Winter has released its cold grasp on the world, the rivers and streams have begun to thaw, and pink buds are starting to dot the outstretched tree limbs. Spring is an awakening of life, a return of warmth, and the beginning of longer days.

Visiting the Oregon Coast in Spring
With scenery like this behind you it’s easy to smile on a cloudy spring day!

Spring is also one of the best times of the year for hiking. Longer days mean plenty of daylight, and while the days are warm, the mornings and the evenings are still cool, like the other side of the pillow.

While every season poses its own outdoor concerns, I’ll walk you through what to wear hiking in spring so you can take in the spectacular sites in comfort!

Varying Climates

Spring means a general warming of climates around the country, but it will vary to different degrees depending on where you live.

In the western mountainous regions, there will still be snow up high on mountain passes, and hiking at high altitudes will mean dealing with snow and ice on trails.

This primarily correlates to the Northwest, mountainous regions, and high up in the Northeast. Snow and ice won’t be a major issue in the South and East because even the mountains are located at a lower elevation.

Also, spring brings rainfall to many parts of the country, so you’ll need to pack and dress accordingly. The best thing to do is to check the weather report before you set out on your hike.

Northwest

It’s preferable to be over prepared than underprepared because the weather in the Northwest is frequently unpredictable.

On average, the region experiences 2-3 inches of rain each month throughout the spring, with temperatures averaging between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

West (Mountains)

Similar to the Northwest, springtime temperatures in mountainous areas are often lower than elsewhere, ranging between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit – or lower – depending on elevation.

Keep in mind that the temperatures will decrease as you reach higher elevations. Fortunately, the West is relatively dry in the spring, with only 1-2 inches of rain falling on average.

Snow capped mountains and a snow covered lake are the norm in Colorado's early spring
If you are hiking in early spring in Colorado, be prepared for scenes like this!

Northeast

The climate in the Northeast varies greatly. Maine’s northernmost point will be considerably colder than the more southern areas, frequently below freezing. Closer to the coast, though, the temperatures will be warmer.

Average temperatures in the southernmost part of the Northeast range from 40 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. With moderate precipitation between 3 and 4 inches each month, springtime can be pretty rainy.

A springtime hike in Pennsylvania with a waterfall flowing into snow down below
The snow gives way to the first signs of greenery on this awesome Pennsylvania hike!

East

With springtime highs between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the eastern United States enjoys an amazingly temperate spring. However, the East can experience heavy springtime precipitation, an average of 3-5 inches.

South

The springtime temperatures in the South are the warmest, reaching between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit on average, though they can get much hotter during warm spells.

The South also receives a good amount of rain in the spring, typically between 4 and 6 inches.

Although spring is one of the most beautiful seasons for hiking due to the blossoming trees and flowers, it can also be one of the wettest in many places, so one of your primary packing considerations is rain protection.

However, it’s not just about what you wear, you’re going to need a waterproof cover for your pack, as well.

Rain Gear Checklist

  • Rain jacket: A waterproof, breathable jacket with pit zips is recommended. Gore-Tex is one of the most common names, but some companies have designed their own proprietary waterproof materials.
  • Rain pants: Like your jacket, look for a lightweight pair of waterproof, breathable rain pants. Breathability isn’t as crucial on your lower half, but it’s something to consider when shopping, depending on your climate.
  • Waterproof hiking shoes or boots: Check out our articles on hiking boots and beginner hiking shoes for some great options. For spring hiking, you should wear shoes or boots with a waterproof breathable membrane, such as Gore-Tex.
  • Waterproof backpack cover (or waterproof backpack, such as one made from Dyneema material): Most backpacks aren’t waterproof, so you’ll need a waterproof backpack cover to protect the gear in your pack from getting wet during a downpour. There are some exceptions, including backpacks made from the cutting edge, stronger-than-steel material, Dyneema.
  • Lightweight umbrella: While this might seem ridiculous to some, carrying an umbrella while you’re hiking is quite trendy. Many hikers have umbrellas on thru-hikes in wet climates.
Our mid layers and outer layer rain jackets keeping us warm and dry near a waterfall on a spring hike
In case you didn’t get the point after reading the above checklist, here’s a visual reminder! 🙂

Spring Hiking Clothes

Spring is similar to fall in that although you will experience warmer daytime temps, the mornings and evenings will likely be cool.

But, again, this depends on the climate and whether it’s early spring or nearing summer. Always check the weather before setting out on a hike.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

Pro tip: Layering is essential. Proper layering keeps you warm when it’s cool and allows you to shed clothing when temperatures get too hot. You can review the importance of layering in our hiking in fall article.

