Dress to Unimpress
While hiking and backpacking can be a fashion show filled with garments like $100 pants and $400 rain shells, it's likely you already have the outfit you need for your first backpacking trip. If it’s easier to know what to avoid we can start there. Leave your jeans and favorite hoodie at home. In fact, don’t bring anything made of cotton, especially not your socks. Why? Because cotton is heavy and does not dry easily once you get it wet. Whether it's sweat or rain, cotton will fail you once it's wet so steer towards synthetic materials like polyester. A simple performance shirt that wicks away moisture is something you likely already have along with running shorts. Moisture wicking outdoor clothing is everywhere from Target to Walmart these days so a pair of moisture wicking pants or shorts won’t break the bank at one of those big box outlets the way they might at REI or Backcountry.com. Dress in layers and keep comfort and ability to manage moisture as much of a priority as warmth is when you choose a mid layer and a shell layer to combat the elements.
Your feet are your number one asset on a backpacking trip so take care of them. Most of the time a pair of Gore Tex boots that come over your ankles will be overkill unless you expect bad weather and rocky terrain. Some experienced hikers say that a pound on your feet equals 5 pounds on your back. This is why lightweight trail runners have become the choice footwear of through hikers and weekend warriors alike. Choose footwear that is light but provides adequate athletic support, breathable and quick drying, and meets your specific needs. Coupled with a good pair of merino wool socks to keep you dry, warm, and blister free, your footwear should be considered the most important piece of gear you own. Oh, bring a designated pair of “sleep socks”. You’ll thank me for it!
All in all, if you don’t look like a combination of an occasional Planet Fitness member and a Cub Scout leader, you’ll be extremely fortunate. The good news is that no one cares what you look like so long as they see you in good health and spirit when you get back to your car and in the drive through at Burger King after completing your first backpacking trip.
Things to consider: What sort of weather can you expect for the area and time of year you will be hiking in? Do you really need additional ankle support or waterproof shoes? What will you wear to sleep so that you are warm and comfortable? Is the area you are hiking in exposed to wind, sun, or prone to thunderstorms or flash flooding?