Outdoor Clothing for Campers: Stuff from Your Closet and from the Store

You’ll need to bring along enough clothing to keep you warm, dry and comfortable for the duration of your trip (you can wash clothing during the trip, but it’s kind of a pain – you’ll likely just settle for wearing less-than-fresh clothing for longer trips).

If you’re car camping, just bring plenty of clothes and one extra everything — space and weight won’t be issues for you. In these cases, it’s better to bring items you won’t use than the reverse.

But if you’re backpacking, you’ll have to figure out a minimal but adequate wardrobe. And that’s what we’ll help you do below.

A Basic Clothing List for Backpackers

clothes for backpackers
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Everyone’s clothing list can and will differ, based on a variety of factors. But the following is a good starting point for a two to three-day trip:

  • 1 pair underwear for each day plus 1 spare (this includes whatever “underwear” means to you, including bras, tank tops, boxers, etc.)
  • 1 pair long underwear
  • 2 or 3 pairs socks
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 2 or 3 lightweight shirts
  • 1 sweater, hoodie or light jacket
  • 1 warm coat
  • 2 or 3 lightweight shirts
  • 1 hat for warm weather
  • 1 warm hat for cold weather
  • 1 pair of nimble gloves
  • 1 bandana
  • 1 pair Slip-on shoes for use around camp, while wading in water, etc.
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pair of sunglasses
  • 1 rain gear set (jacket and pants)
  • 1 pair of hiking boots

We’ll dive into deeper detail about the various components of your outdoor wardrobe below.

Picking Out Specific Garments for Your Camping Trip

It’s one thing to say you’ll need a couple of shirts, some long pants, and so forth for your next camping trip. However, this doesn’t just mean you can go to your closet and grab the first things you see.

You need to give some thought to the clothing you choose to bring on your trip. We’ll explain some of the things you will want to think about when assembling your camping wardrobe and provide links to more in-depth discussion of the various garments you’ll need below.

Camping Underwear

camping underwear
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Figuring out what kind of underwear to bring camping isn’t exactly a glamorous endeavor. For that matter, it’s an extremely personal subject, as we all have various preferences and problems to consider when picking out underpants and other assorted unmentionables.

But its certainly not something to take lightly.

Pick out the right kinds of undergarments and you won’t think about them much at all during the trip, but if you make poor, haphazard choices, you’ll likely regret it. It doesn’t take long to suffer from chafing or to experience the adult version of diaper rash – either of which will cause you to dread each step on the trail and more-or-less ruin your trip.

This means you’ll want to keep two key considerations in mind when picking underwear for hiking or camping:

Cut / Style

The cut or style of undergarments you choose essentially comes down to personal preference. If you’d rather wear boxers than briefs, knock yourself out. Prefer traditional bras to sports bras? Go on with your bad self. There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules in this arena, except that you’ll want to stick to the style that is most comfortable for you. It is, however, wise to consider the climate – the higher the temperatures and humidity are, the more airflow you’ll like. In other words, you may prefer tight-fitting briefs in the winter, but switch to loose-fitting boxers in the summer.

Material

Material is a much more complicated matter than cut or style. There may not be “good” or “bad” choices when it comes to the underwear style you choose, but there are clearly good and bad choices when it comes to materials.

Essentially, you want underwear that are made from water-wicking materials, which will transport sweat from your skin to the outer layer of the garment, thereby keeping your undercarriage dry. You’ll also want to avoid materials that are itchy, rough, or otherwise uncomfortable

This eliminates cotton and coarse wool, as they present sweat-wicking and comfort issues, respectively. Instead, you’ll usually want to stick with undergarments made from one of the following:

  • Synthetic fibers: This includes polyester, nylon, rayon, and blends made from these materials (avoid cotton-poly blends, as they’re unlikely to dry quickly like you’d want). These fibers all wick sweat and then allow it to evaporate nearly as quickly, and they’re soft to the touch too.
  • Merino wool: I know what you’re thinking, but Merino wool garments aren’t itchy like the terrible sweaters from your childhood. It’s made from soft fibers produced by Merino sheep, and it’s often used to create very thin, lightweight and comfortable garments. It wicks sweat well and continues to retain heat when it’s wet.
  • Bamboo: Yet another fabric that doesn’t sound like it’d be comfortable but is, bamboo undergarments are made from incredibly soft fibers derived from the plant. And interestingly, bamboo has all of the characteristics you’d want from underwear material. In addition to being soft and comfortable, it is incredibly absorbent, yet dries quickly and breathes well. 

