Our Editors Tested the Best Eco-Friendly, Cool Weather Hiking Gear — Here’s What’s Worth Your Money
Given the variable conditions of mud season, dressing properly is key when snowmelt tends to soak stretches of trail and howling winds can unexpectedly ruin an otherwise-pleasant excursion. And considering the sheer number of brands making eco-friendly spring hiking clothes, there’s no reason not to dress in an environmentally friendly way.
Matador editors tested brands in each category below and compiled this list of the top low-impact spring hiking clothes. Here’s what we’re wearing from head to toe for spring hikes, with as small of a carbon footprint as possible. As a bonus, these items are available individually and make great gifts for the hikers in your life. Let’s hit the dressing room.
We hope you love the hiking clothes we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you make a purchase. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.
Top underlayers for spring hiking – Artilect base layers
Spring weather is unpredictable, and the higher in elevation you go, the higher the likelihood that your starting weather won’t be the same as the weather a few miles in (or up). As such, a warm and flexible underlayer is the hidden — pun intended — key to a successful spring day outdoors. The best underlayer products for spring hiking come from upstart brand Artilect, out of Boulder, Colorado.
Start on top with the Artilect Boulder 125 Crew Base Layer Top ($100), available in both women’s and men’s varieties. This underlayer is super flexible and made of sustainable wool to absorb sweat as smoothly as it flexes with your movements. You’ll find that the Boulder Crew is perfect on cold mornings or in nearly all types of inclement weather. And because it’s vented, air moves through the fabric to keep you dry and cool even when it does warm up.
Leggings or bottom base layers are especially important for early morning starts. Fortunately, Artilect’s Boulder 125 base layer bottom ($100) offers the same performance and comfort as its top. I’ve worn the men’s version of both the legging and top for the past two spring seasons and have come to rely on its durability and ability to neutralize shifting temperatures. Whether I’m touring in the backcountry on a splitboard mission or hiking a muddy early trail, not once have I found myself too hot or cold when wearing this base layer. Quite the opposite, actually — I typically forget I even have the layer on, which speaks to its comfort.
Read about Artilect’s sustainability efforts.
Top midlayer for spring hiking: Smartwool Intraknit
A spring midlayer should be loose but warm. It should be thick enough to mean you don’t need a heavy winter jacket, but tough enough to keep you warm in the face of strong wind or yoyoing temperatures. That’s what you’ll get with the Smartwool Intraknit Merino 200 base layer. Available as a quarter zip for women ($130) and a half zip for men ($150), the Intraknit offers back-of-the-beck protection and is made with a breathable fabric that excels in both warm and cool temperatures.
Smartwool is a leader in ethically sourced Merino wool and partners with ZQ Merino to ensure that animal, farmer, and land benefit from Smartwool’s sourcing and production. Plus, the Intraknit is superb for cool summer nights around a campfire, meaning you’ll definitely get your money’s worth for day and nighttime use.
Read about Smartwool’s sustainability efforts.
Top shell and outer layer for spring hiking: Garphyttan shirt jacket or fleece
The unpredictability of spring weather goes both directions; sometimes it’s much warmer than expected. This makes layering for spring hikes all the more important. Because spring hiking is the time to leave the heavy down jacket or parka at the trailhead in favor of a lighter shell jacket on top of your base layers — otherwise, you may find yourself carrying a bulky down jacket after a few miles because it won’t fit in your daypack.
Swedish brand Garphyttan makes an incredibly versatile outer layer that’s easy to shed if the weather calls for it. It’s called the Specialist Shirt Jacket (for men, $139), or the Specialist Fleece (for women, $119). Garphyttan took honors in this category for two reasons. First, its outer layers are incredibly functional and flexible. And second, the brand includes functional pockets for your phone, wallet, and keys, none of which detract from the style. That’s especially important for women, whose products to have pockets too tiny to fit even a credit card while men get pockets big enough for an iPad. And it doesn’t hurt that you’ll look as good at happy hour as you do on the trail. The thicker fleece version (branded as women’s) doubles as a midlayer for winter use, too.
Garphyttan also makes an incredibly durable outdoor pant for both women and men: the Specialist Trouser Light ($139). Spring hiking clothes need to be tough and waterproof as well as breathable, and this pant is all of the above. I’ve found in my testing that it’s super durable, and I’m confident it’ll last through years of heavy, rugged use.
This is a pant you buy once and won’t need to replace for years to come. All of Garphyttan’s clothes are Fair Trade certified and it uses polyester sourced in as eco-friendly a way as possible. Each item is OEKO-TEX certified, meaning it’s made with non-hazardous end products without harmful levels of toxic chemicals. The pants can be recycled into other clothing, if you ever decide to stop wearing them.
Read about Garphyttan’s sustainability efforts.
Top boots for spring hiking – Astral
Don’t forget the importance of having a good pair of boots in your spring hiking clothes setup. Waterproof boots are essential when every sun patch you pass through is damp with snowmelt runoff. You also need hiking boots durable enough to weather (again, intended) changing trail conditions and terrain ranging from dirt to rock to crusty snow. Small but growing brand Astral is the long-standing leader in sustainably made hiking footwear.
For spring, I’m opting for the Pisgah Waterproof Boot, available in women’s and men’s styles ($150). The boots are vegan and made with recycled polyester, but what makes the boot’s performance stand out from the rest are the super-soft EVA midsoles, which cushion the blow on your feet caused by changing trail conditions and uneven impacts. You want each step to feel the same, and Astral has that down with the Pisgah (with the added bonus of keeping your feet completely dry).
Read about Astral’s sustainability efforts.