do make for a happier walk, so if you are investing in new kit, spending money on walking boots or walking shoes along with a waterproof jacket should be your first investment.
What you need to consider when buying your walking or hiking boots:
Having competed in many mountain marathon events, I've become very familiar with the Inov-8 brand and have used many of their fell shoes. When they brought out a walking boot version of the Roclite, it's been my go-to lightweight walking boot ever since. I use this boot most of the year.
The Roclite G 345 GTX now includes the graphene-enhanced G-Grip outsole, so with the Gore-Tex offers fantastic grip, comfort and protection in a lightweight boot. It's almost like wearing a fell shoe but with ankle support.
The walking boots I use in winter are the Scarpa SL. They've given me over 10 years of service so far and they are still going strong. They are now on the 9th iteration of the boot, which still gets excellent reviews and is available in both a men's and women's version.
The boot can be used all year round in the hills and mountains and are crampon compatible. The boot is made with 2.8mm Sherpa leather and built as a one-piece construction for durable weather protection. There is a redesigned upper with a soft nubuck leather cuff and a cut-out for the achilles. The revised speed lacing system and plush leather lining have been combined with a Vibram biometric trek sole for comfort and traction.
Another firm favourite is the R-Evo GTX from Scarpa. They can be used on paths, trails, hills or mountains with the Biometric Trek outsole from Vibram providing underfoot shock absorption and along with the broad heel platform providing excellent stability on uneven surfaces.
The waterproof jacket is 'the' all-year-round essential for your walks and hikes. I have two main waterproof jackets, a lightweight one I take on summer and lower-level shorter walks, and a more durable jacket that can cope with all 4 seasons and whatever the weather cares to throw at it.
The key things with any outer shell clothing are being waterproof (not just water-resistant) and breathable. They need to block the elements (rain, wind, snow etc.) but need to let you sweat and 'breathe' from the inside, so you can stay dry from the inside and well as out.
How waterproof a jacket is, is based on the hydrostatic head (or HH as it's known). This is basically how much pressure a waterproof material can take before it leaks and is measured in millimetres (mm). In the past tests were carried out with a column of water sitting above the material being tested, but as high-end jackets can now achieve HH's of 30,000 mm, having a column of water 30 meters high isn't very practical, so pressure machines that imitate this are now used instead.
British standards state that for a jacket to claim it is waterproof, it needs to be a minimum of 1,500mm. This may be ok for summer walking in light rain, but if you could be subjected to heavier sustained rain on longer day trips, I would recommend a minimum of 10,000mm but ideally 20,000mm or over.
One of the best-known waterproof membranes in jackets is Gore-Tex (others include eVent, Pertex Shield, and Polartec Neoshell, although many top brands have similar in-house solutions (e.g. Berghaus Hydroshell).
Gore-Tex don't believe this 'HH' test is suitable for determining the waterproofness of a garment and instead uses their tests to give their products their 'guaranteed to keep you dry promise' - see details.
From personal experience, most of my jackets have included Gore-Tex and with care have remained waterproof for many years. Nearly all other jackets are sold with an 'HH' rating and talking with fellow hikers they have had similar experiences of non-Gore-Tex jackets with HH's above 5,000 remaining waterproof with care. So basically, the choice is yours!
What you need to consider in choosing your waterproof jacket:
This is an expensive jacket, in fact, the most I've ever paid for any item of clothing, but worth every penny. It is a tough waterproof jacket that has taken in its stride the worst the UK weather has had to throw at it. Great design with 3 layer Gore-Tex Pro 40F fabric along with 80D fabric reinforcements, a fully adjustable mountain hood, and storm construction design means it's built to last.
This is a lightweight, durable Gore-Tex Paclite Plus waterproof jacket that is suitable for hill and mountain walking and stuffs away into its own hand pocket to throw into your rucksack. Made from 30D Gore-Tex Paclite Plus and has adjustable cuffs/hood and two mesh-lined map-sized pockets.
