What to Wear Hiking in the Spring

Trying to determine what to wear hiking in the spring? We’ve got you covered. From selecting the right hiking pants to choosing the perfect hiking boots for the trail conditions, we have all the information you seek in this definitive guide.

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What to Wear Hiking in the Spring: A Shoulder-Season Adventurer’s Guide to Layering

Looking for information on what to wear hiking in spring?

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

    • How to choose long underwear and insulation for spring hikes
    • What footwear is best for trekking on wet and muddy trails
    • Key considerations when selecting rain gear for spring hiking
    • Other top tips on choosing hiking gear for springtime outings

Figuring out what to wear while hiking in the spring ain’t easy. 

Variable temps, frequent rain showers, and the occasional snowstorm make picking out the perfect spring hiking outfit a major challenge. 

The good news is that we’re here to help.

In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the basics of how to layer clothes for spring hiking adventures. That way, you’ll be ready for anything the trail and weather gods throw your way.

Do

  • Use a layering system for springtime adventuring
  • Check the weather before leaving home
  • Have high-traction boots for muddy trails
  • Be prepared with waterproof apparel
  • Pack warm layers 

Don’t

  • Overlook the importance of sunglasses and UPF protection
  • Wear cotton. Period.

The Right Clothes for Hiking in the Spring

Springtime weather conditions are a bit of a mixed bag. Some days, you might get summer-like temperatures and bluebird skies. Meanwhile, other days might bring frigid temperatures, rain, or even snow.

So, as we discuss what to wear hiking in spring, it’s important that you always consider the current weather conditions before you head outside. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about staying warm, dry, and comfortable in your springtime hiking clothing.

Base Layers for Springtime Hiking

Choosing the right base layers for springtime hiking starts with understanding what base layers actually do.

The primary role of your long underwear is to wick away moisture as you hike. In cold conditions, they also provide a little bit of added warmth, but insulation is generally the role of your fleece and/or puffy jackets.

hiker wearing a wool base layer shirt
Staying warm on a cool spring day starts with your base layer – merino wool like Dave’s t-shirt is a great fabric choice

Furthermore, in very warm temperatures, you may find that your only base layer is a t-shirt or lightweight long sleeve top. So, finding longjohns that can work either as a stand-alone piece of clothing or in conjunction with other garments is ideal.

What does all this actually mean for your trek? 

Well, most folks find that a thin shirt is sufficient for springtime adventures. With that in mind, here are some key things to consider when selecting the perfect shirt or long underwear for spring hiking:

  • No Cotton: Cotton is a popular fabric, but it has no place in hiking clothes. That’s because it offers no insulating value when wet. In fact, it actually makes you colder in damp conditions, which can be dangerous. So, skip the cotton and opt for synthetic or merino wool shirts, instead.
  • Consider Sun Protection: If you’re hiking in sunny springtime conditions, finding a way to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays is critical. So, moisture-wicking t-shirts that offer some UPF protection to shield you from UV rays are a fantastic choice.
  • Bug Protection is Important: Springtime is when bugs come out of their wintertime hibernation. Therefore, bug protection is very important. The good news is that many brands now sell shirts that are pre-treated with insect repellent. Alternatively, you can use a specific type of bug spray called permethrin to treat your long underwear before you head outside.

Mid Layers for Hiking in Springtime

As we’ve mentioned, temperatures can vary quite a bit during the springtime. So, while one day might bring summer-like weather, the next could be as frigid as a midwinter’s day.

Therefore, mid layers play a critical role in your springtime hiking clothing system. 

A mid layer is essentially any jacket or top that insulates you from the cold. These jackets or tops can include anything from fleece pull-overs to puffy coats depending on the temperatures you expect to face. 

hiker drinking water while wearing lightweight down jacket
Down jackets are the gold standard for mid layer warmth

As a general rule, we’d recommend packing at least 1 to 2 insulated jackets for springtime hikes. While the temperatures might seem warm when you leave home, they could change at any time. So, having a handful of insulated jackets on hand can make a big difference.

