Hiking in the San Juan Mountains. Photo Credit: wanderluster (iStock).

Hiking in the San Juan Mountains. Photo Credit: wanderluster (iStock).

Having the right gear can help ensure that a fourteener climb is a fun and safe experience. When traveling extreme terrain, it’s important to be prepared for a range of obstacles and difficulties that may be encountered along the way. Before any big hike, use a checklist to ensure that all necessary items are in the right place prior to hitting the trail. 

Not sure what to bring? Here’s a great list to get you started:

1. A reliable backpack: A good backpack is one that will hold all necessary gear comfortably for a long distance. Test a weight-loaded backpack on a shorter trail prior to bringing it above treeline to ensure the right fit in a situation with lower consequence. A backpack with straps that connect across the chest and waist is highly recommended. Bonus points if the backpack is waterproof.

2. Ample water with supplements: It’s recommended that hikers bring roughly a liter of water per every 90 minutes of hiking, though some people require more. It’s also not a bad idea to bring supplements along that can improve hydration, including products like Nuun tablets and Liquid IV. As far as carrying the water goes, some prefer a bladder-style reservoir, while others prefer to drink straight from a bottle. It’s more convenient to drink through a bladder held in the backpack, but perhaps easier to track consumption through bottle usage.

3. Layers, layers, and more layers: When climbing a fourteener, hikers experience a rapid change in elevation. With that change in elevation often comes a change in weather conditions. A single day on the mountain might mean encountering heat, wind, rain, snow, and hailBecause of this, it’s important that layers can work together to offer comfort in different situations. It’s also always important to pack a waterproof layer and spare socks. Also, avoid cotton, which tends to be awful in moist conditions.

4. Sunblock: Colorado’s fourteener trails take hikers above treeline where there’s no protection from a blistering sun. Wear sunblock and apply it frequently. Bring some shades along, too. 

5. A good pair of shoes: Most opt for hiking boots when tackling Colorado’s many fourteeners, though for some, trail runners may be more comfortable on the easier class one or class two routes. Regardless, shoes worn on a fourteener should be well-tested and broken-in. The shoe should also fit the season, with snow conditions requiring more waterproofing and warmth. Weight and ankle protection are also important factors to consider. Find the right balance of durability, comfort, and quality while aiming to keep the footwear light.

6. An ‘emergency kit’: Prepare for the just-in-case' with an emergency kit. Aside from helpful medical items like bandages and anti-biotic ointment, other ‘emergency kit’ items may include a mylar heating blanket and a whistle.

7. Sustenance: It’s important to stay properly nourished while participating in any strenuous activity, including climbing a fourteener – especially with one symptom of altitude sickness being loss of appetite. A lot of climbers prefer to bring light snacks along for their adventure, including foods like granola, mixed nuts, beef jerky, and bananas. Nutritional supplements made for endurance athletes can also be a good source of energy. It’s also not a bad idea to bring along a favorite gummy snack for a quick, sugary energy boost.

8. A GPS system: There are a couple options here – mobile phone GPS or a standalone GPS unit. In many cases, a mobile phone GPS system will get the job done, though apps that run these services tend to be a battery suck. A standalone GPS unit, such as the Garmin inReach, will provide the benefits of a mobile phone GPS system with more reliability, while also allowing for communication in places without cell phone connection. 

9. Toilet paper: Don’t expect to find a port-a-potty on the mountain and if there is one, don’t expect toilet paper. Long hikes can require bathroom breaks and it’s important to be prepared. Poop at least 200 feet away from water sources and bury it. Bring a sealable waste bag to pack out toilet paper.

10. A summit sign: After climbing a mountain, hikers often want to share the news of their accomplishment with their friends and family in the form of a summit photo, often accompanied by a sign displaying the name of the peak and the elevation. Create a sign using waste cardboard (i.e. from a box of beer) and never leave the sign at the summit. As goes with anything else brought on a fourteener hike – pack it in, pack it out! 

Director of Content and Operations

Spencer McKee is OutThere Colorado's Director of Content and Operations. In his spare time, Spencer loves to hike, rock climb, and trail run.


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(1) comment

Keith Limbird

Wow. Times have changed. But even though that may be true, a map and compass are still two of the most important items to bring with you on a fourteener hike or any other hike in CO.

In your item #8 you promote GPS devices and never mention map and compass. I have personally had GPS malfunction, I have had no service, I have had GPS be wrong and I have had my GPS device broken, but I have never had similar problems with a map and compass.

Implying that TP and a summit sign are more important than map and compass is just mountaineering malpractice.

All the best,

Keith Limbird, MD

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