What To Wear Hiking In Banff & the Canadian Rockies

Don’t worry about what to wear hiking in Banff & the Canadian Rockies. We suggest you head out in whatever is comfortable, but never forget a jacket, phone, bear spray, and water. Most hikers don’t need a new wardrobe with the latest and greatest tech for a simple hike to scenic viewpoints. Save the fancy gear for the mountaineers and those pushing boundaries.

A smart strategy regarding clothes is still a good idea. Every hiker needs solid fundamentals as they delve deeper and reach loftier heights. The right clothes can save your life when hiking the Canadian Rockies in an emergency. At the very least, the right gear makes for a more pleasant day on the trail.

Cold weather, sunburn, blisters, rain, and bugs can ruin any unprepared hiker’s day. I can attest that the right clothing is the difference between a good day and a bad one. We have seen it all in weather and trail conditions.


Tips For What to Wear Hiking


Make Your Plans

Cameron Sits Above Lake Louise In A Down Jacket
Looking down at Lake Louise from Mount Saint Piran

Every hike, run, scramble, or mountaineering objective starts with the planning phase. Walking through the forest to a waterfall in the summer is not the same as summiting a mountain in the winter. As your hikes and objectives reach further into the park and higher elevations, the weather plays a large role in your choices.

Personally, we always research the route and understand what kind of terrain we will face on our hike. Knowing the route’s topography and checking the weather forecast is a good idea. I check the weather on every hike, ski, or bike and pack conservatively based on forecast conditions. It’s best to be prepared for the worst and be surprised by the best.

A great resource for checking the weather is Mountain Forecast and Windy, which forecasts temperatures, precipitation, and wind speeds at various elevations. Various webcams throughout the mountains are a great resource to check conditions before you arrive at the trailhead.

Weather In The Canadian Rockies

Healy Pass
Healy Pass In Early Summer

We enjoy great hiking weather in the Canadian Rockies. We love that we generally don’t have to worry about avoiding the midday heat or stress about dehydration. Summers are very mild, and high-elevation passes and summits are almost always cold. That’s not to say we don’t have warm summer days where we wear shorts and a T-shirt, especially in the valley bottoms.

However, it shouldn’t be too surprising, but with elevation and climate, it’s generally colder. Unless we’re on a very simple hike, we pack a jacket for every hike, and anyone with plans to visit will want to bring some good outerwear. For outfits, we generally wear what you see above in the photo: shorts, shirts, and a jacket.

Layers

Natasha Looks Over A Sea Of Larch Trees In Skoki Area

The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone who has spent time in the wilderness or mountains can say your temperature fluctuates significantly on a hike. I’ve always been a fan of the “be bold and start cold” saying, which means I dress with physical exertion in mind. That way, I don’t sweat once I begin exerting myself, but I can always wear a jacket if it’s too cold. Layers provide the best protection from the elements, allowing hikers to regulate their temperature.

The key to comfort and warmth in the mountains is remaining dry. A sweaty shirt at elevation will pull away your precious body heat and leave you feeling chilly. This system may not be as important for short hikes at low elevations in the summer, but since most hikes in the Rockies occur at high elevations, hikers will deal with cold temperatures.

As you venture further into the backcountry, the risk of spending the night outside also presents a greater threat, so additional layers are paramount to a safe hike. You do not want to stay in the Rockies without some warm clothing. It’s happened to many unsuspecting hikers throughout the years.

Choose The Right Materials

Hiking in Golden British Columbia

While layers help manage temperature, the choice of material is equally important. Synthetic materials dry fast thanks to their moisture-wicking qualities. If clothes fail to dry once you’ve stopped moving, you’ll find you develop a chill fast. It’s best to avoid cotton as it is slow to dry and heavy. Synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester are breathable, wick moisture away, and are durable.

If possible, opt for recycled, Bluesign-certified, or natural fabrics. For a more natural choice, try wool or canvas. While wool is more expensive, it offers great comfort and performance. The best thing about wool is that it’s not a petroleum-based product. I love my wool clothing, but my wallet certainly doesn’t!

Invest In Your Hiking Attire

Anyone who has walked into an Arc’teryx or Fjallraven store knows that the price tags on quality gear can be eye-watering. However, the investment can often pay off in performance and longevity. Cheap items often have a shorter life and thus end up in the landfill sooner. If you think you’ll be hiking and getting outside often, the environmentally conscious approach is to purchase quality goods.

The goal is to have gear that will last for years and thousands of miles instead of cheap stuff on Amazon that could get a hole in it after one use. If you’re on a budget, check out your local sporting goods consignment store. In Canmore, Switching Gear is a great consignment store that offers lower prices on quality goods from reputable, well-known brands.

Do You Really Need New Hiking Clothes?

