The Hiking Clothing Color Guide: Stand Out Or Lay Low


What should you wear while hiking? Is it better to shop for style or pick the colors that will keep you safe? Our guide will point you in the right direction.

Bright colors are the safest colors for hiking. Neon orange, yellow, and bright red are great choices for making sure hunters and other hikers can see you. Earth-tones are preferred by many hikers to reduce visual noise and avoid being noticed.

Safety is always important, but other variables can play into whether or not you’ll need bright colors while you’re hiking. The bright coloring is always the safest, but what if you’re planning to go birdwatching while you’re out? You may not want to catch the attention of the birds with your clothing.

Keep reading, and we’ll discuss when and where you should wear the safest hiking clothing and when it might be okay to stick with darker tones. I’ll also take a look at the most stylish colors for hiking, as well as colors you may not want to wear out on the trail. Then you’ll be prepared for hiking just about anywhere.

Most Stylish Colors For Hiking

After searching for tips from veteran hikers across a variety of camping forums, I learned that many hikers prefer Earthy tones. At a bare minimum, these color choices allow them to feel more in tune with the nature around them. They can see themselves as part of the nature around them rather than an out of place, brightly-colored visitor.

“Earth-tones” means using colors like browns, greens, blacks, and grays. If you choose to wear these colors, make sure you also have something brightly-colored with you. A jacket is often an ideal and easy choice. Even if hunters aren’t around, you will want to ensure you can be found as quickly as possible if you get lost.

That said, wearing bright colors look very visually appealing and make outdoor pictures look amazing:

guy-wearing-red-while-hiking-or-running-in-forest

Bright reds, aqua, bright yellows, and oranges are all visually appealing colors that provide a lot of contrast.

Function Over Form

When it comes to hiking, style often comes in second place. It doesn’t matter how good you look if you’re uncomfortably stumbling along a trail. Instead, many hikers prefer to focus on wearing clothing with a lot of function and a reasonable appearance.

Most hikers aren’t trying to win any style awards while they’re out in nature (I know I will never be apprehended for some emergency magazine cover photoshoot… probably in any situation when it comes down to it). Instead, hikers often place their focus on how well certain pieces of attire will benefit them on a given hike.

After you consider the function of your clothing items, you can think about the colors. No matter what, for safety’s sake, you will need at least one brightly-colored item, such as a jacket. Beyond that, you can tailor your colors to your situation.

If you’re going backpacking in the wilderness, a poncho is a great option as it’s extremely lightweight and is often a bright yellow or orange or other obviously unnatural color.

How To Decide What To Wear?

Shoes

Consider how hard the hike is going to be. Will there be a lot of climbing or is it a light trek on a simple path? Can you get away with a pair of sneakers or running shoes, or will you need legitimate hiking boots? Second, are those hiking boots comfortable?

If you haven’t spent a lot of time on the more intense hiking trails, you might wonder where the line is when it comes to your footwear? When do you absolutely need to wear hiking boots? When can you get away with wearing a simple pair of running shoes? Find the answers in our article on the topic here.

Clothing

Think about how much of a sweat you’ll be working up. Can you wear cotton or other “normal” clothes, or should you focus on clothing items that will regulate your temperature and wick away your sweat?

Is it going to be below 55 degrees Fahrenheit? You should ensure you have a layering system that keeps you warm enough while not overheating you. Check out our post that talks about effective cold weather layering, here.

Remember, safety is the number one priority no matter when or where you’re hiking. Comfort is next. Style is after that.

Safest Colors To Wear While Hiking

Neon colors, such as bright yellow, electric blue, orange, hot pink, etc.

These colors are useful in a few different ways. To begin with, they allow you to be seen easily by other humans. Bright, neon colors aren’t often seen in nature. Because of that, any hunters that might be in the area will be able to see you more easily and recognize that you are human.

No matter what you’re doing in nature, safety has to come first. After all, it’s awfully hard to have fun when you’re injured or worse. Not everyone who spends time hiking is aware of the best colors to way for staying safe while doing so. That said, if you’re going into the woods it’s always a good idea to know the best ways to make sure you come back safe and sound.

