I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve seen an increase in news stories lately of hikers needing to be rescued in their attempt to summit a 14er. Too often they haven’t done the appropriate research, aren’t wearing the right clothing, or didn’t bring the appropriate supplies. So, I’ve teamed up with some of my favorite mountain babes on Instagram to tell you what we wear and what we pack when we set out to conquer 14ers.
First, let me introduce these badass ladies. And be sure to follow them on Instagram for some awesome adventures.
Why do you summit 14ers? The challenge and the reward!
Why do you summit 14ers? Hiking gives me quality time in beautiful places with my dogs, away from the concrete jungle of the city. They need the escapes just as much as I do! As for the summits, I seek them as a method to find and push past my physical and mental limits. Once I reach the summit, all that remains above me is the vast expanse of the sky. Below my feet, I’m left with the most magnificent views surrounding me for miles. If it weren’t for the time I’ve spent getting lost in the mountains, I wouldn’t have ever found my inner wild!
Why do you summit 14ers? There’s such a feeling of accomplishment in summiting a 14er and a deep sense of appreciation for a beautiful and most importantly, safe, day on the mountains.
Why do you summit 14ers? For the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment.
Why do you summit 14ers? I love the challenge and feeling of accomplishment after summiting a 14er, or really any mountain. Hiking is very therapeutic, and let’s me reset my mind after a long week of work and helps put things into perspective.
Why do you summit 14ers? Before I did my first one, I really had no desire to do them. But it hits that sweet spot for me where I get the right amount of challenging without going past my risk-tolerance threshold.
What’s In Your Pack And What’s On Your Back?
- What I Wear: Quick drying base-layers dependent on time of year, then easy lightweight layers. Usually starting off with more when we start early in the morning and then also layers to put on when we summit.
- What I Pack:
- Navigation: Downloaded images on cell phone (may bring portable charger) or if route is tricky will have a paper map
- Sun Protection: Sunscreen 30spf, hat (sun and warmth) and sunglasses!
- Insulation: Lightweight down or thicker layer, wind breaker/rain jacket, long sleeve and lightweight gloves!
- Illumination: Headlamp!
- First Aid: Sport tape (for me or my pup!)
- Nutrition: Many snacks! Meat bars, protein bars, lunch for summit, and probar gummies
- Hydration: 3L bladder
- Other: Sometimes extra socks, dog treat
- What I Wear: I start with a base layer of spandex shorts, and leggings over the top of those. In summer, I typically wear a tank top with a long sleeve synthetic layer to wear over the top of that. Wool socks help to keep my feet warm and dry!
- What I Pack:
- Navigation: 14ers.com has a fantastic app in which you can download and save step by step images and topographical maps for any route to each of the 58 summits. In addition to this app, I also use an app called Avenza Maps which lets me download free U.S. Forest Service basemaps to use in conjunction with my real-time GPS location. In case of electronics failure, I also bring along a simple compass and a paper map for the area I’m hiking. I highly recommend the Colorado 14ers Maps Series by Outdoor Trail Maps LLC.
- Sun Protection: I swear by Neutrogena Ultra Sheer sunscreen lotion with Helioplex technology. It’s the best sunscreen out there. It goes on invisible and keeps me from burning at altitude! SWAG = Stuff We All Get. I go to a lot of festivals and conventions with booths that hand out free sunglasses and other SWAG. I have so many extra pairs of SWAG sunglasses I could put them all in a giant vault and swim laps through them! A baseball cap, trucker hat, or flatbill helps in keeping my face shaded.
- Insulation: I have a nice light packable Columbia rain jacket in case I get stuck in a rainstorm. For wind and cold, I carry a windproof Marmot softshell jacket with a hood. I also carry a filled puffy jacket that I can slip on underneath the softshell if I need extra warmth. I bring extra socks in case of creek crossings or rainy/wet/cold days. I like to carry an extra long sleeve base layer (moisture wicking – synthetic or wool blend) just in case I somehow get wet or need more warmth. In shoulder seasons such as spring and fall, I like to keep all my skin covered. This includes a neck buff and wool scarf, multiple pairs of gloves or mittens (liner gloves when the temps approach sub-40 degrees, and a thicker pair to go over those when the temps drop even lower), and multiple warm stretchy hats that cover all my head and hair. I also bring packs of hand warmers and toe warmers in case the gloves or socks aren’t enough!
- Illumination: The Petzl Tikka headlamp is simple and relatively inexpensive. Don’t forget to bring extra AAA batteries!
