If you have ever gotten caught on a trail out in the rain or taken a wrong turn, you know how essential it is to dress appropriately and have the proper gear. Carrying the essentials can make or break your hike, and lacking them – worst-case scenario – can put your life in danger.
Below, find the best women’s hiking gear and clothing for beginner to intermediate hikers ready to tackle those challenging trails. From the 10 essentials, like headlamps and navigation, to sturdy socks and breathable fabrics that won’t all break the bank, this list will get you started for those fun hiking adventures. Let’s get started!
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Why Good Hiking Gear Matters
Both Tom and I remember our first few hikes moving to Asheville. We were terribly naive and not quite prepared for the seemingly easy but deceiving Blue Ridge Mountains and Pisgah National Forest trails. We’d hop in the car with our casual hiking clothes, water bottles, and cell phones.
Then one day, we got lost. 7 hours into the forest lost. It’s easier than you think.
As night quickly approached, we had no extra food, limited water, and nothing to light our way. With temperatures dropping and no shelter or extra layers, we were in trouble. Cold and scared, we made it out safely by the sheer luck of a driver on a dirt road who took us back to our car. Our car was so far away, I wanted to vomit. I will never forget that man – his name was Gary, and he saved our asses.
It’s no worse than walking up the Turkish Steps in Sicily barefoot, or sweating to death at Croatia’s Krka in cotton. I’ve hiked Ireland’s Burren National Park in jeans and boots. How am I still alive?
From that moment on, we researched and practiced how to hike properly and prepared. We will not tackle any hike, big or small, without the proper clothing and gear. The gear is worth the investment, even if you think you know the area and the trails are well-frequented.
Our friend, avid family hiker, and favorite mom blogger, Tori also understands the value of essential hiking gear (also having gotten lost) and owns even more top gear and clothing than we do. She’s sharing her top picks below with additions from us.
Women’s Hiking Essentials: Our Top 5
We consider ourselves to be your “average,” everyday hikers, tackling trails no longer than 8 miles a day. And while we invest in great hiking gear and clothing, we don’t stretch the budget. We find that fairly to moderately priced accessories and clothing meet our needs.
If we had to pick our top 5 musts for hiking gear for women, we’d start with:
- Navigation & SOS Device
- Water With Purification Methods
- First Aid Kit With Your Meds
- Backpack To Carry It All
Products and brands for women’s hiking clothes and gear we champion:
- Merino wool
- Eddie Bauer
These are items we wouldn’t adventure without, and there are plenty more that we’ll discuss below.
Best Women’s Hiking Gear
Garmin InReach Mini
A navigation and SOS device is one of the most important pieces of women’s hiking gear. Essential for everyone (and a great gift), it is especially comforting for women hiking solo to be able to get help if needed.
The Garmin In Reach Mini, allows you to send an SOS signal any time, from even remote locations, and to message back home while off-grid.
Please note that the navigation device requires a paid, monthly subscription. Still, proper navigation and communication aren’t something to cheap out on. This is one of those essentials that should take up a good part of your gear budget.
We have gotten lost in the North Carolina mountains – Tori at DuPont and Christine at Daniel Ridge Loop – before buying a Garmin, and trust us, it’s frightening. All it takes is one leaf to cover a simple trail marking and you are unknowingly off track.
Black Diamond Headlamp
Following the ten essentials, a list of gear assembled decades ago by The Mountaineers to prepare hikers and climbers for emergency situations, a headlamp is another important hiking accessory for women.
We love Black Diamond’s products, in general, because they are the perfect balance of price and quality. The headlamp is no exception, and its settings include full brightness, dimmed strobing, and night vision.
It is durable against terrain, in case it drops or you fall, and lightweight to pack, so don’t skip out on it! And, remember to always pack extra batteries to stay prepared. This one requires three AAA batteries, so it lasts a bit longer, too.
Bonus Tip: Headlamps aren’t just great for hiking; they are the perfect travel companion, especially in areas where the power might go out often. Christine used hers every night while living in a remote area in Indonesia.
Rhino Rescue First Aid Kit
Continuing down the list of safety gear, a first aid kit should be at the top of any men’s or women’s hiking essentials list.