Natasha Stands On The Summit Of Smutwood Peak

Think about how much time you will spend in the mountains and whether you really need new stuff. The short answer is likely NO. You probably already have a lot of this stuff at home. Wool socks, underwear, and sunglasses are all things I imagine everyone in the closet.

I’ve added recommendations on what we currently use during hikes. Of course, there are hundreds of comparable products. We’ve tried to balance all quality gear for performance and value. I recommend several vital fundamentals, like a decent shell/rain jacket and comfortable boots/shoes.


What to Wear Hiking Checklist

SunglassesPants/Shorts
HatFootwear
UnderwearDaypack
SocksWater
Performance ShirtFood (+Extra Snacks)
Mid LayerHeadlamp
Shell JacketBase Layer (*Winter)
Down JacketGloves (*Winter & Fall)

Sunglasses

Hiking in the Rockies During the Larch Season

Ensure you protect your eyes from the sun. Since hiking is an outdoor activity, wearing UV protection is essential. UV strength is increased when you’re at elevation or near reflective surfaces such as water or snow. This is important at high altitudes with sparse vegetation and intense UV rays.

A hike up a pass in the Canadian Rockies can easily leave you sunburned and your eyes strained. There are many options for sunglasses, and everyone should own at least a pair. Our favorites for hiking are the Smith Guide’s Choice and Lowdown 2 because the sunglasses have a broad frame to reduce UV reflection.

Hat

Hiking Above Barrier Lake in Kananaskis

You should pack at least one type of hat to give an added layer of sun protection. We commonly use a ball cap, but a well-designed sunhat with a wide brim is more effective. It’s all a matter of personal preference.

On a sunny day, you’ll see a lot of sun on the trail, so it’s important to protect yourself. Our favorite hats are the LoPro Trucker from Patagonia and the Lululemon Ponytail hat if you want to wear a high pony.

Sports Underwear

Natasha Swims In Berg Lake In Her Underwear On Hot Summer Day

It’s best to wear underwear that wicks away moisture from your body for multiple reasons. The first is that moisture pulls away heat from your body when you’re in cold temperatures. However, more importantly, it keeps you dry in hot weather and reduces the risk of chafing or discomfort.

Chafing might sound a little comical, but it’s a real risk when the distance adds up — just ask any endurance athlete. We both wear wool performance underwear from Icebreaker. The men’s Anatomica and women’s Siren come in various cuts to match your preference.

Wool Socks

Natasha Sits On Viewpoint Below The Onion Above Bow Lake

We’ve learned to love our feet with a good pair of socks. Happy feet are dry feet, and the key to dry feet is similar to hiking shirts. Avoid cotton socks, as they cause blisters since they slip, rub, and hold moisture. This is why wool has been the classic choice for socks. Our favorite socks for hiking are from Darn Tough. Another great recommendation for socks is Smartwool!

Performance Shirt

Mount Jimmy Simpson Scramble

I love to wear a comfortable shirt made from performance fabric that handles sweat on hot days. You should look for a fabric that is lightweight, breathable, and quick-drying, such as merino wool, nylon, or polyester.

We’ve tried a ton of hiking shirts, but we think the Outdoor Research Echo Shirts are a great value. They have long-sleeve, short-sleeve, and tank top options, but I wear long-sleeve shirts more these days for added UV protection.

If you’re unsure about synthetics, try a wool-based shirt from a company like Unbound. They’re more comfortable than synthetic shirts and perform equally well. The only negative aspect of wool shirts is their price.

Mid Layer

Natasha Hikes Along The Plain Six Glaciers

On the trails, you often come across cold temperatures in the mountains. A comfortable sweater is a great way to remain warm in the mornings and evenings. There are a couple of options for hiking mid-layers. You can choose from a fleece, thermal, down jacket, or softshell jacket. It depends on what you find comfortable and the weather on the trail.

A versatile sweater like the Patagonia Better Sweaters is perfect. It’s a slim-cut fleece with a soft lining that moves well with your body, while the outer material feels tough and shows little to no wear. However, there are many options, and there is rarely a wrong choice. You’ll likely see a ton of locals wearing the Arc’teryx Atom, as it’s a popular synthetic down jacket.

Down Jacket

Mount Jimmy Simpson Scramble

A packable down jacket is an outdoor staple for every hiker. It’s warm and provides decent protection against wind. It also packs down and fits easily in a backpack. We always recommend bringing a down jacket on almost any hiking trip. It’s a great way to keep warm without eating up too much space in your hiking backpack when dealing with the mountains and vast temperature shifts.

