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Whether you are going on an easy two-mile hike with awesome flat terrain or planning your next 22-mile cross-country backpacking trip, figuring out what to wear on your hike is mostly trial and error. I have many personal clothing malfunctions to share, but I wanted to find out what people in general experience. That’s why I asked the community what they have regretted wearing while hiking.
Nearly 400 hikers answered our survey of what they regretted while hiking. While hiking, you should avoid wearing cotton, shoes that are not specifically meant for hiking or activity, backpacks that are too heavy, backpacks that are not meant for backpacking, clothing that is not water-resistant, and clothes that are not meant for activity.
Even beyond these categories, we found that many hikers learned the hard way what they should and should not wear while hiking. While the major themes seemed to be chafing, being too hot, being too cold, clothing/items were too heavy, too heavy, and blisters, we also found that hikers had some unique stories to share about their hiking gear choices.
We narrowed it down to ten categories of what not to wear and what not to bring while hiking. Additionally, some items that we will refer to as “honorable mentions” have been included at the end more as cautionary tales than anything else. So to learn about what not to wear while hiking, read on!
Underwear To Avoid (Maybe All?)
I was really surprised to see so discussion about underwear! The results were controversial.
While some people claimed that going commando was the only way to go, others said that the chafing was terrible if they “forgot” to wear underwear that day. While most of this seems to be a personal preference, there were some common underwear themes that hikers discussed in this survey.
Particularly for women, female hikers should avoid thongs. Sure, they look great under leggings because you don’t see the underwear lines, however, chafing from thongs was a common problem for several women. Women also reported that lace undies resulted in the same issue, so I guess our recommendation is to wear your fancy underwear at your own risk.
Bras also seemed to be another subject of deep controversy. For the most part, most women agreed that wearing a bra with an underwire was a big mistake. However, those who went braless also claimed that there was excessive chafing and other pains, while others claimed that braless was the only way to go.
To avoid discomfort while hiking, many women recommended wearing a supportive sports bra or a cami tank top. The key thing to look for in a sports bra is one that is not too tight, because this was a very common regret from female hikers.
One question that many hikers have is whether you should wear underwear under your thermals. I help untangle this mystery here.
To sum up–this is an extremely personal decision on which underwear you wear while hiking, but the important thing to consider is that many people do very different things in this arena and they swear by it. If you have any trouble in any underwear regions while hiking, maybe it’s time to experiment on shorter hikes and find something that works best for you.
Duct Tape and Adhesive Bandages
Sticky residue creates blisters. I’ve personally had a horrible experience learning that on the softer skin regions (like my hip), that an adhesive bandage can actually be the starting point for terrible blisters.
One brave woman used duct tape to help support her back (albeit, she was pregnant and claimed the extra support was a dire need). She even had an allergy to the adhesive and suffered in a big way.
If there is no skin movement in the region (such as parts of your arm or leg), then you are probably going to be fine applying a sticky bandage or even duct tape.
If you need to put a bandage in a sensitive spot, The solution is to use bandages that are hypoallergenic or to use gauze and use paper tape. Some paper tape residue has given me blisters as well, so it’s important to find something that has very little sticky residue. If you can avoid using any adhesive on your body, that’s even better.
Backpacks That Are Too Heavy
A very common theme among many hikers was that they absolutely regretted wearing backpacks that were too heavy. What typically went hand in hand with backpacks that were too heavy was bringing gear that they didn’t need. Especially for hikers new to backpacking, deciding what to bring on a backpacking trip is not the easiest task. Because you probably don’t know what you will and will not need, it can be hard to decide what you should bring and what you should leave.
That being said, if you are planning a multiple-day backpacking trip, it’s best to discuss what to bring with backpackers who have experience packing their packs as well as checking out forums to see what other backpackers have said about packing your packs.
REI recommends packing a backpack that does not exceed 20% of your body weight for a short hike and no more than 10% of your body weight for an all-day hike. With this math, a person who weighs 150 pounds could pack a 30-pound pack for a short hike and a 15-pound pack for a longer hike.
In reality, though, it’s very difficult to pack a 15-pound pack for a long trek and requires expensive ultralight gear. If you are 150-180 and your pack is around 30lbs, this is a good place to be and you’re doing well.
Backpacks that Don’t Fit
Along with packing backpacks that were too heavy, many hikers cautioned wearing backpacks that either was too big, too small, or backpacks that were not specifically meant for hiking. Particularly if you are wearing a tank top or sports bra come on wearing a backpack that doesn’t fit will likely cause some chafing and heat rash.
