What to Wear Camping: Couture for Happy Campers

When prepping for a camping trip, packing the right clothes is darned important. To help you pick and pack the perfect apparel, we've created a comprehensive guide on what to wear camping.

Juliette Constantine
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A Complete Guide To Camping Attire

Unsure what to wear camping?

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • What types of apparel are better in camp outfits
    • How to dress in layers
    • Which footwear is best for a camping trip
    • What wardrobe accessories to bring along

Here at My Open Country, we’re of the mind that everyone should experience the freedom and joy of walking a trail, building a campfire, or sleeping in a hammock underneath the stars at least a few hundred times in their lifetime (work and responsibilities be damned!).

But before you set out on your camping trip, some careful planning is required. In addition to your tent, sleeping bag, eats, optional teddy bear, and campside libation-liquids, you’re gonna need to dress for success.

Not sure what the right clothing for camping consists of? Never fear, camping comrade-to-be! Below we’re going to walk you through all the ins and outs with a short, simple guide to camping clothes.

Do

  • Always check the weather forecast for the day/days you will be camping
  • Be well-prepared for all weather 
  • Bring headgear, gloves, and extra socks
  • Make sure you layer up before you begin to get cold

Don’t

  • Wear cotton clothing (it’s suboptimal for the outdoors)
  • Underestimate how quickly conditions can change 
  • Forget to bring waterproofs
  • Forget that function trumps fashion every time

Your Camping Outfit and The Seasons

First up, comfort reigns supreme at all times. Bearing this in mind when buying your backcountry couture is the basis for success.

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of seasonal variations required in your camping outfit, let’s start with a few universal, year-round rules of thumb to observe. 

Secondly, each season is unique and can throw differents kinda curveballs into the meteorological mix. With significant nighttime-daytime temperature variations and fickle weather conditions to contend with at any time of year in the outdoors, it’s always wise to be prepared for the worst. 

Thirdly, how high you go is almost as important as when you go. Huh? Yep, you read right. Temps when camping at lower elevations can differ significantly from temps at higher elevations. This being so, be sure to take area forecasts with a pinch of salt and pack an extra layer or two if heading on high. 

Finally, the great outdoors are no place for flimsy fabrics. To ensure your camping outfits are in serviceable condition for more than one season, always place durability near the top of your pre-purchase priorities.  

Got all that? Great! Then let’s get down to our short season-to-season overview on suitable camping clothes

woman camper relaxing in RV shade on hot sunny day

Summer 

During the summer camping season, the sun’s rays hit the earth more directly than at any other time. As such, apparel with sun protection is needed to avoid sunburn caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. 

Long-sleeved shirts, sun hats, neck buffs, and Kool Ties are all great options. These will be labeled with UPF ratings that inform you how much UV radiation a fabric allows to reach your skin. In sunny conditions, the higher the UPF rating, the better.

Other winning attributes to look for in summer camping clothing include lightweight fabric, vents to allow for cooling and breathability, and, to keep bugs away, permethrin treatments.  

If you’re wearing shoes, you’ll want them to be as ventilated as possible while wearing a breathable sock to maximize wicking and keep your tootsies cool. Sandals are an excellent alternative to shoes and socks and models with trail-ready treads such as Chaco or Teva offer ample support and are awesome for use around the campsite.

Spring/Fall 

During the spring and fall seasons, it’s wise to be fully prepared for variable conditions. While daytime temperatures can be moderate, nighttime temps can often plummet close to freezing, and seeing snowfall, scorching sun, and biblical downpours in a single day is not unheard of in certain locations (we’re looking at you, Scotland/Oregon/Maine!). 

Given this, you should pack clothing capable of protecting you from both the sun and the cold. This means a combo of beefy insulating layers with slightly cozier under-layers, tops, socks, and midlayers than those recommended above for summer. 

Woman hiking in winter cold dark winter forest in warm hiking clothing intext

Winter 

Camping in the cold winter months is definitely worth doing. And this when the layering system really comes into its own. Layering creates small “pockets” between items of clothing, thereby bolstering your defenses against frigid air. 

For your baselayers, we recommend opting for chunkier (200-350 weight) wool fabrics. For midlayers, down or synthetic downs are the coziest options, though fleece is also a solid lower-cost alternative and performs far better when damp. On your feet, heavyweight woolen socks and 3-season or 4-season hiking boots are all but essential. 

Top these off with a warm beanie, gloves, and a pair of gaiters to help keep your feet dry, and you’re good to go! 

All Seasons 

No matter what the season, a dependable set of waterproofs should always make its way into your duffle or backpack when you go camping. Even if precipitation is not in the forecast, you’ll be glad you brought them along for the trip if the forecasters—as they are prone to—get their predictions wrong.

hiking camping clothes laid out (1)

How to Dress In Layers 

The layering system is, essentially, the gold standard of suitable, safe, and sound outdoor attire. It allows you to shed a layer when you’re hot and add one when cold, and all with the minimum of fuss. Here’s how to use it with your camp clothing, from underwear right through to your shell layer.

Baselayer

The baselayer is the layer you wear directly against your skin. This layer is meant to be snug fitting, as you want less space between your skin and the article of clothing. This lets the layer wick your sweat away from your body and prevents cold air pockets from forming in the gap.  

The ideal baselayer fabrics are polyester and merino-based blends, both of which allow your skin to breathe, wick perspiration, and are available in varying “weights” or thicknesses for different conditions.  

