YOSEMITE CLOTHING GUIDE: What should I wear for hiking, camping, and backpacking in Yosemite?
“I’m going to Yosemite this summer, what should I wear?” is a question we often get. Mountain guide Duncan Cheung shares what he’s learned from 15,000+ miles of on-trail and off-trail wilderness experience and teaching over 150 people how to backpack minimally in Northern Sierra, including our beloved Yosemite.
If you’re looking for hiking or backpacking gear, check out our other stories: Best Hiking Shoes, Best Trekking Poles, Best Backpacking Backpack guide, Best Backpacking Tents guide, and Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads.
What is the weather in Yosemite??
This clothing guide is suitable for Yosemite and Sierra visitors who are planning to hike 6-8 miles per day, mostly on established hiking trails between 4,000 to 11,000 ft in “3-season” conditions, with temperatures ranging between 25ºF to 80ºF (-4ºC to 27ºC). In Northern Sierra mountains, that typically means late June to mid September.
Falling precipitation is historically low during this time, characterized by afternoon showers and occasional short-lived storms. This guide is applicable if your travels will involve little to no technical or snowy, icy terrain that may require ropes, crampons, and snow/ice tools.
Why trust us?
There is no such thing as one-guide-fits-all. We recognize that our readers’ specific needs and comfort levels are as diverse as the trip conditions that they will encounter from the base of Yosemite Valley, to the high peaks around Tuolumne Meadows.
Our recommendations are based on Duncan’s over 15,000 miles of on trail and off trail wilderness experience, 7+ years of professional guiding and teaching minimalist backpacking, input from Off Trail On Track’s 150+ students, primary research, gear testing, and advice from backpacking experts and community. To read more about the author, see Duncan Cheung’s profile.
How to read this guide
This story is split into three sections:
What to wear while hiking in Yosemite
The primary function of the clothing and items that we recommend you wear while you are walking is three-fold:
Keep you drier and more comfortable during exertion
Protect you from the sun, intensity and effect of which is compounded by the high altitude and reflective granite terrain in Yosemite
Minimize injuries and fatigue
There are many ways to achieve the above. Our recommendations below work together to help you travel light, smart, and hassle-free.
What to wear on your head while hiking
Cap or Hat for Hiking
Long-bill cap / full brim hat for better coverage, especially on unshaded, reflective granite terrain. We prefer polyester or nylon over cotton as these materials dry quicker.
Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap because it has good coverage, is light, and has a bonus feature: the removable sun cape. The cape is very effective against ground-reflected sun on your neck and face. Plus, the sun cape doubles as an automatic swatter that keeps mozzies off of your face and ears as you walk!
Sunday Afternoon Ultra Adventure Hat is a malleable (think packable) full-brim hat that comes with special holes that keeps sunglasses in place effectively.
Either lather your exposed skin with sunscreen or cover it with thin cloth/bandana. We find that regular bandana or kerchiefs work just as well as items that boast “SPF protection”; spend your money elsewhere.
Caps that have integrated/removable sun capes (see above), or any bandana/kerchief that aren’t see-through.
Neck gaiters / buffs are fine but sometimes not breathable/airy enough.
Any sunglasses that “block UV rays,” and not just “tinted/darkened.” Darkened lenses are harmful as they dilate your pupils to allow even more UV rays into your eyes. This can lead to sunburn inside your eyeballs. Polarized lenses are not required but is a nice bonus as they reduce glare and can serve as make-shift polarizers for your camera.
Native Frisco Sunglasses as they are light, has great peripheral coverage, and the arms are metallic (rarer now). That said, no need to break the bank on sunglasses as chances are they may get lost. Cheap gas station UV-blocking sunglasses work just as well as $300 brand-name ones.
What to wear while hiking in Yosemite
- Length: Short sleeve during high exertion and warmer conditions (≥65ºF). Go with long sleeve if you’re expecting low exertion or you’ll be in the shade or near cool waterfalls.
- Material: Key is to keep moisture away from your skin. Light-weight polyester or ~150-175 grams per square meter (gsm) merino wool, or merino-polyester blend. Elastane in the mix = better movement
Icebreaker Merino Tech Lite Short Sleeve T (women's) (men’s) as the 150 grams per square meter (gsm) fabric weight blocks sun and dries quickly, doesn’t pill, is naturally odor resistant. It also it held up well after 150+ days of rigorous use in the wilderness. Bonus: people love the screen-print graphics (women’s printed design) (men’s printed design)
- Cut: The key is to minimize resistance as you lift your legs while hiking. Look for features like “4-way stretch,” gusseted crotch, and articulated knees, and trim fit and minimal pockets to avoid snags.
- Length: We recommend long pants if you expect to travel through underbrush or if bug pressure is high. Convertible pant-shorts are helpful for swimming but are not necessary.
