Women's Outerwear
Women’s Outerwear

Your hiking outerwear is what is going to keep you warm and dry on the trail. Outerwear includes the Mid-Layer and Outer-Layer discussed in my Layering tips, so it will need to insulate you as well as provide wind, rain, and sun protection.

Mid-Layer: Fleece vests, fleece jackets, polyester top.

Outer-Layer: A waterproof shell that will also provide wind protection. This is commonly referred to as rain pants and rain jackets.

Down Jackets: What you’ll want to be wearing back at basecamp on a mountaineering trip, around the campfire, or after a day on the ski slopes. Down jackets are designed for warmth, not rain and snow protection, so aren’t intended to be worn in rain and snowstorms. I wear mine on backpacking trips on cool mountain mornings and at night. I also wear mine on camping trips to stay warm around the campfire or on chilly mornings, and of course back home around town on cold winter days.

Women’s Hiking Outerwear Shopping Tips:

Mid-Layers (fleeces, vests, etc.)

    • Make sure your Mid-Layer can fit over your Base Layer. Simply speaking, your fleece vest or jacket needs to be able to fit over your hiking top, t-shirt, and long underwear top.
Mid Layer (fleece vest) and Outerlayer (rain jacket)
  • Get a fleece vest. These are great because they can be slipped on easily, pack down small, and provide warmth to your core. I love having my arms free!
  • Look for zippered vents in your fleece jacket. The North Face Women’s Denali Jacket has zippered pit vents, which is really helpful for regulating your body temperature when you’re participating in an outdoor activity. (Update: The new version of the Denali jacket don’t have zippered pit vents unfortunately).

Outer-Layer (rain pants, rain jackets)

  • Look for full zip rain pants. They may be a little more expensive than pull over rain pants, but you’ll appreciate every extra penny’s worth when you’re caught in the rain. A full zip rain pant means that you can quickly take them out of your pack, and zip them on over your hiking pants without taking off your hiking boots! On a muddy trail in a sudden downpour, you’ll be happy with your full zip pants.
  • Make sure your Outer-Layer can fit over your Base Layer and Mid-Layer. Your rain jacket needs to be able to fit over your fleece, hiking top, t-shirt, and long underwear top. Similarly, your rain pants will need to be able to fit over your hiking pants and long underwear pants.
My Down Jacket - comes in handy on backpacking trips!
My Down Jacket – comes in handy on backpacking trips!

Down Jackets

  • Get the highest “fill” rate jacket you can afford. The higher the fill, the smaller the down will pack down, the lighter weight it will be, and the warmer you’ll be! Down fill ratings 700 and 800 are very good.

Hiking Lady’s Favorite Women’s Hiking Outerwear:

Mid-Layers (fleeces, vests, etc.)

  • The North Face Women’s Denali Jacket The women’s North Face Denali jacket is a very popular and flattering (but pricey) fleece jacket (a Mid Layer). Not only will it be durable on the trail (or even on the slopes!), it is lightweight, will keep you warm, and last for years. Plus, it looks great if you need something warm to wear around town. I’ve had one for almost 10 years and it is still going strong!
  • REI White River Women’s Fleece Vest A good value for a fleece vest.

Outer-Layer (rain pants, rain jackets)

  • Marmot PreCip Rain Jacket This jacket is an excellent choice for an outer layer. I bought one several years ago and it still looks like new, despite the tough conditions I’ve put it through! What is particularly nice about the Marmot PreCip jacket is that it has a stowable hood that rolls up nicely at the collar, has easy access pit vents (which you can use to cool off without taking off the whole jacket), it very lightweight and can be packed down to a very small size (I stuff mine in my pack’s side pocket for easy access), and the material is called “DryTouch” and prevents you from feeling hot and clammy in humid conditions. I don’t know how the DryTouch technology works, but I swear it is really nice, especially in humid conditions.
  • Marmot PreCip Full-Zip Rain Pants This is an excellent choice for full zip rain pants.