Additionally, it’s also worth considering what kind of insulated jacket you want to have with you on your adventures. There are 3 primary types of insulation that you’ll find in outdoor jackets, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages. This includes:

  • Fleece: An economical choice, fleece is a type of polyester insulation that’s known for being super comfortable. It’s also good at keeping you warm when wet, though it’s generally not as light and packable as down or “synthetic down”
  • Down: Often considered to be the gold standard in outdoor jacket insulation, down is a natural fiber that’s made from the plumes of ducks and geese. It has a superb warmth-to-weight ratio, so is one of the most packable insulation materials available.

The downside? Down is usually quite expensive and is not water-resistant. But, for weight savings, it can’t be beaten.

  • Synthetic: Crafted from wound-up polyester fibers, synthetic insulation is an amazing choice for spring hiking. While it’s not as light and packable as down, it is capable of keeping you warm when wet. Plus, it’s usually much cheaper than down. What’s not to love?

Wind and Rain Protection for Hiking in the Spring

If you’ve ever heard the saying “April showers bring May flowers,” you know that spring can bring some variable weather. Therefore, having waterproof gear on hand is of the utmost importance.

female hiker in light jacket overlooking mountains
Don’t leave your rain gear at home, showers and chilly weather can creep up on you

When packing for springtime hikes, you’ll need to come prepared with a waterproof outer layer. Usually, this waterproof layering system includes a rain jacket and a pair of rain pants that you can put on and take off as the weather changes.

Most waterproof gear is made with something called a waterproof-breathable membrane. This membrane is a thin piece of fabric that’s designed to allow your sweat to escape as you hike without allowing rainwater to soak through. As a result, these waterproof jackets and pants can keep you dry and comfortable when trekking in foul weather.

Hiking Boots & Footwear for Hiking in the Spring

If there’s a universal truth out there about springtime hiking, it’s that the trails will be muddy. 

End-of-season snowmelt combined with seasonal showers tend to lead to mucky trails, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re wearing a quality pair of waterproof boots or hiking shoes for your trek. Regardless of what type of footwear you prefer, having a set of shoes with good traction is important if you don’t want to slip and fall in the mud—eek!

hiking wearing bright red hiking pants and green shoes

We should also note that rivers and streams tend to flow at full capacity during the spring season due to an increase in water from local snowmelt. So, having waterproof boots that will allow you to keep your feet dry while fording streams and other bodies of water is a great idea.

What Else to Wear and Pack While Hiking in Springtime

In addition to the spring hiking clothes we listed above, there are a number of other pieces of gear that are worth tossing into your pack before you leave home for a springtime hike. Here are some awesome pieces of hiking gear to keep in mind when organizing your pack for your next trip:

  • Sunglasses: Snow blindness is real and we can assure you that it ain’t the best of fun. Get yourself a solid pair of sunglasses to protect yourself from the glare of the springtime snowpack. Your eyes will thank you later.
  • Mosquito Headnet: Hiking is fun. Bugs are not. A mosquito head net can help protect you from those biting insects, even in swampy locales.
  • Spare Socks: Springtime trails are muddy! Keep an extra pair of socks in your pack to make sure that you always have a clean pair to wear during your hike.
  • Trekking Poles: If you’ve ever slipped down a muddy trail, you know how helpful trekking poles can be during the springtime.
hiker walking trail with trekking poles in spring
Trekking poles aren’t just for the old – grab yourself a pair

The Ultimate Hiking Gear For Springtime Outings

If you love hiking in the springtime as much as we do, you know how important it is to come prepared with the right gear. We hope that this article helped you learn exactly what to wear while hiking in the spring. That way, you’re ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at you.

If this article helped you become a veritable springtime hiking guru, let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to share this article so your friends and family can prepare for their next shoulder-season expeditions, too.

Gaby is a professional polar guide, wilderness medicine instructor, and freelance writer with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She splits her time between the northern and southern hemispheres, chasing the midnight sun and helping others get outside to experience some of the world’s most beautiful places.

As an outdoor educator, Gaby is passionate about making the outdoors as accessible as possible for anyone looking to get into the mountains or out on the water. She is a certified Polar Guide, an AMGA Climbing Wall Instructor Course Provider, a NOLS instructor, and an accomplished climbing guide with a penchant for telemark skiing.

When she’s not hanging out with penguins in Antarctica or scouting for polar bears in the Arctic, you can find Gaby backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Range or drinking debatably excessive amounts of espresso and reading French existentialism in a quirky café.

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