Additionally, wearing a backpack that doesn’t fit may also be bad for your neck and back. If the backpack doesn’t fit correctly or if your straps are not in the right position, you might end up with a very sore back and body even on the first day of your hike. If you want to avoid that, make sure you try out your backpack ahead of time and buy the recommended backpacks for your height and weight.
As for wearing a backpack that is not meant for hiking, this was more up for debate. If you are packing a backpack for a backpacking trip, you probably want to get a high-quality backpack that is meant to support your body and its pressure points. However, if you are going for a short day trip, wearing a lightweight backpack or a fanny pack might be a better option. Because you don’t need all of your gear on a simple hike, you can get away with wearing a normal backpack.
Overly Used Backpacks
From my own personal experience, I’ve gone backpacking with a backpack that was really worn, especially in the hip straps. I thought that it wouldn’t be an issue, but during the trip the fabric covering the metal support that was in the hip brace portion of the backpack. I essentially had a pokey piece of metal in my hip region while backpacking. It was horrible. I had to use an extra shirt as padding in that region to keep my body from chafing away.
Check straps and any other parts of the backpack that could expose bare metal or plastic that comes in contact with your body (especially around the hip region). Replace straps as needed.
I’ve never really tried wearing a wide-brim hat, so I was super glad to learn about this one from another backpacker:
Don’t wear a wide-brim hat while backpacking.
This depends on your backpack. If your backpack is like most where it goes tall, then it’s likely your hat is going to be bumping up against your backpack constantly.
A ballcap will work just fine and not annoy you.
However, if you are going hiking without a backpack or with a small one, then a wide-brim hat will work just fine.
I do have an entire article that discusses why wearing jeans might be OK for hiking, but many of the hikers responded that wearing jeans is a big mistake. Jeans in particular can be great if you are looking for some protection against brush and branches, but they will not be great if you are hiking in the heat or if the conditions are wet.
Jeans do not dry quickly. In fact, one of the wittier comments in response to an individual describing their aversion to jeans asked,
“How many weeks did those take to dry?”— Witty Hiker
Jeans do dry–but they do take a bit longer. If you are hiking in good weather with some rain you won’t likely have a problem, but if it gets cold, that retained moisture can be a problem.
Jeans are typically a thick cotton material (for guys)–the thicker the material, the longer it takes for cotton to dry.
Many are against jeans for hiking but they are absolutely okay to hike in. There are some disadvantages besides the water retention thing that you should think about. I talk more about it in my article about hiking in jeans, here.
Too Short Shorts
I’ll be clear–I love hiking in shorts. I love the freedom of movement and any inconveniences I have I’m willing to put up with because they are so comfortable.
However, wearing shorts is controversial for many. Those who advised against wearing shorts have some pretty good points. Unless you are hiking on a rather tame path that doesn’t really go through the brush, wearing shorts may not be the best idea. If you are hiking through brush or bug-infested areas, you made you come out of your hike with plenty of scratches and irritating bug bites.
In other words, if you are ever hiking off trail in the summer time, long pants are a must.
If you’re hiking on an established trail without brush then shorts work great. This kind of cuts out certain parts of the U.S. (I’m looking at you, the South!), or anywhere in the world, really. But if you’re hiking mountainous regions, then the bugs and plants are not as aggressive (like Colorado or Utah) and you can get away with wearing shorts (provided the mosquitos aren’t too bad).
Many people choose to wear shorts as a way to stay cool and to keep their clothing light. Yet, another reason people avoid them is that some shorts may also contribute to chafing, particularly if your thighs touch while you’re walking (which is a lot of people). To help combat chafing, many hikers have used Vaseline and been successful. Another option is to wear longer shorts (about knee length works well).
If you still want to wear shorts or really don’t have another option, some hikers do wear leggings underneath their shorts. Of course, this may not be the most fashionable appearance, but it might save your legs. Additionally, you could opt to wear convertible pants that turn into shorts. These typically offer the versatility that most backers want. You can wear pants if the hike gets a little too rough, but you can turn them into shorts if you’re in an open area.
Convertible hiking pants are my absolute favorite because you get the BEST of both worlds. I talk about these types of pants in my post about hiking pants, here.
I talk more about shorts vs. pants/leggings in this post using data from real people. Check out the responses to this survey here.
