What To Wear Hiking In Hot Weather

What to wear hiking in warm weather

Summers are brutal for hikers in Las Vegas, and after 30 years of living in the desert, I’m thankful I’ve only faced minor heat exhaustion when irresponsibly hiking in 100-degree weather. 

Dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are all life-threatening risks you encounter when hiking in extreme heat — and even the best hot weather hiking clothes can’t save you.

With the warnings out of the way, let’s discuss how to stay dry, cool, and protected from the sun by knowing what to wear hiking in hot weather. And when it’s safe to hike at all.

What to wear hiking in hot weather

You can learn a lot from outdoor workers living in the desert. In the middle of July, on a 110-degree day, you still see workers framing homes, paving roads, and clearing landscape. The common theme between them all is:

  • Skin covered
  • Bright colored shirts
  • Synthetic fabrics
  • Wide brimmed hat
  • Starting early
  • Ending before the hottest part of the day

Just like outdoor workers, hot weather hiking gear must be breathable while wicking moisture and protecting your skin from harmful UV rays. Especially on hikes with minimal shade.

Avoid cotton when hiking

Cotton is a phenomenal material for your everyday life, but when it comes to activewear, cotton should be your last choice — that includes hiking in denim jeans.

When hot, the body releases sweat, but the process of evaporative cooling — moving moisture away from the skin — is what physically cools the body.

Cotton is not only an absorbent material, but it’s also slow drying. With a damp uncomfortable shirt sticking to your body, the sweat can no longer evaporate, blocking the body from effectively cooling, leading to heat-related illness.

Hiking in extreme heat isn’t the only time to avoid cotton. The same inability to wick away moisture causes hypothermia when hiking in the cold.

Hot weather hiking clothes

When choosing what to wear hiking in hot weather, the color, material, and fit impact cooling. Your hiking outfit should be loose-fitting, moisture-wicking, and brightly colored. 

What is moisture-wicking? Moisture-wicking fabrics pull moisture from the skin to the exterior layer of the material. They also dry quickly.

Synthetic moisture-wicking materials are:

  • Polyester
  • Nylon
  • Spandex
  • Gore-Tex
  • Polypropylene

Many activewear shirts are synthetic blends of polyester and nylon.

*HikingBeginner.com is not an affiliate of REI and does NOT make money off your purchases. The author and our team have not tested all of the items and should be considered examples* 

REI Sahara T-Shirt and Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Long-Sleeve Shirt

Choosing a shirt for hiking in hot weather

Every piece of clothing you choose for hot weather hikes plays a role in keeping you cool and safe, but shirts are the essential piece.

Wearing a long sleeve shirt is best to protect against harmful cancer-causing UV rays. Admittingly, I opt for short-sleeve shirts and high SPF sunscreen, but having spent my entire life in the harsh desert sun, it’s a risk I chose.

Regardless of your sleeve length, the best shirts for hiking in hot weather are blended synthetic materials that allow breathability and wick moisture away from the body, keeping you cool and dry.

According to The Skin Cancer Foundationdark or bright colors are the best skin protection against UV rays. The University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute recommends vivid, brightly colored shirts like yellow or orange. 

To put into perspective, a white cotton T-shirt only has an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of about 5. Similar to SPF, only for fabrics, a minimum UPF rating is 15, while excellent is 50 or higher.

Because synthetic blends have tightly woven fabric, they block out more rays than loosely woven cotton. Outdoor brands like Columbia engineered materials like Omni-Wick and Omni-Shade, to better pull moisture from the body while protecting against UV. 

Vuori Banks Short and REI Sahara Convertible Pants

Choosing pants for hiking in hot weather

Choosing synthetic materials for pants gains the same advantages as shirts. You’ll stay cooler through breathability and moisture wicking while keeping your legs out of UV harm.

Of course, if you prefer shorts, the same principles apply. Luckily, hiking is the official activity of zip-off convertible pants, I decided.

Zip-off pants provide the flexibility to protect your legs when shade is unavailable and convert to shorts when overheating. The convertible option can make a meaningful difference for long hikes or hikes starting in the cold early morning.

Stick to loose-fitting pants to better allow your skin to cool. And, if you wear shorts, always shield your legs with sunscreen.

Columbia Bora Bora Booney Hat and REI Co-op Merino Wool Socks

Protecting your head and feet

Now that you have a breathable outfit with synthetic moisture-wicking material and UV protection, it’s time to consider your head, neck, and feet.

A wide-brimmed hat provides the best protection from the sun, while a combination of a neck gaiter and baseball cap works for shorter hikes.

The back of the neck and forehead are a sunburn magnet. Keep them well protected, or you’ll regret it for the next week.

Your feet are one place with no risk from the sun, but sweaty feet make for a miserable hike. A great pair of merino wool hiking socks keep your feet dry, comfortable, and happy.

Since merino wool can wick moisture naturally, they’ve become a favorite material for hiking socks and can be used year-round. 

Are hiking boots good for hot weather?

Non-insulated hiking boots are still a perfect choice for hot weather. However, trail runners or cross-trainers will provide more breathability if you plan a short, easy hike without concerns about wet conditions or rugged trails.

What to wear hiking in warm weather

Even in warm weather, the sun can be damaging and dangerous. But, I like to turn to high SPF sunscreen for protection and dress lighter when hiking in warm weather.

I commonly wear Vuori training shorts and a synthetic blend short sleeve t-shirt or tank top.

Just be sure to always check the UV index in the area of your hike. Most weather apps provide this information, with the ranking score of 0 to 10 being the most extreme.

How hot is too hot for hiking?

Hiking in temperatures of over 90 degrees, especially with high humidity, puts you at increased risk of a heat disorder.

When checking the weather, you’ve likely seen a “feels like” temperature and wondered how they came to that conclusion. It’s referencing the National Weather Service’s Heat Index. 

The NWS Heat Index determines the likelihood of heat disorders from prolonged exposure or strenuous activity by combining temperature and relative humidity.

The chart ranges from caution in the low 80s and mid-to-low humidity to extreme danger in temperatures of 90 degrees and 95% humidity.

Final thoughts

According to the CDC, an average of 658 Americans succumb to extreme heat annually. A scary statistic until you read that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.

Too often, hikers risk extreme heat for a few hours of hiking, an achievable activity with enough water. But the long-term damage from the sun is rarely considered.

By setting your alarm clock early and hitting the trail as the sun rises, you can limit your sun exposure while still enjoying a beautiful hike in the summer months.

Hiking is the best outdoor activity, but never worth risking your health over. Always wear sunscreen, cover up the best as possible, and avoid the hottest time of the day — typically between 3 to 5 p.m.

Do you confidently know what to wear hiking in hot weather? Share this article on your socials to help others learn.

Hi, I'm Travis, an outdoors enthusiast and avid hiker based in Las Vegas, NV. When I'm not hiking Red Rock or Mount Charleston, I'm writing tips for beginner hikers.

Featured trails, the newest hiking gear, and helpful tips from expert hikers

Easily unsubscribe in one click.