This light 2.5-layer waterproof shell jacket from Fjallraven stops wind and rain in everyday use and is packable and breathable for use on summer walks on the hills. This eco-friendly jacket is made from recycled materials with a PU coating.
A base layer is the layer of clothing next to your skin that can help keep you warm or cool. They should absorb and remove sweat from your body (known as wicking) to keep you comfortable and to do this, they need to be close-fitting.
The most common base layers are synthetic base layers and merino wool ones - always avoid cotton... it soaks up moisture leaving the walker cold and uncomfortable.
Synthetic base layers are generally lightweight, quick-drying, high wicking, and in the main cheaper than merino wool. Their main drawback is that they can become smelly.
Merino wool base layers are generally warmer than synthetic base layers and retain heat better when wet. They have a softer feel and are naturally antibacterial, so don't suffer from the same smell issues as many synthetics. Whilst they do wick, generally, this isn't as efficient as the synthetic base layers and they are more expensive.
The above relates to both tops and leggings.
Long sleeve crew top made from 100% merino wool. Features flatlock seams, underarm gussets, droptail hem, lightweight and breathable.
Versatile base layer, ideal for day walks. It's lightweight and fast drying and has polygiene stay fresh odour control and 30+ UPF sun protection built-in. Deep chest zip allows additional venting.
Made with 100% recycled Apex eco fabric, this is a comfortable, breathable and wicking t-shirt that is finished with Polygiene odour control for multi-day freshness and the 20+ UPF fabric adds additional sun protection.
The mid-layer provides your warmth and is usually a fleece or an insulated jacket. They are worn between your base layer and your outer shell / waterproof jacket. In warmer, dryer weather you may not need anything on top of your mid-layer.
Fleeces give warmth by trapping warm air pockets that our body creates thereby retaining heat and removing moisture through wicking. There are a wide variety of fleeces available in different thicknesses and offering various functionality. Fleeces are classified by weight in grams per square metre (gsm).
The three main types of fleece are:
There is an extensive range of fleeces to buy. When you are buying you need to consider its intended use. Some come with hoods, pockets, and thumb loops and many come with quarter, half-or full-length zips. Just remember they are not waterproof, so you need the outer layer to protect you from the rain.
Lightweight half-zip fleece made from 93% recycled polyester. Covered stitch seams and a zipped pocket - great on its own on warmer days or team up with another layer on the cooler ones.
Good value, lightweight quarter-zip fleece made from 100% recycled polyester and features UPF 30 sun protection. The funnel neck adds warmth and again is great on its own on warmer days or team up with another layer on the cooler ones.
A versatile, mid-layer hoodie for extra comfort and warmth. Two zipped pockets and thumb loops at the cuff.
Insulated jackets work as a mid-layer in the same way by trapping body heat. The main two types of insulated jackets are down jackets and synthetic jackets, although there is a hybrid, which is a mix of synthetic and down.
Down jackets are insulated with either duck or geese feathers and can pack down very small for carrying - I've always had them as a rucksack essential as great to throw on when you stop for any period on a walk. The warmth of a jacket is measured by its fill power rating (sometimes called loft) with goose down providing a higher warmth to weight ratio than duck feathers. A higher fill down has a better warmth-to-weight ratio than lower fill downs.
A higher fill rating doesn't necessarily mean that jacket is warmer - it is also dependent upon the amount of down used (fill weight). Jackets can be filled with less expensive down that makes them cheaper, but to achieve the same warmth as (say) an 800 fill jacket, there'll need to be a lot more down, which makes the jacket heavier and bulkier.
The main downside of a down jacket is that it loses its insulating properties when it gets wet, therefore they need to be kept dry. There is hydrophobic down, which is down-treated with a durable water repellent that repels water and sweat for longer.
Synthetic insulated jackets work in the same way as down jackets but use synthetic materials instead of down to trap the air. The main advantage over down is that they retain their insulation when wet, but the main disadvantage is that they are usually bulkier and do not pack down as small as down jackets. They are generally cheaper than down jackets.