Tank Tops Or No Sleeve Shirts
Tank tops were an unexpected answer in this survey. Yet, the reasons why hikers chose to avoid tank tops seemed pretty clear. If you were backpacking, wearing backpack straps over your tank top means that the straps are going to rub against your shoulders which can cause incredible discomfort. Not only will you likely get some absolutely phenomenal tan lines, but the chafing and skin irritation is horrible. So instead of wearing a tank top, it may be best to wear a t-shirt for some sort of light long sleeve.
Some hikers said that even no-sleeve shirts have this problem as well. If there’s any chance that the backpack straps will be against your skin, then you are at risk for some chafing.
The hikers who were staying tops warned against being uncomfortable while backpacking. However, individuals who choose to hike without a backpack or who are just going for a day trip did not have the same problem. So this tip is directed towards those who are going backpacking and not just hiking.
Clothes That Are Bad At Water
While we’re sure they’re laughing about it now, many hikers cautioned against purchasing and wearing clothing that claimed they were water-resistant but really weren’t. When these hikers encountered weather, unexpected water crossings, and waterfalls, they were hiking in wet clothes for the rest of their trip.
One REALLY important thing to remember is that sometimes, no matter what you do in some circumstances, you’re going to get wet: Even if you get the most water resistant clothing there is, it’s important to remember that water resistance works both ways. The more water resistant your clothes are, the better they are at keeping sweat on your body. I remember being in rain slickers (waterproof pants) and a rain jacket on one hike and being absolutely soaked from my own sweat.
So, staying dry is both an exercise on finding clothing that will keep you dry, but it is also an exercise in finding clothing that will dry quickly once wet.
If it’s summertime, getting wet isn’t as big a deal (unless it’s in the 50s to 60s range of temperature, then even these cool temperatures can be dangerous), but in winter it absolutely is.
I could go on about strategies about keeping your feet dry, but I’ll just say that in any time of the year, wet feet can quickly lead to blisters–especially if you have socks that aren’t woven in a way to make for a happy life (like I’ve experienced with cotton athletic socks). That’s why many people choose to bring multiple pairs of socks. How many socks should you bring? Check out my article, here, if you want to see the average amount of pairs of socks people usually bring backpacking.
So yes, for some parts of your clothing it’s important to get truly waterproof clothes (polypropylene and other plastics are the most waterproof you can find), for some articles of clothing, but it’s just as important to get clothing that breathes well and will dry quickly
Dresses and Skirts
Dresses and skirts may not be the best choice for clothing on a hike. Unless you are going on a short, paved walk, wearing a dress or skirt may be a recipe for disaster. While the individuals who wore dresses or skirts while hiking claimed that either it was laundry day and they had nothing else to wear or they were misinformed about the nature of their outing, nearly everyone who mentioned dresses or skirts found themselves wishing they had worn something else.
There are a few problems that you will encounter if you try to wear a dress or skirt while hiking. The first and likely most obvious issue is wind. If you wear a dress or skirt and the hike happens to be gusty, you may end up with a Marilyn Monroe type of situation. So unless you wear spandex or leggings underneath your skirt or dress, it may become especially breezy on your hike.
Additionally, dresses or skirts allow for plenty of chafing. As we’ve discussed in the sections above, chafing from your thighs is something worth avoiding. So if you would like to prevent any chafing or heat rash from occurring, it’s probably best to wear some sort of active gear such as leggings, hiking pants, or shorts.
If you are still insistent on wearing something similar to a dress or skirt, many active brands make skorts that are a short and skirt combination. Because they will still look you’re going for but maybe a little less risky than a dresser skirt.
Cotton For Cold
The thing people say all the time is that “cotton kills…”, but often what they really mean is that they didn’t have the right layers.
The true problem with cotton being dangerous is usually a problem in layering. If you don’t have a waterproof outer layer (like a rain jacket), then no matter what material you are wearing you are going to get cold. But there is some evidence to support the thought that cotton, itself, retains water well and so it is a bad fit for extreme cold.
That being said there is other evidence that cotton retains water just as well as wool or other fabrics. (see this study here)
That’s just my own opinion, but t’s a generally accepted concept in the hiking community at large that cotton is bad. However, many people do and will wear cotton (especially for Summer hiking) without any issue at all–while some have had bad experiences.
In fact, one hiker responded in the survey that she almost got hypothermia from wearing cotton clothing during the wintertime. While she felt very strongly about wearing cotton, most other people also cautioned against wearing cotton but mainly for other reasons.
