A guide to hiking skirts, dresses, skorts and kilts for thru-hiking in 2020.
Hiking in skirts might seem old fashioned, but we've come a long ways from the full-length skirts of the 1880s. Hiking skirts are now breathable, waterproof and cut at or above the knee for easy walking. They come in a variety of styles and colors to match your personality or hiking style. We’ll walk you through the basics of backcountry skirts - why you would wear them, what to look for when shopping for them and a few suggested models to get you started.
1. VENTILATION: One of the main benefits of wearing a hiking skirt is ventilation. Skirts are open at the bottom and offer more ventilation than a pair of shorts or convertible pants. Breezy, they reduce sweating and chafing especially on a hot day. Because they don't hug legs as shorts do, skirts offer incredible freedom of movement and make it easy to scramble over steep rocks and hop over blown-down trees.
2. BATHROOM EASE: Peeing or pooping in the woods? It is so much more comfortable in a skirt. You don't have to bare your naked butt or worry about peeing on the clothes that are straddling your ankles - just remember to lift both the front and back of the fabric when you squat. And if you are one of those ladies who uses a female urination device (FUD), then you MUST try a skirt (you'll thank us later).
3. SIMPLICITY: On a more personal aspect, skirts are more straightforward to take off than shorts or pants. Just slide a pair of base layer leggings up and slide the skirt down.
A NOTE ON LEGGINGS: The biggest problem with hiking skirts is that, similar to shorts, they leave legs exposed. When you are bushwhacking or hiking in a mosquito-infested area, your bare legs are vulnerable to being cut or eaten alive. A quick workaround for that is to slip on a pair of leggings underneath the skirt. When you no longer need the extra protection, simply take off the leggings and toss them in your pack.
There are several key features you should consider when purchasing a hiking skirt. Here are some of the most important...
Skorts or "Built Ins": Not every hiking skirt is an open skirt; some come with built-in shorts (called skorts). Not only do these built-ins save you from facing an awkward Marilyn Monroe moment (no underwear anyone?), but they also protect your inner thighs from chafing.
Dresses: Hiking dresses have all the advantages of a skirt along with the added benefit of being seamless. Unlike a skirt which has a waistband, a dress fits smooth against your back and hips. As a result, wearing a dress allows you to do away with the pressure points and irritating rubbing that could be caused by your backpack's hip belt.
Kilts: A kilt is a wrap-around, knee-length skirt made out of pleated tartan cloth that's known to be thick and warm. Hiking kilts are common on the trails for both men and women and offer the same benefits as a skirt. Men rave about the ventilation and the unrestricted movement they experience when they swap their shorts for a kilt.
Summer: You'll want a stretchy form-fitting nylon or synthetic fabric for a summer hiking skirt. These synthetic fabrics are lightweight, dry quickly and stretch to move when you are climbing. Stay away from cotton skirts as they dry slowly and don't have as comfortable of a stretch. Some synthetic skirts also offer UV protection and a DWR finish that repels rain.
Winter: Skirts can also be worn in the winter over a pair of athletic leggings for example. Wool is definitely your best bet when shopping for warmer skirts. For extra protection from the cold, look for skirts that come with polyester or down fill.
Flare: Most hiking skirts have a slight flare at the bottom to allow for unrestricted movement when walking. Other skirts fall straight from the hip, providing a slim fit some people prefer.
Pockets: Another essential element to consider when shopping for a skirt is storage. Not only should you pay attention to how many pockets the skirt comes with, but you should also make sure those pockets are deep enough to be useful to you.
Adjustable Size: If you are a hard-to-fit size, you may want to search for a skirt that has an adjustable velcro waist or drawstrings.
Snap Closure: Some skirts also include snap closures for comfort.
You don't want you skirt or skort or what-have-you to feel like a pair of heavy blue jeans. You want to be dancing around the woods freely in lightweight and breathable garments. Skirts range from as light as 2 ounces to 16 ounces. Aim for a skirt in the 4 to 8 ounce range that has at least one pocket. If you are worried about the cold of winter, as mentioned, ad leggings for warmth.
LIGHTHEART GEAR - SKIRT WITH POCKETS
Cost: $98 from lightheartgear.com
Material: 100% Nylon Suplex
Skirt length: 19 in.
Weight: 6 ounces
The Lightheart Gear hiking skirt is more than just a pretty skirt. The functional A-frame design has just enough flair that it offers little to no movement restriction without being puffy. It has an outdoorsy look that appeals to men as well.
It is made of a lightweight and quick-drying nylon suplex material and has six pockets. Nothing has been overlooked in the design of this skirt - it has a high waist that fits nicely under a hip belt, zippered front for easy on/off and a snap closure that you can use when you want some extra modesty. It is available in four gender-neutral colors.
