Ultimate List: What To Wear When You Go Mountain Climbing

Deciding what to wear before every mountain climb is a brain wrecking task for me. Am I going to get too hot? Too cold? Am I bringing too little? Too much? After many trials and errors, I’ve compiled a list that I’ll share with you here.

What to wear when you go mountain climbing:

  1. Head Gear
  2. Upper Body Layers
  3. Protective Layers For Arms And Hands
  4. Lower Body Layers
  5. Footwear
  6. Others

What You Need To Know Before Deciding On The Attire Required

Before you start packing, you should find out a couple of key information about your climb. These will prevent you from underpacking or overpacking.

Day time temperature

  • Check the temperatures at various elevations of your climb.
  • You might experience temperature drops of 50 to 70F (10 to 20 degrees) as you ascend the mountain.

Night time temperature

  • Temperatures can drop drastically after sunset.
  • Though you seldom climb late into the night, it is very common to start climbing in the early mornings. Climbing at 2 am to 3 am allows you to catch the sunrise at the summit.

Wind speeds

  • I remember struggling to finish my breakfast at 3 am during one of my climbs. And it was not because of a lack of appetite. My teeth were just rattling too hard from the cold winds blasting at us!
  • Catching the sunrise on a summit is amazing, but waiting for it in the freezing winds certainly isn’t.
  • Strong winds can make the temperature feel 50F (10 degrees) colder than it really is.

Possibility of rain

  • Your body loses heat very quickly when you are wet. When temperatures are low, you could risk getting frostbite or hypothermia.
  • Some insulating materials such as down do not retain heat when they get wet. This will be a problem if your down jacket gets wet during a downpour.
  • Even if the temperature is warm, climbing in a wet outfit is very uncomfortable. You could also get abrasions or blisters more easily.
  • It is always safer to pack your rain gear even if there is a low chance of rain.

Nature of your climb

  • Will your climb be technical or non-technical? Are you climbing on icy or rocky terrains?
  • For more technical and rugged climbing conditions, your attire will need to be made of tougher materials.

Type of accommodation

  • Will you be sleeping in a tent or staying in a shelter/ hut?
  • Sleeping in a proper shelter with heating is going to be very different from sleeping in a tent outdoors.
  • If you are sleeping outdoors, you may need to pack extra insulating layers.

As a general principle, pack as little as possible. Looking good is not a priority right now. Keeping your backpack light is. Rewear whatever you can.

With that information in mind, let’s look at what we need.

Packing for a climb? Check these out:

What To Bring For Mountain Climbing (Ultimate Checklist)
What Equipment Do You Need To Climb A Mountain? (Pictures Included)
What Food To Eat When Mountain Climbing: Ultimate List Of Food Ideas

List Of Clothing And Attire

1. Head Gear

Hear gear is critical for:

  • Preventing heat loss or frostbite in the cold.
  • Preventing heat exhaustion or heat stroke in the heat.
  • Preventing sunburns on your face and neck.
  • Preventing injuries from falls or falling objects.

Here’s what you need:

Cap or hat

  • Personally, I prefer using a cap over sunscreen. I find it hard to wash off sunscreen when water is limited. And it always feels gross to reapply sunscreen when you are all sweaty.
  • Having a hat with a brim all around is a good way to shelter your neck and ears from the sun. (One of my friends actually had blisters on the top of his ears from sunburn. True story!)


  • Recommended if you are climbing in temperatures below 50F (10 degrees).
  • I usually get a jacket with a hoodie and do without a beanie.


  • This is usually required for technical climbing. Or if you are climbing in an area prone to rock falls.
  • Check if your climb requires it.


  • Help to keep stray hair and sweat from getting into your eyes.
  • Recommended if you tend to sweat a lot. Or if you are doing technical climbing where your hands are usually occupied.

Face mask

  • This is similar to a ski mask.
  • Recommended if you are climbing in temperatures lower than 32F (0 degrees).


  • Useful to protect your neck from the sun.
  • This can double up as a headband or a wristband that you can use to wipe your sweat.


  • Keeps your neck nice and warm.
  • Useful when you are sitting in the cold waiting for the sunrise.

Headlamps (with spare batteries)

  • This is required for early morning climbs.
  • This is a must-have for any climbing in low lighting conditions.
  • Torches are lousy alternatives — you should always have your hands free during a climb


  • Recommended if you are climbing in snowy or icy terrains. This is to prevent snow blindness (i.e. getting sunburns on your cornea).
  • It is a good idea to also have ear hooks or bands for your glasses. Glasses can get knocked off or dropped off during a climb.

