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To truly be at one with nature, you need to be comfortable in your apparel. Outdoor clothes are designed to be tough, but when there is so much to choose from, how do you select an outdoor capsule wardrobe that’s up to the task? Find out more!
Plan Your Outdoor Capsule Wardrobe
Written By: Laura Pulling
Table Of Contents
If you’re a lover of the great outdoors, you want to explore it in all of its beauty. And to do it well, you need the apparel that’s up to the job. Here at TFG we love a trip into the wilderness, (it’s something that editor-in-chief Alex has been enjoying a lot recently!) and we know how important it is to have the right clothing.
We’ll discuss the basic capsule wardrobe of outdoor items to own, with our top picks for different items that should be in your outdoor wardrobe for year-round wear. However, if you’re going on a particular trip (or maybe you’re a fair-weather person and will ONLY hike during the summer) it’s always important to check your clothing options against the weather and climate, so you can design your wardrobe around the types of clothes you’ll particularly need.
As always, stick with a color palette for your capsule wardrobe and keep your core, more expensive buys in neutral shades that can work with contrasting colors. I prefer black or khaki toned pants and jacket, and then use a variety of colors for tops and shirts and socks to accessorize. Luckily, a lot of outdoor clothing has clothes in the same color palette so it’s easy to buy pieces that work well together.
Without further ado, here are our top tips on creating the right outdoor capsule wardrobe for you!
How to Create your Outdoor Capsule Wardrobe
When you choose your bottoms it depends on the time of year that you travel. A great rule of thumb is to have one really good pair of hiking pants (or shorts) that can be worn again and again.
For example, if you’re going on a short trip, for maybe four days or less, one pair of pants may be all that you need. Especially if you’re backpacking, you want to be carrying as little as possible, and another pair of pants is just another thing to lug around. If you have the luxury of staying in a cabin, or an RV as your base during a trip to the wilderness, you probably can manage to pack another pair of pants in your luggage.
Editor’s Pick: Anatomie Andrea Contrast Panel Leggings
There’s no beating these TFG favorite pants, Anatomie Andrea leggings. Alex has worn them on hiking trips, living in them every day of a four-day vacay. She’s fallen over in the mud and been covered in splats and been trekking through the snow while wearing them. They literally dry in minutes and even when mud-covered, once they are dry you can dust the dried mud off and they look as good as new.
They have a super comfy elastic waistband and have one hidden pocket and two side pockets to store essentials. The lycra and nylon material in the knee and waistband gives plenty of stretch around the waist and at the knees when clambering up and down the trail.
When you’re looking for hiking pants you want a quality material that’s going to stick with you for each day of the trip, which is why technical hiking pants are SO important. Normal leggings absorb sweat, you want something moisture-wicking and quick-drying, like these pants.
The beauty of these leggings is that they are not just great for the outdoors, but an investment piece that works well anywhere!
Check out our Anatomie Andrea Leggings review to see why they’re so beloved!
Readers Favorite: Columbia Saturday Trail Pants
Another TFG reader favorite is the Columbia Saturday Trail hiking pant. This flattering style is water-resistant, stretchy, and has UPF 50 sun protection. All of the ingredients you’d look for in a top outdoor pant, at a great price, and in a range of sizes (2-16) to suit a variety of women.
Editors Pick: prAna Olivia Womens Walking Shorts
In summer, you may want a pair of shorts as one of your bottom choices, or maybe a sporty skort. But I would always recommend taking a pair of long pants anyway, as these are practical in all conditions, and keep you from getting scraped by branches or nibbled by pesky bugs and mosquitoes.
TFG editor-in-chief Alex (and several of our TFG readers) love these prAna Olivia women’s hiking shorts. Made of their hardy nylon “Zion fabric”, they’re durable enough for even the toughest of adventures. They’re also water-resistant, stretchy, and UPF 50 protective. There’s a great sizing range, plus modest coverage with 7” long inseam, but they also come in a shorter 5” inseam version too.
Backpacking Option: REI Co-op Sahara Women’s Convertible Pants
If you want to travel light during a backpacking summer trip, a pair of convertible pants might be the best option for you, this way you have both long pants and a short option, all in one pair of pants!
