Hiking for Different Climates
If you’re looking for a new spring activity, look no further than the nearest hiking trail. When you find that you’ve visited all of your favorite trails and you’re ready to try something new, this is a great primer to introduce you to hiking in other climates! While this article is focused on the topographical regions of the United States, the climates of these regions can be comparable to hiking abroad in different countries with similar weather patterns.
The East Coast, including New England and the Great Lakes region, is considered a humid continental climate. Personally, I love hiking in the lush green mountains of Appalachia, but there are some cons to hiking in this climate–the first being the heavy humidity that is ever-present no matter what time of year. The more you head towards New England, the more mountainous it gets, meaning the windier it gets with a greater chance of being exposed to the elements and sudden storms.
Here are some tips to get you started:
What to Bring
- Bug repellent: If you want to hike in the warmer months in a humid climate, buzzing bugs are par for the course. Be sure to spray your boots, socks, and pants/shorts with tick repellent and use a plant-based lotion or bug spray to keep the flying insects away from your body and face (for the most part).
- I use: Off! Botanicals DDT-Free Insect Repellent in lotion form. It works for my sensitive skin, and keeps the bugs away without a strong chemical smell.
- For my shoes and clothes: Sawyer Permethrin Spray, 12oz – this is one of the best tick repellents I’ve used, however, it is composed of strong chemicals, so it should not be sprayed onto the skin directly.
- Some other essential oils used to repel insects are peppermint oil, tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and citronella. These can be mixed with one part water and sprayed over clothes before hiking. This mixture will repel flying insects and mosquitoes, but you’ll want to take some extra precaution against ticks! This article should help anyone wanting to use something more natural!
- Sweat-wicking clothing: The difference between hiking in a dry climate and a humid climate is SWEAT. You’ll want lightweight clothing that is made from a sweat-wicking material (high-tech polyester fabrics).
- I use: REI Co-op Sahara Shirt – incredibly lightweight and cooling, plus sweat-wicking and UPF 50 sun protection. It can also be worn casually when you’re not hiking!
- Water: This is a given for absolutely any climate, but the more you sweat, the faster you dehydrate. A good rule of thumb is to carry 2 to 3 liters of water per person (about 20 ounces).
- I use: Hydro Flask, 40 oz – This is a little over 1 liter, and when doing day hikes, it is recommended that you carry at least 2 to 3 liters of water.
- Hat: Keep your head covered! This will help keep you cool. When I hike in a hot/humid climate, I will also wear a neck scarf or bandana to cover my neck from the sun.
- I use: Buff Neck Gaiter for hot climates – This is worn as a loose collar around the neck, but it is long enough to protect your neck from the sun’s rays while keeping you cool in a warmer climate. This brand also carries gaiters for cold-weather climates!
Where to Hike
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail: This 2,192-mile trail winds through 14 states along the East Coast of the United States. Anyone can hike the entire thing or approach it section by section.
- Acadia National Park, Maine: This National Park spans over 47,000 acres of Maine coastline, complete with granite mountains, woodlands, and lakes.
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia: This park, that stretches along the Blue Ridge mountains, hosts wetlands, waterfalls, and plenty of rocky peaks to climb!
- And if you like climbing mountains, this is a great list.
International Climates like this: Eastern Europe, The Balkans, Russia (West), some parts of Scandinavia, Northeastern Asia, Japan, Southeastern Canadian Territories
The upper Midwest and Northern Plains states have the highest risk for severe weather due to humid air from the Gulf of Mexico combined with cool, dry air from Canada. Hiking here in the spring, summer, or fall is pleasant, but hikers must be prepared for thunderstorms, rain, wind, and other extremes.
What to Bring
- Rain Jacket: the atmosphere here is ripe for storms and sudden rain, so it’s best to keep a rain jacket in your pack. Even a small umbrella won’t hurt!
- I use: REI Co-op Rainer Rain Jacket – This extremely lightweight, windproof, and waterproof rain jacket is perfect and thin enough to be packable (into its own pocket) after the rain clears.
- Long Sleeves/Pants: It may be hot and sunny, but since the geography is more open and the air is drier, you’ll sweat less but get more sun. Wearing protective clothing is one of the best ways to protect your skin from a burn.
