Fall Hiking Guide

Fall Hiking Guide

Hiking Outfits for Fall and Layering Guide For Women

Hiking trails are great to explore as the fall foliage begins its amazing display. The air gets crisp, the bugs disappear, and the trails are lit up in yellows, oranges, and reds –– what better time than hiking in the fall! Whether you're an experienced trailblazer or just looking to dip your toes into the world of outdoor adventures, one thing's for sure: dressing in appropriate fall hiking clothes can make or break your experience.

This introduction guide to fall hiking layers will teach you how to build a hiking outfit for fall and give you recommendations for hiking clothes (from your base layer to your perfect fleece jacket) to maximize your cold-weather adventures. Let's dive into the world of dressing for fall hikes!

Where is the best place to hike in October?

Though everyone might think of the East Coast as having brilliant fall colors, there are great places to hike all over the United States! To see where and when colors are changing, find a good leaf tracker (like this one). Fall can be a wonderful time to visit some of the drier places in the Southwest, such as the Canyonlands National Park or Death Valley. Super popular areas, such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Glacier are great to see in the fall shoulder season because they will be less crowded than in the summer months. Even here in the high desert of Nevada, the trails are lined with bright yellow brush and dramatic storm clouds that make for the most stunning scenes.

Two women hiking along cliff edge.

Comfort and Safety Essentials

While the scenery is spectacular, there are more considerations to take into account when hiking in cold temperatures than in the heat of summer. Primarily, this means altering what you wear. Did you know that hypothermia can occur at temperatures as high as 50 degrees? Chances for hypothermia increase if your clothing is wet...or sweaty and not drying out. Since fall weather typically involves a wide swing in temperatures –– from bundling up in a puffy jacket in the morning to rocking a tank top midday –– wearing the right clothing and employing proper layering techniques becomes very important. This will help you stay comfortable throughout the day and reduce the chances of excess sweat stealing vital warmth.

There are many ways in which fall hiking mirrors hiking in the summer season, too. Though there might be more cloud coverage during the fall, be sure to pack along SPF or prioritize wearing clothing with UPF sun protection to keep harmful UVA and UVB rays from damaging your skin. When hiking, regardless of season, proper hydration is very important. As temperatures drop, you might be tempted to drink less water, but don't! Proper hydration will keep your body functioning as needed and can even help improve how your muscles perform. Finally, it is always, always, important to practice Leave No Trace principles when hiking.

Two women hiking along edge of cliff.
Woman standing on edge of cliff over looking valley.

What Do I Wear Hiking in Fall?

When hiking in the fall, generally the best hiking clothes will stick to the three-piece layering system. Of course, this may not work for all areas of the country (re: hiking in Arizona during late September). This system works like this:

Base Layer

This should be a moisture-wicking layer that can help your body breathe while keeping moisture from building up. This layer sits directly next to the skin, so the handfeel of the material will also matter, especially if you have sensitive skin. Wicking fabrics are going to be made from synthetic fibers. Look for labels with recycled polyester or TENCEL™ Lyocell.

Mid Layer

The middle layer is your warming layer that flirts the line between capturing body heat and allowing for airflow. This could be anything from an insulating jacket to a fleece pullover and the type you choose is dependent on the temperature you will be hiking in during the day. This layer should also be made up of a moisture-wicking fabric. Look for wool or recycled polyester here.

Shell or Outer Layer

The outer layer is meant to protect you from the elements, namely wind, rain, and snow. The clothing you choose for this layer again depends upon the weather local to your hike. If you will be in a wet area, make sure that this layer is waterproof. Look for a rain jacket or rain shell that has a GORE-TEX outer. For hikes that might encounter light precipitation but will mostly face wind, choose a lighter-weight hiking jacket with Durable Water Repellent (DWR). For dry, but colder weather, a good outer layer could be a down jacket to help you stay warm. In warmer places, consider a vest instead of heavy outer layers.

Other Considerations

While you may think you have the perfect system, autumn means unpredictable weather...especially as you travel into higher elevations. Bring extra layers, even when you think you might not use them. Your fall hiking outfit extends to your footwear as well. Invest in at least one pair of Merino wool socks (not cotton socks) to keep your feet dry. As trails become wet and unstable, outdoor gear such as good hiking boots (for ankle support) and trekking poles can become necessary for maintaining safety. Having a phone or GPS device that has an accurate map is also helpful as trails experiencing weather can look different than they do during a summer hike.