What you need to consider when buying your insulated jacket:
The 750 FP Hyperdry duck down provides warmth and a level of water resistance. Two zipped hand and an internal chest pocket provide storage and the hem is adjustable with a drawcord. There is also an internal storm flap inside the zip. The jacket stuffs down into the right-hand pocket for easy storage in your rucksack.
With 30D Pertex Quantum ripstop nylon filled with 700 fill recycled hydrophobic down, this lightweight jacket can be used as an everyday jacket and as a mountain layer. Constructed of zoned micro and nano baffles to increase warmth without increasing weight or bulk. The fabric is breathable, windproof and has durable water repellent coating. It comes with an adjustable peaked hood and packs away into its own stuff sack for carrying in your rucksack.
More expensive, but a very warm and waterproof down jacket. The durable waterproof Pertex outer is filled with 800 fill power ethically sourced certified European goose down. Insulated helmet-compatible hood, YKK Aquaguard zips, taped seams and adjustable cuffs and hem all add to the comfort of the jacket. It comes with a stuff sack.
Walking trousers are generally made from lightweight, breathable synthetic fabrics with some built-in stretch, which allows your legs to move easily and wick away any sweat. For additional protection on wet days, they should be paired with waterproof overtrousers, although most are water-resistant enough to repel light rain. For winter walking, you can choose a warmer thermal pair.
What you need to consider when buying your walking trousers:
Exolite 210 double-weave softshell mountain trousers that are durable and lightweight. Ankle zips, zipped thigh and hand pockets, along with integrated belt all make these practical trousers to wear.
Lightweight walking trousers made from durable water-repellent fabric to help keep off those light showers. Velcro adjustable ankle cuffs and 3 zipped pockets add to their functionality. In the areas where you need it, there is a 4-way stretch fabric to allow freer movement.
Lightweight walking trousers with a smartdry durable water repellent finish to keep off light showers and solarshield UPF 40+ sun protection. 4 zipped pockets and a pleasing price point make these good value walking trousers. They do come in a ‘convertible' version as well, where the bottom half of the leg zips off to create shorts for those changeable days.
All the above that applies to walking trousers applies to walking shorts.
Walking or hiking shorts are a choice on the warmer days to replace your walking trousers. I must admit, being a little hardier than most, my short-wearing season does generally run from February to November, but that's not for everyone! As flexible as the walking trousers are, I do find that the walking shorts do offer that bit more freedom, but do beware of having bare skin on your legs if you are hiking through anywhere there is likely to be ticks.
A couple of additional things to consider are the length of walking shorts (longer provides more protection, but shorter are less restrictive for activities such as scrambling) and the type of pockets (some come with large cargo pockets creating useful space).
One of my main two pairs of summer shorts. They are cargo shorts, so pockets a plenty! One zipped pocket and 6 other pockets, including a mobile phone pocket. They are durable, lightweight, and quick-drying, with sun and insect protection built-in... no exact women's version though.
These durable water-resistant, fast-drying shorts are made from 4-way stretch fabric giving total freedom of movement and incorporate zipped and 2 hand pockets.
Lightweight, durable, water-repellent shorts, feature a stretch fabric that wicks and allows freedom of movement - great summer shorts for long days in the hills.
Walking or hiking socks along with your walking boots are essential for comfort on your walk. Hiking socks are specially designed to keep your feet dry by wicking away sweat, are cushioned, help prevent blisters or hotspots, and are much more durable than normal cotton socks.
They are generally classified as lightweight, medium weight, or heavyweight, which does affect their thickness, so you need to ensure there's room for them in your walking boots. Most of the year I use lightweight socks with medium weight over the winter.
The hiking socks can come in a mixture of materials, with a merino wool blend being many peoples' favourite. When buying also think about the length and whether you need ankle, mid-calf, or full length - part personal preference and part based on what type of walking shoes or boots you will be wearing.
There are also waterproof socks available.
More expensive than the other socks below, but these are 100% waterproof, windproof, and breathable. They are made of 3 layers: a durable outer layer, a midlayer waterproof membrane, and an inner primarily Merino wool layer for comfort next to the skin. Comfort is also aided by the flat toe seam and elasticated arch.