We like the Rhino Rescue kit because it includes items like tweezers, moleskin, and burn gel that other kits are lacking. These are items our family typically adds to a standard kit, so having it done for you is obviously the easiest option.
This first aid kit also includes an emergency blanket (or bivvy), a fire starter, and a camping knife – three additional items from the ten essentials list that no one should hike without, but many do.
Pro tip: Always add bug-repellent and anti-sting wipes to a first aid kit. If you wear contact lenses, consider packing extras along with any essential medication in case you have to overnight.
Sabre Pepper Gel
Some of the best hiking gear for women include pieces that provide safety and peace of mind. Female hikers can, and often do, feel vulnerable on the trail, especially if trekking solo. Unfortunately, as much as there has been a push to get more women outdoors and into nature, we still need to protect ourselves from certain situations that can, and still do, arise.
Pepper Gel provides a layer of protection in those situations that reality tells us we need to prepare for. Pepper gel is similar to pepper spray but a bit thicker; thus, it is able to stream twenty percent further and more targeted. Gel is also more resistant to wind and blowback.
We always recommend keeping it clipped to or in a hip belt pocket for easy access. This particular canister releases from the clip in seconds and even has a built-in whistle. It’s also important to know how to use any form of pepper spray/gel and feel comfortable doing so.
Gerber Pocket Knife 3 Pack
We already touched upon having a knife in your first aid kit, one of the ten essentials and necessary hiking accessories for women. However, we still want to include our favorite low-profile knife set. These work well for long hikes and overnights.
The Gerber Pocket Knife Set is high quality for a reasonable price and ideal for all outdoor needs. Because there are three, it’s great if you are hiking with family or friends, or want to keep different pieces for different needs.
We keep the small or medium one affixed to a shoulder strap on our day packs, while the large one is great for camping and fishing. Having protection, as a woman, in various accessible spots on day hikes or on backpacking trips is always a good idea, even if only for your peace of mind.
Fire Starter Kit
Another often-forgotten piece of women’s hiking gear is a fire starter. In sticking with our safety products first, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention a quality fire starter that comes with kindling.
The magnesium is safe to store in a backpack and the tin keeps it dry, along with your kindling. The rope works in all weather conditions, too.
So often, hikers do not anticipate being caught in the elements unnecessarily and should have been prepared with the ten essentials. Plus, this fire starter is great for a backpacking trip or to start a fire on a camping trip. We certainly cannot resist a campfire s’more.
Nalgene Water Bottle
Did you also have one in college? No list of best women’s hiking gear is complete without the iconic Nalgene water bottle. If you’re looking for a quality, lightweight water bottle with an affordable price tag, Nalgene is it.
These water bottles are durable, hold 32oz of water, and fit in most water bottle sleeves. Personally, we prefer a Nalgene to a hydration pack or water reservoir because you can see how much water you’ve consumed and ensure you are staying properly hydrated. You can also see more easily when it is time to refill.
We do always recommend purchasing a pop-top; it’s just easier than stopping to unscrew the top that comes with the standard Nalgene.
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System
Clean water is perhaps the single biggest indicator of your chance of survival in an emergency. While we always advocate for packing more than enough water for a day hike, it can’t hurt to have a way to filter water if needed.
The Sawyer Squeeze water filtration system removes 99.9999 percent of harmful bacteria, sediments, organisms, and plastics through the filter.
It is so small it can fit in your palm and weighs 0.2 pounds, so there is really no downside to packing this just-in-case item. Plus, it’s great if you will be hiking or camping near a water source and know that you will need to refill.
Trekking poles are one of the most important hiking essentials for women, especially if you are hiking on uneven terrain or climbing in elevation.
Trekking poles provide stability and balance and distribute weight more evenly, making for an easier and more ergonomic hike. Plus, these collapse down to fit in or on a day pack and have adjustable accessories for different terrains.
Extra Tip: Often overlooked, trekking poles are also one of the best pieces of walking gear for women who are hiking while pregnant because they help with weight distribution and balance. We once had a pregnant family member break her foot on a fairly even pathway due to losing her balance.
Osprey Daylite Day Pack
A high-quality day pack to carry your gear is absolutely essential, and we always recommend one with hip belts.
