Are you wondering what to wear hiking in the Canadian Rockies? We suggest you head out in whatever is comfortable, but don’t forget a hiking jacket, phone, bear spray, and water. You don’t need a new wardrobe for hiking with the latest and greatest tech.
As your hikes lengthen, you delve deeper, and begin to reach loftier heights, you’ll need some solid fundamentals. It’s a good idea to have a smart strategy regarding clothes. Layers are crucial for temperature management and aid in protection from the elements.
Cold weather, rain, sunburn, or bugs will ruin any unprepared hiker’s day. Undoubtedly, quality clothes can be the difference between a good day and a bad one. We spend roughly half our year on the trail and have seen just about every kind of weather the mountains can throw at us.
Tips For What to Wear Hiking
Make Your Plans
When it comes down to what to wear hiking, you don’t need everything on this hiking attire list as it all depends on where you’re trekking, the season, your personal preference, and the route aspects.
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.
We research the route and understand what kind of terrain we will face. It’s a good idea to know the topography of the route and check the weather forecast. A great resource to check the weather is Mountain Forecast and Windy, which forecasts temperatures, precipitation, and wind speeds at various elevations.
Every season does share some basic principles on what you should wear hiking. In the Canadian Rockies, it is always a good idea to pack insulation like a down jacket and a protective layer like a hard shell.
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in the wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. The goal of clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, provide element protection, and manage moisture.
All of that is best done through a layering system. The layering system may not be as important for short hikes at low elevations in the summer, but since most hikes in the Rockies occur at elevation, hikers will deal with cold temperatures.
As you venture further into the mountains the risk of a night outside also presents a greater threat so additional layers are paramount to a safe hike. You do not want to spend a night in the Rockies without warm clothes.
Chose The Right Materials
While layers help manage moisture, 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.
For a more natural choice, try wool or canvas. While it is more cost-prohibitive wool fabrics are amazing and offer a lot of comfort and performance. The best thing about wool is that it’s not a petroleum-based product. If possible, opt for fabrics that are recycled, Bluesign certified, or natural.
Invest In Your Hiking Attire
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.
The environmentally conscious approach is to purchase quality goods that will last for many seasons and thousands of miles. If you’re on a budget, check out your local sporting goods consignment store.
Do You Really Need New Hiking Clothes?
The short answer is NO. A lot of this stuff you probably already have at home. Things like wool socks, underwear, and sunglasses are all things I imagine everyone has at home. I’ve added recommendations on what we currently use during hikes. Of course, there are hundreds of comparable products.
It’s all quality gear that we’ve tried to balance for performance and value. I recommend several vital fundamentals for everyone, like a decent shell/rain jacket and comfortable boots/shoes.
What to Wear Hiking Checklist
- Sports Underwear
- Wools Socks
- Thermal Layers
- Performance Shirt
- Mid Layer
- Shell Jacket
- Down Jacket
- Hiking Shorts
- Hiking Pants or Leggings
- Trail Running Shoes
- Hiking Boots/Shoes
- Buff Headband
Ensure you protect your eyes from the sun. Since hiking is an outdoor activity, it’s essential to wear UV protection. UV strength is increased when you’re at elevation or near reflective surfaces such as water or snow.
This is really important at high altitudes where vegetation is sparse and UV rays are intense. A hike up a pass in the Canadian Rockies can easily leave you sunburned and your eyes strained.
There are a lot of options for sunglasses, and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes. Our personal favorites are the Smith Guide’s Choice and Lowdown 2 because the sunglasses have a broad frame to reduce UV reflection.
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You should pack at least one type of hat to give an added layer of sun protection. We most commonly use a ball cap, but a well-designed sunhat with a wide brim is most effective.
It’s all a matter of personal preference. On a sunny day, you’re going to see a lot of sun on the trail so it’s important to protect yourself. My favorite hats are the LoPro Trucker hats from Patagonia.
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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. It’s also antimicrobial which is ave
I know chafing might sound a little comical, but it’s a real risk when the distance starts to add up — just ask any endurance athlete. For men, I have a couple of pairs of Smartwool wool boxer briefs I’ve been hiking with for years now. For women, it’s all about personal preference, but the Patagonia Barely wool underwear comes in both bikini and thong versions.
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We’ve learned to love our feet with a good pair of socks. You will want to keep your feet nice and dry while you walk around. Most importantly wool socks stay fresh for several days as they have natural antimicrobial properties.
Try to avoid cotton socks as they are well known to cause blisters since they slip, rub, and hold moisture. My personal favorites are Darn Tough merino socks and my feet have never felt cold or wet. As a bonus, they’re produced in Vermont! We also love Smartwool and Farm To Feet!
