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A beginner’s guide to climbing clothes

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Climbing clothes are not exactly the height of fashion, but they are an absolute must for safe hiking. If you’re an experienced climber or hiker, you’ve probably got already got an entire wardrobe of purpose-designed climbing clothes. You know the score. For those that aren’t quite so experienced, or are planning their first hiking expedition, this guide is for you.

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Why climbing clothes are important

Whether it’s a leisurely local hike or you’re embarking on an El Chalten hiking trail, climbing can be a risky business. You’re out there in the elements, and things can go very wrong very easily. There’s a lot that you can’t control. Your choice of apparel and equipment, however, is within your control. Wearing the right climbing clothes is a bare minimum level of protection, and it just might save your life.

You wouldn’t wear a swimsuit to a wedding, because it would be neither appropriate nor fit for purpose. Likewise, there are certain clothes you absolutely should wear when hiking, and some that you should avoid.

What climbing clothes do you need for hiking?

You could fill a wardrobe with climbing clothes, and many hikers pick up their equipment in stages over many years. When starting out, however, there are some absolute must-have climbing clothes. There’s no need to get fancy at this early stage, but it’s always advisable to buy quality gear from reputable producers and labels. Let’s start from the bottom up.


It’s easy to take footwear for granted, but don’t. Anybody who has tried to walk even a short distance on a flat surface in a pair of uncomfortable shoes will understand. Take “short distance” and “flat surface” out of the equation, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Proper shoes are some of the most vital climbing clothes of all.

At the bare minimum, you’ll need:

  • Thick, warm socks
  • Good quality hiking boots

Lower body

Warmer or colder climates will call for particular gear. If you’re planning to start somewhere extremely cold or extremely warm, either reconsider, or look for some specific items. Assuming that you’re starting your hiking life with something a little more moderate, you should pick up:

  • A comfortable and breathable trousers that are windproof and waterproof, Gore-Tex if possible
  • Lightweight longjohn underwear
  • Comfortable nylon shorts

Upper body

Wear the wrong climbing clothes and you’ll know all about it. Try to avoid dark colours and cotton, as both will leave you uncomfortably hot. Your minimum buy here should include:

  • A good quality light jacket that is comfortable and breathable
  • A heavier, insulated jacket
  • A warm fleece
  • Ladies should pick up a synthetic sports bra, as cotton or other material may cause you to overheat


We’ve got a decent shopping list so far, but it’s not complete without a few accesories. It’s easy to forget this stuff, so take note. You’ll want:

  • A good pair of waterproof gloves
  • A durable, warm hat (or balaclava)
  • Proper sunglasses with strong UV protection
  • A headlamp with replacement batteries and lightbulbs

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