TL;DR: Buy some polyester undies in your preferred style and call it a day. Just be sure to try them out for the duration of a normal day before hitting the trail.

Length (Regular Underwear or Long Underwear)

In addition to traditional underwear, you may want to consider packing some long underwear when camping in cold weather. In fact, for our friends living in northern areas, this may not even be optional – it may be the only reasonable way to stay warm while on the trail.

But aside from the length, there aren’t many differences between conventional and long underwear varieties. Except to say that insulating ability is obviously a consideration when selecting long underwear, while rarely being a big deal for traditional underwear.

We identify some of our favorite underwear for camping here.

Camping Socks

camping socks
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Socks are one of the most common things that novice hikers and campers neglect, which is a shame as high-quality socks can make all of the difference between comfort and blisters – or even frostbite, should you be hiking in low temperatures.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on the fanciest socks you can find. You’re not trekking to K2’s base camp; you’re hiking through a local state park. That said, you should absolutely, positively avoid wearing your regular gym socks or $5 big box “hiking” socks.

Fortunately, modern hiking gear manufacturers have taken a lot of the guesswork out of your hands, and you don’t have much to think about. In reality, your choices will just boil down to what you find most comfortable.

Most modern hiking socks are made from blended fibers, and the various combinations used all have different pros and cons. We dive into greater detail in our comprehensive guide to outdoor hiking socks for those who want to better understand the nuts and bolts of sock materials. But generally speaking, novices needn’t worry too much about the materials modern hiking socks are made from – as mentioned earlier, just focus on comfort.

However, it is worth considering things like the cut or design of the socks (many campers prefer lower-rise socks during the summer and high-rise socks during the winter). You’ll also want to think about picking up some socks that feature padded sections, if that notion appeals to you.

There’s one more thing we’d encourage you to consider when buying socks (particularly if you’re just starting to assemble a high-quality camping wardrobe): Cost.

Now, as mentioned earlier, you do not want to leave the fate of your feet up to some cheap cotton socks. You want socks of decent quality that are specifically designed for hiking. And this means you’ll need to spend at least $10 or $20 a pair.

But we’d urge novice hikers and campers to avoid going overboard – you do not need $100-a-pair, top-of-the-line socks that are suitable for trekking across Patagonia.  

Sure, socks of this caliber are certainly nice, and they’ll pamper your feet quite nicely. But unless you’re filthy rich, you will have budgetary limitations that’ll force you to pick and choose where to spend your money. And while socks are important, and you don’t want to take the cheap way out, there are better places to splurge at the outset.

Camping Pants and Shorts

pants for camping
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Covering up your bottom half is pretty easy on the trail – most campers will find that a single pair of pants or shorts suffices for a two- or three-day trip. They may feel a bit less-than-fresh by the final day, but you’re gonna feel kinda gross by this point in the trip anyway, so it doesn’t really make much sense to bring along extra pairs (it can, however, be a good idea to turn them inside out and let them air out a bit overnight, if temperatures permit).  

Some campers prefer shorts to pants, especially in the summer. The additional airflow for your undercarriage will prove to provide a much more comfortable scenario than pants when temperatures are sweltering. Just understand that it often gets chillier than you’d expect at night on the trail, so think carefully about this choice.

Of course, the best possible option is to pick up a good pair of convertible pants, which allow you to remove the lower portion of the legs, thereby giving you the best of both worlds. No, we would not recommend sporting such cool pants around town, lest the fashion police slap the handcuffs on you. But nobody cares about fashion on the trail.

But no matter whether you want to wear pants, shorts, or a pair of two-for-one convertibles, you’ll want to prioritize durability and comfort, when picking out specific garments.  It’s also important to consider the weight of the pants – you’ll want very lightweight options in the summer, but warm, heavy pants will keep you more comfortable during winter trips.

Now, you can just go with a pair of rugged khakis or cargo shorts (see our earlier comments about no one caring about fashion on the trail). And if money is tight, this is probably the best option for novice hikers and campers. But for those interested in procuring a purpose-built pair of trail-ready pants or shorts, there are several great options, which we discuss here.

Camping Shirts

camping shirts
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Of all of the components of your camping wardrobe, we feel that the shirts you bring are one of the least important to splurge on. Unless you’re trekking in an area with an extreme climate, you will likely find a couple of comfy T-shirts will suffice.