Undergarments

Your socks and underwear should be warm and comfortable above all else. Lose the cotton!

Cotton absorbs water, is slow to dry, and in extreme cases, can result in hypothermia. Merino wool and synthetic blends are the best types of fabric for hiking.

Base Layers

If you start hiking in the morning or live in a cooler climate, you’ll likely want to wear long underwear underneath your hiking pants.

Again, merino wool and technical synthetic blends are your best option. Merino wool stays warm when wet and repels odors, while synthetic blends add durability.

For cooler climates, merino wool is the best choice. On your top half, select either a long-sleeve base layer or a t-shirt, depending on the temperature.

Remember, you can always shed layers on your hike, but it’s important that your base layers are made of moisture-wicking, breathable fabric, as these are worn directly against your skin.

Pro tip: Baselayers have different weights. Heavier-weight baselayers are made for cooler temperatures, and lighter-weight baselayers are designed for warmer temperatures.

Mid Layers

Think of your mid-layer as your insulation, designed to keep you warm when the temperatures drop or during cooler springs.

The best middle layers are polyester fleece jackets or synthetic hoodies. Again, stay clear of the cotton.

Pro tip: Ditch the traditional hoodie. Most hoodies are made of cotton and will retain water and become heavy when wet. Instead, opt for a technical synthetic hoodie.

Outer Insulation

If it’s cold outside, such as in the early morning, late afternoon, high elevation regions or northernmost parts of the country, you’ll want to bundle up.

But you’ll also want something lightweight and compact so that if it warms up and you need to stow it in your pack, it will compress and pack away nicely.

This is where your choice of an outer insulating layer comes into play.

Pro tip: Down is the best lightweight insulator, as long as it’s not exposed to moisture. In wet regions, synthetic down is recommended.

Your heavier insulation should comprise a down or synthetic-down vest or jacket. It’s helpful to own one of both if you live in a changing climate. Down is extremely packable and will tuck easily into your backpack when you’re not wearing it.

Synthetic alternatives are not as compressible but will be appreciated in wet conditions as they provide some water resistance and retain warmth when wet.

As spring gives way to summer, you can probably put your coat in the closet until late fall.

Hiking Pants or Shorts

Whether you wear hiking pants or shorts comes down to personal preference and the weather.

Hiking pants are recommended as they provide a barrier between your legs and contact with plant and animal life in addition to UV rays. But as the temperatures begin to warm up, such as down south and in late spring, you may opt for a pair of hiking shorts.

Pro tip: If you wear shorts, choose high-top hiking boots over shoes to provide your ankles with some protection from trail obstacles and plant life.

In the Northwest, western mountains, and the northernmost tip of the Northeast, spring will feature cold enough temperatures to require a baselayer bottom in addition to your hiking pants.

If you know you’ll be layering, select a pair of stretch-woven hiking pants. If you’re going to wear hiking pants by themselves, any kind of soft-shell pants are ideal.

Hiking-specific pants offer a level of water resistance, and while they won’t do you much good in a downpour, they will protect you from getting wet in light rain or while traipsing through puddles.

Outer Layer

Your outer layer is your primary line of protection from the wind and rain. We’ve already gone over our rain gear checklist, so we’ll use this section primarily as a placeholder for an optional wind shell.

If you’re hiking in dry conditions, you might opt for a more breathable wind shell instead of a rain jacket.

While most climates necessitate packing a rain jacket for spring hiking, you don’t have to wear it if it’s not raining. A wind shell is much more breathable and will keep you more comfortable overall.

Pro tip: Carry both a rain jacket and a wind jacket, and pack the one you’re not wearing.

Layering for Spring Hikes

Cold Temperatures: Wool underwear and socks, a midweight polyester or merino wool long underwear top and bottom, a synthetic midlayer, a down jacket or vest, waterproof/breathable rain jacket and pants

Warm Temperatures: Wool underwear and socks, a short-sleeve synthetic or merino wool tee, synthetic hiking pants or shorts (convertible if you prefer), a lightweight wind shell, a rain jacket, and pants

Pro tip: Always pack rain gear in spring! See our checklist above.

Spring is one of the prime hiking seasons in many places worldwide. Spring is also one of the most photogenic times of the year, so don’t leave your camera behind.

The snowcapped peaks recede, and colors return to the once barren, brown landscape. Green fields sprawl out before your eyes, and flower buds pop open in blues, pinks, and yellows.

Animals leave their dens behind for the lively fields and the forests. It’s time to end your own winter hibernation and return to the sanctuary of nature.

So stretch your legs, get your spring hiking clothes on, step out the door, and yell “Hello Trail!” and get moving.

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