A solid choice are the REI convertible pants, which have a zip-off design to transition from pants to shorts easily. They are great for an outdoor capsule as they have great stretch, UPF 50+ protection, a whole load of pockets, and they’re water-resistant too.
Once the bottoms are chosen, you need to team them up with some tops. For an ownership capsule (to have in your closet for the best range of outdoor gear to see you through all seasons) we recommend one of each of a tank, short sleeve tee, long sleeve top and a hiking shirt. Then for any trip, no matter the weather, you have a base set and you can add extra pieces as necessary.
If you’re going on a trip for anything up to four days, then you’ll want to pack one top per day – which can mix and match with the 2 bottoms.
If you’re traveling for a longer trip, no more than 4 tops are recommended, you just need to plan to wash them. But know that if you get quality outdoors shirts that are designed for the elements and for hiking, rather than wearing any old tee, these fabrics are quick drying—so you’re able to give them a quick rinse, or they can be air-dried at the end of the day to be rewearable without them giving off too much of an odor!
Editor’s Pick: Eddie Bauer Infinity Rib-Trim Tank
Another one of Alex’s favorites is this Eddie Bauer tank, it’s an awesome lightweight shirt that she loved so much, she got it in two colors, black and dark thyme!
Obviously, this has all the right features such as moisture-wicking and sun-protection technology. It’s soft and of course, lightweight for heavy outdoor activity.
As far as a capsule item goes, it’s perfect, as it can also be dressed up (yes, an athletic tank!) It looks great with paperbag shorts and sandals for an alternate, classier look (maybe you decide to hit a town on the way to your RV destination!?).
Editor’s Pick: Eddie Bauer Resolution V-Neck T-Shirt
For warm summer days, another Alex favorite is this Eddie Bauer V-neck tee. It has built-in moisture-wicking, sun protection, and is super lightweight. One wearer of this top says, “I like the quality and color of this shirt. It’s cool and I can usually wear it twice before washing it.” Two wears makes this top great for a longer trip!
Editor’s Pick: Eddie Bauer Mountain Ripstop Long-Sleeve Shirt
Okay, okay, we just love Eddie Bauer! (They’re tried and tested by editor-in-chief Alex and she loved the quality so much she bought the range!)
She says that the Ripstop shirt is SO shockingly comfortable, It’s one of her new favorites for the outdoors, but also for around her hometown of Playa del Carmen. She was originally confused at why people were wearing long sleeves in such a warm environment, but after trying this shirt, it was like magic, with the heat of the sun being literally reflected off her body and keeping her nice and cool.
Shop Sizes XS-XXL: Amazon
Reader’s Pick: Woolx Remi Merino Wool Hiking Shirt
For a colder weather option, you want a shirt that will keep you warmer. This lightweight Woolx shirt is made from Australian merino wool and is super soft, plus it helps to regulate body temperature. It has sun protection at SPF 50+ to shield you and it can be layered or not. This top would be great for winter hiking or trekking where temperatures change rapidly.
Many TFG readers love Woolx for their warm, yet durable clothing.
Find out the best hiking shirts to keep you cool or warm on the trail!
1 Waterproof Jacket
No matter the season, there are always chances of showers, plus when you’re trekking or hiking, the climate can vary greatly at different altitudes. A lightweight rain jacket is great for keeping out a chill, and dry if the heavens open.
Getting a packable one will allow you to stow it in your daypack when you’re built up a sweat during the heat of the day (squeezing it into a packing cube will save even more space!)
Editor’s Pick: Columbia Arcadia II
This popular Columbia rain jacket can be layered in a capsule-style and feels protective, for a rain jacket. It has a form-fitting snugness around the hips and wrists (which also have Velcro to keep out the pesky chill) to keep you dry.
But we love this jacket because it has that great Columbia durability that is beloved by readers, and it comes in a range of bright, bold colors, and offers inclusive sizing.
Alternate Jacket (Editor’s Fave): Anatomie Kenya Safari Jacket
Though not fully waterproof, this Anatomie Kenya jacket is water-resistant (it can handle a light rain) and a HUGE fave of editor-in-chief Alex.