There are myriad shirts on the market specifically designed for outdoor use, and more experienced hikers and campers may find it worthwhile to make such an investment. But most beginners can just grab a couple of shirts from the closet and call it a day – there are just better places to spend your camping wardrobe budget when you’re getting started.

But there are a few exceptions to this guideline:

  • If your trip is scheduled for an August weekend in Florida, you may want to splurge a bit and pick up a shirt that wicks moisture and dries very quickly. This will help keep you from feeling wet and sticky all day. However, if your budget is tight, you may just want to bring a third shirt along, giving you the chance to change your shirt when it gets drenched with sweat (just turn the shirt inside out and throw it on the back of your pack – it’ll dry as you hike).
  • If your trip will involve lots of hiking while the weather is cool but not cold, you may want to add a long-sleeve, medium-weight shirt to your wardrobe. Wearing a heavy coat when the temperatures aren’t cold enough to warrant it is a surefire way to get sweaty, which will prove to be absolutely miserable in cool weather. Additionally, warm coats are typically bulky, whereas a medium-weight shirt will likely keep you warm enough without making you feel like Randy.

Ultimately, the shirts you bring don’t require as much thought as some of the other things you’ll want to pack for your trip. So don’t sweat it (heh).

Camping Coats, Sweaters and Hoodies

hoodie for camping
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Many new hikers and campers are surprised by how cool it can get at night in the forest – even during the summer. This is especially true of trips that take you to higher elevations. So, a coat – or at the very least, a warm sweater or hoodie – is imperative for almost all camping trips.

Now, we’ve readily acknowledged several components of your camping wardrobe in which you can take the cheap way out. You don’t, for example, have to spend a fortune on your camping shirts.

But your coat, sweater, or hoodie is absolutely one of the places you should invest a bit of money – particularly if you’re opting for a coat (which is the option we recommend). Pick up a high-quality outdoor coat and you’ll stay warm and cozy, while not having to lug around unnecessary weight or ending up drenched in sweat. Wear a low-quality coat and you’ll spend most of your trip wishing you didn’t.

So, be sure to set aside a significant portion of your camping wardrobe budget for a high-quality coat. If you like, you can even use it as your typical, day-to-day coat while at home (plus, this will allow you to advertise your love of camping, which may spark interesting convos with other avid outdoor enthusiasts).

We discuss camping and hiking coats in detail elsewhere, but a few of the things you’ll want to look for include:

  • Temperature Appropriate – Obviously, you want a coat that’ll keep you warm enough (especially at night) – there’s nothing worse than being cold while camping. But if your camping trips are largely limited to warm portions of the year, you don’t need or want a coat designed to keep you warm in Alaska. Such a coat will be too warm to wear while you’re hiking, and it’ll take up more space in your pack than necessary.  It’ll also cost you more money than you really need to spend.
  • Durability – You’re going to be spending some money on your coat, so be sure to select a durable model that’ll stand up to the rigors of trail use. You don’t want to spend a couple of hundred bucks on a coat that rips the first time you bump into a tree.
  • Materials – Years ago, down was the preferred insulation material for hiking jackets, but synthetic materials dominate the modern marketplace – and for good reason. High-quality synthetic fibers will not only keep your warm while weighing very little, but they’ll also typically continue to keep you warm if the jacket becomes wet. Best of all, they won’t cause the constant irritation real feathers sometimes do (the quill ends of the feathers in down jackets often poke into your skin).
  • Features – The best hiking and camping jackets have features like built-in pockets you can stuff the jacket into, which will make it very convenient to store the coat when not in use. Many also have things like built-in tubes you can thread headphone cords or other electronic devices through. It is usually wiser to focus on things like durability and materials than fancy features, but if you’re comparing two similar coats, these kinds of features can help you make a final buying decision.

One last thing you’ll want to consider when picking out an outdoor jacket is the fit. It is absolutely imperative that you pick a coat or jacket that fits you well. You’ll have to consider your individual build and body to do so, which makes it hard for us to provide broadly appropriate advice in this regard. But we’ll give you an example.

Personally, I have very long monkey arms, and I absolutely abhor the feeling of sleeves that don’t extend all the way down to my wrists. So, when picking coats, I always try to prioritize “lanky” models to avoid this problem without having to purchase a size larger than would be otherwise perfect.