I tried these quite a few times last year and they ‘do what it says on the tin' and felt comfier than my previous Sealskinz waterproof socks (although they are quite a few years old). Not a sock for the summer though as feet (well mine anyway) get far too hot in them.
Besides the lightweight boot length, these waterproof socks are also available in midweight and heavyweight boot length, midweight and heavyweight knee-length and lightweight and midweight ankle length so take your pick!
Made from 31% wool, I've found these lightweight socks very comfy and great for summer use. They are also available in different weights.
A good value walking sock that features 29% Merino wool. They are a wicking, durable sock with a little lycra for a great fit.
Basically, they are the leg equivalent of the waterproof jacket. Many people carry with them as easy to roll up, lightweight, and easily fit on a rucksack when not being worn. The waterproofness and material considerations are the same as for waterproof jackets set out above.
What you need to consider when buying your waterproof trousers:
Lightweight waterproof overtrousers made from Berhaus's own Hydroshell 2-layer fabric. 3/4-length side zips make putting on and taking off easy work. Good value trousers offering plenty of protection whatever the weather.
3-layer H2No performance shell makes for waterproof, breathable trousers giving all-day-long comfort. They come with side zips, storm flaps, and the ability to pack down small to pack away when the rain stops.
Lightweight, Gore-Tex, waterproof overtrousers with ventilation control. 3/4-length side zips for easy on and off and own stuff sack to pack up small in your rucksack.
Hiking gloves are great for protecting hands against the wind, rain, and cold. I generally leave a pair in my rucksack all year round, although the summer pair are much thinner and lightweight than my winter pair.
Two main types of gloves - the glove which covers the hand and has a separate compartment for each finger and mittens, which don't have separate spaces for each finger. In the main, gloves of the same material will provide more warmth in mittens as the fingers maintain warmth more when they are in contact with each other. Whereas gloves provide more dexterity.
There is a third hybrid type called a 'lobster' where your thumb and index finger have individual compartments and then your other three fingers sit in the main compartment - often used by snowboarders.
The outer shell of hiking gloves comes in a wide variety of materials (leather, synthetic, neoprene etc.) with Gore-Tex or similar built into some. These serve a variety of different functions depending upon your needs (waterproof, breathable, windproof). Many people also pair their main gloves with a liner to get that bit of extra warmth and when not as cold the liner can be worn on its own.
There are also summer sun gloves, lightweight material that has built-in UV protection from the sun, and heat pads that can be bought to keep hands warm inside the gloves.
What you need to consider when buying your hiking or walking gloves:
A good all-round waterproof, windproof and insulated glove, with pre-curved fingers and touchscreen-friendly.
This soft and stretchy glove made from Polartec Power Stretch is a lightweight thin glove, which is touchscreen compatible. They are fast drying and the silicone palm print provides excellent grip.
A lightweight stretch fleece glove, great for when not quite so cold or use as a liner under other gloves when very cold. Made from Polartec stretch fabric with silicon print stocky palms and fingers with touchscreen-friendly patches on thumb and index finger.
Hats come in many shapes and sizes. For walking the main ones used are warm weather hats or beanies for winter and wider brimmed hats and peaked caps to afford some shade in the summer. Some hats and caps come with a neck flap or are made from material with built-in UV protection to further protect you from the sun's harmful effects.
Caps can also be worn year-round (thermal ones are available) that give you some shade from the sun in summer and the peak can be a helpful addition to a hood when raining, especially if you wear glasses. Some caps have foldable brims so can be folded easily to store in a pocket or rucksack when not in use.
Great for colder weather walking or under a hood. The beanie has zoned windproof panels with fleece backing over the forehead and ears, to be breathable yet warm. Reflective side panels and recesses for eyewear.
Tilley has become synonymous with durable headgear. They have a wide range of hats, with this one being organic cotton with a polyester mesh to improve airflow. It's rugged, coated with a durable water-repellent, and offer UPF 50+ sun protection.
