With a huge number of people looking to bag a 14,000-foot summit for the first time, delivering education about climbing Colorado's mountains has become more crucial than ever. As experienced hikers know, the process starts long before one hits the trailhead – with thorough research. Part of that research means picking out and packing the right gear for the journey. I'll outline a few key things to look for when packing gear for a fourteener climb, as well as cover a few of my favorite items to bring for the journey.
Things to Consider:
– 1. Changing weather
When you're picking out gear for 14er climb, always remember that weather at a high-altitude can change quickly. This means that you'll need to plan for every possible scenario if you want to ensure that you're as ready as you can be. Along with rapidly changing weather, expect big temperature swings. This makes layering crucial.
– 2. You might get wet
On a long high-altitude hike, there's a good chance you'll encounter precipitation – plan accordingly. Be ready with waterproof gear and layers in case you need them. Keeping yourself dry can be the difference between life and death.
– 3. Packability
One big pitfall that a lot of beginners on fourteeners make is packing too much. Carrying excess bulk and weight only makes an already difficult climb more difficult. This makes packability a big factor, especially until you've honed your 14er kit packing abilities. Find items that are high-quality, but also lightweight and space-saving. It makes a big difference.
Gear I Like:
– 1. Helly Hansen Odin Jacket
As mentioned above, layering and packability are two of the key things I look for when I'm packing for a fourteener summit. The Helly Hansen Odin Stretch Insulated Jacket exceeds expectations in both. Surprisingly warm for how lightweight and packable the jacket is, I've been keeping this piece of clothing in my pack all summer during high-altitude hikes. It doesn't take up much space and it will immediately provide the warmth necessary to keep performing when the clouds roll in.
– 2. Mishmi Takin Jampui Boots
They're breathable, they're waterproof, they're lightweight, and they're sturdy, plus they've got Vibram Megagrip tread, so they're grippy on all sorts of terrain. These shoes have taken me through the narrows of Longs Peak, they've taken me up and down the four-fourteener-summit Decalibron loop, and they've taken me to the highest point of the state at 14,439 feet, among other places. With a fit that keeps your foot secure and comfortable, I'm picking these as my go-to boots every chance I get. Also worth noting: Despite making it to the top of 10+ fourteeners, they show little wear.
– 3. Slidebelt Survival Belt
The Slidebelt Survival Belt is a belt with a hidden flashlight, fire-starter, and pocketknife in the buckle. Plus, it uses a sliding motion to lock, always giving the wearer the perfect fit. It might not seem like a fourteener essential, but I love wearing it on long excursions because it's a belt that's simply more functional than any other option. Plus, in a worst-case scenario situation, it's something you'd rather have than not for the fire-starting feature alone.
– 4. Deuter Speed Lite 32 Backpack
My backpack selection varies depending on the type of high altitude hike I'm tackling that day. The Deuter Speed Lite 32 is my go-to mid-size option for when layering will be essential thanks to the ample space and comfortable fit. You can practically fit an entire wardrobe into this thing and you can do so without straining your shoulders and back. The last time I used this pack on a climb, I put one insulated jacket, one hoodie, one waterproof lightweight layer, one long-sleeve base layer, one pant base-layer, a pair of hiking pants, three liters of water and my normal array of snacks inside, among other things. If you need space but don't want what you're carrying to slow you down, the Deuter Speed Lite is the right call.
– 5. The Carhartt Force Extremes Line-Up
I'm originally from Indiana, so when I hear "Carhartt," I think "clothes for farming and hunting." Apparently, that's no longer the case. Recently, Carhartt has made a push into performance outdoor recreation gear, focusing on quick-drying layers. I love the whole Force Extremes lineup, but my favorite piece of gear is pull-over hoodie. It's warm, but not super thick, making it comfortable and packable. I also love the short-sleeve shirts.
– 6. Dakine Mission Backpack
If the Deuter Speed Lite 32 is my go-to mid-size, the Dakine Mission 25L is my go-to for any excursion when I need to pack less. I love this backpack for several reasons, but the main reason is the intuitive pocket design. I can stuff it with all sorts of things and still easily find what I'm looking for. Getting this one might be a bit tricky, because it's an older model. Dakine might have something new, but if you can get your hands on one of these, you'll love it.
– 7. Mountain Khakis Fourteener Jacket
The Mountain Khakis Fourteener Jacket is a piece of technical gear in disguise. It looks like something you'd wear around the campfire or to the local brew pub, but it's much more functional than you might expect. It's got a windproof layer that really helps your body keep its temperature regulated after hitting treeline and the thick (and extremely comfortable) faux shearling seen on the outside is quite warm. From the top of a mountain peak to the celebration beer, this jacket gets the job done.