Osprey, specifically, is one of the best hiking brands on the market, and, unlike some of their slimmer counterparts, they seem to fit most body types.
The Osprey Daylite DayPack has a large main compartment, front pocket, water reservoir sleeve, compression straps, and ventilated back panel. You would need to purchase the water reservoir separately, but there are tons on the market for a low price.
The Daylite can clip onto other Osprey packs for longer backpacking trips; this is a great feature if you’re hiking with your larger pack but want the day pack for additional hikes once you’ve set up camp.
It is also a popular daypack for travelers as it holds a lot for the size and is comfortable and highly rated.
Best Hiking Clothes
Merino Wool Base Layers
It is difficult for us to contain our love of Merino Wool Base Layers. While expensive, they are some of the best women’s hiking clothes on the market.
If you’re planning summer hikes with warm weather, they provide a layer of natural sun protection as well as wick sweat away from the body, keeping you dry. For winter hikes, they keep you warmer and dry, especially if there is snow or rain.
If you are still undecided about the price, this incredibly helpful article by The Unconventional Route shares the pros and cons of merino wool.
Extra Tip: If you are a family that exchanges the occasional fun gift along with those great experiences, we highly recommend putting any outdoor gear that tends to be pricier on your wish list.
Still can’t afford or wrap your head around the hefty price of Merino wool base layers?
Stick with synthetic materials for your clothing and opt for Merino wool socks. After all, keeping your feet protected is most important.
Whether you’re hiking in dry or wet environments, on cold or hot days, Merino wool socks will protect your feet so you can hike longer and more comfortably. As mentioned above, Merino wool wicks water and sweat away from the body – which is important since hiking in wet socks is an absolute no-no.
If you follow Uncorked Asheville on social media, you know what happens when you hike in especially thin socks. While last-minute tackling the easy but incredibly long Laurel River Trail, our socks fell apart, holes and all. Not to mention walking through streams and muddy puddles. Our feet were mad for a week – blisters, peeling skin, and all.
Merrell Hiking Boots
Proper footwear is an essential part of your women’s hiking attire. We personally prefer boots with ankle support to trail runners, but this is a personal preference. The Merrell boots have an affordable price tag but don’t skimp on quality.
The waterproof sole keeps water and moisture out while the Vibram traction provides a supportive footbed.
As we mentioned with socks, protecting your feet on any hiking trail or terrain is extremely important. We also recommend spending ample time breaking in any new hiking shoes, starting with shorter hikes.
We once bought a hiking boot that was heavy and pulled too hard at our ankles. Our heels screamed for days afterward. Lesson learned!
A waterproof jacket – or waterproof three-season jacket – is the best women’s hiking gear to wear or pack.
If following the three-layer system, a base layer will keep your skin dry, a mid-layer will keep you warm, and an outer layer will protect you from the elements. With that knowledge, it is easy to see why a quality rain jacket can make or break a hike.
The Marmot jacket is worth the extra cost because it is high quality, breathable, has a great natural fit, and packs down small for when you don’t need it.
Pro Tip: Following our headlamp advice, a rain jacket is also a must for some international travel. We’ve hiked through the Costa Rican jungle and across the Indonesian islands with our raincoats. They are especially great when it’s windy and an umbrella just doesn’t cut it.
Columbia W Park View ½ Zip Hiking Fleece
A hiking fleece is an excellent choice for a mid-layer because it is warm and comfortable. It can also act as an outer layer when you don’t need to worry about the elements or when the temperatures are cool, but not extremely cold. You’ll usually catch us in a fleece for everyday wear besides those warmer summer months.
Columbia is a solid choice – and an Uncorked Asheville favorite – as they make some of the best hiking gear for women for the price point. Plus, fleece jackets are stretchy and some have moisture-wicking capabilities.
The zippered pockets are great for storing small gear you want accessible, like chapstick, mace, or snacks! Fleeces also tend to be a flattering fit for any body type.
North Face and Under Armour are two more brands we champion for women’s fleeces.
From experience, we think a sun shirt should make any list of the best women’s hiking clothing.
