You’ll come across all different fashions along the AT. You’ll run into hikers that will wear zip-off pants (but never zip them off), guys wearing hot pink booty shorts, track shorts, skorts, running tights or god help you, guys wearing nothing but a pack towel around their waist – yes, I have indeed seen the latter, no it wasn’t on the summer solstice and thank god I had known the guy well enough by then to not really be too alarmed, it wasn’t a pleasant sight, and we told him to never do it again. You may also see occasional skirts, dresses, or kilts.
Once the weather turns warm, you’ll find me hiking in a dress…with hairy hiker chick legs. 😉 In my opinion nothing beats a good hiking dress, and I don’t understand why skorts exist. The following is a list of pro’s and con’s for hiking dresses and skirts.
- unmatched air flow to keep you cool
- easier to change into camp clothes without flashing someone you don’t want to flash
- peeing is 75% easier (see the end of the post to find out how to increase the percentage of ease)
- you can be as muddy as you want and still feel at least a little girly
- With dresses: you eliminate the need of a hiking shirt. One less item of clothing to worry about
- Also with dresses: you don’t have to worry about your bottoms riding low.
- you may experience some initial chaffing, but in reality, no more than you would if you were wearing track shorts. And it goes away – your inner thighs will quickly become like leather
- if you are clumsy and enjoy tripping/slipping/falling down, like me, you will flash someone. It’s just a fact of trail life, and most won’t mention it. They’ll be too busy laughing at the fall – especially if you have mastered slow motion falling.
- with Skirts, at least in my experience because of my body shape: they have a tendency to ride up and get turned around.
Some of you might be thinking, “but wont bugs get up in there? Won’t I end up with mosquito bites on my ass or ticks in my bush?” These thoughts did once worry me too when I was first thinking about making the switch, but I soon found that this wasn’t an issue at all. I never had any bugs up my dress (in my ears, eyes and mouth yes, but not under my dress), and I wore it from Daleville, VA in May, all the way to Katahdin in August where I retired it.
If you are interested in trying out a hiking dress for yourself, I recommend looking at Columbia’s PFG Freezer III dress. Columbia labels it as a fishing dress, but as the dress I wore on the AT, it worked amazingly well for backpacking- I give it a 4 out of 5 star rating. It has Columbia’s Omni-Freeze and Omni-Shade technologies – which means, it’s designed to keep you cool, dry, and protected by UPF 50 sun protection.
- The color held up after 3 months of constant wear in the sun – held a new dress to my retired one: the only way to tell them apart is the holes (I fought a guardrail in Rangeley and it won)
- it held it’s shape after days of wear and no washing
- as a little black dress it never made me over heat
- nor did it “attract more bugs”
- very little issue with salt rings
- The only reason I give it a 4 and not a 5 is because, while it dries quickly when on your body, it wont really dry hanging up overnight. It’s not a deal breaker at all, but it certainly made for some chilly mornings until my body heat dried the dress
- As you can see by the photo at the top of the page, the dress came to just above my knees. For reference I am 5’8, I had a size small, and the dress had been washed the night before. This is the perfect length, not too long that it gets in the way, but long enough to be able to bend over.
I would also recommend the Columbia Baja Beauty dress, which I purchased at the same time I ordered my new Freezer dress. After testing on both day-hiking and backpacking trips, it gets a 3 out of 5 rating. With their Omni-Wick and Omni-Shade (though this is only rated to UPF 15) technologies, it definitely keeps you dry and protected, but I did find that on a 2 night trip it lost some of it’s shape and salt stains were evident on the navy fabric. It definitely works better for day hikes or 1 to 2 night trips with temps in the mid-60’s with low humidity. The length is also a bit of an issue with this one. I got a medium (because of my post-trail-20), and it hits me about mid-thigh, which means I have to be a bit more cautious when bending over to pick stuff up.
There are other “hiking” dresses out there, but most have a small percentage of cotton, have weird straps, or are very heavy.
If you aren’t quite sold on hiking dresses, but want to try out a hiking skirt, there are many more solid options out there for you – Mountain Hardwear, Outdoor Research, Columbia, REI, and so on, seem to all have one or two good options. I would also suggest looking at Purple Rain Skirts, they have big pockets that are low enough not to interfere with a hip belt and big enough for a phone/camera/snack, a wide stretchy waist band (think yoga pants), come in a variety of active fabrics and colors, and Purple Rain is a long distance hiker herself.
I’d also like to take some time to talk about unda-pants.
Underwear on the AT is another interesting “fashion” topic. Before my hike, I thought the whole commando thing was ridiculous, and I pretty much vowed to never lose my underpants. They lasted 9 days on the AT before I put them in my trash bag. They did not make a come back when I switched to my hiking dress (***this is how you improve your ease of peeing percentage!!***), nor did they come back when I came home. I have a whole drawer of underpants – I love saying the word….unda-pants – (and bra’s ) that are just chilling there waiting, and wishing, for they day I decide to wear them again…..out of habit, as much as respect, I have not thrown these out.
On trail, no underwear means
- one less thing you have to worry about cleaning
- no wedgies
- makes peeing easier for both men and women
- it’s freeing
- and, in my opinion, I feel cleaner.
There are the hiker’s who started out commando, the converts, and the ones who carried their extra underpants on the outside of their packs to dry all the way to Katahdin.
A word of advice for female hikers, I suggest still carrying 1 pair of underwear in your pack – they do come in handy when you get your period (especially while wearing a dress/skirt) because that freaking tampon string just loves to get in the way. Also the underwear comes in handy for those times where skinny dipping is just not convenient – like in PA at Caledonia SP, where they have a pool, with a water slide (Open Memorial Day-Labor Day 11-7 according to the website).