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This is really specific to winter hikes and went temperatures drop below freezing. In general we do not wear thermals if the temperature is above freezing, you’ll be too hot. It’s an essential item if you’re in alpine conditions while hiking, snowboarding, scrambling, or camping.
For base layers, we recommend they fit snug and are made from a noncotton material like nylon or wool. We’ve had a lot of baselayers, but our favorites are wool base layers from Helly Hansen and Smartwool, and yak wool from Kora.
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I love to wear a comfortable shirt on hot days made from a performance fabric that handles sweat. You should look for a fabric that is lightweight, breathable, and has quick-dry qualities 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 both long-sleeve, short-sleeve, and tank top options, but I wear long-sleeve shirts more these days for added UV protection.
If you’re on the fence about synthetics try out a wool-based shirt. They’re more comfortable than synthetic shirts, and perform equally well. The only negative to wool shirts is their price.
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Average temperatures in the Canadian Rockies are chilly, especially if you have plans to hike in the shoulder seasons. A comfortable sweater or midlayer 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. We have a multitude of mid-layers.
The mid-layer is the one piece of hiking clothing that does not have to be technical. A hiking specific mid-layer will perform better. However, it’s very easy to get by with a comfy fleece or flannel shirt.
There are also a plethora of hiking specific mid-layers that blend insulation and technical shells together. One that stands our in particular is the super popular Arc’teryx Atom.
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There are only a few items we recommend everyone has, and one of them is a down jacket. A down jacket is a staple for travel and outdoor activities as it’s tremendously versatile. They pack down and fit easily in a backpack. However, despite their lightweight nature, they can offer a lot of warmth.
We always recommend you bring a down jacket on just about any hiking trip. When dealing with the mountains and vast temperature shifts, it’s a great way to keep warm without eating up too much space in your hiking backpack. My favorite down jacket is the Arc’teryx Cerium, as it manages to blend the perfect balance between lightweight, performance, style, and fit. No matter the month or season, it’s always down jacket season in Banff!
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The most essential article of clothing for hikers is the shell jacket. You have two options for shell jackets and it is a good idea to have both as it depends on the climate. One option is a sturdy multi-layer rain jacket and the other is a lightweight windbreaker.
They’re both a great item to have on the trails as the shell jacket is designed to protect you from the wind and rain. If there is a chance of rain or cold weather on the trail we always pack one of GoreTex shell jackets.
We have a couple, but I really love my Arc’teryx Zeta FL Jacket for its lightweight construction and performance. Arc’teryx makes the best outdoor apparel on the market, but expect it to come with the highest price tag. Other great options that are far more affordable is the Patagonia Torrentshell and the REI Drypoint.
A lightweight windbreaker is great for those warmer days where a chance of rain looks unlikely. They can help you out 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.
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A great pair of shorts are self-explanatory for keeping yourself cool on a hot hiking day at lower elevations and on warm weather days we love a pair of hiking shorts. Of course, it all depends on the terrain and landscape as sometimes a pair of hiking pants can remain cool while protecting your legs from thick brush or rocks when scrambling up a trail.
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Lightweight pants made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when hiking as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos and branches.
We love to wear two different hiking pants on our travels: the Keb Trouser from Fjallraven and Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants. The most versatile would have to be Outdoor Research pants that are lightweight, look great, and are extremely comfortable. We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
Fjallraven’s Keb pants are a staple, but they are heavyweight, not great for quick dry properties, and extremely durable. If you really want to mix it up, you can opt for hiking tights — Tasha loves those and hikes in them often. Her absolute favorite is made by Handful as they look great on hikes and also around town.
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This is one of those obvious things that can be really easy to forget at home. I’m partial to the simplicity of a canvas belt that has a locking buckle. Canvas belts treated us well, but we’ve now opted for a Jelt belt.
Jelt is a B-corporation based out of Montana that creates elastic belts made from recycled bottles. The belts are tremendous for physical activities as they’re very slim, lightweight, and comfortable.
They now offer quick easy shipping in Canada through their new store online store. There you can shop top-selling travel and outdoor elastic stretch belts and get 2-3 day shipping to most areas throughout. Same-day delivery is available to customers in the Greater Toronto Area.
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We have a collection of Buff Headwear and bring them everywhere. They’re great for a multitude of reasons such as sun/wind protection, a scarf, headband, or an ear warmer. We always have one in the backpack no matter the hike and consider it one top hiking accessory. I imagine most people have one or two of these by now!
