Google searches for hiking gear are 200% to 300% higher than they were last fall. It seems like families have decided that the safest way to get out of the house right now is to get outdoors.
Fall and spring are the best seasons for hiking because they’re the most temperate. Popular trails and state parks are (usually) less crowded than during summer vacation.
Here are recommendations for hiking gear for men, women and kids from me and some of my fellow travel writers. These hiking shoes, clothes and jackets will keep you dry and warm as the days get cooler.
Down below I also have some tips on how to find trails near you that are ideal for an vigorous family walk or a day of hiking.
Family Fall Hiking: My Top Picks For Gear & Trails
Essential Hiking Clothes & Gear for Fall
Hiking Shoes for Autumn
Hiking Shoes For women
• I’m a steadfast Merrell fan—They’re reliable and easy to find on sale so my whole family wears them. I highly recommend my latest pair of hiking shoes, the Women’s Siren 3 (it comes in eight colors).
I opted for the waterproof version to keep my feet dry when we do early-morning hikes with dew or run into unexpected muddy spots on the trail. They break in quickly and last forever while staying super comfortable.
We spend lots of time chasing waterfalls and I think they grip well on wet rocks. I initially bought this pair for a Yellowstone National Park trip last summer but they’ve done most of their miles in the greater western North Carolina area due to covid-19. You can see some of our favorite Asheville hikes here. — Stephanie Woodson at Explore More, Clean Less
• If you prefer a boot for more warmth in the late fall, consider Women’s Newton Ridge Plus boot from Columbia. It’s one of the brands most popular boots thanks to it supportive and grippy rubber soles and warm waterproof suede exterior. And it comes in three color combinations.
Hiking Shoes For men
• One of Columbia’s bestsellers for men is the Crestwood waterproof hiking shoe. It’s leather and mesh, so it breathes while keep your feet warm and dry. It has the same grippy sole and foot support as the Newton Ridge. And it’s sneaker-like enough that he’ll run all around town in them, too.
It’s looks like a more traditional, heavy boot, but it breaks in quickly and the combo of leather and mesh makes it light to wear on an all-day hike even while it keeps your feet well-supported and dry.
Hiking Shoes For kids
• If you want to be a Merrell family, too, consider these Merrell Moab 2 waterproof hiking shoes for kids. They come in a grey/periwinkle combo that both girls and boys can wear.
The suede and mesh upper allows sweat to escape and keeps water out. Stretch laces provide a snug fit while making them easier to get on and off. You might find your kids trekking to school as well as along trails in them.
• Kids who don’t want their hiking boots to look like hiking boots will like the Hedgehog Hiker II from Northface. The softer nubuck upper is waterproof, breathable and sneaker-like.
Hiking Clothes for Autumn
Hiking Clothes For women
• Fall outdoor activities are all about layering. This Adventura long-sleeve hiking shirt from Columbia is soft, stretchy and moisture-wicking, perfect for under a fleece or hoody.
The extra-long sleeves have thumb holes to keep your hands a little warmer on cool-not-cold days. Of the four colors, I like the gray camo best.
They’re stretchy and move with you, the light fleece lining keeps me warm without being bulky. They have a zippered side pocket—so handy and so few women’s trousers have one! A cinch at the bottom keep you dryer on a wet day.
• The Dynama Lined Pants from Mountain Hardwear doesn’t have the side pocket, but they do have a drawstring waist and a water-repellent finish. They promise warmth and stretchy comfort on your weekend hikes, and strolling through the farmers market or the pumpkin patch, too.
Hiking Clothes For men
• Mountain Hardwear’s Ghee long-sleeve crew is a huge improvement over the standard t-shirt most dad’s live in on the weekend. It’s breathable and super moisture-wicking. And it too has those extra-long sleeves and thumb holes for chilly days. It comes in eight colors, so you can stock up.
• These AP Pants, also from Mountain Hardwear are perfect for the guy who wants to walk off the trail and into a restaurant without missing a beat. They have extra stretch for all your hiking and rock climbing. They come in 9 colors for the guy who already has enough khaki in his closet (which is every guy I know!).
• For extra warmth as the days get shorter, consider these Mid Fjell pants from Haglofs, a Scandinavian brand that no doubt knows how to keep its customers warm. The trousers have a synthetic insulation that traps your body heat while allowing moisture to escape. They have three zippered pockets and a drawcord at the hem for muddy hikes.
Hiking Clothes For Kids
• My daughter asks for Columbia’s Omni-Heat shirts every year. Omni-heat clothes have an impressive heat-reflective interior, which makes for an incredibly warm base layer in the winter. But top looks like a regular shirt, not like long underwear.
She wears it by itself as an extra-warm t-shirt for all her fall (and early spring) camping and hiking. Three seasons of wear means great value for my money! The colors are fun and pretty co-ed.
