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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear Review: Backcountry Skirts

Three skirts for conquering the backcountry with a dash of feminine style.

by: Allison Woods

Athleta CYA
Photo by hiking skirts athleta 445x260
Athleta CYA
Smartwool Sanitas
Smartwool Sanitas
Montbell ThermaWrap (Courtesy Photo)
Montbell ThermaWrap (Courtesy Photo)

Show More Leg
Four more bottom options for those times on the trail when serious hiking pants are overkill.
If the idea of hiking in a skirt seems a little “19th century pioneer woman” or maybe just plain silly, then I’d like to tell you a thing or two about it. For the last half dozen years or so, I’ve hiked, camped, paddled, and fished in a little nylon miniskirt. A couple of them, actually, and like any good piece of outdoor gear, they get stained and just look battle-worn after a while. From off-trail hiking in the high country of Idaho’s fabled White Cloud range to chasing bonefish in Honolulu Harbor, my trusty skirt has kept me cool and comfortable on the hottest of days. There are limited exceptions to my 'always hike in a skirt' rule: hikes with lots of deadfall, heavy brush, and any time I might have to do a lot of butt-scooting.

Does the idea still seem silly? Why hike in a skirt? A skirt provides plenty of coverage while allowing excellent comfort, ease of movement, and ventilation. I find myself no more prone to bug bites and sunburn than when hiking in shorts, and purely as a benefit, I get to bring a little bit of girliness into the backcountry. I tested the Athleta and Smartwool skirts in the Washington Cascades, Hawaii, and Idaho, while the MontBell wrap was tested by Backpacker Contributing Editor Kelly Bastone in Iceland at various ski huts in the American West.

Athleta CYA
This simple nylon and spandex number is my go-to skirt. It’s fairly short--I am 5’9” and it hits me at about 6” above the knee, but it’s enough to “cover your assets”, as the name suggests. Basic styling means nothing to snag, while the snazzy print hides huckleberry stains. Slight A-line and ample stretch allowed for ease of movement when I was guying out my tent. This one’s super easy to clean in the field--give it a rinse in a stream, and it dries in a jif. Even in sweltering heat, I always feel relatively cool in my CYA--especially if I put it on right after I’ve washed it!

Athleta CYA Skirt
5.1 oz. (size large)
Available sizes: xxs-xl, also tall s-xl, plus 1x, 2x

Smartwool Sanitas
The Sanitas has a 20.5” outseam--it hits right across the knee--and is a bit on the long side for me, but perfect for ladies seeking more coverage. One thing I often do while wearing skirts is what fishermen call “wet wading”, which involves walking right into the body of water you are fishing, and the length on this one just won’t work for that, the skirt would get soaking wet. The asymmetrical seaming is both interesting to look at and flattering, and it’s a treat to see such attention to detail in what is ostensibly a technical piece. The midweight merino wool (with a touch of elastane for stretch) moves with me, and the flat waistband sits flat under my pack’s hipbelt. My sample was black, and between the dark color and the wool fabric, I found the Sanitas a bit warm when the mercury climbed. I would buy it in the gray color to help mitigate that problem.

Smartwool Sanitas Skirt
6.8 oz. (size medium)
Available sizes XS-XL

MontBell Thermawrap
This little insulated wrap skirt packs down as small as a pair of socks, yet keeps your bum covered and warm when lounging around camp or burning calories on your skate skis. A series of small waistband snaps allow for adjustability, it’s a “one size fits all” item. The shell material is a durable water repellent (DWR)-treated nylon taffeta. It is lightly quilted with Exceloft, a synthetic fill product proprietary to MontBell. Kelly tested the Thermawrap all over the place, from Idaho’s Sawtooths to Lonafjordur, Iceland. She said, “ I really loved it for the modesty it provides. In mixed company, I'm not hanging out in clingy tights. Totally a personal preference thing, but I prefer to leave a little less to the imagination when skiing/camping with guys.” At the end of the day, she’d slide out of wet ski pants and pop the skirt on over her long johns. Bonus: reversible, so two looks in one skirt.

MontBell Thermawrap Skirt
6.8 oz.
"2 sizes fit all" - available in M and L

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Reader Rating: -


Aug 24, 2011

The Mountain Hardwear kilt is great! However I only wear it when I don't think I'll be around a lot of people. My wife thinks I look great in it, but I'm still self conscious about wearing a kilt.

