Whatchya Wearing: Three-Season Hiking base clothing

A recent thread on Reddit posed the question of What is your go-to hiking outfit?

Assuming the original poster meant three-season hiking, I feel this question is open-ended.

Immediately coming to mind is: “Where is this person hiking?”   (Desert? Woods? Mountains? On-trail? Off-Trail? Etc.) 

For me, what I wear varies depending on if it is a quick day hike on an established trail, back East in the wooded Appalachians, or perhaps I am scrambling above tree-line somewhere in Colorado.

So, here is my base clothing for three-season hiking and backpacking. It does not include such things as thermals, puffy, gloves, etc.

Backpacking, or day hiking off-trail:

Back of Arches National Park. PCO Joan W.

The last hike I did wear shorts off-trail ended up being a memorable one.  We explored a small, but rarely mentioned, mountain range in Wyoming.  We did not see anyone, and the experience ended up being one of the most memorable overnight trips I’ve done.  A mix off-trail, scrambling, bushwhacking, following ghost trails, and old jeep roads.

And I stupidly wore shorts. My legs became all scratched up. Never again!

For most of my off-trail hiking, or even trails not always well maintained, I prefer long pants—more sun protection, but also very important when bushwhacking and helping to protect my legs when scrambling.

That’s the significant change from most of my backpacking over the years since I moved to Colorado back in 1999. Otherwise, I wear the same “hiking uniform” I’ve worn for nearly two decades.



  • Boonie Hat –  Surplus store special for protecting my face, back of my neck, and my bald head!  My current hat is no longer a lovely shade of olive drab green..it looks beige-ish! This particular boonie is a 50/50 nylon-cotton blend that breathes well and is going on its eighth year of hard use.
    • I also wear a bandana underneath the hat. I find I stay cooler as the cotton works as a bit of swamp cooler in addition to keeping the sweat and salts out of my eyes. I currently use a large bandana that provides a bit more coverage than a standard bandana and provides some versatility in a pinch.
  • I’ve rocked a long-sleeve poly-cotton shirt almost since I had moved to Colorado back in 1999. Besides sun protection, for slightly cool weather, rolling the sleeves down is handy vs. a short sleeve shirt. I find the poly-cotton blend breathes better than a tech shirt, and the buttons allow proper ventilation.
  • My current long pants of choice are a Costco special that I’ve reviewed before: UBTech travel pants.
  • When wearing long pants, I prefer using underwear. Unlike shorts, I do not have as much ventilation. Briefs wick sweat away and make me feel more comfortable. I purchased some ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs on Mass Drop, and they ended up being my favorites over the year. And ones I prefer by far over other brands I’ve worn.
  • For socks, I use Darn Tough, Icebreaker, Point6, or similar wool-blend socks depending on what is available. Unlike wool base layers, I find these socks last longer in addition to being more tolerant of moisture and different temperature conditions versus 100% synthetic socks.
  • For shoes, if I am on a well-defined and maintained trail (be it hiking or backpacking), I love my Altra Superiors. I rarely use these them anymore. However, for any scrambling, rough trail, or bushwhacking, I prefer my Salomon Ultras.

Backpacking or hiking on well-defined trails


When I hiked the Collegiate Loop back in September 2017, I went with my usual attire above. Except I kept a good pace at all times due to the fantastic trail work and well-defined tread.  And I found the weather to be a bit warm.  Unlike the Ferris loop above, I found I wish I wore shorts!



And for most of my on-trail backpacking in Colorado, my clothing of choice ended up being shorts. Typically, but not always, inexpensive running shorts. Light, dries quickly, and a lot of ventilation.  I do not wear briefs with these shorts.


When I went backpacking back East on a classic sixty-mile AT/Bartram trail loop during the Summer, I found a short-sleeve button-down, shorts, and a bandana to be effective. I only had my “in-town” shorts, and I missed the lighter running shorts for the humid southeast weather. I quickly picked up a pair of running shorts after the trip.

PCO Joan W.


Occasionally, I’ll throw on a ball cap for quick day hikes or even wear long pants if the weather is cooler.

PCO Josh Z.


But nothing is set in stone! I tend to mix and match as appropriate.

PCO Josh Z.

Summary: The significant difference between the conditions is mostly pants vs. shorts. – Shorts for day hikes and on trail. In particular, when warm.  Long pants for most other hiking. Otherwise, I like button-downs for my ventilation and sweat too much in technical tees. I almost always wear a long sleeve for backpacking; short sleeve for day hikes. I’ve tended to use my Salomons for nearly all my hiking with the Altras regulated to day hiking for the most part. I’ll occasionally throw on a ball cap for day hikes.


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5 years ago

Yes Sir buddy. Ordering the extra size bandana ASAP.
Each and every-time you make a posting, I read every word.
Interesting and lots of great information. I often get gear based on your recomendations. One of the best? My M-65 field jacket liner.
Thanks for all you do.

5 years ago

Oops. Almost forgot your recommendation for the Nemesis Safety Glasses which I got and use constantly.