She’s worn it through dust and dirt while spending ten days in the Arizona National Parks. She didn’t wash it but it still looked (and smelled) clean, so it’s durable and easy to maintain for a weekend outdoor-based trip.
Overall, this “runner-up” is a packable, perfect choice for a low-key outdoor adventure that doesn’t involve hardcore trekking. It can also be layered with a fleecer or put another jacket over it! (Check out Alex’s review on this amazing travel jacket!)
A warm mid-layer is essential for chilly days, (think fall through to spring) and a fleece is the perfect fabric that’s cozily soft, but tough enough to cope with the outdoors.
Editor’s Pick: The North Face Knit Stitch Fleece Hoodie
Desired ever since she laid eyes on it during the Nordstrom sale, this The North Face fleece has been coveted by editor-in-chief Alex. The funnel neck super soft-style is good enough for heading up a mountain, but also equally as stylish for an afternoon in town.
The longer length back keeps your bottom covered too, so no cold snaps when bending and reaching!
Want more jacket ideas? See our list for the best packable rain jacket!
4 Hiking Socks
When thinking about your feet, you generally want one pair of socks per day. This way you can be fresh footed, and not worry about moisture around your tootsies.
If you don’t happen to be staying in a cabin or an RV, and are instead backpacking on a trail, then you might want to be extra efficient with your space. In this instance, you might only want to take two pairs of hiking socks, but instead choose more sturdy and moisture-wicking pairs that will last a few days of wear per pair.
EnerWear Women’s Merino Wool Hiking Socks
For a budget option, try these EnerWear quick dry socks, they come in multi-pack bundles that are a similar cost to other socks that only sell one pair. They’re made from a high-quality merino wool blend for 72-hour odor control. The cushioned footbed has a reinforced heel and toe box with a seamless toe finish that won’t rub over your tootsies.
Darn Tough Hiking Socks
Darn Tough socks are raved about by TFG readers for their durability and performance in the great outdoors!
They’re made of merino wool and have thermoregulating properties to keep you warm or cool as you need, plus these socks are seamless for a ‘forget-they-are-on’ feel.
Although they may seem a little expensive, at over $20 for a pair, they’re definitely worth it for multi-day wear. For a full range, scour this post on best hiking socks!
No matter the season, you want a pair of hiking shoes that are in it to last! At TFG we have often discussed the importance of owning a quality pair of hiking boots if it’s something you plan on doing frequently.
Editor-in-chief Alex recommends an ankle boot as she prefers to have her feet totally covered even during the summer, when it’s warmer out. A pair of boots with ankle support stops your feet from rolling and gives you greater traction on slippery terrains.
Keen Terradora Women’s Hiking Boots
The Keen Terradora are a great option for boots that are super lightweight, flexible, waterproof, and roomy, especially in the toe area. We rate them for wearers who need to be assured of their comfort and support while extreme adventures.
One TFG reader says, “I have these and love them. I wore them in Moab on 30 degree days with wool socks, and they kept my feet warm. I can also wear them in summer heat and they keep my feet cool.”
And if you need more help, check out the best hiking boots for women!
Chaco ZX2 Classic Athletic Sandal
For light hikes in the warm summer months, you might prefer a hiking sandal. The Chaco ZX2 is a rubber-soled shoe that is well made, comfortable, sturdy, and fast-drying. They’re also great for waterside fun and kayaking too, keeping your feet protected while in the water.
The durable sandals will last for years, and will look after you as long as you care for them! But if you are planning on trekking anything further than a few miles, we would still advocate owning a pair of hiking boots, even for hotter weather.
If you are going on a wilderness trek, don’t forget to check out our great guide on what to pack for a hike!
