It takes a lot to prep before heading out on your first overnight backpacking trip. We’ve broken down what gear you’ll need overall and how to pack food so you don’t go hungry in the wilderness. But with so many activewear and hiking apparel options out there, it can be hard to figure out what clothing is really essential.
You’ve got to consider a lot of factors—temperature, weather, comfort, sweat, lack of showers—that you can’t find an easy fix for once you’re out there. So you have to make sure to think ahead and bring it all with you. The biggest thing to consider? There’s likely to be a range of weather conditions, no matter where you go. “Sometimes when you start out on a hiking trail it might be 60 degrees, but by the time you get to the summit you might be looking at freezing temperatures,” says Kaitlyn Margeson, an REI Outdoor School instructor in New York/the Tri-State Area. Which means you need to prepare for it all—yes, while also limiting yourself to what you can wear and carry on your back.
How do you make sure all the basics are covered so you can have a good time in the wild? “It’s all about layering,” Margeson says. From my experience, I couldn’t agree more.
Look for base layers (top and bottoms) made of synthetic materials to help keep you dry, even when you’re sweating.
By base layer we mean the layer that is closest to your skin. The right choice often comes down to personal preference and where you’re going to be hiking. Tank tops are fine in some places, but if you’re in the desert, you might need to be more mindful of sun protection. Likewise, long-sleeved shirts may feel impossible to wear in humid areas.