- Material: Light, 85%+ nylon, some elastane. “Softshell” is not necessary as they just add weight, resistance, and clamminess.
MEC Sandbagger Pants (women's) (men's). Their trim cut throughout pant length minimizes snags. Minimum fabric resistance during movement for my body type. Highly abrasion resistant and thick enough that Sierra mozzies don't bite through.
My female students (many of whom are yogis) prefer the Prana Halle Pant as they offer a trim cut and slightly longer and flared cuff that keep debris out.
SPF 30-35 (rapidly diminishing return when SPF ≥30), mineral based, water resistant, with no chemical filters. We like ones that come with “lipstick application” style because it won’t gunk up your hands.
Badger Unscented Sport Stick SPF35. It is weight and space efficient. Mineral-based sunscreen tends to be gunkier but they are also long-lasting. "Lipstick application" style means clean fingers after application. It is also environmentally preferable compared to ones that relies on chemical filters.
Sun Gloves and/or Sleeves (optional)
A study published in the Journal of Skin Cancer found that most people neglect to put on adequate sunscreen on the back (dorsal surface) of their hands. The same study also pointed out that skin cancers on the hand are more likely to metastasize. Since sunscreen on hands and forearms are easily rubbed off, sun-protective clothing will be more reliable.
Any thin polyester/merino sun gloves / sleeves as they will help you feel less clammy, and use less sunscreen. They work by wicking moisture away from your skin and replaces pore-blocking sunscreen on covered areas so your hands/arms will feel less clammy, especially on humid days.
Outdoor Research ActiveIce Spectrum Sun Gloves. They are thin and light, and they wick well while offering excellent sun protection.
Basic Watch: Basic digital watch with flashing separator / analog with seconds hand helpful for checking vitals.
Advanced Watch: “ABC” (Altimeter+Barometer+Compass) and/or GPS Watch functions are helpful for navigation and weather forecasting. Key: Enough battery for duration of trip. Heart-rate monitors and other smart features are not critical.
Basic Watch: Any cheap wrist watch that satisfies the above will suffice.
Advanced: Suunto Core All Black. The batteries are easy to find and are long-lasting (months) compared to days for GPS/smart watches. Altimeter is helpful for off-trail navigation. Reliable in both cold and hot temps. It’s also our recommended pick for ABC watch.
the suunto core all black watch
Footwear for Hiking
Our experience tells us that it’s better to rely on stronger feet than fancy footwear. To train up your feet, look for low/no-ankle cuff trail runners that strike a balance between good ground-feel, underfoot protection, and traction. We recommend NON-waterproof shoes as they will dry quicker and tend to be more affordable.
They feel like a natural extension of my leg and feet and allow me to sense and take advantage of the micro terrain especially the little nubs and crevices of Sierra granite.
For more on how to choose the right shoes for you, look at Treeline's:
inov-8 rocklite trail runners
Light-cushioned merino wool, mini-crew/ankle length. Wear a pair, bring a pair. Socks with thick cushioning are harder to dry and unnecessary. Consider adding gaiters to reduce debris especially if you hike in shorts/capris. Important to avoid cotton as that material retains a lot more moisture, which can make your skin more prone to hot spots and blisters.
Darn Tough 1/4 Sock Light (men’s and women’s). Just long enough to reduce debris falling into the shoes. Merino+nylon blend makes them durable, odor resistant, dry quickly. They are also just thick enough to cushion my feet well without bunching up. Backed by Darn Tough’s warranty, considered the best in the industry.
darn tough socks -
darn tough socks - Women’s
What to wear while in camp?
Whether you’ve just had a satisfying jaunt up to Half Dome, ran a loop around Yosemite Valley, or splashed in the creeks at Happy Isles, there comes a time when you are ready to kick back and enjoy a meal and maybe a snooze.
Heat is hard to come by in the wilderness; we want to trap it close to our bodies whenever we can. The clothing you need at camp/rest, therefore, is primarily to help you retain heat.
Pro tip: Allow time for your baselayer to dry off before putting on any filled puffy jackets. Moisture from sweat, waterfall splash, or a swim will dramatically reduce loft on most insulated jackets. This means that your puffy jacket will lose the ability to keep you warm. Fleece jackets don’t lose loft nearly as much as down- or synthetic-filled puffies.
Any light-mid weight beanie will do. This is not as necessary if your puffer jacket has a warm hood. We find it helpful if the beanie/hat is made of “windblocker” material/lining.
Mountain Hardwear Micro Dome (unisex) or Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon Lite. The Perignon provides coverage for the ears and is lined with a wind-resistant material that effectively cuts the windchill.