Woman standing outside wearing dog walker top in green.
Two women cheers coffee cups on cliff top over looking valley with sunset.

Fall Hiking Base Layers

Invest in a highly technical moisture-wicking base layer if you will be hiking steep terrain for very long distances or backpacking in cold weather. For casual, autumn day hikes you can choose something like this Bliss Top that will keep you comfortable and layer well (plus, it is cute for daily life, too!).

Detail view of Bliss top in gold-orange color.

Bliss Top

Made from TENCEL™ Modal, polyester, and Lycra® this long-sleeve shirt will not collect sweat and moisture like a cotton shirt will but will help regulate your body temperature. Though it feels silky soft and light in the hand, its relaxed fit might be better suited for a roomier mid-layer. With 8 colors, there is a style for everyone!

Fall Hiking Mid Layer

Warm and cozy, these options for mid-layers have us swooning. The heft and material of the mid-layer that you choose will depend on the weather and on the outer layer you choose. It might be wise to shop for an outer layer first, then buy a few options to throw on underneath that work with that particular jacket or shell. These three options will work for most jackets, plus they all look cute on their own!

Detail view of Dog-walker top in dark maroon.

Dog-Walker Top

Cozy, mock neck collar, fleecy inner, UPF 30+ sun protection, and recycled polyester are all reasons why we love this top so much. It helps, too, that it looks adorable on! We especially love the thumbholes and extended cuff to keep hands warm and make it easier to throw a jacket on over.

Detail view of McKenna Pullover in light beige.

McKenna Pullover

Made from recycled polyester into a super cozy, yet breathable knit fleece, this pullover is a go-to for fall hiking. We love that the drop shoulder design and relaxed fit make this an easy piece to layer over a lightweight base. The quarter zip nods to classic outdoor style while allowing you to adjust temperatures. Unzip for more airflow, zip for a warmer neck and core heat retention.

Detail view of Stratus Pullover in green.

Stratus Pullover

This is a GREAT option for hiking. We love this for crisp, dry October mornings because its faux sterling fleece is so cozy but the mesh backer on the inside allows this to breathe very well. As with the McKenna, the drop shoulders and relaxed fit make this a breeze to throw on over lighter layers for your fall hike. Plus, this is made with 100% recycled polyester which means it repurposes plastic waste and has significantly reduced emissions compared to virgin polyester.

Fall Hiking Outer Layers

For us, here in the Sierra Nevada, we look for gear that can help protect against the wind more than anything else. Unlike pockets of the country, like the Pacific Northwest just north of us, we don't need to worry so much about precipitation or technical rain jackets. Many hikers choose to wait until the weather is nice to experience an enjoyable hike, and these recommendations for outer layers is perfect for that.

Detail view of Soltex Vest in orange-gold color.

Soltex Vest

A vest is a great option for fall hiking because it will allow for greater airflow during transient temperature swings while still providing warmth to the body's core. We love the Soltex because it has zippered pockets and quick snap closures along the front. It also has a hood and is treated with a water-resistant finish.

Detail view of Alyvia Jacket in dark blue.

Alyvia Jacket

While not a technical jacket, we like the Alyvia Jacket to hike in because of its cushy quilted inner layer and ample pockets. The jacket is also fully lined which makes throwing on over other layers easier. The rib trim at the cuffs helps keep cold air from getting in, but a zipper along the front makes it easy to adjust body temperature as the day goes on.

What about women's hiking pants for fall trails?

Figuring out the best hiking pants for fall is a lot easier than the tops. You can easily choose a good pair of hiking leggings (like the ones below here!) and add on rain pants over if the weather is more severe. A lot of this will come down to personal preference and fit preference. Again, a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes and good wool socks are going to be more important than the pants that you wear for most autumn hiking.

Detail view of Go-Getter Jogger in black.

Go-Getter Jogger

The Go-Getter is a good middle between a legging and a pant. While it is technically classified as a jogger, it is not super cinched at the ankle. Instead, it has a tulip-shaped leg opening and a clean finish. This polished pant could find itself in a casual workplace, but we love it for the trail because it is easy to tuck into most hiking boots, it has pockets at the hip, and offers a UPF rating of 30+ for very good sun protection. It's also made from recycled polyester, which will help with moisture wicking and is easy on the environment.

Woman over looking valley with a sunset from cliff.

Hiking photography from Colleen Goldhorn Creative Co.