Aug 18, 2011

I have a hiking kilt and a couple of skirts. I became a convert a couple of years ago when I was hiking and complaining about how hot it was. One female in our group dared me to use one of her light weight lacrosse skirts that she was using. I did and I could not believe how much better I enjoyed my trip. Came back ordered me a couple and have never looked back. So much cooler, and less binding. I get a few stares but I could care less. Hiking my own a skirt... :-)

Aug 16, 2011

I have seen a number of men of late hiking in Kilts and it appears to be a lot cooler than shorts or the zip off legging type pants. How about researching a story on Kilts and avialble materials and sources or how to make our own?

Aug 14, 2011

I too was so very tired of having to buy menswear and making do in illfitting technical clothing because companies cater primarily to the guys. (It's improving slowly.....) I starting wearing skorts while doing long distance backpacking about 2 yrs ago and will NEVER GO BACK! They are so much more comfortable than multiple waistbands with the integrated chafing...lightweight and quick drying. I'm 49 yrs old, going on 30, and am proud of my fitness level and my body. I am so thankful for the chance to do what I love and look strong and sexy while I do it. And no I'm not a girly girl...I wear leather chaps and jacket when I ride my Harley! And the only looks I've gotton when I'm on trail in a skirt, have been good ones! Keep 'em coming!!!

Allison Woods
Aug 14, 2011

@ Katie, I was just at the Outdoor Retailer show last weekend and Ibex has at least one dress for Spring 12 that looks perfect for hiking.

Jennifer Stanton
Aug 12, 2011

Try a WRAP. Best four letter word since GORP.
I always bring one in my bag and during the trip it will be used as a head scarf when the sun or bugs are too much, I wear it as a skirt when I'm hiking for ease of movement and ventilation, then it wraps around my bikini as a cover-up for around camp. Of course if I get chili it will wrap around me right on top of my bag. Sometimes I hang it over a few branches for a small shady spot. They're about 10$ and are very multi-functional. Same idea, just more versatile and packs up small :)

Aug 10, 2011

@Alison - I know what you mean by the skort is like wearing shorts and a skirt at the same might be like that if the skirt and shorts were made of the same material, but this is where the patagonia multi use skirt shines. the shorts are a much thinner, lighter material than the skirt (it might be their silk weight capilene, not sure) so the shorts actually feel like nothing, but with the bonus of being able to squat, high step, sit cross legged on the ground, cartwheel, etc. without flashing everyone. and since the shorts are so light, i doubt you'd be able to find a difference in dry time between them. basically, i pick a skort as a shorts substitute and i think this is where the length thing comes in. since i have shorts underneath, my skirt only needs to barely cover my ass (which is my preference), rather than a true skirt where one would need a longer length to stay covered.

@darwingirl - i've never had cargo pockets on anything and have always enjoyed my hikes. i put things like my map and knife in my pack...

Aug 09, 2011

I backpack in a skirt as well and find it incredibly comfortable and ventilated...guys, you are missing out! However there are technical considerations. 1.). It has to move enough to be able to take big strides. Otherwise it can trip you up on water crossings and semi-technical climbs. 2.). Large cargo-style pockets for map, knife etc. If it doesn't have these you won't enjoy your experience.

Aug 09, 2011

I almost always backpack in a dress. Not having any type of waistband under the hipbelt is fabulous and I get a much wider range of motion compared to shorts. I've hiked in some pretty rugged places in a dress and haven't been any more scratched up than I would've been in shorts. It's not always easy to find a synthetic dress that fits the bill, but Title Nine usually has some options as does Patagonia.

Rob from Ohio
Aug 09, 2011

My friend Robin (male) finds the Mountain Hardwear backpacking kilt quite comfortable.

Aug 09, 2011

"a little less to the imagination"

Don't you mean more to the imagination? Or are you trying to let them peek up your skirt?

Aug 08, 2011

I have Patagonia's skirt, very cute, nice fit and works well for hiking.

Allison Woods
Aug 08, 2011

Thanks for your comments, it is great to hear how well the skorts are working for you. Personally, I find it to be like wearing shorts and a skirt at the same time, plus it takes longer to dry at camp if you have washed it. Surprised to hear that even the CYA skirt is too long, at 14", that skirt is really too short for me to wear in town. YMMV, of course!

Aug 08, 2011

Also, the Outdoor Research Expressa skort and Mountain Hardwear Pacer advance skort are both fantastic! They are lightweight, quick drying, super comfy, and a bit short, but have built in spandex that are really comfortable. I thru-hiked the AT in these and loved the comfort, lack of chaffing, femininity it brought to the backcountry!

Aug 04, 2011

if you like to go mini skirt (i find all the skirts listed above on the long-side) try the patagonia multi use skirt. it has built-in shorts, dries super quickly, has a flat waistband and comes in different colors and prints. it's my fav!

Allison Woods
Aug 03, 2011

Some related musings by me on my blog:


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