Obviously, in the modern world where most of our purchases are conducted online, it can be tricky to ensure you get a coat that fits properly. But fortunately, most high-quality retailers have easy return policies in place, which will allow you to exchange your coat if you experience size or fit problems.

Just make sure to account for this and order your jacket soon enough to allow for these kinds of logistical issues (alternatively, you can do what I do: Purchase two sizes at the same time and just return the one that doesn’t fit).

Camping Boots and Shoes

Camping Boots
Image from Pixabay.

Volumes could be written about the selection of hiking boots, and we’d rank your boots as one of the two most important wardrobe components for life on the trail (with the other being your coat). So, your boots are definitely something you’ll want to prioritize when starting out.

We’ve discussed hiking boot selection in depth elsewhere (and provide a ton of specific recommendations), so we won’t reinvent the wheel here, except to mention the following:

  • While you needn’t spend a fortune or pick up a pair of boots suitable for a 3-month-long trek down the A.T., boots are not something to skimp on. Stay the hell out of Walmart and similar retailers – they simply don’t carry boots of the quality you’ll need. You can certainly pick up some boots on Amazon, as they carry plenty of high-quality brands, but you should also consider shopping outdoor-specific retailers like REI.
  • Listen to the advice provided by more experienced campers and hikers but stay true to your own preferences. For example, you may find that some writers advise sticking to relatively high-rise boots for the added support they provide. But if you have ankles of steel and just prefer the freedom low-rise “boots” offer, then ignore the advice and pick boots that feel good to you.
  • Never save money by foregoing good waterproofing. Wet feet aren’t only uncomfortable, they’ll lead to blisters. Additionally, if you’re hiking or camping in cool temperatures, they can accelerate the rate at which you’ll suffer frostbite. You don’t need to buy rubberized boots that are as watertight as an aquarium, but you’ll want boots that allow you to quickly trot through an ankle-deep stream without suffering from soaked feet.
  • Don’t worry about lengthy manufacturer’s warranties. Boots wear out – they’re a “consumable” product. Warranties won’t provide any value here. And while the occasional pair of boots will exhibit a bona fide manufacturing issue, this is relatively rare among the top-flight brands. And when this does happen, it’ll typically occur very early on, when the retailer you purchased the boots from will still provide you with some recourse.

Whichever boots you select, just be sure to break them in well before hitting the trail. Wear them around town for about a week or take a few (short) hikes in the days leading up to your trip. Your feet will thank you.

There’s one other thing to discuss before we move on from the topic of footwear – boots aren’t the only shoes to bring camping. You’ll also want to bring a pair of comfy slip-on shoes, sandals, or sneakers.

Camping Sandals
Image from Pixabay.

An additional pair of kicks will certainly represent a significant amount of additional weight, but the pros drastically outweigh the cons in this situation.

For example, you won’t want to have to go to all the trouble of lacing up your boots in the middle of the night when you need to go water a tree, and trapsing through the forest after dark sans shoes is rarely wise. You’ll also likely want to remove your hiking boots while kicking it around camp and wear something a little less restrictive while cooking dinner and relaxing. Finally, an alternative pair of shoes can be helpful whenever you have to cross deep rivers – by swapping shoes really quickly, you’ll be able to keep your hiking boots dry for the rest of your trek.

Now, there are umpteen options available for these comfy camp shoes. And unlike hiking boots, your choice of camp shoes isn’t as fraught with the potential for peril. Comfort, convenience and personal preference will be your primary considerations.

Some campers prefer sandals, while others like slip-on sneakers (such as a pair of Vans). You could even opt for water shoes (aka “Aqua Socks”) if you are anticipating several stream crossings.

Personally, I prefer sandals. They’re light, they’re easy to strap to the outside of your pack, and they dry in a matter of minutes. Plus, most of my camping takes place in reasonably warm weather, and the open-air nature of sandals allows my dogs to dry out and get some fresh air between hikes.

But again, just opt for the style that you prefer most. There aren’t many wrong answers in this arena.

Gloves, Hats and Bandanas for Camping

Camping Gloves
Image from Pixabay.

A lot of campers forego gloves when camping in warm weather (they’re a necessity for cool-weather trips), but we tend to think gloves are so useful that it often makes sense to bring a pair with you. Aside from keeping your hands warm, gloves can protect your hands when doing things like collecting firewood. Some may even be helpful for moving hot cookware off the fire (just be careful here – you don’t want to use inadequate gloves to pick up a hot pot and suffer burns on the trail).

