To close out this series, I’ll summarize what we learned about gear and equipment needed for climbing a “fourteener.” We had three organizing principles:
Remember that water consumption will be affected by temperature. We hiked at 50°F. On a warmer day, we’d have carried more fluid.
Most of our group mixed some sort of energy powder into the water. I heard good reviews of CytoMax, and I personally liked GU2O. You’ll be fine with plain water, but one of these supplements may give you an edge. Just remember: if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
There are two ways to carry water on a hike. The most convenient way is via a bladder system such as CamelBak. Six of our seven hikers used these with no complaints. I didn’t want to wear a backpack, so I carried 2 32-oz bottles in my lumbar pack, and 2 18-oz bottles in the hip pockets of my shorts. The small bottles were literally at hand and easy to use; I refilled them as necessary from the big bottles in the lumbar pack. This was slightly tedious, but manageable. One advantage: I could tell at a glance how much water I’d consumed, and how much was left.
You will most likely be able to refill bottles at Barr Camp, which is 6.8 miles up the hill from the trailhead. The water there is pre-filtered and need not be treated with iodine. But please don’t take my word for it — I suggest you contact Barr Camp to verify that the above is still true for the date of your ascent.
Foot comfort is critical if you’re planning to use them to get back home at the end of the day. $15 for a pair of real hiking socks is cheap insurance. I like Thorlo because the feet are more padded than the ankles, and because of the extra band of elastic around the arch. As mentioned above, wear polypropylene sock liners inside the hiking socks. Polypropylene wicks moisture better than just about anything else, and the thin slippery fabric helps prevent blisters.
Get quality hiking boots, and break them in before your long hike. Experts disagree on what constitutes a proper break-in, but for reference, my Vasque boots needed about a dozen trail hikes — or two to three weeks of daily wear.
Several of our group wore convertible pants (the legs zip off). These make sense, although you could also wear hiking shorts if you carry some kind of long pants that fit over the shorts. You’re likely to need something warm at the summit. Whatever you decide on, you’ll appreciate having many pockets so you need not fumble through a pack every time you want to take a photo or reapply sunblock. Also: unless you’re using a lumbar pack, you might need a belt. On a warm day you might find your pants slipping as you sweat off that greasy burger you ate for lunch yesterday.
Your shirt should be polypropylene, or some equivalent wicking fabric. Also bring a fleece and a windproof/waterproof jacket. These three layers should keep you comfortable from 40°F to 100°F.
Bring gloves of some sort, preferably thin and weatherproof as opposed to thick and fuzzy. One of our group spilled water on his gloves and suffered freezing hands for the remainder of the hike. This is a good argument for synthetic fabrics. It’s also a good argument for taking your gloves off when you refill your water bottles.
Bring a variety of headgear: a bandana or thin stocking hat (or balaclava) for warmth, and something with a brim for glare control. Remember that the atmosphere offers little sun/UV protection at altitude, and the best sunblock is a shadow.
If you’re certain you’ll be near others in your group, you can share this load. If you’re not certain, you should be equipped to take care of yourself.
Here’s a starter list: spare batteries (camera, headlamp, cellphone, radio); foot powder; dry socks; white athletic tape; moleskin or pieces of plastic grocery bags (for blister prevention); pocketknife or leatherman tool; ace bandage or knee/ankle wraps; adhesive bandages; insect repellent; tissue/wipes; saline solution (if you wear contacts); lens tissue (for glasses, sunglasses, camera); paper towels (especially useful for spilled energy drink, which is sticky); lip balm; sun lotion, wristwatch, compass, 2-way radio, UV sunglasses (on a strap), flashlight or headlamp, aspirin and/or ibuprofin, pen and paper, trail map, drink powder, food bars, film.
If you are hiking in the dark, get your own headlamp and bring spare batteries. I recommend the Petzl Zipka, which is tiny, lightweight, comfortable, and very bright.
You will absolutely need sunglasses, preferably wrap-around or with leather blinders on the sides. I recommend wearing them on a neck strap so you can put them on or off quickly.
How much pack space will you need? Our group used various packs ranging in size from 300 to 3000 cubic inches. My pack holds 1100 cubic inches and seems to have been an ideal size: I carried everything I needed, and had no wasted space.
Pack choices are determined by hydration solutions. Or in other words, the first question you should answer is whether you want to use a CamelBak (or similar bladder system). Always a renegade, I had decided early on that I didn’t want to wear a pack on my upper back. Instead I opted for a Mountainsmith Cairn lumbar pack.
There are two disadvantages to backpacks:
The advantages to backpacks are that they offer lots of space, many pockets, and are easy to take off and put on. The last of those brings up the one disadvantage of lumbar packs: when full, they are very tough to put on. On the trail I had to lean up against a tree or a rock to hold the pack in place while I connected and adjusted the waistbelt. Another disadvantage: my lumbar pack was tightly packed, making it difficult to quickly grab any specific item.
No matter what pack you use, you’ll appreciate having commonly-used items hanging on your belt, or in a pocket. Suggestions: lip balm; sun lotion; sunglasses (hang them around your neck); camera.
How much food will you need? I ate four food bars and a few ounces of nuts. Others in the group brought no solid food, but slurped down “energy gel” every 45 minutes. If you opt for the goo, try it out before your big hike. Some of the flavors are apparently disgusting.
Conspicuously absent from this document is any mention of trekking poles. Everyone in my group swears by them, so I’ll say that you should consider trying them. I have no relevant experience.
One final piece of advice: listen to your body. Don’t hike into a crisis, and don’t expect others to bail you out.