Spring hiking: Best season to hike?

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Spring hiking is all about amazing temperatures, blooming plant life, and amazing post-hike beers.

A new hiking season brings new possibilities.

That hike you didn’t have time for last year. That awesome-looking restaurant just down the road from the trailhead. That secret meadow of flowers that is always in full bloom the first week of May.

Spring hiking is the season of life, optimism, and dreamy views.

flowers on spring hike

What to wear for spring hiking

Spring hikes can be some of the hardest to prepare for because the weather conditions can change rather quickly. This time of year, I check the forecast a few days in advance of a hike, only for it to be drastically different when I actually get out on the trail.

Spring weather runs the gambit from cold and breezy to swelteringly hot and humid. Oh, and you have rain and potentially snow to contend with.

It can be a difficult time of year to prepare for a hike, but with the right spring hiking outfit, you can soak in the beauty that emerges in the springtime.

flowers on a spring hike

Base layer

Unless you are planning to venture into high-elevation areas, there is no need for thermal base layers anymore.

Depending on the weather, you may be fine in a tank top or short sleeve shirt. Other times you will want to layer with long sleeves.

I am a big fan of REI’s Sahara line (short sleeve, long sleeve, and sun hoodie) because of their versatility, comfort, and value.

Most outdoor apparel brands have similar products, but they tend to be priced a little higher for name branding.

Outer layer

If it’s sunny and 65, you probably aren’t going to want an outer layer.

But there are still some breezy mornings this time of year (especially in mountainous regions), so an outer layer may be needed.

This could range from a light pullover to a fully insulated jacket.

I have had an Enlightened Equipment Torrid for about 5 years now, and I have loved its quality and versatility. It is warm enough for a cold morning and it packs down nicely when I warm up during the hike.

Enlightened Equipment Torrid mid layer

Rain layer

I deviate from the crowd on rain gear because I am all-in on ponchos. They double as a rain jacket and pack cover, plus they are lightweight and affordable.

I spent weeks in the mountains last year with a Target brand poncho and it held up great.

If you opt for a rain jacket, keep a couple of things in mind

  • You will need a pack cover or waterproof pack liner for your day pack

  • If its a downpour, you are going to get at least a little wet no matter what

  • Rain jackets tend not to breathe very well, so a lighter option may be better

Hiking pants or shorts

More personal preference than anything; I prefer shorts, but also like to have a pair of tights/leggings for cooler mornings.

Pants do come in handy if you are hiking through some tall grass/brush, as they protect your legs from scraps.

Hiking pants are probably more “practical” as they have pockets, protect your legs from the sun, and give you that “official hiker” look. But showing off the legs and getting a nice tan are just too tempting and enjoyable.

I recommend tailoring your choice to the weather and trail conditions, and also consider your preference. You should feel both physically and mentally at ease during your hike.

colorful patagonia hiking shorts

Hiking shoes or boots

Another pseudo-new vs. old choice here.

I prefer trail running shoes compared to hiking boots. For me, trail runners give ample protection from rocks and are more comfortable at the end of the day.

Hiking boots offer better protection and support, but they tend to be less breathable and are heavier.

I recommend heading to a store to try both on before making a decision. Some people get out on the trail and don’t feel like shoes give them enough protection or support. Or they just don’t feel confident on the terrain in them.

On the flip side, some people get boots because they want to look the part, only to find out that they aren’t comfortable and end up with blisters.

Hat

Some form of hat is essential for spring hiking.

Whether it’s a trucker hat, sun hat, bucket hat, or anything else. Hats provide sun protection for your head and some for your eyes.

cotopaxi sun hat

Spring hiking gear list

Essentials

The spring hiking gear list can range quite a bit based on weather forecasts.

The normal hiking gear essentials apply to springtime.

  • Water + electrolytes

  • Nutrition

  • Some form of navigation

  • First-aid kit

During the spring, I like to also toss a long sleeve shirt (if I don’t start with one) into my pack in case it gets windy or the temperature drops.

I also like to have my poncho stuffed into the bottom of my pack throughout spring in case an unexpected rain shower pops up.

Some other things I would recommend considering bringing would be:

  • Extra change of socks (with rain comes deeper creeks and rivers and the potential for wet feet)

  • Trekking poles (can double as stability if water crossings are deep)

  • Bug spray

  • Ankle gaiters

  • Sunglasses

field of flowers on spring hiking trip

Hazards of spring hiking

Springtime is not an overly dangerous hiking season, but there are some things to be aware of:

  • Wet conditions mean slippery rocks and roots

  • Heavy rainfall can bring (deep) water crossings

  • Rapid weather changes

  • Snakes start to become more common

  • Bugs (ticks)

Some areas experience all of these while others have few hazards.

If you are hiking up hills/mountains, take note of the temperature shifts that can happen. I have started hikes in chilly weather, and as the day and hike progress, the temperature stays moderate. Only to return downhill into much warmer weather. These temperature swings can be particularly dangerous if you hike in the early morning or late evening.

wild flowers in the desert

Difference between hiking in spring and other seasons

Spring

In most areas, springtime is the most unpredictable weather of the year.

This makes preparing for hiking a little more difficult. One weekend you may be struggling to stay warm, while the next, you are begging for a breeze to blow.

The unpredictability of it makes it difficult to pack for because you have to be ready for weather changes.

Summer

For the most part, summer is the most predictable of the hiking seasons.

More times than not, it’s warm, sunny, with possible chances of rain in the afternoon.

Sun protection is a must, and always make sure you have enough water to last your entire hike.

path during fall with leaves

Fall

The quintessential hiking season. The leaves are changing colors, the nights are getting cooler, and there is an unexplainable beauty and electricity in the air.

It is like Mother Nature is throwing one last hurrah before winter arrives. Fall hiking is some of the best.

Winter

A beautiful, serene landscape is what reward awaits those brave enough for winter hiking.

There is almost an eerily beautiful silence in the winter that some people are drawn towards. While others are content to stay in their warm, cozy homes.

There is definitely a special winter hiking gear list that is more extensive than that for the other seasons.

spring hiking map

What areas are best for hiking in the spring

Anywhere in the Sun Belt (Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, Texas, Florida, etc.) is great in springtime! The temperatures are still cool enough most of the time to not be overbearing, and the spring flowers and foliage are in full bloom.

Most of the Midwest is pristine this time of year as well. Places like Tennessee, Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, etc.

I would say high-altitude, mountainous areas are the only places inaccessible during this time without extensive snow gear.

FAQ

For most spring hikes I recommend:

  • Shorts (pants if you prefer)
  • Short sleeve during the day. Long sleeves in the morning and evening.
  • Trail running shoes (boots work if you prefer)
  • A light outer layer (usually kept in pack)
  • A poncho for unexpected rain showers
  • Hat 

The weather can vary depending on your location. Generally, expect mild morning, warm/temperate days, and chilly evening. Rain is also possible throughout spring.

I recommend a smaller day pack. Ideally something water-resistant (or treated with DWR

Spring is the time of year where nature comes back to life after winter. There is a sense of optimism and liveliness in the air and flowers are blooming!

Conclusion

There are few things as pleasant as a spring hike. The weather is turning warmer, plants start blooming, and the general vibe is upbeat.

The spring season brings a sense of renewed life and inspiration to plan your first hiking trip of the year. Some of my favorite hiking memories are from springtime.

Make sure you have the right gear, your spring hiking clothes, and a smile on your face as you head the trails for the first time in an exciting new year!

hiking in the spring