What to wear on a desert hike

Survival Smarts: What To Wear Hiking In 40 Degrees For Non-Hikers

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Since we know I’m not a professional hiker, I thought it would be beneficial to talk about what to wear hiking in 40 degrees for us non-hikers.
And by non-hikers I mean people who want to go hiking occasionally, especially when they travel to places like Arizona with marvelous hiking trails.

Quote of the day: “Start with a small habit you think is fun and do it consistently. This will not only feel satisfying, but also open your eyes to the type of person you can become.” James Clear

It’s not like you want to buy all new equipment and clothing just to go on an occasional trek, so I wanted to figure out how you could use the things you already have and still be prepared.

As for the weather, we know that a temperature number is just a number. When it’s 40 degrees in Arizona, that means there is probably very low humidity which can make the temperatures feel cooler.
The feel of the temperature is also dependent on:

  • Sun vs clouds
  • Wind
  • How “warm” each hiker runs
  • Are you walking, climbing, or standing still

There are some important tips to remember when you go out hiking no matter what the weather. I’ve incorporated those throughout the article too.

Need some other inspiration for outfits to wear at certain temperatures? Make sure to check out my other articles

What to wear hiking in 40 degrees

Layering is the Secret to What to Wear Hiking in 40 Degrees

Truly layering is the best secret to put to use when thinking about what to wear hiking in 40 degrees. Or as the Boy Scouts say, “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. It’s so uncomfortable to be too cold, whereas if you are getting warm, it’s easy to shed layers.

When I talk about layering clothes, you might not have the newest or best options for your hiking gear as a real hiker would. But you can still have an amazing time and take in the fabulous views with a couple of essentials.


There are many types of thermals and I consider them essential for anyone and everyone. Even if you live in warm climates, you could need them for the unusual cold days, or when you visit relatives in colder areas.

Insider tip: I love the Thermajane brand of long underwear because they are fleece-lined, soft, moisture-wicking, and have 4-way stretch. They also come in XXS-3X sizing as well as in over 10 different colors.


You’re going to want to wear pants that are comfy and have some stretch to them. Even the easy hikes can mean you need to bend and move your legs more than you think.

1-Joggers. If your joggers are too thin for what to wear hiking in 40 degrees, that’s where putting on a pair of thermal pants first, is key.

2-Athleisure Wear. Your leggings or sweats can work for a hike. At 40 degrees, you might want to layer 2 pairs of leggings or if you have a pair of fleece leggings, those would make you more comfy.

3-Jeans. I recommend boyfriend-cut jeans so you can layer your thermals under them.

Insider tip: Darker colored bottoms work better if you have to make a trailside stop behind a bush.


While you start layering with your thermals, you need a couple of other tops/jackets on top of it.
The secret is that you can mix and match with what you have to make yourself comfy from beginning to end because temperatures change throughout the day and you build up body heat as you exercise.

Insider tip: It’s nice if tops are zippered so they are easier to remove when peeling off the layers.

This is my preferred layering:
1-Sports bra. Usually, I will wear a long-lined one for hikes at this temperature.
3-Long Sleeve t-shirt
5-Puffer vest

Insider layering: You don’t just have to remove the outermost layer. It can be beneficial to take off the sweatshirt, and then put the vest back on to keep your core warm. This works for all of the layers.

Insider tip: A puffer vest can be DIYed from a puffer jacket that you no longer wear. Just cut off the sleeves and you have a vest.


The worst thing when you’re out hiking is having cold toes, so I prefer fleece-lined socks. If you don’t have any socks like this, your best bet is a wool pair or layer 2 pairs of socks.

Even Sheec no-show socks have a fleece-lined version that is great for every day.

The other thing to consider is wearing compression socks since you will be doing physical activity.
There are 2 great options for compression socks. One that covers your entire foot and calf, and the other that acts as an ankle brace.

Insider tip: I wear my compression socks when flying and traveling too. They help with swelling and feeling fatigued.


Because your sock situation could be thicker than your normal everyday needs, you might be better off with a pair of sneakers or boots that are a half size bigger.

Insider tip: For most of my boots I order a half-size bigger for the winter to have the option of wearing thicker socks or tights with them.

Since we are discussing what to wear hiking in 40 degrees for non-hikers, you may not have a pair of “real” hiking boots in your closet. It would be safe to say, that if you’re a non-hiker going out for a hike in this type of weather, you’re going to keep to an easy trail and you won’t need the “serious” stuff.

But I would suggest checking your sneakers and looking for a pair that has some tread on them instead of being flat.

The other option of boots that could work is your combat boots. I would only recommend this if your combat boots are lightweight.


Keeping your head warm is the key to feeling good when you’re out in the elements.
Most of us have at least 1 of the options of hats that would be great for what to wear hiking in 40 degrees.

1-Baseball hat. Most of us have a baseball cap in our closet and if not, it’s one you can “borrow” from a friend. Baseball hats have come a long way in the last few years. They are made of interesting materials and are a great resource for a bad hair day. Even if you aren’t out hiking.

2-Beanie. Since beanies are tighter to your head, they can be much warmer too. If you normally live where it’s cold, then you might even have hats with ear flaps which could be advantageous.

3Sun Hat/Bucket Hat. Even a sun hat or bucket hat can give you some warmth and protection from the elements.

Insider tip: It’s great to have a bandana around your neck that you can use for many uses.

Other Essentials for What to Wear Hiking in 40 Degrees

1-Backpack. You need something to carry these essentials, and it’s even better to have a backpack for those layers that you take off when it gets too warm for them.
If you don’t have a backpack, you could bring a sling bag or crossbody bag so you can be hands-free.


There’s never a time you shouldn’t take water with you on a hike. Make sure you not only bring it with you but also drink it!


Even if it seems cloudy or cold when you start your hike, it’s good to have sunglasses for if and when the sun comes out. Especially in Arizona, there are more than 300 days of sunshine a year.

4-Portable Power Bank Phone charger

You always want to be prepared for an emergency, and that means having a phone charger with you in case you need to call someone.

Insider tip: It’s always best to go hiking with a buddy. If that’s not possible, let friends know when and where you are going. One way to do this was a tip from my friend, Deb who said, “Before you leave you should change your voicemail message to say what time you left and where you were planning to go. If you were to find yourself injured or unwell you may well be in an area that has no phone signal to call for help. But, if someone rang you if you were late getting back they would automatically get your voicemail and know where to look for you.”


Depending on how cold you get at this temperature, you might want to have a pair of gloves with you. I consider them small enough that it’s a no-brainer to have a pair tucked into your backpack.


Just because it’s chilly outside doesn’t mean you can’t get sunburned. It’s always safer to put on sunscreen before you go out hiking, and then have a small bottle with you just in case.

Even if you do buy any of these items because you want to know what to wear hiking in 40 degrees, they can easily be worn in your normal everyday life.

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For non-hikers what to wear hiking in 40 degrees

Photo credit: Rob Filogomo

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