- I use: Eddie Bauer Sunscreen Wrap Shirt – This is a thin layer, lightweight and moisture wicking, that also has UPF sun protection. (The link doesn’t mention the sun protection detail, but it was my main reason for purchasing.)
Where to Hike
- Starved Rock State Park, Illinois: Known for its steep sandstone canyons formed by meltwater (water melted from snow, ice, or a glacier), there are also wooded trails and stunning waterfalls to enjoy.
- Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve, Kansas: This preserve holds 10,861 acres of a protected tallgrass ecosystem. Less than 4% of tallgrass prairie remains on the North American continent, but anyone can experience this environment while gazing at wild buffalo and other wildlife.
- Badlands National Park, South Dakota: The park features 244,000 acres of land and wildlife, with dramatic landscapes, layered rock formations, and uncovered fossil trails.
International Climates like this: Chile, Argentina, Northern Africa, some parts of the Middle East, Northern Asia, Australia
The states towards the South have a humid, subtropical climate with mild winters and hot, humid summers. The high temperatures and high humidity make the air here extremely moist and tropical.
What to Bring
- More bug spray! It can get humid and boggy depending on how far south you go.
- I use: Off! Botanicals Bug Repellent (see above for description)
- Swimsuit or board shorts: there may be a few places along the hike where you can cool off and take a dip!
- I use: Patagonia Board Shorts – These can be used for any activity, not just surfing or watersports! They’re lightweight and 100% polyester, making them cool and very comfortable–a great choice for hiking in hot weather.
- Hiking sandals: Even the most sweat-wicking wool socks will make your feet sweat after a while in this kind of climate. Bring some comfortable, well-fitting, and broken in hiking sandals. But don’t forget to spray the tops of your feet with sunscreen!
- My pick: KEEN Newport – They offer foot protection, with breathability, and are closed toe if you are on a rocky trail. The KEEN company has also devoted efforts to sustainability and giving back via donations to nonprofits around the world.
- Here’s a more comprehensive list to find the right sandal for you.
Where to Hike
- Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia: This state park, near Tallulah Falls, also surrounds Tallulah Gorge, which is 1,000 feet deep, and was formed by Tallulah River.
- Everglades National Park, Florida: The Everglades is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. It is a protected landscape for wildlife and endangered species. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve. There are countless hiking trails to enjoy as well as wildlife watching and birding.
- Buffalo National River, Arkansas: With upper, middle, and lower district hiking trails, this 135-mile, free-flowing river is surrounded by nature. Camping, hiking, kayaking, and wildlife watching are only a few of the things that Buffalo has.
International Climates like this: Southern Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Western Europe, Scandinavia, Southeastern China, Australia’s East Coast
The lower elevations of the Southwest have a desert climate. There is practically no humidity as the climate holds little moisture and there is more evaporation than precipitation. The daytime temperatures can be as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit but can drop to the low 40s at night. Here, summers are dry, and rainy seasons are usually in the months of August and September.
The coast of California has a Mediterranean climate, meaning a dry summer and a wet winter. California also has cooler temperatures compared to the neighboring desert states.
What to Bring
- Mid- to high-cut hiking boots or backpacking boots: The terrain here is dry and rocky, and you’ll need extra support from a misstep and a twisted ankle.
- I use: LOWA Renegade GTX – These are a mid-height, day hike boot, but they are extremely comfortable, with proper traction and stability. They’re also waterproof and have a breathable membrane so feet don’t get too hot.
- As a hiker, your boots are the most important pair of shoes you’ll buy, do more research to make sure you choose the right boot!
- Wide-brimmed hat/sun hat: Although you won’t get as hot as you would in a humid climate, a wide-brimmed hat will keep the sun off of your face, neck, and even shoulders. It’s very important to stay protected from the sun’s rays because although you may not feel as hot, it can still have damaging effects.
- I use: REI Co-op Waterproof Sombrero – This hat is sunproof, waterproof, and so lightweight that it is completely comfortable to wear for an entire day hike. The interior is lined in mesh and the shell is polyester. It’s easy to pack, and the sides can be “snapped up” when the weather breaks.
