The Best Women’s Hiking Apparel
The following is a Sponsored Post brought to you by REI. You can find their array of quality women’s clothing here.
Women-specific backpacking clothing has come a long way in the past few years. These days, female hikers can even find apparel that doesn’t come in some version of magenta or teal…. it’s a whole new world. We polled our lady crew of thru-hikers, outdoor writers, and backpacking enthusiasts to find the best women’s hiking apparel that have gotten them from trailhead to summit time and time again.
While unisex or generic athletic apparel will work fine in many cases, having women-specific styles isn’t just about having more color options. Shirts with a women’s cut typically taper through the waist, with added articulation in the shoulders to accommodate athletic curves and muscle structure. Women’s jackets feature shorter sleeves and higher pockets. Finding a good pair of technical pants that actually fit women’s waists and hips is a blessing, and one that many gear companies are still…. striving for. There are more options now than ever before—here are a few of our time-tested favorites.
Our Favorite Women’s Hiking Apparel
Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Zip-T
This base layer has been my go-to for years. Out of all of the merino layers I’ve tested and worn, this classic midweight has the best fit, the highest durability, and it provides the perfect hit of warmth whether thrown on during a break or used for camp clothes. The cut is classic, slightly tapered through the waist but still loose enough to be layered under. The hem falls right around hip-length, which means it doesn’t bunch or ride up. The high collar can be zipped up for added warmth, and I’ve always found the quarter-zip style to be a great middle ground between the weight and bulk of a full zipper and the head-squeezing from pulling a crewneck on and off. SmartWool’s time-tested merino has also proven to be highly stink-proof, which is as important as any hiking apparel metric.
REI Co-op Screeline Hiking Tights
For solid hiking leggings, my absolute favorite pair is from REI. They’re soft and comfortable, yet durable thanks to the tough polyester/spandex blend. They have pockets that easily fit a cell phone, and strategically placed extra fabric on the lower legs to prevent wear and tear. The waistband is wide and comfortable, and high enough to prevent slipping down under hip belts. These lightweight tights are perfect for day hikes during the summer, or on your next early-fall adventure.
Mountain Hardwear’s 6.6-ounce Ghost Whisperer is one of the most popular insulation layers for the ultralight crowd. This jacket packs down to almost nothing while providing a surprising amount of warmth, and the Q.Shield protects the down through damp conditions. The women’s specific cut means pockets are easy to access and you have a more fitted microclimate in which to trap precious heat. Low-profile baffles keep the down in place without extra bulk. Looking for head pro? The Ghost Whisperer also comes in a hooded version, and you can find last year’s colors on sale here.
Patagonia Baggies Shorts
My Patagonia Baggies have been faithful, functional, and fun—like a good hiking partner—for more than a decade. They are also the definition of comfort and function for any outdoor adventure, or even a casual day. These shorts have moved with me through wet conditions, humidity, dry trails, snow, rain, rock, sand, desert, forest, and more. They have been worn on their own, atop a base layer, or under pants. They are always reliable. And they have taught me a great lesson about fewer but better possessions. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail with them; I’ve taken them to Spain on the Camino and on dozens of other trails on the East Coast and out West. I’m a lover of the outdoors and conserving wild places, which means supporting gear companies that use their business to protect the planet. Patagonia is committed to speaking boldly to protect public lands and standing up for the environment. My Baggies remind me to do the right thing for the planet and public lands, and to repair and reuse what we already own. And they remind me about the value of fewer but treasured possessions. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard once said: “You don’t need a different pair of shorts for every activity in your life. Why not have just one good pair?”
Athleta Salutation 7/8 Tights
The Athleta Salutation 7/8 tights have been a staple in my wardrobe for the past year, and I swear I find something new that I like about these leggings every time I wear them. Made of an extremely comfortable Spandex blend, these tights are built to last. From backpacking to the rock gym, they are extremely versatile, and allow your body to easily move in whichever position you need to reach that summit. The tights are on the slightly thicker side, making them perfect for midseason adventures and, unlike many other types of leggings, I never have to worry about them being see-through! The Salutation Tights are high waisted, and flattering on a large array of body types, which means I can head right from the trailhead to the local bar and not worry about changing my pants. Although their MSRP is more higher than I usually pay for leggings, I have certainly put them to the test within the past year and they are showing virtually no signs of wear.
Arc’teryx Contenta Hiking Dress
MSRP: $89 (Currently on sale for $62)
It is amazingly comfortable with huge, deep pockets (and an additional small, zippered pocket hidden inside one of the main ones). These pockets fall just below the hip belt of a pack, so if you wanted to reduce pack weight by eliminating your hip pouches, this would be a great alternative. It has a cinch across the hips so you can adjust where it sits. The material repels stains and is super lightweight. It has UPF, but still breathes really well. I wore this for 400+ miles through Oregon, and also wear it back in my regular life.
ExOfficio Give-N-Go Bikini Briefs
Whether or not to wear underwear during a long-distance hike is a personal preference. For those who choose to go the way of the undergarment, ExOfficio has been a longtime staple of the traveler thru-hiker. With smooth seams, a women-specific cut, and the EGIS Microbe Shield antimicrobial treatment, these stay comfortable, chafe-free, and you have to wash them significantly less than you would a normal pair of underwear. ExOfficio’s underwear comes in several styles, and the Bikini Brief is a good middle-of-the road for coverage. For more coverage, check out the Hipkini Brief.
Arc’teryx Beta SL Rain Jacket
This jacket is like a shield against inclement weather. It fits well, and has an adjustable cinch in the hood to keep it on your head in high winds. Lots of pocket-space. The material even feels high-quality. After carrying it for 1,000 miles, it doesn’t even have a scratch on it. This jacket could last me the rest of my life if I take care of it.
Smartwool PhD Seamless Strappy Sports Bra
MSRP: $60 (Currently on sale for $41)
I’m not well-endowed enough to have an issue with sports bra support, so most sports bras work for me in that regard. But I like this one because even when it’s wet, it doesn’t feel wet, so you don’t have to deal with the trauma of putting on a freezing, wet sports bra in the morning. Seamless means it doesn’t chafe, and it’s easy to forget you’re even wearing it.
REI Sahara Convertible Pants
The cargo pockets were super handy, I loved that I could zip them off into shorts, and I found them to be very comfortable and breathable. The newer cut is slimmer and the fabric has added stretch, which makes them even more ergonomic for long days on the trail. They are lightweight, abrasion-resistant, and while you won’t be winning any fashion awards, there’s a lot to be said for functionality and classic styles.
Kavu Belfair Top
MSRP: $40 (Can be found on sale)
It’s not a super technical shirt, but I desperately wanted a shirt that was loose fitting, formed a barrier between my pack straps and my shoulders, and had ample armpit breathability, and this fit the bill. I love this shirt. I will never go on a backpacking trip wearing a different shirt. It’s perfect.
What did we leave out? Share your favorite women’s hiking apparel in the comments below.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.