- First Aid: I carry a full first aid kit with extra dog-specific supplies in case I need to treat my boys or myself at any time. I always have sports tape and other bandage materials in case I need to wrap up a wound. I keep Neosporin with me to prevent infection. Hydrogen Peroxide is a great antiseptic and also works to induce vomiting in case my dogs chew up or swallow something they shouldn’t. Ibuprofen works wonders in preventing or easing headaches at high altitude. Benadryl is useful in the case of an allergic reaction on the trail. I also carry tweezers and scissors, most basic first aid kits have both. Moleskin is amazing in treating blisters. Nothing ruins a good hike more thandeveloping severe blisters miles away from the trailhead.
- Fire: Two simple Bic lighters do the trick as well as a small package of Duraflame waterproof fire starter in case I’m really in a bind.
- Repair Kit/Tools: I keep a long strip of electrical tape wrapped around one of
my trekking poles for gear that tore or ripped open. I also have a multi-tool knife.
- Nutrition: I tend to carry more snacks than I think I need. That way, if I’m hungry I can choose something to eat that that I’ll actually enjoy. I usually bring some sweet snacks and some salty. I LOVE dark chocolate, just be sure it doesn’t melt! Gummies and chewable candies work well for instant energy on the trail, as do cookies and those Honey Stinger waffles. Pretzels and sweet potato chips… YUM! I have a designated pocket that I call my “snack hole” for easy access to my snacks, either in my jacket or on the waist strap of my backpack.
- Hydration: I carry at least 3 liters of water. My dogs and I usually drink all of it on our longer hikes. I also carry a Sawyer mini water filter so that I can refill water at any creek crossing I want without risking contraction of viruses.
- Emergency Shelter: As long as I also keep the insulation and extra clothing listed above, all I need to carry is some emergency mylar space blankets. That way, in case I have to spend an unexpected night in the alpine zone, I will be warm and prepared.
- Other: My trekking poles have prevented me from some nasty spills and they help to minimize the impact on my knees and joints. Some of the trails in the Rocky Mountains can be rugged! DEET-Free bug spray is important in summertime so that I don’t get eaten alive by swarms of mosquitoes!
- What I Wear: Layers. Always layers. Not necessarily because I’m cold so much as accident prone. And I scar super easily. I’m still waiting for The Great Papercut of 2016 to heal. 😉 If I could hike covered in bubble wrap I would.
- What I Pack:
- Sun Protection: La Roche Posay makes my absolute favorite light, non greasy sunscreen with SPF 50.
- Insulation: Layers! I also always pack gloves to protect my hands. I use basic Head brand gloves you can get at Costco for warmth and any of the easier 14ers. If I know it’s gonna be a “4 points of contact” climb I’m a big fan of Black Diamond full finger crag gloves. I bought these just before doing Little Bear and now I bring them with me on every peak. I wanted a basic, yet durable glove I knew wouldn’t slip off but was also easy to get on and off if they got wet or my hands were swollen. For only $20 it doesn’t get much better than these gloves.
- Illumination: Petzl headlamp
- First Aid: I always have a small Cotopaxi bag stocked and ready to go that gets thrown in my pack for every 14er. The contents of which are: sunscreen, chapstick with SPF (this is super important!), ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, bandaids, travel size pack of sanitizing wet wipes, toilet paper in a plastic bag and an extra bag to pack it out, hand lotion, single sterile Dermabond (I work in a hospital so this is easy for me to come by), tampons, and an extra pair of contacts.
- Nutrition: Pizza. Of course.
- What I Wear: Fjallraven trekking tights, merino wool baselayer, Patagonia capilene midlayer, packable down jacket, Buff headband, sock liners, running gaiters
- What I Pack:
- Navigation: Downloaded map from Alltrails
- Sun Protection: Sunglasses, Buff headband, sunscreen
- Insulation: Packable rain jacket, light beanie or fleece headband, gloves
- Illumination: Headlamp
- First Aid: First aid kit, emergency beacon
- Repair Kit/Tools: Multitool, duct tape
- Nutrition: Trail snacks, Nuun tablets, energy gel
- Hydration: 2 Smartwater bottles (33 fl oz and 23 fl oz)
- Other: Gorillapod, ibuprofen, knee brace, lots of tissues, Leukotape
- What I Wear: Comfortable hiking pants, Smartwool socks, quick dry tops that can be layered (not cotton!), a lightweight rain jacket, and depending on weather some packable down jacket.
- What I Pack:
- Navigation: Garmin GPS to help backtrack to car if hiking in a more remote spot, or a trail that is densely wooded. Also, sometimes I like bringing a classic map for up top to help point out the surrounding mountains while scouting out the next ones to hike! I always like to do my research beforehand for what the trail entails, and keep notes in my phone in case I’m questioning a certain area.