PURPLE RAIN - ADVENTURE SKIRT
Cost: $72 from garagegrowngear.com
Material: 88% Polyester/12% Spandex blend and DWR finish.
Skirt length: 20 in
Weight: 4.6 ounces (medium)
The Purple Rain Adventure skirt is handmade by Mandy “Purple Rain” Bland, an avid thru-hiker who couldn't find the right skirt when she was hiking the AT. Rather than abandon the skirt altogether, she decided to design her own and test it on the PCT. Now she sells her skirts from her in-home workshop in Oregon.
A favorite among thru-hikers, each A-line adventure skirt is quality constructed from a stretchy polyester-spandex blend with a DWR finish that helps fend off the rain. The wide, moisture-wicking waistband sits smoothly across the waist and doesn't bunch up against a pack's hip belt. It includes two pockets and is available in purple or black.
LADY HIKE SKIRT
Cost: $65 from ladyhike.com
Material: Stretchable, breathable, lightweight, water-resistant material
Skirt length: not available
Weight: 11 ounces (medium size)
The Lady Hike skirt sets itself apart from other hiking skirts with its integrated petals panties. This built-in undergarment provides modesty when needed most. More than just underwear, the petals panties have a snap front closure so you can easily pee standing up without having to remove any of your clothing.
The skirt itself is loose fitting with four deep pockets and a wide waistband that won't interfere with your backpack's hip belt.
LIGHTHEART GEAR - BACKPACKING DRESS
Cost: $35 from lightheartgear.com
Material: 95% Polyester, 5% Lycra
Design: Princess Cut
Dress length: not available
Weight: 6-7.5 ounces for a dress with pockets; 8-11 ounces for non-pocket dress
The Lightheart Gear backpacking dress fits the bill when you want all the benefits of the skirt in a one-piece outfit. The backpacking dress is not your everyday cocktail dress; it was designed for hiking.
The dress has a slight flare for increased range of motion, a fitted waist, and wide straps at the top that'll prevent your backpack from rubbing against your skin. It is available in two versions - one with pockets and one without and can be ordered in several different colors and patterns.
EXOFFICIO - KIZMET SKORT
Cost: $60 from exofficio.com
Material: 86% Polyester 14% Elastane
Design: Slim-fit A-Line
Skirt length: Mid-thigh, 5-inch inseam short
Weight: 15.87 ounces
The Kizmet short from ExOfficio is a versatile hiking skort that looks as good on the trail as it does in the mall. The straight cut gives it a slim, flattering fit. Because it is made out of stretch polyester and includes an elastic waistband and a drawstring waist, it is also very comfortable.
As an added benefit, the skort has two drop-in pockets and one zippered pocket where you can store money and other small valuables. It is available in a black UPF 50 fabric.
SKIRT SPORTS - HAPPY GIRL SKORT
Cost: $70 from skirtsports.com
Material: Polyester/Spandex skirt with Semi Compression Mesh (poly/spandex) shorts
Skirt length: 16.5″ front, 17.5″ back, 7-inch inseam short
Weight: not available
Our favorite skort in the SkirtSports's catalog is the Happy Girl skort. It is a longer version of the popular Gym Girl Ultra skirt and is designed for active use.
It includes a pair of semi-compression shorts that help prevent chafing, and three pockets: one on each leg and a zippered pocket in the back.Made with UV 50+ fabric, the Happy Girl Skirt is available in 20 different vibrant colors.
MONTBELL - SUPERIOR DOWN SKIRT
Cost: $80 from montbell.us
Material: 20D rip-stop nylon with stretchy fleece side panels and 20D nylon taffeta lining
Insulation: 800 Fill Power EX Down
Skirt length: 17-inch
Weight: 4.2 ounces
When the weather outside turns cold, you'll need some extra insulation in your skirt. One of our favorite picks for cold weather hiking is the Montbell Superior Down Trail Skirt.
The Superior Down Trail Skirt is stuffed with an 800-fill down and constructed with stretch side fleece panels. Pair the skirt with some wool or fleece leggings, and you will stay toasty warm on your next winter hike.
ENLIGHTENED EQUIPMENT - RAIN WRAP SKIRT
Cost: $40 from enlightenedequipment.com
Material: waterproof 15D silnylon
Skirt length: Mid-calf length (25 to 29-inches)
Weight: 1.7 ounces
The Enlightened Equipment Rain Wrap Skirt is a barebones rain kilt. You slide it on, snap it up and go hike in the rain. When the storm is over, you can scrunch it up and throw it in your pack.
The 15D silnylon isn't stiff and moves along with you as you hike. It also doubles as pack cover or ground cloth. The only gripe is that it may drip water from the hem which would go into your shoes if you don't have gaiters.
By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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