My favorite down jacket is the Arc’teryx Cerium, which blends the perfect balance between lightweight, performance, style, and fit. No matter the month or season, it’s always down jacket season in Banff! They stay hanging in our closets all year. Some other great recommendations for down jackets include the Patagonia Down Sweater and REI Co-op 650 Down.

Shell Jacket

Hiking EEOR with Ha Ling Peak in the Background

We always recommend hiking and traveling with a shell jacket. They do an exceptional job of protecting you from the elements in the mountains, which could include wind, rain, or snow. We suggest a packable rain jacket for the outdoors/hiking.

Any rain jacket will do, but the top-dollar ones designed for the outdoors will hold up and help in inclement weather. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof — the wind may be the most important as it can be unrelenting.

A lightweight windbreaker is great for warmer days when the chance for rain looks unlikely. It can help you in a pinch against a surprise shower, chill, or even hordes of insects. A light windbreaker also packs down small and fits easily in a backpack. We both love the Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody for this purpose.

Shell jacket recommendations:

Hiking Shorts

Natasha Sits On Top Of Cirque Peak In Shorts

Even with the mountains’ unpredictable weather, you’ll find us both in shorts on most hikes. We prefer to take the approach of fast and light for our clothing. I find heavy, “traditional” hiking shorts with endless pockets unnecessary and uncomfortable.

Shorts and pockets put pressure on your thighs when hiking up a hill, and they’re redundant to a backpack or vest for storage. Running shorts are far more comfortable. I’ve tried several running shorts, with several wins and misses.

We both love a lined short as it reduces the risk of chafing, but the key is that the liner needs to be brief vs. a bikini cut. Men can check out the REI Co-op Swiftland 7″ Running Shorts & Lululemon Fast & Free Shorts. Natasha loves the Lululemon Hotty Hot Shorts.

Hiking Pants

Cameron stands by a large cornice on Observation Peak

Lightweight synthetic pants are tremendously useful to have in your pack. We wear them most days when hiking because they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos and branches.

For most, we suggest some technical pants made from synthetic material. We love many new hiking pants that have a casual style appropriate for an evening out and the hiking trail. The Men’s Kuhl Renegade and Women’s Kuhl Freeflex pants are exceptional for travel and hiking, but you’ll also see us in Fjallraven Kebs often.

Hiking Footwear

Scrambling in Kananaskis
Scrambling in Kananaskis

I could write dozens of articles on the best shoes for hiking. Truthfully, there are a ton of variables when it comes to footwear. Things to consider are terrain, fit, style, and intended use. I have several different options for footwear for the trail, and I choose based on the day.

Choose a shoe that best fits your everyday needs. A trail running shoe is perfect for most hikers as it works both on and off the trail. That way, you get plenty of use out of your investment. Low elevation and easy hikes in Banff are on well-maintained trails, so a good pair of hiking or tennis shoes is more than adequate. If you need extra support, do not hesitate to choose the best option for yourself.

There has been a long debate about whether you need high-top boots or low-cut shoes to protect your ankles. Truthfully, we own both types and like to wear high-tops on muddy trails or areas with thick vegetation and shoes in warm and dry weather. While the stiff sole in boots helps carry weight on multiday camping trips.

Trail Running Shoes

What to wear hiking
Trail running during the fall

We both have numerous pairs of Salomon Speedcross trail runners, and they’re great on the trails. They have a diehard following in the Rockies, and for good reason. The lightweight shoe is high on comfort, and the aggressive tread pattern ensures you always have a grip. We’ll burn through a pair of these each summer.

However, the shoe is limited in its use. If you want a more versatile shoe, I like to run around my local trails and streets in the Hoka Speedgoat. As I stated earlier, Banff’s low elevation and easy hikes are on well-maintained trails, so a good pair of hiking or tennis shoes is more than adequate.

We mix it up, but if you plan to take big mountain hikes/scrambles, PLEASE wear hiking-specific shoes or boots. Too often, people get in trouble with the wrong footwear on a trail where a slip could mean serious injury or death.

Hiking Boots

Camping near Mount Assiniboine
Camping near Mount Assiniboine

It’s tough to beat purpose-built synthetic boots, as they are lightweight, breathable, quick-drying, and often waterproof. Ankle-high boots protect against thick brush, bugs, and loose rock. A good pair of hiking boots is useful for exploring different climates.

We love the Merrell Moab, which comes in high and low-cut versions. They are not the most technical boots, but they are always reliable and never give you a blister. I took a brand new pair on a backpacking trip and hiked 30 kilometers a day in them with no threat of blisters. Most importantly, they’re the best value for hiking boots!

Daypack

Mount-Temple
Hiking with Mount Temple in the Background

A daypack should be enough to hold your belongings if you’re not going on an overnight backpacking adventure. No matter what you do in Banff, you will want a daypack to store your belongings. My daypack usually consists of a shell jacket, down jacket, hiking poles, bear spray, food, water, gloves, chapstick, sunscreen, headlamp, camera, first aid kit, navigation, and an emergency blanket.