- Sun Protection: Very important! I bring Coola 50 SPF, sunglasses, SunBum chapstick with SPF, and a hat for every hike.
- Insulation: Packable down jacket, gloves, stocking hat
- Illumination: Headlamp
- First Aid: First aid kit with bandaids, antibiotic ointment, gauze, ibuprofen, mole skin, aspirin if hiking with anyone with a possible heart issue (older individuals)
- Fire: I typically never hike with this unless a longer backpacking trip to light a mini stove for food prep
- Repair Kit/Tools: Microspikes if snow, also a snow axe if possible loose snow. Typically I try to wait longer into the season before attempting a 14er with snow risks.
- Nutrition: All the food! Gu packs for longer hikes, peanut butter filled pretzels, jerky, applesauce packs, ONE nutrition bars, trail mix
- Hydration: Rule of thumb is a liter of water for every 3-4 miles. If it is a longer hike and that isn’t reasonable, I always carry a water filtration device to use in a stream. Always try to pack more water than you think you might need, you sweat more than you think but it evaporates fast in Colorado. You’re putting your body through a lot hiking at these higher elevations, so making sure you are staying hydrated to help assist your muscles is one of the key factors for success!
- Other: I have asthma, so I hike with an inhaler. I also pack a mini pack of kleenex in case my nose gets runny. And I ALWAYS carry a trash bag to pick up trash along the trail. I urge everyone to pack out what they pack in, leave it better than you found it!
- What I Wear:
- Summer: Moisture-wicking base layer tank or tee, leggings, wool socks, my Outdoor Reserarch Ferrosi jacket. I might start with a stocking cap, a headlamp, and my collapsible down jacket and shed once the sun comes up. I’ll replace the stocking cap for a baseball cap and the headlamp for sunglasses
- Spring/Fall: Long-sleeved merino wool base layer shirt and leggings, fleece jacket, quick-dry hiking pants, collapsible down jacket, stocking cap, gloves. And I’ll shed layers as needed.
- What I Pack:
- Navigation: We look at 14ers.com the week leading up to the summit so we can familiarize ourselves with the route and Kyle usually prints out topo maps. Plus, we always have GPS on our phones. I keep mine in “airplane mode” most of the time to save battery and only turn it off when I need to use it.
- Sun Protection: I’m usually wearing a hat and sunglasses and we bring sunscreen and chapstick with SPF in it.
- Insulation: I always pack a waterproof raincoat and my collapsible down jacket, a stocking cap, and gloves.
- Illumination: I always have a headlamp with me.
- First-Aid: We bring a small kit with bandages, ibuprofen, alcohol wipes, etc. And the tape I sometimes use on my knees can be doubled for a plethora of first-aid needs.
- Fire: I always have waterproof matches and a lighter in my pack.
- Repair Kit/Tools: I always have a utility knife in my pack.
- Nutrition: I bring LOTS of snacks. You’re burning A LOT of calories and need to refuel your body often. They aren’t that healthy but I love the Luna Blueberry Bliss bars. We always bring Honey Stinger gummies and Clif Bars. Nuts are a great, easy-to-eat protein snack. I like to pack a PB&J and a beer for the summit. And I always pack food for my dog, as well. I usually bring more than her regular meals since she’s also burning a lot of calories.
- Hydration: We bring at least 5 liters of water for me, Kyle, and Freya. Lately, he’s been bringing up extra water to practice carrying more weight in his pack so we have extra to top off strangers’ water bottles at the top. I can’t tell you how many people we’ve seen that only brought one bottle of water and were completely out before they summited. BRING LOTS OF WATER! It’s so important to stay hydrated at that elevation.
- Other: Hiking poles! They are especially helpful on the descent. Dog poop bags. A coozie for my summit beer. I always have some extra ziploc bags, a pen, and hand sanitizer. Ziploc bags are good for packing out trash. And you never know when you’ll need a pen – like to fill out a parking pass. And I don’t bring them with me on the mountain but I always make sure to have sandals to change into as soon as we get back to the car/campsite.
Your Tips for 14ers:
fourpaws.twofeet : Get into hiking shape before attempting a 14er – work on endurance and altitude to adapt, and the biggest thing I have learned is to hike your own hike! Go at your own pace and take as many breaks as needed. Know leave no trace and trail etiquette.
hiphoebe_ : START AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE. If you hike at night you get to witness shooting stars during the summer meteor showers, as well as the most spectacular sunrises of your life! Not only that, but it is crucial to start early to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms which hit the high country like clockwork during the summer. The earlier start you get, the more crowds you will beat, and the less you will have to share the trail.
