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The Fall Hiking Outfit Checklist: Gearing Up for Cooler Weather

As summer winds down and the crisp breeze of autumn sets in, there’s no better time to embrace the great outdoors. Fall hiking offers an opportunity to witness the vibrant foliage and spend time outside before winter comes. However, with the arrival of cooler temperatures, it’s essential to be well-prepared. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll help you decide what to wear for hiking in the fall and ensure you have the best outfit for the cooler weather. 

Let’s dive in!

Fall Hiking: What to Wear | How to Layer Properly

Prepare for Fall Hiking in Cooler Temperatures 

Fall hiking, with its mild weather and stunning scenery, provides a fantastic opportunity to connect with nature and explore the trails. However, it also presents a unique set of challenges due to the changing climate. Fall temperatures can vary wildly depending on your location. For example, it may be 45 degrees when you set out in the morning, and end up 75 degrees that afternoon.

So, how can you combat this? Layers. Start out wearing several layers, including a base layer and a fleece/polyester zip-up that you can take off as the day warms. Then you can put it back on as the day cools off. It’s also crucial to remember that the days are shorter in the fall. This means that the sun sets earlier, making it easier to accidentally hike in the dark. This is not a situation you want to be in, especially if you’re not prepared. Plan your hike accordingly and bring a headlamp just in case. 

woman hiking in autumn with backpack
Enjoy the vibrant fall foliage from the trail.

Where Is the Best Fall Hiking? 

Before diving into what to wear for fall hiking, let’s explore where you can make the most of the season. The best fall hiking destinations are typically in regions with deciduous forests. These areas, including national parks and state forests, transform into a kaleidoscope of colors as the leaves change from green to vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Some famous fall hiking destinations include Acadia National Park in Maine, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Adirondacks in New York, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. There are many other stunning fall destinations worldwide, but these are an excellent starting point. 

Additionally, fall is different in each area. Some places will experience more rainfall, while others will be a bit drier and hotter. In New England, you can experience 30-degree temperature swings in one day, and wet fallen leaves often cover the ground. Fall is usually the shoulder season in many areas, so it can be an ideal time to explore the area if you’re looking for less crowds and a more peaceful experience. Regardless of where you go, research the area’s weather patterns and prepare adequately. 

Pro Tip: Extend your fall hiking by planning a fall camping trip! Here’s how.

Your Fall Hiking Outfit Strategy

When embarking on a fall hiking adventure, your choice of clothing is crucial. The key is to dress in layers that you can adjust to manage your body temperature. This includes warm, lightweight, and breathable clothing. You can wear polyester, wool, and other materials that will still be warm even if they become damp. Synthetic materials like fleece or polyester can also easily dry, making them excellent choices if you get a little sweaty or run into inclement weather.

A no-go outfit while hiking in the fall is cotton. When wet, cotton sucks the warmth from your body and takes a long time to dry. You’ll also want to ensure you have protection from the elements. Gloves, a hat, and a buff are useful items to bring, even if you’re not sure you’ll need them. If the temperatures start to dip, you’ll be glad you have them.

Family hiking in the autumn
As the weather can change quickly in the autumn, make sure you have waterproof layers.

What to Wear Hiking in Fall: Essential Fall Hiking Clothes 

So, what should you wear hiking in fall? Here’s a breakdown of essential fall hiking clothes to include in your outfit strategy. 

Moisture Wicking Base Layer

As the temperature drops, you’ll want to start with a moisture-wicking base layer. This helps regulate your body temperature by wicking sweat away from your skin, keeping you dry and warm. Any material directly touching your skin should have these properties. This includes socks, an undershirt, leggings, a buff, and anything else that may become sweaty as you hike. Look for synthetic or merino wool base layers and avoid materials like cotton. 

Fleece Jacket

In our opinion, a zip-up fleece jacket is ideal outer wear for fall hiking. Fleece is typically a lightweight, synthetic material, making it breathable and excellent at trapping heat. Fleece jackets also typically have zip-up pockets, providing you with a secure place for any important belongings, and the jackets that zip down are easy to take off and put back on throughout the day. Put an insulating fleece jacket over your base layer to keep warm as the temperature fluctuates. 

Gloves 

Don’t forget to protect your hands from the chill. Even if you think it will be warm enough to skip the gloves or mittens, you should bring them anyway – especially if you’re using trekking poles. You’ll be surprised at how cold your hands can get when you can’t put them in your pockets as you hike. Insulated gloves or mittens are essential for maintaining hand use and warmth during your hike. If you want the warmth of mittens with the dexterity of gloves, consider these insulated fingerless gloves with a mitten flap. 