Many hikers claimed that cotton—whether it was underwear, socks, pants, shorts, or shirts—was uncomfortable and made it much more likely that you were going to chafe.
Again, though. No matter what you are wearing, you need to have waterproof outer layers in cold weather. Wool or smartwool or whatever won’t keep you warm if you don’t have the right layers.
I did want to mention that I have experienced a lot of discomfort with thin cotton socks. I’ve found that the socks get sweaty and start to rub and cause blisters and I’ve had a much better experience with my Smartwool socks. So I suspect it has less to do with the material and more about the way the fabric is woven.
In any case, cotton can be ideal for the summertime because cotton absorbs water and sweat and will help keep you cooler. But if you are hiking in the wintertime or in colder weather, cotton is not the best choice. As one hiker put it,
“Wick away is the only way.”–Anonymous Hiker
So if you want to stay dry while hiking, choose active clothing that is not made of cotton or cotton blends. Want to learn more about cotton and how it’s impacted by water? Click here to access my article.
Discussing what not to wear on your feet was probably one of the biggest topics of this survey. Many people had a lot to say about what shoes they wore and the outcome. Honestly, most of the responses were exactly what you’d expect. However, there were some that were a little more surprising.
Flip flops should not be worn on a hike. Generally, these shoes are flimsy, don’t have much support, and leave your feet vulnerable to rocks and roots. Those who wore flip flops mostly complained about the lack of traction and the blisters that they got at the end of the hike.
There are some that I’ve heard whose feet are so tough that they can handle flip flops without any issue even for miles of traveling. If you grew up wearing shoes, this is probably not you.
In fact, there were some gnarly photos of some of the blisters that people were getting from wearing flip flops and sandals that weren’t meant for hiking. Of course, most of the hikers who wore flip flops did so once and never did it again, but you should definitely avoid wearing flip flops on your hike.
Crocs–so comfortable, so neon-colored. Can you hike with crocs?
It turns out that many have tried! A couple of different hikers discussed wearing Crocs while hiking. Some reported that getting pretty nasty blisters and raw feet from wearing Crocs.
Yet, some people claim that if they wore socks with their Crocs they didn’t experience blisters or raw feet at all, and in fact that their preferred hiking shoe are Crocs.
I actually did some research on this subject and found that around 1.06% of hikers wear Crocs for long hikes. If you want to see more about hiking with Crocs, check out our article, here.
If you want to experiment with hiking with Crocs, I really recommend high-quality socks. Crocs aren’t usually considered super stylish, and wearing socks with them kind of compounds that, but you’re probably wearing Crocs because they’re comfortable, so feel free to go for it. I also recommend going on short hikes and work your way up. Or, you can use Crocs as a backup shoe to other hiking shoes–some Crocs are ideal for crossing rivers so that could work out really well.
Most hikers wear hiking boots (I conducted a survey and was surprised that this was still the case)–and one of the most common problems people experience while hiking is problems with hiking with new boots that have not been broken in, properly.
Hiking in hiking shoes or hiking boots that are not properly worn in or brand new will likely get you a blister. This is pretty commonly known in the hiking world and we have discussed it in other articles. If you buy new hiking shoes and don’t wear them beforehand, your feet have not gotten used to your shoes and your shoes have not properly adjusted to your foot.
So if you were in new boots on a long hike, you should expect some blisters. If you want to learn all about preventing blisters as you breaking new shoes, check out my article here.
Boots that Don’t Fit
Similar to new boots, you don’t want to wear shoes that don’t fit. This is something that many hikers cautioned against and will likely result in blisters and raw feet. If your boots are too small, you might cut off from circulation in your foot and that could spell misery for your trip.
Furthermore, too-small shoes can cause cramps and are a huge source of blisters. On the flip side, if you wear shoes that are too big, your feet might slip around which will also cause blisters, particularly in the heel region.
Along with blisters, if you wear shoes that don’t fit you may also be at risk of losing your toenail. This is particularly true if you wear shoes that are too small and don’t breathe. To keep your toenails intact, you should make sure to purchase shoes in the proper size.
Getting the right shoe fit is tricky to do. I laid out a step-by-step guide of how to make sure your hiking shoes fit correctly. Make sure and check out this article.
Many hikers also talked about how wearing work and hunting boots while hiking was a big mistake. Even though these boots are generally meant to support workers while they are on their feet all day, they are incredibly heavy and not suitable for hiking. In fact, they are very bulky and you’ll likely find yourself getting blisters.