Pro-Tip: Baselayers are tops and bottoms that are usually labeled as:

  • Microweight (perfect for summer)
  • Lightweight (perfect in late spring and early summer conditions)
  • Midweight (perfect for spring and fall)
  • Heavyweight (perfect for winter conditions)

Mid-Layer 

The mid-layer is the layer tasked with ensuring you stay warm by providing insulation. 

As with baselayers, wool and fleece mid-layers are available in varying “weights” and thicknesses. Quarter, half, or full-zip pullovers and hoodies are all good choices for kicking around camp at night.

Down mid-layers’ insulating capacities, on the other hand, are measured using fill power and fill weight. Fill power usually ranges from 300-900 and is calculated by measuring how many cubic inches an ounce of down creates at maximum loft. A down fill rating of 700, for instance, means that one ounce of down can cover 700 cubic inches. 

Fill weight, on the other hand, refers to the total weight of the down used in the midlayer. If it has a down weight of 16 ounces, this means that 16 ounces of down material were used to make it. Generally speaking, the higher the fill weight and fill power, the warmer a mid-layer will be. 

Vests are often also a great choice for a mid-layers because they keep your core warm without impeding your upper body mobility (making it all the easier to reach for that last-remaining beer before your camp-buddy does!). 

hiker in the fog with the red backpack in rainy weather intext

Shell Layer

The top layer of your layering system should be a hard or softshell jacket that will help trap the heat in from your other two layers and protect you from wind and rain. When buying, ensure your would-be shell layer has a decent hydrostatic head rating, sealed seams, and is big enough to fit over your other clothing. 

Breaking it Down Garment by Garment

Tops

Polyester, nylon, or woolen tops are the best tops to take camping, whether you choose to wear a t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, or a tank top.

Woolen tops are generally regarded as the “top” picks because wool contains natural antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. This means they will not retain odors as much as most synthetic materials. Wool’s also a great insulator, dries quickly, and allows your body to breathe while keeping you warm.   

Bottoms

Quick-drying pants, convertible pants, and shorts are the perfect options for camping. Shorts are great for spring and summer, but depending on where you’re camping, you might want to cover up to avoid bug bites.

To be on the safe side, we recommend always packing a pair of waterproof or water-resistant pants, too. 

Socks

As with other items of clothing worn against your skin, your hosiery should be breathable and high-wicking. However, because you’re likely to spend more time stationary when camping than when hiking, we recommend opting for slightly thicker, warmer models than you’d wear on the trail. 

Heavier merino wool is great for colder conditions, while lighter merino, bamboo, and synthetics like COOLMAX polyester are great for warmer temperatures.

hiking boots and socks drying

Footwear

When camping, the ideal choice of footwear will depend on the terrain and time of year. Regardless, you always want to have footwear that is sticky and grippy (Vibram and Contagrip are great options!) with decent sized lugs. 

Head Gear

Always make sure to wear a beanie during the evening to avoid losing heat through your head. And it’s safe to say that, in summer months, you shouldn’t leave home without a baseball cap or sun hat. If in doubt, pack a buff—these weigh next to nothing and can be used as a hat, neckwarmer, face mask, or sweatband. 

Nightwear

Many newbie campers will miss their PJ’s at night, but a pair of joggers or top and bottom long johns will be suitable enough for a good night of sleep.  

Camp slippers are useful to wear for easy slip on/off purposes in case you run out of your tent for a midnight snack or a quick bathroom break. 

Extra Accessories

The Ten Essentials should always be first on your list of things to pack. 

But also don’t forget:

  • Sunglasses
  • Sun block
  • Wet-weather gear
  • Gloves
  • Insect repellent bandana
  • Buffs / Kool Ties
Camping hiker man on trek washing clothes in river intext

Laundry

On longer trips, you’re going to want to keep things hygienic. Keep dirty clothes separate from clean clothes, especially if there is poison oak lurking around camp, and carry a few stuffsacks to separate dry from wet clothing.

Don’t wash camping clothes with detergents that have sweet odors, because these tend to attract bugs. Also be sure to use technical washes or detergents as required for different fabrics.

Woolen clothing should be washed with mild detergents in a front-loading machine and hang-dried only. Get yourself a specialized wool wash and your yarn threads will also stay in top shape for years to come. 

Specialized technical detergents are also available for waterproof clothing, down garments, and DWR-treated garments. 

Most hiking gear is made with quick-drying fabric, meaning you can hang it out to dry after washing and skip using a machine. 

Camping Couture…Check! 

Heading into the wilds for a few days is something that should never be underestimated. But by packing the right apparel for your trips, you’ll already have taken the biggest step towards ensuring your future camping adventures are a success. 

Was our list helpful? If so, or if you have any questions, we would love to hear from you! Please drop a note in the comment box below and please share this article with a friend if you think they benefit from reading our tips! 

Juliette Constantine

Juliette Constantine grew up camping with her family and snowboarding in Colorado and Southern California. Her love for literature aided by her father’s appreciation for knowledge led her to become passionate about writing.

After receiving a BA in Literature and Sociology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, her love for the outdoors and gear soared when she began working for REI, Inc. Trained by professionals, she learned how outdoor gear is designed and constructed, and how to best outfit adventurers for all their travels. 

Juliette is a trained professional ski boot fitter and Alpine Ski Patroller in the Southern California Division of National Ski Patrol.

When Juliette isn’t writing, she can be found at the beach trying to ride some waves, traveling throughout the US to find first tracks or hiking/ backpacking in the backcountry.

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