Hiking hot – is it just us?

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    Elliott Wolin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia

    In the Canadian Rockies the past three weeks (yea retirement!) my wife and I noticed over and over that although we were hiking in t-shirts and short pants, the vast majority of other hikers wore long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and even hats, vests, and warm jackets.

    Unless it’s cold or rainy we typically get down to shorts and t-shirts within the first 20 minutes of hiking, unless we wise-up beforehand and start that way.  Any additional clothing would cause us to overheat, sweat, and generally be uncomfortable.

    How do all the others stand it?  Or is it just us?  I’m not talking about near major tourist dropoff points, where it’s even worse (down jackets, gloves, scarves), but a decent way in where only more serious hikers are usually seen.

    Do we just run really hot?  Do they generate much less heat?  Do they not mind the heat and sweating?  Or do they think they are not really hiking unless they are hot and sweaty?  As a corollary, they generally hike much faster than us, upping the heat generation, but our being 65 years old may have something to do with hiking speed.

    Is everyone like them?  Is anyone like us?

    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    Locale: California

    It needs to be well below 50F before I hike in anything but shorts and a thin long-sleeved shirt. OTOH, my wife might wear a down jacket and long pants on the same hike.

    I taught whitewater raft guides to check guests for signs and symptoms of hypothermia, and carry a keychain thermometer for independent reference. Most guides become acclimated to cold water and breezes, and might not realize that (some) guests are hunkering down and shivering.

    Some famous long-distance hikers wear long sleeves and long pants for sun and bug protection. I presume they get used to that. I tried, and can’t.

    So much variation between people that making sweeping generalizations isn’t useful.

    — Rex

    Tom K
    BPL Member


    “Some famous long-distance hikers wear long sleeves and long pants for sun and bug protection. I presume they get used to that. I tried, and can’t.”

    A lot of hikers, including myself and most of those I know, wear long sleeved shirts and pants for exactly the reasons you mention.  Doing it in comfort is a matter of proper fabric selection and judicious use of permethrin, IMO, and the payoff in terms of protection from sun and bugs is huge.  OTOH, I met Scott Robinson on a PCT section hike a few years back, and he was wearing shorts and a short sleeved shirt.  On a bug infested section of the trail.  Maybe the bugs couldn’t keep up with him?  ;0)

    In the end, though, you’re right:  People are too varied for generalizations to be of much use.


    BPL Member


    Locale: Puget Sound

    @ Elliott Wolin       I’m with you guys. Unless I’m stopped or in a particular windy or cold part of the season, I’m in just a wool/nylon t-shirt and a pair of short shorts. Even then I’m still in shorts. I’ll just double duty my rain gear for pants and maybe put on my R1. Used to hike in pants but found that by the end of the day my pants were completely soaked from sweat. On the other hand I do wear knee high compression socks but they do breath surprisingly well. I like a modular system. I’ve found shorts and t-shirt are the core of this system.


    John Vance
    BPL Member


    Locale: Intermountain West

    I turn sixty next year and hike in shorts and a 1/4 zip long sleeve base layer from the thirties and up.  If I am on the move I am fine with a wind shirt added from time to time.  I see people hiking in the same conditions wearing long pants, jackets, hats and gloves.   Just spent 12 days in the Winds, which were quite warm for the first half, passing other hikers dressed for cold weather when it was warm and sunny.  I also noticed that my hiking partner and I were the only ones swimming in lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers.   They thought we were nuts but it was plenty warm out and the water was unseasonably warm in many places.

    matthew k


    I hike warm too. I always shed insulation before I start walking.

    I wear loose fitting long sleeve shirts for sun/bug protection because the only thing I dislike more than being warm is the feeling of sunscreen/bug repellent. I find that polyester or poly blend shirts are adequately cool when the fit is loose.

    Paul Wagner
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wine Country

    I get warm the minute I start hiking.  Even in coolish weather(45-50 F) I can work up a sweat after a few minutes hiking–I’ll be down to my shorts and shirt, even if I started wearing a fleece or more.   My wife, on the other hand, starts out cold and it takes her quite a while to warm up–sometimes as much as 45 minutes or an hour.  And that’s only if the weather warms up.

    When we hike in snow, I am still down to long pants and a shirt (no underlayer for the shirt) within minutes.  She hikes bundled up to her ears in down and wool.  But when we stop for lunch, I have to put on everything I own within a minute or two, or I start shivering violently.  She sits down in her warm clothes and enjoy lunch, wondering why I am so anxious to start moving again.