2. Upper Body Layers

When selecting your tops, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Always go for multiple thinner layers instead of one thick layer. This allows you to add and remove layers one by one as the temperature changes.
  • For your outer layers, choose zippers over buttons. It’s faster to put on and better at trapping heat for warmth.
  • The more pockets you have, the better. There are lots of bibs and bobs that should be kept handy (e.g. small tools, chapstick, tissues, hair ties etc).
  • Some clothes have an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating. This helps to protect against UV rays.
  • Some clothes also have built-in insect repellent.

Here’s what you need:

Base layer

  • This is the innermost layer that helps to keep you dry and comfortable.
  • This can be your typical gym shirts.
  • Long sleeved shirts are better for sun protection.
  • At the start of your climb, this may be the only layer you need to wear.
  • Look for breathable or wicking materials. This helps your sweat evaporates more quickly. It also dries more quickly when it gets wet.
  • Typical materials include synthetics like polyester and nylon, or natural fibers like merino wool and silk.
  • Avoid cotton and itchy fabrics!
  • If you sweat a lot, pack 1 for each day of the climb. If not, you can wear each one for 2 days at a time to cut down weight.

Middle layer

  • As the temperature drops, you will need to add a middle insulating layer.
  • This can be your long johns, jackets, sweaters, pullovers etc.
  • Typical materials are down, fleece or synthetics.
  • Depending on the temperature, you may need 1 or 2 of this.


  • Depending on the temperature, this can be an alternative or an addition to the middle layer.
  • This is an insulating layer with some degree of wind and water resistance AND breathability.
  • The wind and water resistance is useful during light drizzles.
  • Since it’s breathable, it is slightly cooler than putting on the outer layer.
  • Look for one with a hoodie that can help keep your head warm (and you can do without a beanie).
  • You just need 1 of this.

And if you are confused about what you should get for the middle insulating layers, here’s a quick comparison of some of the common materials:

Synthetic Fleece Down
Less warm Warm Warmer (this also depends on the jacket’s fill power)
Heavier Vary from light to heavy Light
Has some water and wind resistanceBreathable, no water and wind resistanceHas some water and wind resistance
Dries fastDries slowly Dries more slowly
Keeps you warm even when wetKeeps you warm even when wetDoesn’t keep you warm when wet
Cheapest Mid-rangeMost expensive

However, the temperature ranges for these materials might vary quite significantly. It really depends on the manufacturers and designs. Unfortunately, you might not know what works or what doesn’t until you go on your very first climb.

Outer layer (aka hardshell)

  • This is your windproof and waterproof layer.
  • It usually has no insulating properties.
  • It should have a hoodie to keep you dry when it rains.
  • You should pick a proper windbreaker over a normal raincoat or poncho. Raincoats or ponchos are not breathable and extremely uncomfortable when you are climbing. They are also baggy and shapeless which makes it hard to see where you are going. And avoid disposable ponchos which tear easily.
  • Make sure your outer layer is baggy enough to accommodate the thickness of the middle layers.
  • You just need 1 of this.


  • For the ladies, do get some comfortable sports bras. Your typical bra straps are going to be cutting into your shoulders once you have your backpack on.
  • Avoid cotton!
  • I usually pack 1 for each day of the climb.

Sleeping clothes

Here’s what worked for me on a mountain where the summit temperature is 20 to 40 F (-5 to 5 degrees)

  • Base layer: any breathable t-shirts that I would typically wear for a run
  • Middle layer: a down jacket (mine was a Uniqlo Ultra Light Down)
  • Outer layer: a windbreaker

These layers worked great for me throughout the climb.

But I have one disclaimer. Unfortunately, we reached the summit way too early for the sunrise. We had to sit for an hour in the cold with strong winds blasting at us. And these layers were not enough for that. So I ended up huddling with whoever I could find and hid behind tall rocks and people.

This will, of course, vary from person to person. I’m pretty good at withstanding biting cold but many people will prefer to stay much warmer.

But remember, the more you bring, the heavier your backpack will be!

3. Protective Layers For Arms And Hands

Here’s what you need:

Arm sleeves

  • Helps to protect your arms from the sun if you are wearing short sleeved shirts.
  • This is one of my favorite items when it is hot and sunny at the start of the climb.


  • Even if it’s hot out, thin gloves can protect your hands when you need to grab rocks or stones to climb along the way.
  • It is recommended to get waterproof gloves in case of rain or when you are climbing in snowy or icy terrains.
  • Check that your gloves do not restrict or hinder the use of any mountain climbing tools that you need.

4. Lower Body Layers

Similar to your tops, keep these few things in mind:

  • Always go for multiple thinner layers instead of one thick layer. This allows you to add and remove layers one by one as the temperature changes.
  • Again, the more pockets, the better.