Do Hunters and Hikers Share The Same Trails?

For the most part, hikers and hunters don’t share the same trails. Consequently, it isn’t uncommon for people to walk these kinds of trails without too much worry about what colors they are wearing.

That said, there are also hiking trails that aren’t quite as populated or well known that actually do cross over hunting trails.

Hikers don’t really concern themselves with knowing what hunting season it is for a particular animal. It could be bear season, deer season, elk season, etc. and hikers would have no clue that was case. In these areas and at these times, it’s extremely important to make sure you’re wearing bright colors. Hunters choose blaze orange, often called “hunter orange” to keep themselves safe.

Reasons To Wear Bright Colors

There are a few reasons why wearing bright colors is a good idea.

me-wearing-a-blue-hat
Me and my super easy to see blue hat

Getting Lost

Besides being seen by hunters, bright colors can be a lifesaver if you’re accidentally injured or get lost. Those who are looking for you will be able to spot you more quickly, even if they’re searching from the sky.

I have a story about this. Me and several of my family members went on a backpacking trip a few years, back. One of my nephews, about 7 years old at the time, decided to go off on his own to go get firewood. I had decided to go exploring that morning and was taking pictures of the beautiful sights, when I found my cousin wandering about a mile from the campsite hopelessly carrying a big tree branch.

He had gotten lost and was crying, softly. I was able to find him just barely in the distance. Even trying to catch up with him in the woods was difficult and many times I lost track of him. If I hadn’t been able to see him I do not want to think of what could have happened.

I was able to find him and we were able to get back to the campsite, but it was a very real reminder that being able to be seen is extremely important.

As an aside, depending on where you’re hiking, you might need more than just some bright colors to stay safe. Those who enjoy hiking where paths are minimal at best will need to bring along some extra tools. Devices like a GPS watch can help to keep you from getting lost in the first place. Our article on the subject here can help you to determine whether or not you need a GPS watch for your hiking trips.

Not everyone enjoys wearing bright colors, but they are absolutely worth it in terms of safety. Just a bright jacket is often enough to ensure hunters don’t mistake you for an animal. If you like to bring your four-legged family members on hikes, they should be wearing a bright color as well.

If your animal is in the process of “mountain training” the last thing you want is for your animal to blend in with their surroundings.

Another feature to consider is the reflectiveness of what you’re wearing. Having a jacket that is reflective as well as bright can keep you even safer. H

However, clothing items that bright can really be offensive to the eye. If you’d prefer, you can also make sure to wear some bright clothing and simply bring along a reflective blanket. These tools are highly compact, lightweight, and easy to slip into your pocket or backpack in case you should happen to get into trouble.

The reflective blanket, also commonly known as an emergency blanket, can be used to reflect heat back towards you and can make a huge difference in staying warm in critical situations. An emergency blanket is a good choice for any backcountry excursion in any case.

Best Colors To Wear While Nature-Watching

If the reason you’re heading out into the wilderness is to enjoy the sights and sounds of the local wildlife, you might have some concerns about wearing bright colors. Although you know they are the safest, you might worry they will alert the animals to your presence more easily and make it harder to watch them, peacefully.

Bright colors can be pretty surprising to humans. It can easily seem like they’d easily scare off any animal anywhere near your area.

It’s a fair concern, but one that might not be worth worrying about too much. Truthfully, it can really depend on the kinds of animals you want to seek out. Many animals aren’t capable of seeing color well enough for something like a bright orange vest or jacket to make a difference.

For example, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, deer have no problem seeing blue or green. This makes sense, as they relate to what they eat and drink. However, they aren’t able to see colors like red or orange as well, so those are the ideal colors to opt for if you want to watch some deer.

The New York Times states that squirrels have even less distinguished color vision. Consequently, you’re more likely to scare them off by making too much noise than by wearing clothing that is too brightly colored.

Things get a bit more difficult when you’re interested in birdwatching. Birds are often bright colors, so it only makes sense that many birds are capable of seeing a larger variety of colors as well. This helps them to recognize members of their species and find mates.

