At first, hiking a 14er may seem like a daunting and frightening challenge, and to be blunt, there are good reasons to feel this way. Hiking a 14er is not like going for a quick hike in the foothills; you cannot simply go out on a whim and have a safe, successful, enjoyable experience. First off, the routes to the tops of these 14,000ft behemoths are usually longer than a typical day hike; few routes are shorter than 5 miles. Not only are they longer, but the terrain you will typically encounter is more rugged. Then you have to take into consideration the fact that most of the hike will be at a high elevation.
1) Gotta Get the Gear
What to wear:
A general rule of thumb for everything you will be wearing on a 14er: NO COTTON! This means no cotton socks, no cotton hoodies, etc. Part of this is personal preference, but for the most part, it is an issue of practicality. If you do encounter any weather (or sweat) on a 14er hike, any cotton you are wearing will soak up water (or sweat) like a sponge. It will be heavy, uncomfortable, and cold. This could put you in a dangerous situation if you are exposed on a mountain for any significant length of time, and at a minimum will make you uncomfortable.
- For most of the 14ers that are popular for first timers, you will not need to buy full blown $200 hiking boots or special trail shoes. If you decide you love it and want to tick more peaks off your list, you can purchase a dedicated pair of shoes. I prefer to wear a lightweight pair of trail runners.
- Sturdy running shoes or tennis shoes that you are familiar with and know to be comfortable should be just fine.
- I really like wool, but it isn't for everyone. Just pick something that is comfortable with the shoes you are wearing. Again, try to avoid cotton. Soggy socks are the worst.
- Yes, I would recommend pants for a summer hike. It is usually windy, and always significantly colder at 14,000ft than it is around town. You will also be starting out early in the morning when it is still cool.
- Pants also offer protection from sun, plants, rocks, and various trail hazards that would otherwise leave your legs scrapped, sore and uncomfortable
- If you do not have dedicated hiking/climbing pants, use a pair of work out pants. These can be running pants or yoga pants. They will be able to move with you as you hike, and are made for active use
- For guys, I suggest a pair of synthetic boxer-briefs (under armor style). These handle constant movement way better than cotton type boxers. If you want to be fancy, grab some some merino wool boxer briefs. They are the bee's knees.
- For the ladies.... I am not entirely sure. Wear whatever type of underwear you would for running or working out. This is what my wife does and it works just fine.
- Again, go for something synthetic or wool that you find comfortable. Ladies, it is important to keep in mind that you will be carrying a back pack, so spaghetti straps are not ideal. And guys, no bro tanks. Ever.
- Long sleeve or short sleeve? I would say there are two things to consider here. First is temperature. If you get cold easily, go long sleeve. The other is sun. If you burn easily, or want to use less sunscreen, go long sleeve. Other than that, a short sleeve shirt is just fine.
3 Liters or so
Bring a bunch
candy bar for the summit
|granola bars, trail mix, etc.|
|Something salty (Pringles!)|
Baseball cap (optional)
|Light insulation (fleece/down/synthetic)|
|Small 1st Aid (1 per group)|
|TP (unless you like rocks…)|
|Trekking poles (if you want)|
Headlamp (for early start)
Phone (yes, you will likely get service at some point)
If you do have any specific questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.
2) Prepare Yourself
Though a lot of people would be capable of doing a 14er with zero previous training or planning, I would strongly advise against it. It is a good way to have a bad experience, or even put yourself in a dangerous situation.
I ALWAYS look at 14ers.com before hiking. Spend some time poking around the website. You can look up route information, see maps, read recent trip reports, check trailhead conditions. Read and research. Print yourself a little map. Take notes in a moleskine journal. Build a spreadsheet. You know, whatever your into. Basically, this is where you will get all your trail information: location, route, difficulty, mileage, elevation gain, etc.
ScheduleNext, it is a good idea to plan out your itinerary. Start with when you want to summit. I strongly suggest shooting for 11am or earlier. The rule of thumb is being off the summit by noon. 11am gives you time to hang out on the summit a bit, and get well off the summit before the storms. What time do you need to start hiking to get to the top at that time?
Now that you know when you need to start hiking to get the top on time, when do you leave your house? Use Google Maps. Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to get ready once you reach the trail head.
If you think there is anything that I left out, or if you have any questions, let me know in the comments.