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Clothing Options for Camping and the Outdoors

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Last updated on June 23, 2023

Smartly dressed toddler in warm clothes and beanie looking down at his shoes

Your outdoor and camping wardrobe will vary greatly depending on your planned activities, the expected temperature and weather conditions and your personal preferences. My son would be happy to wear the same thing every day, washed or unwashed, and he doesn't at all feel the wet or cold, whereas my niece would prefer to change her clothes 2-3 times a day and have her laundry done on demand.

Clothing is not something you would typically consider to be part of your camping setup, but there are certain must have's. 

If you have limited packing space, choose compact and lightweight, but comfortable, clothing that you enjoy wearing and that serves a specific purpose.

Clothing for cold weather - the 3-layer rule

Nights can be cold in the great outdoors where at best all you have between you and the elements is a bit of material. So make sure everyone has adequate clothing and bedding to keep them warm and dry.

You might be tempted (as I am) to bring a lot of warm layers, but by adhering to the following three layer rule, and bringing a few extra thin base layers to reduce the need to do the laundry, you can really reduce the volume of your luggage.

Base Layer

Your inner or base layer should be thin and soft, and made of fabric with wicking properties to draw the perspiration and moisture away from your skin towards the outer layers to then evaporate. Base layers (tops and bottoms) are generally referred to as thermal underwear and are readily available in outdoor and hiking stores. Your options are outlined below in order of effectiveness:

Image of man wearing thermal underwear - top and bottom
  • Synthetic fabrics such as polyester, which may also be blended with wool, are the most suitable for your base or thermal layer, because they are light weight, quick drying and have good wicking properties.
  • Pure wool absorbs some moisture but still has good insulation and wicking properties when it becomes wet. It is not ideal as a base layer though because it is heavier than the preferred synthetic fabric, is slow to dry and can be itchy against your skin.
  • Cotton or cotton blends are not recommended for the base layer, especially in cool weather and for high energy activities, such as hiking. Unlike wool and other synthetic fabrics, cotton absorbs moisture rather than wicking it away to the outer layers. This might be good in the heat but not so in the cold.
Middle or Insulating Layer

Your middle or insulating layer typically refers to your jumpers, fleece jackets and sweaters, and is intended to help you retain heat by trapping air close to your body to keep you warm. Your options are outlined below in order of effectiveness:

Image of girl wearing a down jacket drinking a hot drink
  • Goose / duck down jackets have excellent insulating properties and are very light weight and breathable. While some are now being made with good water proofing properties, others generally must be kept dry and will take some time to dry. They might look bulky, but they generally compress down to a fairly compact size.
  • Polyester and synthetic fibre or fleece jackets and jumpers have excellent insulating qualities, even when wet, and are lightweight, breathable and quick drying. They are much more reasonably priced than the down jackets, but are not as compact when packed. The more bulky items should therefore be avoided.
  • Merino wool has excellent insulating qualities even when wet, but is heavier than down or synthetic fibres and takes longer to dry.
  • Cotton and cotton blended clothing is not suitable for the insulating layer for the same reasons as stated above - i.e. it absorbs moisture rather than wicking it away to the outer layers.
Image of person wearing a yellow rain coat with the hood over their head near a lake
Shell or Outer Layer

Shell / outer layers are typically your rain coats or jackets. They should be water and wind proof, sufficiently roomy to accommodate the inner layers and well ventilated to allow perspiration to escape rather than to condense internally. There are many options on the market in outdoor stores made using a variety of fabrics.

As some rain coats can be quite bulky, we suggest you choose one that is more light weight but still wind and water proof and breathable, and supplement it with an extra base or middle layer in very cold weather. That way your coat can be used all year round.

Generally you pay for what you get, and often the options that pack down better for transporting are not always cheaper. A good rain coat / jacket should be seen as an investment that can serve you well for years.

Anything Else For Cold Weather

You should also consider packing the following during cold weather:

  • Socks made of merino wool and / or synthetic (and not cotton) and always try to keep at least one pair dry.
  • Beanie / hat, gloves and neck scarf - a significant amount of heat is lost through the top of your head. Go for lighter and more compact synthetic / fleece options.

Clothing for wet weather

The right gear to suit the expected temperature, humidity and your level of physical activity, can really help reduce the impact of wet weather on your camping holiday.

Waterproof Jacket (Outer Layer)

Hot and humid conditions call for a lightweight and breathable water proof jacket. As mentioned above, we suggest you choose a good quality lightweight jacket and supplement it with an additional base or middle layer in very cold weather.

Rain Poncho

We usually throw in a couple of rain poncho's to avoid unnecessarily soaking our heavier rain coats. A rain poncho keeps your hands free and is great for keeping you dry if you need to do jobs around the campsite, especially when setting up and packing up the site. They provide excellent rain and wind protection and compact down into a very small pouch.

Image of person wearing an orange  rain poncho near a creek

There's usually always an umbrella lying around in our car to provide the quickest and most convenient defence against the rain. Umbrella's pack down neatly and are very handy while camping, but obviously not when you need to use both hands. They are very easy and quick to pop up and dry out as opposed to the inconvenience of a wet rain coat or poncho.

Image of young girl holding an umbrella

Clothing for warm weather

For average summer temperatures, it's probably a relief to know that your clothing choices are a little less rigid, but being smart about how you pack for warm weather can still make a big difference to comfort and packing volume.

Clothing for warm to hot weather should be loose fitting and of a breathable material to promote airflow to help regulate the temperature of your body. It should also be light in colour to reflect the rays of the sun.

If your plans are more around relaxing than strenuous activities, cotton or linen clothing is preferable because it absorbs moisture and it allows air to circulate and pass freely through the fabric to cool you down.

If your plans involve exerting yourself, such as hiking, then the moisture absorbed into the cotton and linen will take longer to dry. This might be OK when the temperature remains warm, but not so if the temperature drops and your damp clothes are no longer a welcome relief. Instead, loose clothing made of nylon or polyester would be a better option during physical activities.

Clothing in hot weather should also cover you up rather than expose your skin to the UV rays of the sun, such as long-sleeved shirts and tops, long pants, dresses and skirts. Clothing that covers you up rather than exposing your skin will also help keep the flies and insects at bay, and reduce the likelihood of bites from mosquitoes and other insects.


Shoes for outdoor wear should be durable and they should suit the expected conditions. They can take up a lot of room, so try to avoid any that are heavy and bulky, and try to limit the number of shoes to three per person, including those they are wearing. Your choice of footwear should be confined to:

  • Runners or walking shoes - and preferably with at least some water proofing
  • Neat casual shoes / sandals (depending on the expected weather)
  • Thongs / flip flops or other water shoes, if only to aid foot hygiene in communal showers

To avoid traipsing dirt into your tent, you should select at least one pair of shoes each that can be easily slipped on and off for quick trips around camp.

Each person should also have a pair of open breathable sandals as well as good quality but breathable hiking or walking shoes