While not everyone needs an alpine pack, the key to take away is to opt for the correct size pack. I love a versatile size around the 30L mark. 30L gives enough room for gear-heavy days, but it’s light enough for short treks or walking around town. If you don’t have plans for big hikes, any nice backpack will do the job. A reliable daypack is the Osprey Tempest and Talon.

Thermal Layers

Cameron Stands In Snow Along The Route Up

This is really specific to winter hikes and when temperatures drop below freezing. In general, we do not wear thermals if the temperature is above freezing. However, they’re essential if you’re in alpine conditions while hiking, snowboarding, scrambling, or camping.

We recommend base layers that fit snugly and are made from a noncotton material like nylon or wool. We’ve had many base layers, but our favorites are wool base layers from Helly Hansen and Smartwool.

Toque

natasha on tent ridge

As I’ve said before, cold evenings and nights are frequent at elevation, so a small beanie to keep your head warm is always nice to have in your pack. Covering your ears is one of the best ways to warm up, and it takes up little space in a backpack.

Gloves

Scrambling above Peyto Lake
Scrambling above Peyto Lake

Heavy winter gloves are not necessary on the average hike, but a lightweight pair is great for those prone to cold hands, as it gets quite cold at elevations in Banff. If you’re trekking in cold temperatures, consider a pair of lightweight, weatherproof gloves that protect your hands from the elements. Many gloves are purpose-built for hiking, jogging, or general sports activities that would be great for your trip.


Peak Design Capture Clip

smutwood peak

This has been one of our favorite additions to our camera equipment and hiking outfit. The Peak Design Capture Clip allows a camera to be clipped onto your backpack strap or belt. It has to be one of the best accessories we’ve ever used for carrying our camera while hiking in Banff (because you will want to take lots of photos!)


Bear Spray*

Bear Spray Hiking

This is a non-negotiable item if you’re in bear country. In some parks, it’s actually required by law. Bear spray should be on your person, not in your pack. We each have a neoprene sleeve that holds our bear spray in our belt pocket. It’s easy to reach in an emergency, which is the most important detail.

It’s a good idea to make noise while hiking in the bear country, whether singing, clapping, or banging your hiking poles. Be wary of blind spots on your hikes, such as tight bends and forested sections of the trail. We have a post with tips for hiking with bears.


Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies

  • Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service connecting you from the Calgary International Airport (YYC) to Banff or Canmore.
  • Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip, we like to compare camper prices on Outdoorsy.
  • Cheaper Airfare: We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals and like to use travel credit cards to hack our way into free flights and hotels! Our favorite cards are the Capital One Venture X and Chase Sapphire, which both work well in Canada and have no foreign transaction fees.
  • Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!

↓ Join the community ↓

The Banff Blog Facebook Group is your headquarters for Canadian Rockies travel advice and information, including hike and off-season travel information. You can also meet new adventure buddies.

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About Cameron

Cameron is a resident of Canmore, Alberta. After traveling the world for six years, he settled down in the beautiful Bow Valley with Natasha. He has been featured as a travel expert with numerous publications worldwide and has spoken on several occasions about the power of travel. He has a passion for all things in the Canadian Rockies and loves to spend his time snowboarding, scrambling, camping, biking, and trail running. Conservation is a deep fundamental in his life, and he aims to inspire others to care about our natural world. You can learn more on the about us page.

If you have found the content on this site helpful to your trip planning please consider supporting The Banff Blog. You can say thanks directly by buying us a coffee. All support is much appreciated!

7 thoughts on “What To Wear Hiking In Banff & the Canadian Rockies”

  1. Thank you for all this great information. I’m just starting to hike with a group and rather than ask 10 people what they’d recommend, I believe I’ve found all I need here!! I own some items you mention, but needed more understanding of other specific ones. Got what I was looking for right here. Great recommendations!!

    Reply
  2. Thanks for this post! I am overthinking my shoe choice for sure. We’re doing Whistler, Jasper and Banff soon and have booked the Ridgewalker Via Ferrata in Banff. Do you think the Merrell Moab’s will be good enough?? I did just buy the Oboz X low Sawtooth but thinking of returning for the Merrell…
    Any thoughts?? Should I get a actual boot vs. shoe??

    Reply
    • Hi Shannon,

      I’ve never tried Oboz, but I do love my Moabs, which come in ankle length boots as well as a more shoe type version. I’m unsure what kind of hikes you have planned. Typically I love hiking in day hikes in my trail runners and then in my boots for multi day hikes. If you’re prone to rolling your ankle I could go with the boots.

      Reply

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