Clothing for Backpacking and Camping

This article is especially important for backpacking, but has many good applications for hiking and camping. With the obvious caveat that the gear you need will depend on the time of year you are out, here are some tips and ideas on what to take with you for “three-season” type conditions. If you get the clothing for backpacking and camping right, you will be a much happier camper!

Clothing List

  • Rain Gear – Possibly the most neglected item, from a quality stand point, is often rain gear. For backpacking safely, you must have a rain jacket and rain pants. Period. If you’ve been backpacking before and didn’t really need rain pants, that’s awesome. However, you got lucky. Wet legs means a cold body and a cold body means danger.  For camping, you could get away with just a jacket or a poncho if you don’t have any long hikes planned.
  • Shirts
    • T-shirts – Poly or hi tech fabric is best. Under Armor and many others sell light weight t-shirts that do not retain smells like cotton. This gives you an advantage in the weight of the shirt and you need fewer shirts. Usually two is enough.
    • Long Sleeves – Again, think poly material and think layers. You will want a minimum of one and maximum of two.
  • Shorts & Pants – Just like with your shirts, no cotton. I usually bring one pair of lightweight zip off shorts pant OR one pair of other hiking shorts along with one pair of light weight poly sweat pants. If it’s wet, I wear my rain pants over shorts or pants to make sure my one pair doesn’t get wet.
  • Long underwear bottoms – Seriously, I don’t go backpacking without them except in Florida in the summer time. I often sleep in them and since most of my time is mountain backpacking, temperatures get down between 25 and 40 on the regular. And, if I get up in the night to go to the bathroom, I don’t have to put any other pants on.
  • Fleece Jacket – Fleece is really nice, but I sometimes also take a breathable running jacket instead depending on temperature.
  • Shell – This could be your rain jacket, and almost always is for me. Something to cut wind and stop rain. And the shell completes your ability to layer from short sleeved shirt + long sleeved shirt + fleece + shell.  Those together need to give you the insulation required to beat the lowest temperatures you will encounter.
  • Stocking cap – If your bald,  it’s the greatest item in the world to have at night while backpacking or camping in the mountains. And if I’m doing a base camp where I have access to high mountain hiking, a stocking cap is always in my day pack. I’ve experienced 2+ inches of snow and hail in mid July at 9,000 feet.
  • Ball cap – A hat with a brim will keep the sun off your face. And if your in the high country, sun will burn your face in a heartbeat.
  • Gloves – For backpacking, I like a light weight pair of gloves. For camping, a little heavier work glove can be nice.
  • Wool Socks – We often get asked what type of socks to backpack and hike in and the answer is WOOL, WOOL, WOOL. My favorites are Alpaca wool socks from Dahlgren because they are soft and comfortable, but are also wool. Wool insulates when wet and dries with no smells for several usages.


Final Note

One more thing about socks because they are such a critical  part of your clothing for backpacking and camping. If you plan to wear socks at night to help keep your feet warm, be sure to change into the socks you will wear the next day before you get in your sleeping bag the night before. This ensures you are not wearing a sock that contains excess moisture which will defeat the purpose of wearing a sock to bed. In fact, it will keep your feet cold.