Packing for a 14er

- 14er Beginner Guide Part 2 -

Packing for a 14er: Gear to Keep You Alive

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This isn’t your average hiking trip. Climbing a 14er safely requires certain types of clothing and gear, along with food, water and emergency supplies in case something goes wrong. Here’s a detailed walk-through on packing for a 14er climb. Remember, bringing the right gear and clothes increases your chances of summiting successfully, in addition to improving your safety margin.

Packing for a 14er: Start with Hiking Boots & Socks

You will likely see people on 14ers with some absurd foodwear: Flip-flops, dress shoes, even slippers. Just because you can do something though, doesn’t mean you should: There area  lot of reasons why you should invest in a good pair of hiking boots for packing for a 14er.

Hiking boots provide better traction and grip than most other footwear. A lot of trails on 14ers have steep, loose sections where it’s easy to slip and fall. You may need to cross creeks rock-to-rock, or get through muddy and wet sections. For all these reasons ,you want a good pair of boots with a good rubber sole and grip. 

Another reasons I recommend boots specifically is their ankle protection. 14ers are famous for their rocky scrambling (they call them the Rocky Mountains for a reason). Tripping and injuring an ankle is one of the most common way people get injured on 14ers. With their higher support that surrounds the ankle, hiking boots help reduce the risk of twisting an ankle, which isn’t fun.

Make sure you get a good, dependable pair of hiking socks to accompany your boots. Look for something composed of merino wool, which will keep your feet warm while letting them breathe and helping control odor. They’ll also do more to prevent blisters than a normal pair of socks.

Pair of hiking boots on an alpine summit balanced on the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking distant alps with scattered snow on a sunny summer day, Hochvogel, Germany

Picking Out What to Wear When Packing for a 14er

The 14er will likely be colder than you expect – snow is not uncommon in June or August, and wind is always stronger above treeline. Whether you’re hiking in the summer or winter, layers are your friends on the 14ers. This allows you to adjust your clothing according to changing conditions as you ascend and descend. This is important since the temperature can drop from 10-20 degrees from trailhead to summit.

Start with a Base Layer of a wicking material – these types of fabric absorb sweat and helps it evaporate faster, keeping you comfortable and dry while cooling you down. I wear an under armor pull-over for my base, and leggings in June or August when the forecast is cooler – I go without them usually in July. 

Second, wear a main layer that’s resistant to solar radiation and is composed of synthetic material. This helps protect you from the harsh sun on 14ers, and encourages better breathing.

Third, pack an extra insulation layer in case you run into an unexpected cold-spell, or you get stuck outside for a night when temperatures plunge. I pack my micro-puff Patagonia Jacket for this purpose. It includes a built-in compression bag so it takes up a tiny amount of space in my bag, and doesn’t add much weight. Further, it keeps its warmth even when it’s wet or damp, which is always a possibility on the mountains. This brings us to the next topic – the rain jacket.  

Get a Good Rain Jacket – Storms are Common

Thunderstorms are an almost-daily presence in the mountains during the summer. There’s a good chance that the sky may be solid blue in morning, only to develop huge thunderclouds by 1 or 2pm. You should definitely make sure you pack a solid rain jacket to stay dry on your descent. The best jackets are also wind-proof, as the winds on 14ers can sometimes exceed 20-30mph. Without some protection, it’s easy to get very cold, very quickly, even in the summer months.

There are two basic types of rain jackets. The cheapest are made using PVC or other plastic-based material. While you can get one for $30, they are impermeable to evaporating sweat you produce as you hike, and are not breathable at all. This results in an uncomfortable, humid feeling that can quickly become serious and speed up heat stroke or dehydration. The better option is the more expensive gore-tex based jacket. These use a material that has pores too small for rain drops to pass through, but larger enough for smaller water vapor droplets to move through. This lets the jacket breathe better, keeping you dry inside and out!
Canva - Man in rain jacket at Quiraing, Isle of Skye

Bring the 10 Essentials for Safety

The 10 Essentials are a list of basic gear key to keep you safe in the high-country. The items are meant to answer two basic questions:

  1. Can you respond positively to an accident or emergency?
  2. Can you safely spend an unplanned night (or more) outside?

While the list has changed since it’s first introduction in 1974, the list maintained today by Mountaineers.org includes modern improvements like navigation GPS and emergency bivies. While you may not need everything on the list for every trip, it’s a good starting point for packing for a 14er climb.   