- Layers: The temperature can climb from 40 degrees all the way to 80 degrees in a few hours, and then back down again. It’s a good idea to dress in layers for these desert hikes and even bring a hat and gloves if you’re prone to getting cold quickly.
- My pick: Any silk base layer will do, but I’m partial to Co-op pieces, as they are more affordable and use the proper materials for outdoor activities.
- Thermal layers, long underwear, or “Long John’s” are fine, but be sure to steer towards materials such as cotton or polyester, so you don’t heat up too fast. Silk base layers work the best when temperatures fluctuate throughout the day.
- Water: I’ll repeat this here because it was one of the main tips I received when traveling to the Southwest to hike. You can become dehydrated twice as fast from the climate here, as it doesn’t hold any moisture. It’s easy to not realize you need hydration because it’s simply hot, and not humid. So you sweat less, feel less hot and tired, and don’t think about drinking water as often as you would if you were hiking elsewhere. I carried a total of 5.5 liters of water to share between two people on day hikes and most days we finished every drop. It is imperative that you stop and take drinks, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
- My pick: Camelbak Hydration Pack – This is what I consider a fancy piece of gear, but seeing tons of hikers utilizing them, they seem extremely convenient. No need to pack and unpack the water bottle when you can simply use the straw on the shoulder strap!
Where to Hike
- Zion National Park, Utah: This southwest Utah National Park has scenic drives, steep red cliffs, hiking, climbing, and camping. This park is also home to one of the most popular and challenging hikes in the Southwest: the Narrows.
- Red Rock Canyon State Park, Nevada: Desert cliffs and spectacular rock formations make up this State Park, right outside of Las Vegas.
- Joshua Tree National Park, California: This area in southern California is protected land with beautiful desert landscapes and rock formations. The Mojave and Colorado desert ecosystems converge here.
International Climates like this: Chile, Argentina, Northern Africa, parts of the Middle East, Northern Asia, Australia
The Pacific Northwest has an oceanic, or marine, climate. This region has both mild summers and winters, with a very small range of temperatures throughout the year. The region is wet in autumn, winter, and spring, but can be drier in the summer months.
What to Bring
- Base Layers: It can be chilly, and especially if it rains a lot, you’ll want to stay as warm as you can.
- I use: Any silk, thin base layer will do for this area!
- Waterproof shoes: Sometimes sandals can work in this region, and sometimes you’ll need to break out the mountaineering boots depending on the terrain and how wet the ground is. As long as the shoes you pack are waterproof, you’ll be just fine!
- My pick: Merrell Moab 2 GORE-TEX Hiking Shoe – More lightweight than a boot, this shoe can be used for trail running but will also keep your feet dry.
- Waterproof jacket: This differs from a water-resistant jacket, and these types of jackets have special pockets to keep gear and electronics dry.This is the best for a damp and rainy climate.
- My pick: Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket – This jacket keeps you protected from wind and rain, and it is also lightweight and versatile. This jacket is also made with recycled materials!
Where to Hike
- Olympic National Park, Washington State: This National Park sits on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, housing several different ecosystems that are popular with climbers, hikers, and backpackers.
- Crater Lake National Park, Oregon: Named for its lake and formed by a collapsed volcano, this National Park offers scenic drives to view its volcanic formations. And, hiking trails abound!
- Stanley, Idaho: Population of 63, Stanley is a small town in Custer County, Idaho. It borders the Sawtooth Mountains and the Salmon River, and is home to unaffected natural beauty. With so much to do and many places to stay, adventures are awaiting anyone who visits.
International Climates like this: Most Canadian Territories, Northern Europe, Russia
Alaska (Cold-Climate Hiking)
These guidelines can be followed while hiking in the winter months of colder climate states, when dealing with hiking in the snow, and even for cold weather camping (INTERNAL LINK). The southeastern part of Alaska is known to have a mid-latitude oceanic climate, again having a very narrow annual temperature range. In the northernmost parts of Alaska, which has a Polar Climate, since it is a region North of the Arctic Circle. This region is known to have long, cold winters and short, cool summers.