– 8. OOfos Flip Flops
Flip flops on a fourteener? That's crazy, right? Rest assured, this selection doesn't actually come into play until the fourteener climbing is over. OOfos flops are designed for foot recovery. Toss these on after finishing your hike and your feet will thank you. They've got incredible arch support and have more impact absorption than any flip-flop I've worn before. They've got one version that slips on and another that goes between your toes – that's up to you. They also offer an enclosed shoe with the same recovery features for when flip-flops might not be appropriate.
– 9. Helly Hansen Vanir Brono Pant
I won't lie, I avoid wearing pants while hiking at all costs. I hate wearing pants while I'm engaged in heavy physical activity with the exception of skiing and even then, I'd opt for shorts if I could. That being said, I love the Vanir Brono hiking pant by Helly Hansen. They're lightweight, super comfortable due to their stretch-fit, and totally breathable. If I'm climbing something above treeline, I've always got these somewhere close, ready to toss on if the weather changes and temperatures start dropping. Plus, at $100, they're very fairly priced for how functional they are.
– 10. Petzl ACTIK Headlamp
Extremely bright, lightweight, and comfortable, the Petzl ACTIK headlamp is my favorite headlamp for an early morning start. On full blast, it puts out 300 lumens, which is enough to easily see everything on the trail and more. When you're dealing with the rugged terrain encountered on some fourteener routes, having a headlamp that puts out this much light makes a huge difference.
– 11. The Gregory Paragon 48 Backpack
I'll start off by noting that I haven't actually taken this backpack on a fourteener climb. That being said, I've taken it on comparable excursions and know enough about it to say that if I needed a big bag for a multi-day fourteener trip, the Gregory Paragon 48 would be it. It's extremely spacious and even when it's loaded up, it's still comfortable for miles of walking. Plus, it opens on the top and bottom, making it easy to find whatever gear you're looking for quickly. Oh ... and it only weighs 3.3 pounds.
– 12. JBL Reflect Mini 2
I don't regularly listen to music while I'm hiking fourteeners (and you should never blast music loudly during a hike), but the JBL Reflect Mini 2 headphones have suddenly become a sort of guilty pleasure of mine while hiking. With how long fourteener routes are, my knees and legs start to beat me down on the long walk from the summit back to the trailhead. To help keep my mind off of the tiredness, I'll pop these in my ears and throw on one of my favorite podcasts. They fit snuggly thanks to a piece that goes inside of your ear instead of around it and their wireless nature keeps them out of your way.
– 13. Casio Pro Trek PRW3000-1A
I'm a big watch guy, but generally it's nothing more than a fashion statement. However, when you're climbing a fourteener, it's helpful if your watch can do a bit more. The Casio Pro Trek watch will tell you your direction, the barometric pressure, and your elevation, plus it's solar powered, so you know it won't die on you. Be warned, the altitude sensor and temperature will need adjusting prior to use.
– 14. The Mishmi Takin Cayambe
Another great product from Mishmi Takin, the Cayambe jacket is designed to be breathable and waterproof, while also providing plenty of warmth. One thing in particular that I really like about this is the adjustable hood. Helmet or not, it'll fit just right.
– 15. The Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet
Adjustable and comfortable, the Black Diamond Half Dome helmet is a great entry-level priced helmet for those Class 3 fourteeners. This will protect you from rocks that might be falling from above, particularly a problem when climbing in couloirs or on steep switchbacks. It's also quite lightweight, making it easy to lug along for the in-between moments.
– 16. STABILicers Hike XP Traction Ice Cleat
It's never a bad idea to pack some sort of traction assistance in your gear bag incase you encounter snow. Even if you might not see it on the way up, you may encounter it on the same route when you're headed back down. Be prepared for any type of weather that comes your way. One great option is the STABILicers Hike XP Traction Ice Cleat.
More Gear to Consider
– 1. Plastic Trash Bag (x2)
One to pick up trash, one to use for waterproofing.
– 2. Wet Wipes
Just in case nature calls. Make sure you get biodegradable wipes.
– 3. Strategically-Placed Water
Packing water for long hikes tends to go one of two ways. Either one fills a bladder with an easy-access nozzle typically attached to a backpack strap or one packs bottles. Personally, I prefer to pack bottles. It forces me to take a break and I can easily keep track of how much water I'm drinking. On the other hand, my buddy prefers to fill a bladder so that he doesn't have to keep getting into his pack. Either way, plan to bring at least 2 to 3 liters of water at a minimum.
– 4. First Aid Kit
You know, in case someone gets hurt. I also like to bring some sort of blood clotting product, which is something you won't find in most first aid kits. This can be used in the event of a bad fall and typically comes in either pad or powder form.
– 5. Protein Snacks
When I'm climbing a fourteener, I tend to snack the entire way up. One product line that I really love is the Lenny & Larry's cookie line-up. From chocolate chip to cinnamon sugar to apple pie, they're all insanely delicious and packed with protein. Try them – if you like a normal cookie, you'll like these, too. Find them online or look for them at gas stations.