Here’s what you need:

Base layer

  • This can be any pants that you can comfortably stretch or squat or jump in.
  • This can be your shorts, leggings, yoga pants, tights, hiking pants, zip-off pants etc.
  • Do take note that branches or rocks might tear some of these fabrics if you’re not wearing another outer layer.
  • I wear mine for 2 or 3 days at a time. If you sweat a lot, pack 1 for each day of the climb.

Middle layer

  • This is your insulating layer.
  • Typical materials are fleece or synthetics.
  • No denim, please!! It restricts your movement and becomes very heavy when it gets wet.
  • As long as my body is kept warm, I personally find no need for this layer for temperatures going down to 20 to 40 F (-5 to 5 degrees).

Outer layer

  • This is your windproof and waterproof layer.
  • Usually has no insulating properties.
  • Make sure your outer layer is baggy enough to accommodate the thickness of the middle layers.


  • Pack one for each day of the climb. No compromise!
  • You may want to pack a few extra just in case.

Sleeping pants

  • Just pack whatever you are comfortable sleeping in.
  • If you are sleeping outdoors, you may want to bring some extra insulating layers.

5. Footwear

Footwear is critical for:

  • Preventing your feet from frostbite in the cold.
  • Preventing blisters or abrasions or athlete’s foot.
  • Preventing twisted ankles.
  • Keeping out rocks, sand, water or bugs.

Here’s what you need:


  • Always make sure your socks are dry. Wet feet are prone to abrasion and blisters.
  • Go for thicker socks if you’re breaking in new boots.
  • Make sure your socks are higher than your boots. Forget those ankle socks!
  • Pack one for each day of the climb
  • Beside your underwear, socks are the only other item I recommend packing a couple of extras.
  • Remember, smelly socks are just going to stink up your sleeping area!


  • A must have if you are climbing volcanic mountains or areas with sand and small rocks. Otherwise, you’ll end up like me — pouring rocks out of my shoes every 300 feet or so.
  • Waterproof ones are good for keeping your socks and the insides of your boots dry.
  • Gaitors are also useful to protect your lower legs from getting cut by your crampons.


  • If you need thick socks, make sure your shoes aren’t going to be too tight with them on.
  • Make sure your footwear isn’t too small — you should be able to wiggle your toes.
  • Make sure your footwear isn’t too big — you shouldn’t be sliding back and forth in your shoes.


  • If you don’t wish to spend money on boots, your trainers can be enough for climbing most non-technical mountains.


  • Recommended for rocky terrains.
  • A must-have for snowy or icy terrains.
  • Make sure they are waterproof or at least water resistant!



  • Good to have during your downtime or showers.

6. Others

Knee brace

Foil blankets

  • This is useful as an additional insulating layer at the summit. It can also be used in emergencies to prevent hypothermia.
  • I’ve seen people wrapping themselves into a shiny ball while waiting for the sunrise at the summit.
  • May also be useful when sleeping outdoors if you don’t mind the rustling noises.
  • It is very light and doesn’t add much weight to your backpack.

Do You Need To Buy All Of These?

Instead of buying everything, you might want to consider renting some of the items. Especially if you are going on your first climb, or if you are not sure that this is something you will be doing frequently.

The types of items that you can rent might vary for different mountains. Your chances for rental are higher if the mountains are popular climbing spots.

The typical likelihood of renting these items:

Item Likelihood Of Renting
Cap or hatUnlikely
Face maskNo
Base layerNo
Middle layerUnlikely
Outer layerLikely
UndergarmentsErm… No.

However, rental are often not cheap either.

If you are on a really tight budget, ask all your family and friends if they have items to spare. Or make new climber friends!

Packing Tips

A couple of tips when packing your clothing items:

Pack everything in ziplock bags.

  • I keep all my stuff waterproof with ziplock bags.
  • I prefer using many smaller ziplocks instead of a few big ones. This makes it easier to locate my stuff in a huge backpack.
  • For climbs stretching beyond a week or so, it might be convenient to also pack your base layers, undergarments, and socks in sets. You can then easily pull out one bag when you are changing each day.

Make sure your outer layers are easily accessible.

  • Put them right at the top of your backpack. This allows you to grab them quickly when a sudden downpour comes around.

Related Questions

What backpack size do I need? These depend on the length of your trip.

  • 1 day climb: 20 to 30 liter
  • 1 day winter climb: 35 to 45 liter
  • 1 to 3 day climb: 40 to 50 liter
  • 3 to 5 day climb: 50 to 70 liter
  • More than 5 day climb: depending on your needs, backpacks can go up to 110 liters or more.

How heavy should my backpack be? A general guide is to keep your backpack weight at about 20% of your body weight. If your weight is 150 lb (68kg), your backpack should not exceed 30 lb (14 kg). Unfortunately, if you are smaller built, it is likely your backpack will be 25% to 30% of your weight. This is why it is important to pack as lightly as possible.

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