    Different folks….

    Elliott Wolin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia

    Ah yes, bugs and sun, I didn’t mention that.  We have been lucky recently and rarely encountered bad bugs.  Not sure what I’d do, either long sleeve shirt / wind jacket / pants, or DEET.  We also carry bug headnets if we expect bugs.

    As for sun, in the relatively low altitudes and forested areas we’ve been hiking in recently, it hasn’t been a problem, and we just come back with a light tan.  We carry umbrellas and sunscreen, we’d likely use one or the other if the sun was bad, and maybe add long sleeves/pants, especially on bright snow.  Although a while back we hiked on sunny snow on the Wonderland Trail with no problem with just shorts and t-shirts (but it was a relatively short stretch).

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    I’m with you in that I also heat up a lot when hiking and I hate being overly warm.  I’ve always been that way (to a crazy extent as a 20-something when I’d be in shorts whenever it was was above freezing).  Other people often have one or two more layers on than I do.

    I’ve found that one can develop more cold adaption by consciously going a little light on the layers going into winter.  I’ll do that on an hour-long dog walk rather than risking getting over-chilled on a longer trip.

    One mantra that’s helped me is the Inuit idea of “Never sweat”.  I start from the car dressed as I will be in 20 minutes (i.e. one layer less).  I shed layers before an uphill stretch.  I try to pace my activity with a speed and climb rate I can maintain for hours rather than sprints and rests.  I keep a warm hat and puffy at the ready for when I stop because I’m not over-heated, but mostly I don’t stop for hours at a time.

    Clothing that helps me in the North is light-colored (also much better for mosquitos!) synthetics that don’t get soaked like natural fibers do.  Our low-angle sun is never super-warming, but the light colors help.

    For high-elevation hikes (Sierra, Rockies, anything in Colorado), I like a Sunbrella / Chrome Dome – 8 ounces, silvered.  It feels 15-20F cooler underneath AND it blocks the intense ultraviolet AND it works in the rain without limiting my view and hearing like a parka hood does.  It doesn’t work in high winds, yeah, but that’s not many hours of each trip.

    For hot & dry areas, I either use snugger-fitting synthetics so the sweat evaporates NEAR MY SKIN where it will cool me, or if there is any surface water around (e.g. GCNP main trail corridor), I’ll wear a white, 100% cotton, button-down business shirt and also have a soaked bandana around my neck, flipping it over every minute.  I find apply a pint of stream water to my cotton bandana / shirt is less tiring than drinking an additional pint and sweating it out.  The trick is to apply the last water to the cotton clothing not too late in the afternoon so it’s mostly dried off come evening.

    Elliott Wolin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia

    “One mantra that’s helped me is the Inuit idea of “Never sweat””

    That has been our mantra since I took a winter mountaineering course in college in 1973.  The instructor told us to always be “comfortable cool” if at all possible.  And we’ve been doing this since then on all our trips, in all seasons.

    Maybe the many overdressed day hikers we came across don’t follow this, as I suppose it’s not that important on a fair-weather day hike.

    MJ H
    BPL Member


    To much undergrowth with thorns and such. If I go outside, I wear long trousers unless I know I won’t be near plants.

    BPL Member


    I prefer to sweat than be shivering. If my attire is quick drying, which it almost always is when hiking, it’s no big deal. I detest feeling cold. Part of that is my age, and also my arthritis, which is much more painful when cold. I always have an extra layer along.

    My husband is in shorts and T-shirt from about 40 degrees F. and up. I am in long pants and long sleeve shirt up to about 70. Right this minute, he is in bare feet, and I’m wrapped in a fuzzy robe, with hood up, and wool socks. It’s about 67 inside.

    One day we were going someplace, and I had on a light puffy, hat, and fleece gloves, and he had shorts and T-shirt. I said “it’s  so cold today,” he said “it’s really warm today.” Then simultaneously we said “it’s 45 degrees!”


    Tom K
    BPL Member


    “Maybe the many overdressed day hikers we came across don’t follow this, as I suppose it’s not that important on a fair-weather day hike.”

    You should be careful about judging other hikers by your metabolic standards.  Overdressed is mostly a relative term.  In any case, why do you care how other people dress?  Just do your own thing and not worry about how others appear to be dressed.

