5 min read

Hiking Don'ts: Gear Missteps That Could Ruin Your Trek

Picture this: You, stranded mid-hike, fashion faux pas turned survival mishap. Avoid the wilderness walk of shame with our guide on what NOT to wear on the trail.

Tobi Miles
May 19, 2023

Choosing what to wear while hiking has nothing to do with fashion. We all want to look presentable while hiking, but not if it’s at the expense of practicality and comfort. So, what should you not wear while hiking?

You should not wear denim jeans, thick pants, open-toed shoes, and no-show socks while hiking as they don’t offer much protection and can chafe your skin. Tight shorts can chafe your thighs while hiking, especially if they are short and lack breathable materials. Avoid wearing sweet-smelling body spray and nice shoes that aren’t waterproof while hiking.

Ideally, you should wear a shirt and pants that feature moisture-wicking materials because you will sweat while hiking. Buy a pair of hiking shoes or wear old shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. Follow along as we explore what you should not wear while hiking.

What To Not Wear While Hiking

Whether it be tight shorts or denim jeans, there are plenty of clothing items to avoid wearing while hiking. Let’s take a look at the worst clothes to wear while hiking that you should avoid.

1. Denim Jeans

Sure, denim jeans are stylish, but they are not conducive to hiking. Jeans aren’t great for heavy movement because the constant motion can irritate your skin. The irritation only gets work as you get sweatier and sweatier throughout the day.

Sweating is nearly unavoidable when hiking, and wearing jeans can create the perfect conditions for an uncomfortable rash. Jeans can also restrict your motion while hiking, and that is the last thing that you want to do as you traverse new trails. If you insist on wearing denim jeans while hiking, try to pick a pair that is loose and breathable, so you don’t restrict your movement too much.

2. Thick Pants

Overheating is always a threat while hiking, so you should avoid any clothes that can exacerbate that possibility. Thick pants are among the biggest offenders in overheating while hiking, and you should avoid them at all costs. Understandably, many hikers wear thick pants to protect their legs from bug bites and branches that stick out.

However, dense fabrics don’t offer any breathability and they will quickly raise your body temperature. Unless you keep up with hydration, you can quickly become dehydrated if you wear thick pants while hiking.

3. Open-Toed Shoes

Not only is uncomfortable to wear open-toed shoes while hiking, but it can also be dangerous. You are likely to encounter plenty of debris, wood chips, bugs, and fallen branches while hiking. Open-toed shoes leave your feet vulnerable to bug bites and injuries from debris that can ruin your day of hiking.

They can also limit your movement as open-toed shoes don’t hug your feet as tightly as boots or hiking shoes. An open-toed shoe, such as a sandal, can easily come off your foot while hiking. Unless you want to regularly adjust your shoes, you should wear solid, closed shoes that will protect your feet while hiking.

4. No-Show Socks

An ankle rash can ruin a great hike even if the location is beautiful. No-show socks can cause your shoes to rub against your ankle as you walk. They also leave your ankles vulnerable to ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, and flies.

It’s also easy to get twigs and debris in your socks as you hike if they are too low.  You will likely need to stop every once in a while to fix your no-show socks and pull debris out of them while hiking.

5. Tight Shorts

Tight shorts, especially if they are short, are a recipe for disaster while hiking. They are likely to cause chafing which is quite uncomfortable and can leave you counting the minutes until your hike is done. Tight shorts don’t give you a free range of motion, and they lack breathability.

Shorts of any kind aren’t typically ideal for hiking, even if they are loose and breathable. They can’t adequately protect your legs from thorns, branches, bugs, and sunlight. Even the best hiking trails have plenty of bugs and obstacles that can scratch your skin, so it’s best to protect your skin as much as possible.

6. Body Spray

Everyone wants to smell good, but applying body spray before hiking can irritate your skin and even attract bugs. Body spray that smells sweet can attract unwanted mosquitoes, bees, and wasps. Even worse, the body spray can eventually hurt your skin as your pours open and you sweat.

Depending on the chemicals in the body spray, it may even render your sunscreen useless.