They are lightweight, protective against the sun, and breathable. While most have long sleeves, this doesn’t make them uncomfortably hot. In fact, a long-sleeve shirt keeps your arms covered and adds more protection/less skin area to worry about burning.
After hiking in the hot Texas sun for three years, we learned to trade our tank tops for sun shirts and save our burned shoulders!
Sun shirts are also a great alternative to pricey Merino wool during the warmer months, too.
Fleece Lined Leggings
One of our favorite pieces of winter hiking gear for women includes fleece lined leggings. We live in ours, especially Christine up in those North Carolina mountains.
The fleece lining keeps temperatures regulated, and the outside fabric is water-resistant. Plus, they have a super comfortable 4-inch waistband.
Our favorite feature, though, is the zippered cell phone pocket, which keeps your device accessible but not at risk of taking a tumble. There are additional deep pockets, too, making these great for day hikes where you want some small gear accessible.
As an added bonus, they double as a great base layer for under ski pants or for snowshoeing.
We champion multiple brands, including BALEAF as well as Eddie Bauer.
Columbia Hiking Pants
While we live in ours, we understand that leggings are not for everyone. As an alternative, these hiking pants are water and stain-repellent, UPF-protective, and have plenty of pocket space. The semi-elastic waistband ensures a comfortable and proper fit and allows for movement.
The legs zip off to convert to shorts with a ten-inch inseam, which is long enough to not ride up with a lengthy hiking stride. They also feel more feminine than other hiking pants with the cut.
Non-Cotton Sports Bras
Some of the best women’s hiking gear includes comfortably fitting sports bras; no one wants to be adjusting uncomfortable underwire or sliding straps during a hike.
As a general rule of thumb, you never want to hike in cotton, especially cotton underwear or cotton shirts. It’s a taboo material when it comes to women’s hiking attire. But if you’re starting small and only have cotton tees, at least go for a synthetic or wool sports bra.
While there are of course many synthetics on the market, with moisture-wicking properties, the wool sports bra will keep you most comfy (though the price is steep).
For a decent quality, stretchy nylon bra, Champion is a good place to start. Champion was our first starter brand, and we still own some of those bras. They are quite durable and easy to find at common U.S. stores like Target.
P.S. You can read more about why hiking in cotton is bad from the hiking gear website, Nail the Trail. Christine, especially, is terrible about not hiking in cotton – and her sensitive skin pays for it.
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Sunany Female Urinal
Let’s round out our list with some of the most overlooked pieces of women’s hiking gear that you never knew you needed… until you peed on your shoes.
Have you considered a female urinal? We all know why it’s nice to be a guy in the backcountry, and now with the invention of a female urinal, pee funnel, or she-john (we love the many names these have!) it’s almost as easy to pee!
This is much easier to use than you’d ever anticipate and keeps you, and your clothes, a lot cleaner when nature calls. Use it one time, and you won’t want to go back.
We prefer the Sunany to some others on the market, though, because of the extendable arm. If you’re more comfortable using a water bottle, this can come in handy. Or maybe you just want a little more control over your stream.
To accompany your female urinal, a pee cloth might as well be one of your top women’s hiking accessories.
Skip the toilet paper, tissues, baby wipes, or leaves, and go for an antimicrobial pee cloth. These affix to your hiking pack (you know, so you don’t get pee on your stuff), fold and snap for hygiene, and have a waterproof outer layer to keep your hands clean.
Plus, you can feel as if you’re doing your part for the environment with a reusable product!
Sun Protection is one of the most important hiking essentials. Even during the cold weather, the sun can reflect on the snow and hikers can get burned. Beyond sunscreen, having a hat to protect your head, eyes, and neck is important.
One of the best pieces of hiking gear for women is a ponytail hat because it marries those safety qualities with comfort. As someone with long hair, nothing bothers me on the trail more than sweaty hair sticking to my neck.
A hat with your messy bun in mind keeps you comfortable and safe from the sun’s rays. Plus, with different slots for your hair, you can wear your up-do to your liking and even look cute on the trail!
If you’re looking for a hat with a bit more neck protection and a wider brim, this one works as well.
What are your favorite women’s hiking essentials?
What hiking gear will you not leave the house without? What are your favorite hiking brands for women? Let us know in the comments.