A good puffer is one of the best investments you can make for hiking or backpacking. Why? Because a light, warm,and packable puffer helps to extend the types of trips you can go on (aka, one single item added to your clothing allows you to extend your hiking season into late spring and early fall). We recommend “Down” fill over “Synthetic” fill for the conditions most common in Yosemite and the Sierra. For down-jackets, aim for a hooded, ≥800 FP (Fill Power), with a total weight of 9-18oz, of which, ideally fill material should take up ≥35% of the weight. Box baffle construction will be significantly warmer than “sewn-through” as the box baffles eliminate cold-spots along the seam lines.
For women, we really like the Montbell Frost Line Parka. For men, the Montbell Mirage Parka. They are both shoulder season-worthy (aka, still work in early spring and the fall, when temperatures can be cooler) and offers a great temperature buffer for unexpectedly cold summer nights. These recommendations are both warmer than what you need for the described conditions, we recommend them because we think a quality puffer is one of the best gear investments you can make. Although puffer jackets can be expensive, we think with the Frost Line and Mirage Line, you get a lot of warmth, quality materials for the price.
For those who are in search of a premium ultralight jacket, we recommend looking into the Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka (women's) (men's). These won’t be as warm as the Frost Line or Mirage above, but will work well for the described conditions and are have lighterweight, higher quality materials. For those who prefer puffers filled with water-resistant down – which retain warmth longer in prolonged humid conditions – consider the Rab Electron (womens) (mens).
montbell puffer jackets
rab electron puffer jackets
Fleece JacketIf temperatures drop to ~25ºF (-4ºC) or below, we recommend bringing a fleece jacket in addition to your puffer.
Fleece jackets will be heavier and bulkier but much warmer than puffers when they are wet/moist. They retain a surprising amount of warmth even if you’ve sweat through them.
Any brand, cheap mid-weight (~200wt) fleece will do. Since this is one gear item where most brands and models will work the same, if you don’t already own a fleece, we recommend looking at the discount section for past years’ models.
For added performance, “high-loft” fleece will be warmer and more packable. “Windstopper” liner limits breathability so we recommend not paying extra for it. Instead, use your rain jacket to block wind.
No need to pay a premium for fancy fleece as they all work very similarly. We like the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Fleece Jacket (women’s) (men’s) as it is highly breathable and promotes moisture expulsion during those cold morning uphill runs.
Mountain Hardwear Monkey Fleece Jacket
Gloves / Mitts
Any light to mid-weight (200-wt) fleece gloves or mittens will work well. Avoid synthetic/down-filled handwear as they tend to be less durable and tear easily. This makes them less convenient for camp chores that can be rougher such as collecting firewood.
Fleece convertibles (aka glo-mitts). Mitten-mode for warmth; fingerless glove-mode for dexterity. Like fleece jackets, no need to pay a premium for brand. Look for glo-mitts that have fold-backs not just on the fingers, but also the thumb for crucial dexterity. We like the Outdoor Research Gripper Convertible Gloves.
In a pinch, cheap polyester/fleece gloves from thrift stores or gas-stations will work fine.
Warm Leggings / Tights
Leggings / Tights don’t need to be “athletic-cut”; long-johns will work fine. Go for light- to mid-weight polyester or 150-195 grams per square meter (gsm) merino wool. Cotton is ok too if the tights are used only at camp and will stay dry.
While specific brands don’t matter as much, my students like the Patagonia Capilene Midweight Long Underwear Bottoms (women's) (men's). Bonus: Patagonia Capilene series is made with 30% recycled polyester
Patagonia Midweight Long Underwear Bottoms
What to wear if it rains or snows in Yosemite?
For most spring, summer, and fall hiking, rain/snow is infrequent and short-lived in Yosemite and the Northern Sierra; your rain gear will likely stay in your pack for most of the time. Look for light and packable rain gear. We recommend a 2.5-layer waterproof/breathable rain jacket with hood, weighing 5-9oz. Expect all waterproof jackets to suffer from poor to bearable breathability. Get a size larger than your typical clothing size so that while at camp/rest, you can fit your insulation layers underneath. Do NOT go for “water resistant” jackets for rain-proofing. In a pinch: gas station ponchos will work fine.
For more on how to choose a rain jacket, look at Treeline's story on:
outdoor research helium II
Rain mittens (optional)
If persistent cold rain/solid precip is expected (rare in Yosemite), a light, waterproof “shell/rain mitt” will keep your hands dry and warmer, especially in windy conditions. Get a size larger to fit all insulating layers underneath. They’re generally unnecessary in summer months. In a pinch, use plastic bags or stuff sacks.
Montane Minimus Mitt. They are tiny, effective, and they stow well.
Like rain jackets, these will stay in your pack most of the time. Therefore, aim for a pair that are as light and packable as possible (~3-8oz.) Full-length zippers add marginal convenience but added weight is unlikely to be worthwhile for minimalist backpackers.
Montbell Versalite Pants. They are light, pack down tiny, and do not have any extraneous moving parts.