• Marmot has quality cold-weather clothing and a lot of its colors will appeal equally boys and girls who have outgrown their pastels phase. Boys and girls will like the camo colors on this Harrier long-sleeve top. It wicks moisture and dries quickly. It’s comfortable and has a slim fit that works for layering.
• Girls and boys can pair that top with Marmot’s PreCip Eco pants. These are pants made for kids. An elastic waist and fabric that’s durable and moves with you.
They’re also waterproof and snap tight at the cuff. Zippered pockets keep kids phone and pocket money secure, which is handy because these pants might spend as much time as school as on your nearest trails.
Tip: Keep in mind co-ed clothing is usually boys sizes, which run larger than their counterpart in girls sizes.
Autumn Hiking: Jackets, Vests, Accessories
Hiking Outerwear For women
I live in my Helly Hanson vest from mid-September to almost Thanksgiving, especially for outdoor fun and for travel. I layer it over a hoodie on cool mornings that are likely to warm up. And it’s slim enough layer under a heavier fleece when I’m not quite ready to commit to my winter jacket.
• I really like this two-tone Axis down vest from Mountain Hardwear. It has extra length so it won’t ride up on you and room for layering underneath. Its down lining stays fluffy and warm even if it gets damp. It has pockets that zip and it folds up into itself to pop into your backpack.
• You can’t go on a fall hike without slipping a light hat into your pocket. Columbia’s Ali Peak beanie is slim and sized for both men and women. The soft synthetic blend keeps you warm and won’t shrink in the wash. And the three basic colors go with everything.
Hiking outerwear for men
• Weather can change fast in the fall, and so a shell like Mountain Hardwear’s Gore-Tex Paclite Jacket is ideal. It folds up to about the size of a fanny pack, easy to stow in your backpack.
When it’s unfolded it has a high collar to keep wind and rain off your neck. A snug hood, adjustable cuffs and drawstring bottom hem will keep dry in a real squall. It comes in black and a muted olive as well as red and bright blue.
• For other compact outerwear consider Mountain Hardwear’s Ghost Whisperer down vest, which folds up into its own pocket. It’s light to wear and carry but with a goose down and feathers for insulation it will still keep you warm. It’s water resistant and has zipper side pockets.
• It’s harder to find a men’s fall hat that’s both slim and warm (but not too hot). I found Columbia’s new Titanium beanie. The wool nylon blend will keep its shape and keep you warm. It slips into the side pocket of your backpack and it has a double layer around the bottom to keep your ears warm well into November.
Hiking Gloves & Neck Warmers for Men & Women
On a winter vacation to Montreal I bought glove liners to wear underneath my gloves. I’ve rarely been on winter vacations that cold since then, but I always have a set of glove liners around because they’re handy when you need a pair of light fall gloves that look good and wear well.
• These moisture-wicking black Power Stretch Gloves from Mountain Hardwear sized for women and for men. They’re compact and easy to slip into your pocket when you hit the trail. They’re also form-fitting and stretchy, which makes them handy for driving and running errands. And they work with touch-screens, too. You might never take them off.
At the first chill in the air I start wearing neck gaiters. They’re just the right weight and keep your whole neck warm. I’ve even pulled one up over my nose and ears when the weather has turned colder than I expected.
I especially like them for outdoor activities because they don’t have dangling ends that get in the way. And they never fall off accidentally so you can’t lose them.
Buff has a neck warmers for men and women in countless colors and patterns and different weights . The Merino wool ones are warm and cozy well into the fall and winter without being bulky.
The lighter ones made of dryflx material are ideal for those early fall when you aren’t sure whether you really need a scarf. They provide sun protection, dry quickly when they get wet and take up next to no room in a daypack, suitcase or pocket.
Hiking Outerwear For kids
• You’re going to love the PreCip eco jacket from Marmot. It’s waterproof and designed to give kids room to move in it. A high neck and hood will keep wind and rain out. Deep pockets hold hat, gloves, trail snacks and more. It’s made from recycled material and folds up compactly. Seven color combos are mostly unisex.
• For months after our visit to the LL Bean stores in Maine my daughter pestered me to buy this Mountain hooded fleece. I finally did and she wears it constantly.
Other kids who love wrapping themselves into super soft fleece will love it. She wears it on its own pretty far into the fall and has room to layer underneath it a bit. It also comes in navy.
• What could be more perfect for autumn hiking than Columbia’s Fawn Hike beanie? It’s acrylic so it will keep its shape through several wash cycles and it’s compact enough to slip into a backpack or jacket pocket.
While the fjord blue is decidedly gender neutral, girls who still like pink will prefer the bright geranium. Boys are more likely to go for the black one.
• If Burton had these Touch-n-Go gloves for adults I’d buy them. I love the color. The fleece is soft and the right weight for hiking, rock climbing and walking home from school in the fall. They work as liners for ski trips, too. And while you might have a no-phones rule on the trail, kids will still like the grippy palms and touch-screen compatible fingers.