Outdoor Capsule Wardrobe Comparison Chart
|BRAND | MODEL||FEATURES | REVIEWS||RATING | PRICE|
|How to Create your Outdoor Capsule Wardrobe|
|Editor’s Pick: Anatomie Andrea Leggings||The lycra and nylon material in the knee and waistband gives plenty of stretch around the waist and at the knees when clambering up and down the trail.||Check Price|
|Readers Favorite: Columbia Saturday Trail Pants||This flattering style is water-resistant, stretchy, and has UPF 50 sun protection.||Check Price|
|Editors Pick: prAna Olivia Womens Walking Shorts||Made of their hardy nylon “Zion fabric”, they’re durable enough for even the toughest of adventures.||Check Price|
|Backpacking Option: REI Co-op Sahara Women’s Convertible Pants||Great for an outdoor capsule as they have great stretch, UPF 50+ protection, a whole load of pockets, and they’re water-resistant too.||Check Price|
|Editor’s Pick: Eddie Bauer Infinity Rib-Trim Tank||This has all the right features such as moisture-wicking and sun-protection technology. It’s soft and of course, lightweight for heavy outdoor activity.||Check Price|
|Editor’s Pick: Eddie Bauer Resolution V-Neck Hiking T Shirt||One wearer of this top says, “I like the quality and color of this shirt. It’s cool and I can usually wear it twice before washing it.”||Check Price|
|Editor’s Pick: Eddie Bauer Mountain Ripstop Long-Sleeve Shirt||Alex says that the Ripstop shirt is SO shockingly comfortable, It’s one of her new favorites for the outdoors, but also for around her hometown of Playa del Carmen.||Check Price|
|Reader’s Pick: Woolx Remi Merino Wool Hiking Shirt||This lightweight Woolx shirt is made from Australian merino wool and is super soft, plus it helps to regulate body temperature.||Check Price|
|Editor’s Pick: Columbia Arcadia II||It has a form fitting snugness around the hips and wrists (which also have Velcro to keep out the pesky chill) to keep you dry.||Check Price|
|Alternate Jacket (Editor’s Fave): Anatomie Kenya Safari Jacket||Though not fully waterproof, this Anatomie Kenya jacket is water-resistant (it can handle a light rain) and a HUGE fave of editor-in-chief Alex.||Check Price|
|Editor’s Pick: The North Face Knit Stitch Fleece Hoodie||The funnel neck super soft style is good enough for heading up a mountain, but also equally as stylish for an afternoon in town.||Check Price|
|EnerWear Women’s Merino Wool Hiking Socks||They’re made from a high-quality merino wool blend for 72-hour odor control. The cushioned footbed has a reinforced heel and toe box with a seamless toe finish that won’t rub over your tootsies.||Check Price|
|Darn Tough Hiking Socks||They’re made of merino wool and have thermoregulating properties to keep you warm or cool as you need, plus these socks are seamless for a ‘forget-they-are-on’ feel.||Check Price|
|Keen Terradora Women’s Hiking Boots||One TFG reader says, “I have these and love them. I wore them in Moab on 30 degree days with wool socks, and they kept my feet warm. I can also wear them in summer heat and they keep my feet cool.”||Check Price|
|Chaco ZX2 Classic Athletic Sandal||The Chaco ZX2 is a rubber-soled shoe that is well made, comfortable, sturdy, and fast-drying. They’re also great for waterside fun and kayaking too, keeping your feet protected while in the water.||Check Price|
How to Pack Your Outdoor-Based Wardrobe
You may be using a backpack for your outdoor adventure, or even a lightweight carry-on suitcase. Regardless of what you use, start with packing cubes, they will seriously change the way you pack! We designed our own brand of slim packing cubes, with a unique color and numbering system, so it’s easy to remember where you’ve packed everything. See more in the video below.
Learn our hacks with packing cubes in the video above!
We also put together a five-part YouTube series showing the different methods to use packing cubes for travel. If you use this specific packing strategy, packing cubes can also compress your belongings. This method has helped millions of women travel carry-on only!
What are your tips for a well-rounded outdoor capsule wardrobe? Share in the comments below!
For more outdoor clothing ideas, please read:
- Feel Dry and Comfy In the Best Hiking Shirts for Women
- 10 Best Hiking Shorts for Women to Explore the Outdoors in the Summer
- 16 Best Hiking Pants for Women That Are Lightweight and Practical
- 15 Best Hiking Socks for Women Who Love Trekking
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