    Lester Moore
    BPL Member


    Locale: Olympic Peninsula, WA

    You should be careful about judging other hikers by your metabolic standards. Overdressed is mostly a relative term.

    Much depends on the individual: how much one sweats and what environment that one is accustomed to hiking in. I used to do winter mountaineering with a guy who sweat so much he would change his base layers and glove liners at the end of the approach before we started the climb. In contrast, his wife can climb up the same slope wearing a down jacket and hardly break a sweat.

    Unless it’s in the 90’s or it’s a short hike, I wear long woven pants and a long sleeve woven shirt – for bugs, brush and sun protection. With the addition of liner gloves and a hat the same outfit works OK down into the 30’s if it’s not windy and I’m moving. As David mentioned, periodically drenching your shirt in a stream and then wearing it is a great way to stay cool on really hot days. You can also pack snow under your hat to cool off deliciously on a roasting day.

    Todd T
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    One mantra that’s helped me is the Inuit idea of “Never sweat”

    I’ve heard that all my life, but I just don’t get it. It can be deeply below freezing and I can be wearing nothing but a thin shirt, and I’ll still sweat.  Everyone says “slow down,” but the sweat doesn’t stop until I’m stopped. My mantra is “change out of the sweaty clothes quickly when I get to camp.”

    But back on topic, I loathe hiking in long sleeves or pants.  I’ll do it when it’s real cold (say, below about 35 deg), but on the hot end, the sun’s got to be pretty darn blasty before I’ll wear sleeves.  I’ll wear pants if I’m expecting a lot of brush, especially if there are ticks (I treat my clothes with Permethrin), but I still won’t like it.  If the bugs are especially voracious I’ll slip on a thin long-sleeved (treated) shirt, and once in a blue moon I’ll hike with a headnet if I’m inhaling skeeters.

    So no, it’s not just y’all.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Colorado

    I find the sun shining on my skin makes me hotter than covering up, so in hot weather I cover up. I actually cover up more during the heat of summer than at other times of the year, but I also mainly hike in the desert. I’m not a fan of sunscreen or bug spray, so my permethrin treated long sleeve shirts, pants, gloves, and hats do double duty.  Selecting the right gear is key. There is some really well designed hot weather hiking clothing out there. I’m a fan of Rail Riders, especially my Eco-Mesh pants.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    Karen hit on one difference: She’d rather sweat than shiver.  I’m the reverse.

    There are also very clearly people who LIKE to sweat as evidenced by the existence of “Hot Yoga” classes.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    “why do you care how other people dress?”

    In Elliot’s (and my) defense, while we invoked the “never sweat” mantra as it relates to comfort; we learned it in survival settings and in an era of wool, cotton, 60/40 parkas, etc.

    If someone was 10 miles from a trailhead in the California Sierra in July in cotton t-shirt and shorts (with no extra gear), we’d objectively say they were under-dressed or at least unprepared for an afternoon thunderstorm that could cause it to go from 61F and sunny to 42F with wind and heavy rain.

    Can someone be objectively over-dressed?  Sure – if they cause themselves heat exhaustion.  Short of that, the UL arguments I have with overdressing are 1) I’d carry and consume more water, 2) that water is needed to go into sweat which makes my clothing less effective, 3) wet clothing weighs more, 4) while yes, I can bring more clothes to change into, but that’s also more weight.

    But obviously, HYOH.  We each have different metabolisms, different cold tolerances (which we can effect) and different enjoyment/discomfort with being a bit warm or cold.

    I think the more universal application of the “never sweat” concept is planning ahead – being proactive instead of reactive.  You like to hike warm?  Fine.  But if you shed one layer BEFORE the hill climb instead of halfway up it, you’ll sweat into your clothing a lot less.

    For our first maternity leave, we had a choice between Break-up (mud season) in Alaska or Springtime in Paris.  We choose Paris.  Walking through a street market, I started counted who had 1-2-3 more layers on than we did.  I stopped counting when it was all of the first 200 people.

    The FIRST sub-freezing day each winter is a reason to put a sweater on while the LAST day around 0C/32F is shorts and t-shirt weather. Back when we got real winters, the first sub 0F/-18C December day felt really cold while the last such day in February was just another day of skiing.  Our cold tolerance definitely changes with our recent exposure.

    BPL Member


    I like shorts for being active and will always wear shorts while moving. But pretty much anything under ~60 with a bit of wind and I want long sleeves.