7. Nice Shoes

Avoid wearing nice tennis shoes and dress shoes at all costs while hiking. Whether be a national park or private trail, you will encounter, dirt, mud, and water on your hike. You can easily ruin your shoes while hiking even if you don’t have to traverse any extreme terrain.

Many hikers keep a pair of old shoes or hiking shoes that they don’t mind getting dirty. That way, you won’t have to worry about ruining a pair of shoes that you won’t be able to use again after a strenuous hike.

8. Hanging Jewelry

Never wear hanging jewelry while hiking as it’s a safety hazard. Necklaces and earrings that hang low can get caught on tree limbs and tall bushes. You can get stuck and injure your ear or neck, and this can be quite dangerous.

Sweat can also tarnish jewelry, especially if it’s made of metal. It’s okay to wear stud earrings and tight jewelry, but jewelry of any kind may suffer some sweat damage while hiking.

What Should You Wear While Hiking?

Comfort and practicality are everything when it comes to what you should wear while hiking. According to Danish fashion brand Arc'teryx, you should wear breathable clothes that help you move around freely and absorb your sweat. Follow along as we highlight what you should wear while hiking.

1. Hiking Shoes

Hiking shoes are the best way to protect yourself while hiking. They are designed to hug your feet and ankles tightly to keep debris and bugs out. Most hiking shoes also offer some water resistance and are highly breathable.

2. Moisture-Wicking Pants

It’s essential to wear moisture-wicking pants while hiking. They are comfortable and designed to absorb sweat so you aren’t bogged down while walking. Moisture-wicking pants can also protect your legs from bug bites and branches that stick out on the trail.

These pants are made of synthetic materials as natural materials like cotton cannot absorb water too well. Nylon and polyester are the most common materials you will find in moisture-wicking pants, and both are comfortable and practical for hiking. Many moisture-wicking pants on the market come with several pockets which come in handy while hiking.

3. Breathable Long Sleeve

Breathable long sleeve shirts offer the best of both worlds between comfort and practicality. Your skin will be safe from sunburn and you will be less vulnerable to bug bites. Overheating is less of an issue if you wear a breathable long sleeve.

You can always roll up your sleeves if you get too hot. If it’s a particularly hot day, you can wear a short sleeve shirt, but make sure it’s breathable so you don’t overheat or soak it with sweat.

4. Camping Socks

Camping socks offer plenty of moisture-wicking and can protect your ankles from bug bites. Most camping socks are also designed so that you can easily clean them at a campsite. They are designed so that you can wash them with water and hang them to dry at your campsite.

Camping and hiking socks are typically made of nylon, polyester, or merino wool. Merino wool is comfortable, but polyester and nylon are better materials when it comes to absorbing sweat and avoiding chafing.

5. Fleece Jacket

Depending on the time of year and climate in your area, it may be essential to wear a fleece jacket while hiking. They are perfect for hiking in cool weather as you can quickly take a fleece jacket off and wrap it around your waist if you get too hot. Fleece jackets are breathable, and they are rarely bulky.

Wearing layers is a great way to protect yourself from bugs and obstacles on the trail as well. If you don’t have a fleece jacket, simply wear a thin, loose, and breathable jacket as your outer layer while hiking.

6. Sunscreen

While it’s not a clothing item, you must wear sunscreen while hiking. You can get a sunburn in under 12 minutes on sunny days with little shade. Not only is sunburn uncomfortable, but it’s also dangerous and it’s among the leading causes of skin cancer.

Dermatologists recommend that adults wear SPF 30 sunscreen for the best protection. It won’t block out the sun entirely, but it can protect your skin from over 95% of the UV radiation from the sun that you are exposed to while hiking. Make sure to apply more sunscreen every 2 hours if you plan to be in the sun all day so that you stay protected.

Final Thoughts

Avoid wearing denim jeans, thick pants, open-toed shoes, and no-show socks while hiking. They all can cause chafing and discomfort which can ruin your hike. Ideally, you should wear moisture-wicking clothes made of polyester or nylon so the sweat doesn’t weigh you down or cause chafing.

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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