Another important consideration is the fit of the gloves – avoid very heavy gloves unless you absolutely have to, as they’ll make it difficult to hold or manipulate things while you’re enjoying the outdoors. We typically recommend spending a little more money on gloves that’ll keep your hands warm, while not ruining your dexterity.

We’d also consider some type of hat mandatory for almost all trips. They’re just so useful for a variety of purposes, ranging from keeping your noggin’ warm to shading your eyes to providing a bit of protection from mosquitos (particularly for those of us rocking a hair-free head).

In warm climates, a ball cap will suffice, but you’ll want something with more insulation if you’re camping in cool or cold weather. Sock hats or ski caps are a popular choice, and they offer the added bonus of helping to keep your ears warm if you pull them down. But there are other options available if sock hats aren’t your preferred style.

In contrast to a hat and gloves, a bandana could be considered optional. Make no mistake: They’re absurdly helpful on the trail and will help in a variety of applications. You can use them to hold your hair back, you can roll them up and use them to cushion places in which your pack is poking you, and you can even wet them and use them to cool you off when trekking in hot weather. They can even serve as pseudo napkins at dinnertime.

Plus, bandanas weigh next to nothing and are quite affordable. So, there’s really no reason not to carry one on the trail.

Raingear for Camping

raincoat for camping
Image from Unsplash.

Raingear is an often neglected yet crucial component of your camping wardrobe. It isn’t only important for your comfort but potentially your safety, should the weather be on the cool side. You simply must stay dry in cool weather to avoid hypothermia.

Minimally, this means picking up a good raincoat. This may also be your regular outer shell if you take a multi-layer approach to your camping coat, but it just needs to be 100% waterproof. Otherwise, you’ll need to pick up a separate raincoat or poncho.

There are myriad options available (which we discuss in depth here), and different models present different pros and cons. Some campers prefer a standard hard or softshell raincoat, while others prefer poncho-style raingear instead.

Either approach will work, but you must avoid relying on one of the $5 “emergency” ponchos – they simply won’t hold up to the rigors of trail life. There’s nothing wrong with stashing one of these in the bottom of your pack for emergencies, but you won’t want to rely on one for typical use.

If you’re camping in a relatively warm area during the summer, a hooded raincoat may be all you need (along with a cover of some type for your pack, though a garbage bag will work in a pinch). But if you’re planning on camping in the perpetually rainy Pacific Northwest or your trip will be taking place during a cool portion of the year, you’ll want to add a pair of rainproof pants to your ensemble.

Swimsuit

Camping swimsuit
Image from Unsplash.

Many summer camping trips will provide you with the opportunity to take a dip and cool off in the middle of the day (though many novice campers do fail to understand exactly how cold mountain streams are). And unless you plan on skinny dipping or just swimming in your undergarments, you’ll need to bring along a swimsuit.

Now, there’s nothing particularly different about swimming at your neighborhood pool than splashing around in a mountain stream or lake (aside from the water temperature). So, you can just bring along your most comfortable swimsuit and call it a day. This is not a garment you need to spend a lot of money on when assembling your camping wardrobe.

What Outdoor Clothing Do You Need to Buy? Where Can You Skimp and Where Do You Need to Spend Money?

shopping for camping clothes
Image from Unsplash.

Having covered the primary components of your outdoor wardrobe, it’s important to distinguish between those things you need to prioritize and where you can just make do with stuff you already own.

And while there are few hard and fast rules in this regard, we want to help you make the most of your camping budget. Accordingly, we’ve listed the basic components of your camping wardrobe below. Those things at the top of the list are items you’ll want to prioritize and spend money on; those things closer to the bottom of the list can be scavenged from your closet.

  • Hiking boots
  • Coat
  • Socks
  • Rain gear
  • Underwear  
  • Slip-on shoes
  • Hoodie or sweater
  • Pants
  • Gloves
  • Shirts
  • Hat(s)
  • Bandana
  • Swimsuit

***

Putting together a camping wardrobe can seem a bit overwhelming, but it’s an important part of preparing for your next trip. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas in which new campers often fail to allocate the necessary money and effort, but campers who prepare themselves well in this regard will reap the benefits and enjoy the trip more than those who just hit the trail wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

What about you? What kinds of clothing-related questions are you grappling with? What types of garments do you find indispensable on the trail?

Let us know in the comments below!

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