Easy to carry, suncap with built on UPF50 protection. Very lightweight and breathable, with a fold in the peak to take up minimal storage room.
You can still get burnt on overcast, cloudy days, so make sure you wear your sunscreen and take it with you to reapply. Sunburn can damage your skin and put you at greater risk of skin cancer. According to the NHS, you should use sunscreen with sun factor protection (SFP) of at least 30 to protect against UVB and at least 4 star UVA protection. Make sure the sunscreen is not past its expiry date.
Sunglasses are also a must to protect your eyes. Long-term exposure to UV rays could increase the risk of specific eye conditions. There are numerous glasses available but make sure they have a CE or British Standard Mark. Some glasses are marked as UV400 - these can filter out 99% of UVA and UVB rays and is slightly higher than what British Standards require for eye protection.
Protective wraparound style sunglasses, with 100% UVA and UVB protection. The Lens are anti-fog and anti-scratch and are interchangeable for different light conditions.
Expensive, but durable, lightweight, and comfy fit. The lens's as you'd expect from Oakley, filter out 100% of UVA and UVB, reduce glare and provide maximum clarity at all angles of vision.
Cheap and cheerful sunglasses for those who tend to regularly lose or break them! Currently only £15 at the time of writing with a Go Outdoors card, they are comfortable and provide UV400 protection against UVA and UVB sun rays.
SPF 70 and gives water/sweat protection. Spreads easily on the skin and didn't feel greasy. Generally, I use it on my face and neck and combine it with a cheaper sunscreen where I don't need the same sweat protection for the rest of the body.
Absorbs fast and is sweat and water-resistant. SPF of 70 gives great protection and spreads easily on the skin. Generally, I use it on my face and neck and combine it with a cheaper sunscreen where I don't need the same sweat protection for the rest of the body.
SPF of 50+ gives great sun protection in this easily absorbed cream. It says water-resistant, but I do find the Neutrogena and Aveeno better for the face and neck, and then use this on the rest of the body. Much cheaper than the Neutrogena and Aveeno though and comes in a larger bottle.
Moisturising lip balm with SPF 50+ protection
Long-lasting lip balm with SPF30.
A buff is a thin, light, stretch tube of fabric that traps warm air next to your skin. Many people wear it as a scarf alternative, but it can also be used as a lower face mask or balaclava. They can be used all year round. They are thin enough to wear under a hat for additional warmth and on hot summer days, you can soak them in water and wear them around your neck to keep cool.
100% merino wool buff - it's naturally anti-bacterial, wicking, and quick-drying.
Made from recycled polyester it gives soft touch comfort and UPF 50+ prorection. The warm fleece makes it ideal for colder weather conditions.
95% recycled fabric makes up this lightweight buff, with built-in UPF50+ sun protection and insect shield technology, that provides some protection against mosquitoes and other insects.
Whilst underwear is a personal choice for many, making the right choice can make all the difference to comfort on a walk as it is in direct contact with your skin. There are many antibacterial boxers around for men and women, that are breathable, wicking, quick-drying, and prevent chaffing.
Also, for women, the right choice of sports bra can affect comfort levels. As with the boxers, they should be breathable, wicking, and quick-drying. The other main considerations are comfort, so it doesn't give you backache or dig into your skin, being supportive but not too tight, and being durable but still supportive months down the line.
These 4-way stretch fabric boxers are moisture-wicking with odour control. The mesh panels and flat-out seams mean no chaffing and all-day comfort.
4-way stretch, quick-drying and wicking boxers, great for walking and other sports.
Soft, comfortable, breathable and durable sports knickers.
So that's it, a full rundown of what you should wear on your next walk or hike.
The recommendations aren't necessarily the best/most expensive products out there, they are our selection of ones that we believe give good value for money... and we like.
If you want to be more eco-friendly, many of the brands producing the above products now have ethical ranges and unlike fast throwaway fashion, much outdoor gear is built to last if you look after it.
Author: Andrew Forrest