    BUT, I don’t hike for exercise. I hike as a break from years of bike racing. To do something slow, easy, non-competitive and actually enjoy nature without zipping though at maximum heart rate. The reason I’m walking is cuz I want to be moving slowly. I don’t want to be sweating or working out. That’s not to say I don’t accidentally get some exercise when the trail goes really steep for a long time. And of course I’ll always be warmer than sitting still. But I’m not working up a sweat in 40 degree weather.

    brian H
    BPL Member


    Locale: Siskiyou Mtns

    i am a hat person…most times i step out i am hatted. but i hike so warm my head overheats and often my glasses fog up. so i usu hike in a visor. sometimes even it makes my head too hot! years ago on a thru hike my buddy wore a felt fedora…thats just not even doable 4 me. HYOH eh?

    BPL Member


    I’m like a lizard. I break out the thermal underwear when the temperature is below about 70F, if I’m not physically active. I dress more lightly for hiking, as I actually do get warm, but always in long sleeves, long pants, and gloves. That’s partly because I can’t use most sunscreens, and the very few I can use come in tiny, expensive packages. The few times I wore a T-shirt in hot weather I didn’t feel any cooler than I would wearing long sleeves, though.

    Erica R
    BPL Member


    Just Us includes all of our differences.

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    I wear a an extra light, long sleeved shirt and hike in baggy, nylon pants.
    1) Because they are cooler than leaving my skin exposed to the sun they have good sun protection. This slows sweating.
    2) Initially, they are warmer, but, they hold sweat next to your skin and soak it away into the shirt/pants. Then the cloths get cooler forming a micro-climate. The micro-climate is held next to you actually cooling you off better than hiking in shorts/bare chested, short sleeves or short pants.
    3) Your sweat glands are not distributed evenly on your body, soo, soaking the sweat into say a long sleeved shirt allows sweaty areas to distribute water making your sweat more efficient at evaporating heat away from you. Your whole shirt and pants get damp. A good example is on your arm. You can see beads of sweat on your arm. You are better off soaking that water to the surrounding area for cooling.
    4) Brush & scrub are always digging at my legs. The long pants and shirt help a LOT protecting your skin from breaks.
    5) Bug protection is important, also. Many bugs have to bore their way into your skin to get a meal. They simply cannot get through a tight woven or knitted sleeve/pants leg. Blackflies, deerflies, horse flies and stable flies are good examples, here. However, the UL shirts and pants are not stinger/proboscis proof. A mosquito or bee can bite through them.
    6) They provide a layer for soaking permethrin and bug dope into. Not all bugs are deterred by bug dope, but you use far less when applied to your clothing, rather than your skin. Permethrin attaches to clothing and does not bleed into your skin and body.

    Anyway, hiking in short sleeves/short pants are like asking for an increased risk of scratches, bites and even skin cancer. I never do it.

    Elliott Wolin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia

    “In Elliot’s (and my) defense, while we invoked the “never sweat” mantra as it relates to comfort; we learned it in survival settings and in an era of wool, cotton, 60/40 parkas, etc.”

    To show how retro I am, I recently purchased another 60/40 jacket for winter use and for x-c skiing to replace the one I made decades ago that no longer fits (I didn’t know Taslan could shrink!).  It’s heavy, but fine for day hikes and skiing in the colder weather (it’s from Varusteleka).  And it fits over my super-puffy down jacket.  But it’s way too heavy for backpacking.

    Elliott Wolin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia

    Based on the responses it’s clear people vary tremendously in their level of heat generation and tolerance of being sweaty or cold.  And it’s clear my wife and I are on the high end of heat generation when exercising, and the low end of tolerance of being sweaty (although my wife chills easily and usually requires more clothing than I do).  In other words, we’d much rather be cool/cold than hot and sweaty.

    As for covering up to keep cooler, I don’t think this works for me.  The difference I feel when I switch from long to short pants is dramatic (usually I wear zip-offs), allowing the air to cool my legs makes a tremendous difference.  I can’t imagine keeping long pants on under such conditions unless the bugs or sun are fierce.  The same is less so for long- vs short-sleeved shirt, but still quite noticeable.

    So, I’ll continue to hike along in shorts and t-shirt in cool Autumn weather when everyone else other than my wife has jackets, down vests, and warm pants on.  Maybe all the heat generation will help me to lose some weight!

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