I do have an article that discusses the difference between hiking and hunting boots (or other types of heavy boots) more in-depth. Click here to access it.
One thing that surprised me was that many people reported that wearing Chacos, a brand of hiking sandals, was not great for hiking longer distances. While some people do claim that they love hiking in their Chacos, others said that any hike over 5 miles is not ideal.
Mostly, the negative reviews of wearing Chacos were about the fact that the shoes themselves are open-toe. Support was not discussed, more so those who wore Chacos while hiking talked about how the open toe leads to scraped toes and even in one case, a broken toe.
However, others who wore Chacos said that you can wear socks with issues to help combat the scratches and scrapes. While the toe socks may not work against breaking any bones, they may be some extra protection for these shoes.
The unfortunate thing about Chacos is that they are really heavy. If your gait kicks up a lot of rocks into your toes then you might want to leave your Chacos home for a long hike.
Other Shoes To Avoid
Some of these shoes may seem obvious to some, but I wanted to mention them because real people tried hiking with them and they faced the consequences. So I wanted to pass these on to you so you don’t have to be as unfortunate.
While the above shoe recommendations seemed to dominate most of the conversation, other hikers warned against other types of shoes and to watch out for certain things and shoes and shoes for hiking. Mostly, the issues were simply not meant for hiking and you should consider choosing a different shoe if you plan on hiking in these.
- Nike sneakers. While fashionable, Nike sneakers are not meant for activity and will likely not have the support you need for hiking. Additionally, you may have come across some mud while hiking and could potentially destroy your shoes. I’d recommend leaving these at home while hiking.
- White shoes. Some unfortunate hikers decided to wear white shoes while they were hiking. Again, these may go with your outfit, but if you come across some mud or dirt, there’s a good chance that your white shoes will turn a lovely brown color.
- Converse. Similar to our other shoes, Converse shoes do not have the best support and are not the best for long walking. Additionally, these fashionable shoes could get dirty and ruined.
- Shoes with slippery soles. While hiking, you want to make sure that you wear shoes that have traction. Without traction, you could slip around the trail and fall. This tip also goes for wearing shoes that are too old. If you have a pair of favorite hiking boots that you have worn for years but the bottom of the shoe is worn off, you still could slip around on the trail.
While some hikers said they prefer not to wear socks, other hikers said that you should invest in some quality wool socks, such as Darn Tuff or Smart Wool. Some hikers warned against buying cheaper wool socks. Even though the name-brand ones are pricy, many say they are worth it. Additionally, you should avoid wearing socks that either slip down or have too low of a rise because you will likely get blisters.
Wondering if you even need hiking-specific socks at all? Check out this article that discusses whether hiking socks are necessary.
Honorable Mentions: Other Tips On What You Should Not Wear While Hiking
While most of our tips on what not to wear while hiking fell within the top ten categories, but there were some other items that seemed important to mention here. Whether you’re looking to avoid chafing, finding the right gear, or wondering if your brilliant idea is worth trying out on a hike, you should check out the list below and see why hikers decided that these were not the best things to bring on their hike.
- Too many layers. Hikers who forgot to check the weather and as a result brought too many layers said that not only did they sweat the entire time, but having to carry the extra layers was a nuisance. To avoid this, make sure you check the weather and only bring the necessary layers.
- Children. While hiking can absolutely be a family event (in fact, we recommend this because it can be great fun!), bringing your young children on a hike that is too long or difficult can be a recipe for disaster. So unless you plan on carrying your kids on your back, make sure you choose a family-friendly hike or leave the kiddos at home with a babysitter. The same goes for your dogs who are not used to long hikes.
- Perfume during mosquito season. One hiker cautioned against wearing perfume while hiking because the bugs were widely attracted to her scent. So even though perfume will help cover your natural body odors, save it for after the hike.
- Tight clothing. If you wear clothes that are too tight, you may end up ripping your pants SpongeBob style.
- Spray-on sunscreen on your face. While you should use sunscreen to avoid sunburns, the spray-on version will sweat off your face and get into your eyes. A couple of hikers said that this causes irritated and swollen eyes.
- Cheap socks. Instead of wearing socks that are too low, made from thin material, or are wool knock-offs, make sure you invest in quality socks. Neoprene is one option for socks– check out this article on the best neoprene socks for hiking.
- Toe rings — Avoid wearing a toe ring while hiking in sandals (or any shoes for that matter) because there is endless blister potential here