Down Jackets

  • Marmot Venus Down Jacket The Marmot Venus Down Jacket is a very high quality product, with 800 fill down, meaning that it will pack down very small, but provide a tremendous amount of warmth. Plus, because Marmot designed this jacket for women, it isn’t just a men’s jacket shrunk down, but rather one tailored to fit a woman’s body.
  • Women’s Mountain Hardwear Phantom Jacket If you are looking for a very warm down jacket, this is it. Like the Marmot Venus Down Jacket, it also has 800 fill down, and compresses down very small.

Back to Hiking 101: Adventure Apparel


  1. Edith Landrith-Robertson says:

    I had a wonderful Gortex hiking jacket which I outgrew. As we age, the rib cartilage on either side of the sternum continues to grow (that growth is one way the age of a skeleton can be determined) and those of us who wore a size 2 at 20, even without weight gain, cannot wear that size at 50. I’ve looked at hundreds of jackets and have bought 3 in the last year trying to replace my old jacket. I wear a lot of Eileen Fisher clothes and her medium is large on me, however the hiking jackets in EXTRA LARGE leave no room to layer. In short, they seem to expect my body not to have changed (wish it had not) or the jackets are designed only for 20 year old bodies. Based on my measurements one sizing chart indicated that I should wear a MEDIUM. HAAAAAAA! My wonderful old jacket was a Marmot Mountain small. Last year I bought a new Marmot jacket, an XL, and it was barely bigger than my old small and not nearly as well made as the old one. This fall I bought a $750 Gortex from Arc’teryx, under which I can only wear a dress sweater, so layering for camping and hiking is impossible. The jacket is extremely well made, but I want to be able to layer with hiking clothes, not a dress sweater!. AND I want hand pockets where my arms end, not the titty-high backward hand pockets on that jacket. What’s with the chest hand pockets anyway????? A few weeks ago I bought a North Face jacket. I like the location of the pockets and the jacket overall, but again, the extra large does not allow for both my body and for layering. It seems like the women’s active wear jacket designs are made more for appearance than for actual activity, or if for active wear, active wear for 20 something and not for mature women. What am I to do? I can’t get younger, I can get thinner, but that’s less likely if I can’t hike. Since I’m thinner than virtually all my friends from college, I think there is a market for jackets that fit active middle age women. However, they do not seem to be available at this time. Your own website said, “Make sure your Outer-Layer can fit over your Base Layer and Mid-Layer.” Well, I’d like a jacket that would allow me to do that!

  2. Freda Driscoll-Sbar says:

    I am looking for an extremely warm winter jacket that is synthetic, not down. I just cannot support what is done to the birds. Any suggestions? Thanks.

  3. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Annie,
    Layering will help, because as you hike you can take off one of the Columbia layers. If you tend to get super cold, which is understandable in those cold temperatures, down is a very good material. The North Face recently came out with a synthetic down jacket called Thermoball, which would be a very good insulating layer for you under a waterproof shell. Enjoy your cold weather hiking!

  4. Annie says:

    I have fleece jackets and a waterproof/breathable jacket that works for temps 30 or above. I hike in Minnesota and sometimes it’s bitterly cold. I’m tired of my old coat that doesn’t breath. I just bought a 1 in 3 insulated Columbia jacket with Omnitech which is designed more for skiing. Will this be too warm? Have any other suggestions on how to deal with temps 0 and below? Thanks!

  5. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Anita,
    The Marmot Precip rain pants are an affordable option, but they are probably a bit too bulky if you’re looking for a streamlined tapered fit. They have an elastic waist and fit easily over pants. The other ones we’ve talked about will require you’re wearing fairly slim fit hiking pants. The zippers on the sides do stay up. I’ve never had an issue with them coming down 🙂
    Happy trails!

  6. Anita says:

    Thank you so much for the tips! I will definitely look into these (and start saving up… 😉 ).