Buff makes junior neck warmers for bigger kid and teens, too in patterns that are basic, colorful or a little bit skater, to appeal to almost any kid. They’re soft fleece on side and a stretch fabric on the other, and can be warm with either one outside.
For your littlest hikers, Columbia has a fleece gaiter and hat set. It’s warmer than some of the other gear, which is handy for toddlers and preschoolers who are being carried or wheeled in a stroller and need extra insulation.
It comes in four gender-neutral patterns; this one is the cutest in my opinion.
Autumn Hiking Accessories
• Hiking Poles:We love mountains and every trip we do involves at least some hiking. Our hiking gear to be as compact and lightweight as possible so that it always fits in our bag. Our old hiking poles were too big to fit in our backpacks.
We left them at home or in the car and never had them when we needed them. A few years ago, we bought Black Diamond’s collapsibleDistance Carbon Z Trekking Poles. They are really sturdy and comfortable to use. Most important, they are so light and fold so small we always have them in our hiking backpacks, ready for the most strenuous trails.
We have used them when hiking in the Italian Dolomites, in Austria, Switzerland and Iceland. We even bought sets for our kids to bring on a hiking trip in Norway next year. They’re not cheap, but investing in quality gear always pays off when helps you stay on the trail longer and enjoy it more. —Jurga Van S at FullSuitcase.com
• Daypack: Every kid in my tween’s scout troop has a medium-size backpack that folds up into itself. They tuck them into their larger packs to get to and from the campsite. Then pop them open to stash what they need for day hikes.
She loves the pack she found in LL Bean’s outlet shop this summer; it’s just the right size for hikes and also for stashing book, phone, money and keys when she heads out with friends on urban adventures.
This Stowaway daypack is similar and has all the important features: It’s strong, light and has a waist belt and sternum strap to keep it stable. And it has plenty of outside pockets, including 2 small ones that zip.
• Daypack Alternative: A backpack with two shoulder straps is cumbersome when you’re trying to access some snacks or water while hiking and you don’t want to have to stop.
This is where KAVU rope sling bags come in handy. The rope sling fit snugly without chafing and irritation on longer hikes. But it’s super easy to access all the compartments just by pulling it around your shoulder.
We’ve hiked in Glacier National Park, the Badlands, Grand Teton National Park and all along the way I’ve been able to grab a snack from the outer pocket without having to break my stride. — Kimberly Button at Couch Potato Camping
Tip: The Kavu Store has cool backpacks and cross-body purses for travel too. https://amzn.to/34AVcIM
• Child Carrier: Long hiking trips have become part of our outdoor life again since we bought the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro carrier, a heavy-duty baby carrier for babies and young kids.
It’s one of the more expensive carriers on the market but the back support and comfortable shoulder straps are worth it every step of the way on longer trails.
The baby cockpit is comfortable enough for my little guy to fall asleep with my with his head resting on the cushioned chin rest. I guess he’s not impressed with the amazing views from up there.
There are plenty of handy storage pockets, but what surprised me most was the depth of the pocket at the base of the carrier. It has plenty of room for our toddler essentials, and even lunch. It also packs up surprisingly small to toss in a suitcase. — James Treloar. Read his full Deuter carrier review on KatherineRosman.com
Where To Find Great Hiking & Walking Trails
Sometimes just googling “Best hiking trails near me” is the easiest way to find places to go for day hikes.
Keep in mind a long walk in a sprawling, woodsy city park, a nearby nature preserve or an urban/suburban rail trail is a perfectly legitimate way to get out in nature and take a kid-friendly day hike. And it’s easy to celebrate your day on the trail with a hot cocoa or a snack somewhere close by.
If you live anywhere in the east you can access portions of the Appalachian Trail for day hikes. The trail’s terrain varies quite a bit and it could involve a steep uphill trek or an easy walk along a river bank, as it does outside of Kent Connecticut.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has an interactive map to help you find trailheads and parking near you.
West Coasters can explore portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches the length of California, Oregon and Washington.
I couldn’t find a good interactive map with trailheads but this breakdown of the trail by region links to resources that will help you locate the stretches of it that are closest to you. Much of the trail leads through larger public park lands.
State parks show up in the most surprising places and their trails are usually well maintained. Check out your state’s guide to its parks. Several, like New York’s, will let you search for parks by location, amenities and activities.
There are also countless regional trails like the Arizona Trail, which has more than 40 sections throughout the state. The Washington & Old Dominion Trail stretches for 45 miles through northern Virginia.
WOD is a rail trail, which means its wide and paved or compact dirt, so you can take a stroller on your hike if you still have little ones. There are 14 spots where you can hop on the trail. For some out-and-back walking.
Resources: AllTrails is one of my go-to websites and apps for finding good trails both at home and on vacation. It’s a round-up of trails for running and biking as well as hiking. Filter accordingly if you don’t want to share the trail with cyclists.
TrailLink is a source for finding rail trails but pay attention to the details such as how long the trail actually is, as many of them are works in progress and might only have very short segments finished.