  1. Navigation Aid: Maps, GPS device, compass, and a battery pack.
  2. Headlamp and extra batteries
  3. Sun Protection: Sunglasses, protective clothing and sunscreen.
  4. First Aid Kit
  5. Knife or multi-purpose tool
  6. Fire-starting Equipment: Matches, lighter and tinder
  7. Shelter: A tent, emergency bivy or blanket.
  8. Extra food: Enough for 1-2 extra days
  9. Water: 2 liters, and purification tools like a filter or tablets
  10. Extra Clothes: At least one layer more than you expect to need.
Whenever you are packing for a 14er, walk-through this list and bring what you need in each category to stay safe.
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Packing for a 14er: Food & Fluids to Fuel your Climb

When picking out food, you should try select dense, high-calorie items that pack a lot of punch but take up very little space. Think things like nut or granola bars, meat and cheese snacks. An easy way to ensure you have enough is to count calories: it’s a good estimate of the “energy” the food contains. 

I always bring a full 2,000-3,000 calories of food when packing for a 14er on full-day climbs, double what I expect to actually eat. If you get lost or injured, food should be the last of your concerns, and it will still only add a few pounds to your pack. It’s better to have the food and not need it, than need the food, and not have it.  

When it comes to fluids, I generally stick to water or a sports drink like powerade. Bring a minimum of 2 liters of water: Not bringing enough is probably the single biggest mistake most 14er beginners make. You’ll drink a lot more than you expect. If your route exceeds 10 miles, I would recommend bringing 3 liters. I use a camelpak bladder system to store about 2 liters, and then have another nalgene with an additional liter, which works well. I also pack water tablets to purify water in a pinch – these have come in handy on numerous occasions. 

Some people bring electrolyte salts to help replace what we lose sweating, but I’ve never felt it necessary. These thoughts should help you with food considerations while packing for a 14er.

A group of mountaineers climbs to the top of a snow-capped mountain

Packing for a 14er - Optional Gear

There are a few other pieces of gear that are not necessary, but in my opinion are worth packing for a 14er hike or climb. 

First, consider bringing trekking poles – essentially ski poles for hiking. They provide extra balance, take off some strain from your legs and knees, and are provide better traction for crossing snow or streams. 

Liner Socks are thin, silk-based socks you wear underneath your main wool hiking socks. While you don’t always need them, they are extremely good at preventing blisters. I’ve hiked more than twenty-five 14ers, and have yet to get a blister when using liners. They only cost $6-7 a pair, and I highly recommend them when packing for a 14er.

You probably need a backpack to carry all your food, water and gear! Something around 25 liters works for most day-trips, while 45-55 liters is enough for an overnight trip. I recommend looking at the Osprey brand for top-of-line bags, while the REI-Co-Op brand provides a. good set of options at a lower price. Consider getting a back with a water bladder pocket, and attachments for storing trekking poles – these extra features come in handy! Those are my optional recommendations for packing for a 14ere.

Blue Heeler dog hiking in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Nihahi Ridge Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

Bringing Fido? Packing for a 14er with a Dog

Make sure you check the local regulations on the 14ers route page for your climb. A few 14ers do not let any dogs on the land, and most require you keep them leashed at all times. That doesn’t mean verbal control, and it doesn’t only apply to un-trained dogs: If you ignore wilderness guidelines, it gives others reason to do so as well… so pack the leash, or find a 14er that allows for off-leash pets – thanks for helping our public land managers!

Here are a few other items when packing for a 14er with your dog.

  • A water dish and extra water for them – 2 liters minimum
  • Extra food, especially high-protein snacks.
  • Layers, like a blanket, in case they get too cold (conditions dependent)
  • Bags to clean up dog waste – don’t leave it behind!

Packing for a 14er: A Review

Let’s review the most important things to consider when packing for a 14er:

  • Start with a good pair of hiking boots and socks.
  • Use layers to adapt to changing conditions
  • Bring a good rain jacket that breathes.
  • Pack or Review the Ten Essentials
  • Bring along the right food to fuel your climb.
  • Consider optional gear like Trekking Poles
  • If bringing your dog, consider regulations and pack accordingly.

These tips will help ensure you have the right clothing, gear, food and emergency supplies to stay safe on the mountain – they’ll also help increase your chances of successfully summiting. Now you shouldn’t have a problem packing for a 14er on your own.

Now we will dig into the actual climb itself: What to do, watch for, and be careful about on the 14er route.

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