    Just one more question….I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Marmot Precip pants. How do they fit? Are they really baggy too around the middle? Also, in the full-zip version, do the side-zips stay put or do they have a tendency to come undone?

  7. Hiking Lady says:

    Excellent question, Anita! There are two pair of pants that I know of that might fit what you’re looking for…they both are 3/4 zip, meaning that they’ll be full zip up to your thigh, so they’ll still be very easy to put on over boots. One is from Isis – it is called the Alta 3L pant. They are $199. From the pictures I’ve seen they might be a little baggy, though I haven’t tried them so I don’t know for sure. Another option, but even pricier, is the super high end ArcTeryx Beta AR pants. I think you’d really like them, but your bank account will take a hit since they are $399! If you can afford them you’ll really like them!

  8. Anita says:

    Hello again, 🙂

    I’m now on the lookout for a pair of rain-pants (preferably full-zip). My only problem is, that every single one I’ve seen/tried so far has an elasticated waist and I always end up with a huge amount of baggy fabric around my mid-section, making me look either pregnant or extremely bloated! I know outdoor pants are not fashion statements, but I just end up feeling horribly self-conscious and uncomfortable in these types of pants.

    Any chance you could recommend a pair of good rain-pants with perhaps a ‘button/zip fly’ or a belt type solution (i.e. no elasticated waist).

    Thanks!! 🙂

  9. Hiking Lady says:

    Yeah, that’s interesting Steve! I just looked it up and Denali makes everything from hydration packs to duffel bags. Happy trails!

  10. Steve says:

    Hey, nice tips here. I actually have a Denali soft shell jacket myself and it does a great job. What’s funny is that here in Australia Denali is a brand in itself, not related to North Face as far as I know. How strange :S

  11. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Linda, yeah my Denali fleece is about 10 years old now…still in great shape, but you are right. The new ones don’t have the zippered pit vents. I just updated the info above. If I find a fleece that has zippered pit vents I’ll be sure to note it here. Thanks for pointing this out.

  12. Linda says:

    I didn’t know North Face made women’s Denali’s with zippered pit vents. Is that an older style? I can’t seem to find one like that. Thanks!

  13. Hiking Lady says:

    Thanks, Bob! I hope that you can exchange that rain shell or buy your wife a bigger one sometime! happy trails

  14. Bob says:

    Good tip on making sure that you rain gear fits over your other layers. This is especially true in cold wet rainy weather when you need to layer. I bought my wife a rain shell last fall and it fit great until she needed a fleece layer underneath. It was too small?!?! I should have known better.

    Thanks for the tip.

  15. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Linda!
    yes, you definitely will get too hot hiking during the day with a down jacket (unless you are in Alaska!). I was referring to wearing a down jacket at nighttime on a backpacking/camping trip when you’re eating dinner, getting ready for bed, etc. During the day, I have used a down vest. I find that it tends to get pretty warm during the day, but if it is really cold out it is very handy as a midlayer during snowshoe trips and winter hikes. I have one made by First Ascent (a line from Eddie Bauer) that I got on sale last year. It is called the Women’s Downlight Vest. I love it because it keeps me really warm and it packs down VERY small.
    Happy trails!

  16. linda. says:

    i’m actually in the market for a down vest, and came across your blog in my internet research. i read your post advising to buy the highest fill down jacket you can afford for winter backpacking. i’m wondering if you are suggesting this for sleeping/lounging during backpacking trips. perhaps the distinction should be made that if you do any amount of hiking in a hefty down jacket (which i’ve never seen with pit zips — not that those would necessarily help), you will probably roast yourself!

    what are your thoughts? and have you had experience hiking with a down vest? i’m thinking a down vest over a heavier midlayer might be perfect for rigorous winter hikes.

  17. Ashley  jackson says:

    I really like these outerwear tips. Now I understand why layering is so important!

  18. Gina says:

    The North Face Women’s Denali Jacket is absolutely the best jacket I have ever bought.

    Thanks for leading me in the right direction.


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