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Warm Beanie

Remember, we tend to lose much of our body heat through our heads, especially if we’ve bundled up the rest of our body. A hat is an easy, lightweight item to pack for your hiking trip that can make a world of difference. You may even find that you’re comfortable wearing a T-shirt as long as you have a hat on. If the temperatures dip significantly, you’ll be happy you have it. Try to choose one that wicks away moisture and covers your ears for extra warmth.

Pro Tip: You may start encountering some wintery road conditions on a fall hiking expedition. Be prepared with these essential road trip gear.

Man on trail in autumn
Keeping your head, hands, and feet warm is essential when hiking in cooler weather.

Waterproof Boots with Ankle Support

Fall hiking often involves navigating wet and muddy trails. If you’ve ever hiked with non-waterproof shoes and encountered a puddle or stream, you know how crucial foot protection can be. Wet feet can get cold and experience blisters more often. Moreover, the terrain you encounter can be rough and unpredictable. Investing in a pair of waterproof hiking boots with ankle support can make all the difference. They’re often one of the most important pieces of a fall hiking outfit. 

Wool Socks 

Wool is an excellent natural insulator and it remains effective even when damp. It can also wick away moisture from your skin as you hike. If you’re not interested in wearing big, thick wool socks on your trip, there are many lightweight Merino wool options, like Darn Tough or Smartwool hiking socks. We also recommend bringing an extra pair with you in your pack just in case your feet do get wet while you’re out. 

Pro Tip: Protecting your feet while hiking is essential! We uncovered Are Special Hiking Socks Overrated?

Durable Hiking Pants

Durable hiking pants are perhaps one of the most crucial fall clothing items to wear. As you scramble over boulders or slide down rocky surfaces, you’ll want pants that can withstand friction and abrasiveness. It’s also essential for these pants to be lightweight and breathable. We recommend avoiding materials like cotton or denim. While denim can be tough, it makes you miserable when wet and can trap heat as the day gets warmer. We recommend hiking pants like the men’s zip-off Paramount Pro pants from NorthFace or the women’s Bridgeway zip-off pants. Both options have tough, synthetic material and can convert into shorts. 

man hiking on fall day with autumn colored leaves and lake in background
Layering up is essential for the perfect fall hiking outfit.

More Hiking Gear to Consider 

While in the summer you might get away with shorts, a T-shirt, and a water bottle on a day hike, fall hiking requires an additional layer of preparedness due to the varying weather and temperatures. Because of this, one of the most essential items on your fall gear list is a backpack. The pack should be comfortable and relatively lightweight, with sufficient space for water, food, and other gear you’ll need on your trip. 

Additionally, we recommend bringing a lightweight rain jacket. This can double as rain and wind protection. Furthermore, a headlamp, food, water, and an extra pair of socks are all important items to have in your pack. While it might sound like overkill on a day hike, we also recommend bringing a first aid kit, waterproof matches, a lighter, an emergency blanket, and a form of backup navigation like a compass or a map. All of these items are relatively lightweight and could be life-saving in an emergency. 

Pro Tip: These 10 Best Daypacks: Lightweight Hiking Packs for Your Essentials are perfect to hit the trail with.

When are Fall Leaves the Most Colorful?

While fall hiking is an unforgettable experience, the timing of your trip is crucial. The exact timing of peak fall foliage varies by location, but it generally occurs in late September to mid-October in most temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. However, factors like elevation, latitude, and local weather conditions can influence the timing. For example, higher elevations will experience foliage changes sooner than lower ones, and northern states tend to display colors sooner in the season than southern states. 

To maximize your chances of witnessing the most colorful leaves, check local foliage trackers and plan your fall color trip accordingly. Weekends are typically busier at popular fall hiking destinations, so consider visiting during the week if possible. You can then enjoy a quieter, more serene experience.

Gorgeous Fall Hikes | SURROUND YOURSELF WITH VIBRANCE on these Fall Foliage Hikes in North America

Enjoy the Best of Fall with Preparedness and Style

Fall hiking is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of the season. By preparing for cooler temperatures and choosing the correct outfit and gear, you can ensure that your fall hiking trips are comfortable, safe, and filled with breathtaking views of colorful foliage. Whether you’re exploring national parks, and forests, or taking a stroll through your local nature reserve, embracing the outdoors during the fall season is a rewarding and memorable experience. So, pack your bags, layer up, and embark on an adventure that will leave you with unforgettable memories and a deeper connection to nature.

What’s your go-to fall hiking gear? Let us know in the comments below!

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An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

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