Because of that, it’s often recommended that you wear clothing that blends in with the environment around you. That way, you’re less likely to be noticed by the birds you’re trying to watch.

The difficult aspect of this is that any hunters that might be in the area will also have a harder time noticing you. That can create some serious danger. So if you’re planning on going birdwatching, make sure that you’re going to an area where hunting isn’t going to be a problem.

Another option you have is to consider the season. It’s safest to go birdwatching outside of hunting season. If you do want to head out and watch the birds during hunting season, you will need to have some brightly colored clothing.

No matter what animal you’re watching or why you’re out in the woods, please be careful.

Reasons To Wear Earth Tones

While it is often safer to wear bright colors, there may be times when it isn’t necessary to do so. In other cases, the brightness may become more of a hindrance than a help.

man-wearing-earth-tones-in-mountains
This is an example of someone wearing earth-tones while out and about

Naturally, safety always comes first. That said, it can be better to wear calm Earth tones in these situations:

  • In areas where hunting isn’t allowed. Bright colors are mainly to ensure hunters in the area can see you and recognize that you aren’t an animal. If you’re hiking or camping somewhere hunting isn’t allowed, you’re likely to be safe wearing any color.
  • Outside of hunting season. If there aren’t hunters around, the chances of being mistaken for an animal are much lower.
  • While you’re camping with others. In most cases, campsites should already be located in safe well-known areas. Unless there is a risk of a hunter stumbling across your campsite by accident, you should be okay to wear earth-tones. If you’re camping with others, it may even be a good idea. Obnoxiously bright colors aren’t typically the most fun to look at for long periods of time.
  • In desolate places with high visibility. Some hikers feel safer when they are in areas with minimal coverage, where they can clearly see that no other people are around. In situations like this, it’s still a good idea to bring along a bright jacket or something just in case you come across anyone else. Whether or not you need to wear that jacket can really depend on the situation at any given time.
  • On hiking trails that are well known and highly-trafficked. You’re likely to be safe if you’re hiking on a trail that there are typically a decent number of people on. Hunter trails don’t cross over high traffic human trails.
  • While birdwatching. As I previously mentioned, many birds are capable of seeing brighter colors. Though the level of color vision can vary from type to type, it’s often a good idea to try to blend in with the environment when you’re watching birds. Just make sure you do wear bright colors if you’re going out for remote locations during hunting season.

Are There Any Colors You Shouldn’t Wear While Hiking?

There aren’t any colors that are always a bad idea while hiking. There can be situations in which just about any color would work.

The general rule is that bright colors are always beneficial. Even if hunters aren’t in the area, they can help you to be found more easily if you end up lost or injured.

Because of that concept, some campers believe that dark colors aren’t a good idea to wear while hiking. At the bare minimum, you should have some kind of bright clothing item within easy reach. Dark colors make it more difficult for would-be rescuers to find you if an accident occurs. The same is true for camo, which should only be worn if you’re absolutely certain you know the area and will be safe.

Another color hikers often avoid is white. This is less due to safety and more because it gets dirty easily. Depending on where you’re hiking and how hard you’re pushing yourself, you’re likely to end up with sweat stains at the very least. Beyond the potential of ruining some of your favorite clothing, getting stains out of a white shirt can be annoying.

If you don’t mind a dirty shirt, then there really isn’t an issue with wearing any color.

Is Clothing Material Important?

When it comes to clothing materials for hiking, the focus is often on what materials will keep you comfortable and safe. Some materials will keep you warmer or better protected from the elements, while others try to keep your sweat from soaking through.

That said, there can be some variables to consider when it comes to the materials you use. For example, some types of clothing might make more noise than others. Additionally, some materials are less comfortable to hike in, like denim.

What if you just want to go for a quick, light hike during your lunch break? Are jeans okay then? Maybe you just find jeans comfortable? Whatever your situation is, hiking in jeans might feel like an ideal option for you. Is hiking in jeans possible or will it leave you uncomfortable? Discover more on this topic in our article here.

Finding a balance between clothing comfort, effectiveness, and the correct color scheme is the best way to make sure you are safe and comfortable while you’re out in the wilderness.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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