What to Bring
- Base Layer: This is necessary for these temperatures. You’ll need multiple layers and a heavy jacket or parka to keep warm while hiking in this climate.
- My pick: NRS Expedition Union Suit – Made of insulating fleece, this suit is sweat wicking and stretches for comfort. I wore one while hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park, and if this can keep me warm hiking in ice cold water, then it can be coupled with mid-layers and outer layers for a hike up North.
- Parka: Keeping your core warm is vital to staying safe while hiking in cold climates. There are different types of parkas based on how warm you want to be. Since you’ll be on the move, something lightweight but insulating is the best choice.
- I use: Patagonia Prairie Dawn Insulated Parka – This parka is water-repellent and made with 70% recycled material. The fleece interior will keep any hiker warm. For safety purposes, if you plan to hike in sub-zero temperatures, be sure to research jackets that are specifically manufactured to withstand the cold and elements.
- Wool Hat & Gloves: Your hands and extremities will get cold quicker than the rest of your body, and a warm hat will keep a ton of heat in! If you’re not a hat person, be sure your jacket has an adjustable hood.
- I use: Buff Wool Hat – A wool hat with a fleece interior headband, this hat goes on and stays on, no matter the activity. It’s great for snowy activities and will also keep your head warm as you ascend a mountain. It can get windy up there!
- My pick: The North Face has dozens of types of gloves to accommodate a hiker in any climate.
Where to Hike
- Denali National Park and Preserve: Home to 6-million acres of Alaska’s interior wilderness, this National Park features tundra, spruce forests, and glaciers, as well as wilderness such as grizzly bears, moose, wolves, and caribou.
- Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve: Home to wildlife such as humpback whales and puffins, this National Park is flanked by high peaks and glaciers within Alaska’s Inside Passage.
- Other great hikes can be found on this list!
International Climates like this: Canadian Territories at or above the Arctic Circle, Northeastern Russia
Hawaii and the U.S. territories have a tropical climate, but it varies, even within a single island, due to differing elevations. A tropical climate means there are usually only two seasons, wet and dry. This non-arid climate has a temperature above 64 degrees Fahrenheit for all 12 months of the year.
What to Bring
- Hiking Shorts: The tropical climate will keep you warm all day and night, so no need for layers. Break out the hiking shorts, which are mid-thigh or knee length. These are also great for any shorter hike in a warmer climate, wet or dry.
- I use: Eddie Bauer Horizon Shorts – These shorts are made from a stretchy and moisture-resistant fabric, and are great for sunny regions, as they protect your legs from the sun with a UPF 50+ rating.
- Rain Jacket/Poncho: There is always a risk here of a sudden rainstorm, but it’ll clear right up once it’s passed! Be sure to carry your rain jacket or even just a rain poncho in your pack in case the skies turn dark.
- My pick: Multi-purpose Poncho – This is a great investment if you find you love hiking in the rain, or just get caught in the rain too often. This poncho has button snaps for easy removal and also a drawstring cord that adjusts the hood. However, if you have one of those clear plastic ponchos that come in a bag, that works just as well (but make sure you recycle them!).
- Trail Runners: These are lightweight hiking shoes and can double as running shoes. They are much lighter than traditional hiking shoes, but keep your feet enclosed, unlike a hiking sandal. It’s up to you, whichever you feel most comfortable hiking in!
Where to Hike
- Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park: Found on the Big Island, two active volcanoes and steam vents dot a scenic drive. There’s plenty to do for hikers and many volcanology museums and exhibits.
- Haleakala National Park: Located on the island of Maui, this park is home to a dormant volcano. Rugged hiking trails pass cinder cones and lava flows, but also freshwater pools, waterfalls, and a bamboo forest.
- Some other great hikes to try out!
International Climates like this: Most regions near the equator, Brazil, Central Africa, Indo-China and Indonesia, Pacific Islands
Now you can narrow down the type of climate you’d like to hike in, and decide if you want to stay in the states or travel abroad for your next outdoor adventure! Always be sure to do more research, as these are only a few simple guidelines, so you can stay safe, have fun, and be a respectful traveler no matter where you go.
What is your favorite climate to hike in? Is there any new region you’re willing to visit? Let us know!