The key word for what to wear camping is layers. The next keywords are moisture-wicking, followed up with pockets and pouches. Seasons also make a difference, as do location and planned activity.
Whether you’re planning for an overnight event or heading to the backcountry for a week or longer, when you leave behind your solid four walls and a roof, preparation is key.
You might not really think about underwear when selecting what to wear camping, but your undies are going to make a huge impact on your personal comfort, especially if this is an active camping trip that involves hiking or biking.
They are important for boating and swimming, trips, too. And no, your two-piece swimsuit isn’t going to be comfortable underwear for an all-day or week-long event. Look for moisture-wicking, odor-resistant undies that have flat bands, no tags and are made of a material that feels good on your skin all day long.
You might want to try out your camping underwear by wearing it under regular street clothing a few times, just to check the comfort. When you leave civilization, you don’t want knickers that pinch, twist, pull into areas that cause discomfort, or that make you break out in a rash.
If you require an upper foundation garment, you want one that’s the right size around, supports your breasts so that they don’t bounce, is close-fitting, but isn’t so tight that you feel breathless.
Some suggested underwear fabrics are:
- Polyester, or Poly/Nylon/Spandex Blends: These have the advantage of stretching, and can be close-fitting without binding. For the guys, many shorts of this nature provide extra support, and for the gals, extra moisture-wicking provides extra comfort.
- Merino Wool or Merino/Polyester Blends: Wool wicks away moisture naturally, and merino wool is the very softest type. It warms in winter and breathes in summer. It naturally wicks away moisture, which can help with keeping private areas dry and comfortable. Nothing chaffs quite like a pair of wet underdrawers.
- Cotton: Cotton gets mixed reviews. Some sources say that it wicks moisture and breathes very well, while others say that it doesn’t. Cotton jersey is usually comfortable and is the perfect answer for people who are allergic to synthetics or to wool or both.
Always pack extra underwear. A pair of briefs or even boxers doesn’t take up a lot of space and could be the difference between immediate comfort or hours of discomfort. Clean undies can also help protect you from mold or yeast infections, as well.
Nearly everyone knows to guard against germs that can enter through your mouth or nose, but your nether regions also have apertures that can admit infectious materials that can create discomfort. No one needs that when you are miles from the nearest telephone.
Socks that fit well are a must. If you’re hiking or biking, the last thing you want is a sock that bunches, has a seam that rubs or a sock top that continuously has to be pulled up. Socks help keep shoes from rubbing blisters on your feet.
Moisture-wicking is a very good idea. If you are dressing for cold weather, two pairs of socks in a slightly oversized shoe is better than one thick pair of socks.
Next Layer Over Your Skin
Your next layer could easily be a tank top and a close-fitting garment such as bike pants, yoga pants slacks liner or thermal underwear.
If your yoga pants, bike pants or thermals have a built-in panty or underwear section, then feel free to skip the regular underwear. For female campers, this can be a preventative for yeast or similar infections that can be aggravated by moisture trapped by several layers of pants. For guys, it can help prevent uncomfortable bunching.
This layer should definitely be moisture-wicking. If you’re exercising for a long while, you’re likely to perspire if you’re wearing several layers of clothing. The dampness from your perspiration can cause chilling when you stop walking or biking.
For summer camping or hiking, this first layer could be a pair of close-fitting outer-wear shorts worn with knee socks.
This is the layer that will keep you reasonably warm on a brisk, spring or late fall morning. This could be a pair of relaxed fit jeans, gabardine slacks or a pair of cargo pants.
The cargo pants have the advantage of providing storage for small supplies, but also have the disadvantage that when you take them off you lose your extra storage capacity. This layer should fit close enough over your under layer that it’s unlikely to catch on bushes or get hung up in a bike chain, but still leave enough room that you can move comfortably and not feel your thermal long johns or yoga pants bunching up under them.
On top, wear a long-sleeved shirt. Depending on the season, it could be cotton or cotton flannel. It should button or snap – not zip – down the front, and have fasteners at the cuff that will keep sleeves secure to the wrists so that they don’t flap about or hang up on things.
A Pause to Reflect on Layers and Seasons for What to Wear Camping
For mild weather, the above clothing will be sufficient for many activities. However, most areas do have seasons. In some areas, temperatures change as the day progresses.
At this point, we will take a few minutes to reflect on sweaters, jackets, coats, and waterproofing.
- Sweaters: Sweaters are essentially an insulation layer. On their own, they are usually too breathable to provide true warmth. Under a light windbreaker, however, they can keep the wearer quite toasty in moderately chilly temperatures.
- Windbreakers: These light jackets can be pulled on over several other layers – such as a long-sleeved shirt, followed by a sweater, before adding the windbreaker. Some are waterproof or at least water-resistant. This gives the advantage of helping keep your torso dry so that your core has a better chance of remaining warm.