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As I’ve said before cold evenings and nights are a frequent occurrence at elevation so a nice beanie to keep your head warm is always nice to have in your pack. It’s small and covering your ears is one of the best ways to warm up.
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Heavy winter gloves are not necessary on the average hike, but a lightweight pair is great for those prone to cold hands. If you’re trekking in cold temperatures consider a pair of lightweight and weatherproof gloves that will protect your hands from the elements.
There are a lot of gloves purpose-built for hiking, jogging, or general sports activities that would be great for your trip. It’s also tremendous in protection from sharp rocks on scrambles or sections where you need to grip rocks.
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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 when it comes to 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 is capable 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 shoes or tennis shoes are more than adequate.
You should also be cognizant of your body’s health. Do you have previous injuries, or are you prone to ankle rolls? If you need extra support, do not hesitate to choose the best option for yourself. For most, these will be high ankle boots.
There has been a long debate on 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 destinations. A still sole in boots helps carry weight on multiday camping trips.
Trail Running Shoes
We both have the Hoka One One’s Speedgoat 5, and they’re great on the trails. They’re pretty heavily cushioned, so they protect your feet from uneven or rough surfaces. The tread pattern is also not too aggressive, so they feel comfortable with gravel surfaces or the gym.
However, if you’re big on the actual sport of trail running, it’s pretty tough to beat the Salomon Speedcross 5. They have a diehard following and food 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. Of course, you’re not a local trail runner until you’ve owned a pair of Speedcross.
As I stated earlier, Banff’s low elevation and easy hikes are on well-maintained trails, so a good pair of hiking shoes or tennis shoes are more than adequate. We mix it up, but if you plan to take any big mountain hikes/scrambles, PLEASE wear hiking-specific shoes or boots. Too often, people get themselves in trouble with the wrong footwear on a trail where a slip could mean serious injury or death.
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This is a great option for more challenging scrambles as approach shoes are designed specifically for the sport and alpine climb approaches. The shoe shares similarities with a hiking boot and climbing shoe. Things such as flat grippy rubber and a protected toe box come from climbing shoes. While a study platform protects the foot from rock strikes and provides support on steep terrain.
On easier scrambles, I’ve found trail running shoes are totally appropriate. However, as you reach more advanced terrain the grip on your shoes is quite literally a life-saver. Not to mention loose scree and rock can shred a pair of trail running shoes like cheese on a grater. I’ve tried a couple pairs of approach shoes now and prefer the Arc’teryx Konseal as my favorite.
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When it comes to hiking, it’s tough to beat purpose-built synthetic boots as they are lightweight, breathable, quick-drying, and often waterproof. While hiking in the mountains, loose rocks are a real threat on the trails, and it’s a good idea to wear decent hiking boots or shoes.
I’d say wear what you’re comfortable with, but if you have plans to head to the wet areas, it would be good to bring a pair of high ankle boots. Ankle-high boots are for protection against thick brush, bugs, and loose rocks.
So owning a good pair of hiking boots will come in handy if you plan to explore different climates. We love the Merrell Moab II that comes in both women’s and men’s versions in addition to high and low-cut versions. They are not the most technical boot, but they’re 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!
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Peak Design Capture Clip
This is has been one of our favorite additions to our camera equipment and hiking outfit. The Peak Design capture clip allows for 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.
The clip feels secure and robust with a straightforward design that makes switching straps easy. We’ve brought it on several hikes around the Canadian Rockies now and it has changed the way in which we photograph hikes. The access it provides to your camera is so much better than a camera strap that allows a camera to swing and bang into everything.
It’s super handy and a must for anyone who wants to carry their camera on hikes, but not have to fumble around in their bag every time they want to take a photo.
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This is a non-negotiable item if you’re in bear country and in some parks, it’s actually required by law. Bear spray should be on your person and not in your pack. We each have a neoprene sleeve that holds our bear spray on our belt pocket. It’s easy to reach in case of an emergency which is the most important detail.
It’s a good idea to make noise while hiking in the bear country, whether that is singing, ringing a bell, clapping, or banging your hiking poles. Be wary of blind spots on your hikes, such as tight bends and forested sections of the trail.
If you’re not going on an overnight backpacking adventure, a daypack should be more than enough to hold your belongings. 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, snacks, water, gloves, chapstick, a buff, 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 light short treks or walking around town. If you don’t have plans for big hikes, any nice backpack will do the job.
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This is a general list of some of the many items we pack when hiking. What we bring revolves around the time of year and the forecasted weather. If you want a more extensive list, check out what to wear hiking for women, hiking for men, and our full backpacking checklist.
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