Rain skirts offer superior breathability with slightly less effective coverage. We like the ZPacks DCF Rain Kilt. Kilt-style bottom means ultimate breathability, though you need to get used to having shins and feet wet. When opened, it can also turn into a dry surface for sitting (or a ground sheet for dogs).
If cold rain / solid precip is expected to last for 3+ hours (rare), an umbrella in addition to rain top+bottom will keep you much warmer as the cold rain won’t touch your jacket and rob body heat as they roll off.
What to wear during bug and mosquito season in Yosemite?
Ticks and mozzies are the two types of insects that we need to prepare for, especially during early to mid summer months (June - August) on wet years (2017, 2019). As a wilderness explorer and guide, my single biggest fear of all the things that can cause serious harm or death, is Lyme Disease. Lyme is tick-borne and while its prevalence isn’t nearly as common in western US compared to eastern US, it is under-diagnosed, highly debilitating, and can result in a slow, painful death that lasts years. The good news is that like many other tick-borne diseases, Lyme is very preventable. While mosquitoes in Yosemite tend to be more of a nuisance than a health risk, they can still affect our experiences outdoors and shorten our hard-earned vacations.
Our 4-prong approach has proven highly effective against ticks and mosquitoes (among other pesky insects) over the years in the Sierra:
- Treat your base layer clothing, hat/neck protection, and socks with an over-the-counter insecticide called Permethrin before your trip.
- Wear long-sleeved garments where possible (see above for bonus tips).
- Apply DEET / Picaridin onto exposed skin especially around dawn/dusk, and in buggy areas. If mosquito pressure is very high, use a head net.
- Check and properly remove ticks during and after outdoor activities, whether you think the area or activity is tick-prone or not. While tweezers are not part of your clothing system, we strongly recommend carrying a pair for prompt tick removal.
Clothing Treatment for Hiking during Bug SeasonLook for:
Permethrin insecticide. Please follow treatment guidelines for maximum safety and effectiveness. We’ve found that each treatment is reliably effective for 4-6 washes. As a guide who works in the wilderness every other week, I’ve found that one Permethrin treatment at the start of buggy season (June in Sierra) will typically last me through the end of the mozzie season (typically early September). Occasionally I need to treat my clothing twice in the same year. Important reminder: Permethrin is NOT for direct application on skin
Sawyer Permethrin Insect Repellent for Clothing Gear and Tent. Brands don’t matter much in terms of effectiveness but Sawyer is readily available, and comes premixed at the right dosage with consumer-friendly instructions and a spray bottle for easy application
Mosquito and Tick Repellant for exposed skin
DEET or Picaridin There is much debate around whether “natural” alternatives such as citronella oil are effective in wilderness areas during high bug season. Our experience: only DEET and Picaridin proved trail-worthy.
To minimize weight, look for “100%” DEET (which technically is only 98% in active ingredient concentration). Any brand will work but Sawyer Jungle Juice wins out again because it is widely available and generally cheap. Unlike low-concentration DEET (~20%), a small amount dapped and spread only on exposed skin will be sufficient; no need to spray a massive cloud around your body. Judicious application will help to preserve the environment and your synthetic clothing and gear. We like to buy a big bottle and repackage and clearly label 100% DEET in a 0.5oz atomizer bottle, which typically lasts 7-10 days.
Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion. Picaridin has an edge over DEET because it does not melt your synthetic clothing and gear. However, we’ve found that it requires a higher concentration and more frequent applications for it to stay effective compared to DEET. It typically comes in liquid or lotion form. We’ve found that the Picaridin lotion is longer lasting and you’ll end up using less of it over the course of a trip.
During heavy bug (mosquito) season, it is worth the 1-oz weight to carry a headnet to keep the pesky swarm away from your head. Pro-tip: get a size large enough to keep the netting away from your face. Pro-tip: treat head net with Permethrin before trip for even stronger protection
Sea to Summit Head Net with Insect Shield. It is helpful to have a headnet that is pre-treated with insecticide
Who’s the author?
Treeline Review celebrates the diversity and expertise of our writers and community. Duncan is a passionate and geeky wilderness explorer, teacher, guide, father, strategy advisor, and outdoor brand ambassador.
In addition to his 15,000+ miles of on-trail and off-trail experience, Duncan brings to Treeline lessons from having taught over 150 people how to backpack smarter, lighter, easier, and more mindfully through his backpacking academy, Off Trail On Track.
His mission is to inspire people to cultivate fulfillment in life, to channel resources toward conservation, and to foster inclusivity in our outdoor communities.
Duncan has three homes: Hong Kong, where he grew up, Berkeley, where he lives, and Wilderness, where he belongs. When he’s not guiding trips, Duncan loves to take Kiyo, his 6-year-old ninja-geologist son mining and camping. To learn more about how you can backpack smarter, lighter, and easier, check out offtrailontrack.com.