- Coats: Puffy jacket coats or coats that have a tail that extends below the hips can provide serious warmth. These can be good to have on hand if you’re doing gray or winter camping. They have the disadvantage, however, of adding a lot of personal weight and being difficult to fasten onto a backpack if you’re hiking.
- Dusters: Developed for horseback riding in all sorts of weather, these long-tailed coats don’t work well for hiking, especially in brushy regions. Nor do they work well on bicycles or motorcycles because the long tails have a real potential for hanging up in the works. If you’re riding a horse, however, the split back and long flaps are ideal for protecting your body and legs from rough weather. Amazingly, they do well for long-distance walking, especially if you need a portable windbreak for your lower body.
What to Wear Camping for Serious Cold Weather
There might be a lot of reasons for camping during seriously cold weather. These might range from hunting during the correct season for certain animals to fleeing the zombie apocalypse. You can learn how to heat your tent or simply get proper clothes with you.
Layering is still key, and so is comfortable undergarments. You might want to trade out the yoga or bike shorts for long yoga pants or bike pants. Or you might even want to exchange that layer for a pair of thermals or woolen long johns. Again, that first layer should fit close to the skin, but shouldn’t be tight.
The second layer should be very similar to the spring/autumn second layer. You might want to add a long sweater-vest, or cardigan over the shirt – or even both. Wool is warm, and for this layer, you probably won’t have to worry about allergies. It takes a long time to dry if it gets wet, however, so acrylic can also work for the sweater layer.
Jeans, walking slacks or cargo pants still work at this level. For some climates, that will be enough.
Super Cold Weather Gear
In some parts of the world, your basic layers aren’t going to be enough for outdoor survival. If you’re in Jack London, light that fire with the first match territory because you’re going to need some serious insulation.
Insulated Overalls or Snow Suits, Parachute Pants
- Insulated Overalls: These are insulated pants that have straps over the shoulders, a back, and a bib. They can be pulled on over regular pants to provide an extra layer of weather protection. As a third layer of clothing, they help trap warmed air next to the body. Overalls are usually teamed with a heavy jacket or coat.
- Insulated Coveralls: Similar to overalls in that they are an insulated trouser, but they are structured more like a child’s sleeper or snowsuit in that they are pants and coat all in one. They can be worn as a complete outer layer where having loose coat tails could be a hazard, but where warmth is desired. They are popular with folks who must take care of power lines, roads, and similar structural items during cold winter weather.
- Parachute Pants, or Wet Weather Bike Gear: Like insulated overalls, these are usually worn over an underlayer. If you must bike to work or school during winter, these are more practical than insulated overalls or coveralls that can be too bulky or heavy. As camping gear, they are a midway compromise between the heavier gear and the spring/autumn layers.
With all those layers, a coat might almost seem like an afterthought. It isn’t. Think of your coat as a sort of mobile tent. It helps keep warmth in, near your body. You need those underlayers, though. They are like the insulation layers inside a house. Your coat is more like the weather-proof siding on the outside.
There are a broad variety of coats in addition to the different types described above:
- Down filled
- Waterproof (not usually insulated)
- Short (jacket length)
- Medium (mid-thigh length)
- Long (dusters, long woolen dress coats, mackintoshes)
The kind of coat that works best for you is the one you should wear – but be sure to layer underneath it so that if you become overly warm you can peel off a layer without becoming chilled.
Boots and Shoes
The boots or shoes that you wear camping should suit your general activity. That might mean water socks for camping by the lake, riding boots if horses are involved, high-topped hiking boots for walking, or bike shoes for biking.
In all cases, high tops and closed toes are your best choice for foot protection. Your shoes choice should be lined with a good sock choice, to prevent blisters and to wick moisture. Waterproof footwear is recommended for wet weather. In all cases, your shoe should allow your feet to breathe, should be comfortable for your chosen activity, and should be durable.
You might want a pair of crocs, flip-flops or sandals to wear in camp, but these should be more like camping house slippers than your primary shoes.
- Backpack: Even if you’re just going for a day camp hike, a backpack allows you to carry water, snacks, a first aid kit, a multitool, a change of underwear and socks, and your swimsuit. Remember, never wear your swimsuit as underwear.
- Fanny Pack: If a backpack seems too bulky, a fanny pack can contain simple things like change of underwear and thin pair of socks, mini first aid kit, a candy bar or package of nuts and your identification.
- Gloves: In cold weather, gloves will help save your fingers from frostbite. In extremely cold weather, wear a pair of mittens over your gloves. In warm weather, a pair of light jersey gloves or garden gloves can save your hands when setting up camp.
- Hat: For summer, you want a wide, shady hat that will keep off the sun. For winter, a good stocking cap or hood that will pull down over your ears will help keep your body heat contained.
- Scarf: Can be used to keep hair out of face, substitute for a hat or cap, keep chill wind from blowing down the neck of your coat.
- Neckerchief: Much beloved by the cowboys of the United States Wild West. It can be used to pull up over mouth and nose to filter dust or smoke, dampened and used as a washcloth, or used as a handkerchief. You might want a spare, just in case.