Know what you are getting into. This means studying the route and being aware of whether you are physically capable of completing the route. For most people setting out on their first 14er, it helps to pick one that has a class 1 trail, dirt all the way to the top, with lower mileage and around 3,000ft of elevation gain. Class 2 involves sections of boulder hopping which can be tiring. Class 3 and above involves scrambling with hands and feet over dangerous terrain, with higher risk of rockfall.
There is NO SHAME in turning back on a hike for any reason. I consider a hike successful if I got out of bed, made it to the trailhead, and set out on foot. The most important and gratifying part of any 14er hike is the journey, not the summit. The mountain will always be there and your safety is paramount.
Bring a friend! And if you can’t bring a friend, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return! A point of contact who can initiate a Search and Rescue effort is essential in case anything goes awry while you are on the mountain.
peaks_and_pizza : Sometimes people think that in order to do a 14er you need to know how to rock climb. For the most part that’s not true when you’re first starting out. Class 1 and 2 mountains are basically just long, hard hikes with a lot of elevation gains. You need endurance more than anything and the best thing to do is choose harder hikes at lower elevations to get your body in shape. I think Bear Peak in Boulder is one of the best hikes to prepare you for a 14er; lots of elevation gain over a short distance.
shannonoffthemap : Start early (pre-dawn), dress appropriately in layers, bring enough water and food, closely monitor the weather, stay on trail and study the route beforehand.
summitscout_co : Leave early! Not only are the parking lots getting full, but pay attention to the weather! You do not want to be above treeline with no shelter during a storm. Storms can appear out of no where, so keep an eye on the weather the week leading up to your hike, and also be aware of the clouds and weather pattern forming during your hike. It’s better to turn around than get caught in that! Drink more water than you think you need, this will help immensely. Also stop for breaks and allow your lungs to become acclimated.
gypsylifeforme : You HAVE to do the research – make sure the hike you want to do is in your skill level. A first-timer should not be attempting anything above a class 2. And keep an eye on the weather. Generally, you should plan to have summited and be back below tree line before noon. Which often means starting hours before the sun comes up. And go slow – maybe even slower than you think you should – think Tortoise and the Hare. I feel ridiculous sometimes when I take the smallest, slowest steps in steep parts on the ascent but it really helps in conserving both breath and energy. Going at a slow, steady pace is a million times better than zooming up a steep part and then having to stop for several minutes to get your breath back. Learning to go at your own pace is the best thing you can do.
What NOT to do on 14ers:
fourpaws.twofeet : Littering, being unprepared and disrespectful to other hikers.
hiphoebe_ : These trails were built by hard working people (often volunteers) and if you venture off the trail to take shortcuts, it causes damage to the mountain and often puts your safety at risk! DON’T PLAY MUSIC THROUGH A SPEAKER! The other people you encounter on the trail will appreciate a more peaceful nature experience if you refrain from doing this. Headphones exist for a reason!
peaks_and_pizza : Getting a late start is a big no-no. You’ll never regret starting early. Super early. I’m talking 4 am early. But, you will regret starting at 8 am and turning around before summiting because afternoon thunderstorms are rolling in and weather looks dicey.
shannonoffthemap : Starting too late and being above treeline after noon, wearing inappropriate clothing (hoodies, sneakers, jeans), not bringing enough supplies in case of emergency, hiking above their skill level, attempting a summit in inclement weather
summitscout_co : Feeding/getting too close to wildlife, I’ve seen people get charged by elk protecting their young. Moose are also very dangerous and people tend to not give them the space they need. Not being considerate to other hikers. Be courteous and kind to those you meet. Step out of the way for those going at a faster pace. Leaving trash/your summit sign along the way…people always say they are leaving their sign for others to use later. What if everyone did that? It wouldn’t be as nice of a view to summit. Pack it in, pack it out. That includes apple cores, banana peels, etc.
gypsylifeforme : Don’t litter! Do NOT play music on your phone without headphones. I guarantee you, no one on that mountain was thinking, “You know what would really make this whole nature experience better? Hearing a 12-year-old Coldplay song from someone’s shitty iPhone speaker.” And do NOT sit down on rocks in the middle of the trail. While it is very important to stop and take breaks when your body tells you to, don’t do it in the middle of the trail. Often a narrow, rocky trail needs to act as a two-way street for people ascending and descending and in addition to causing a traffic-jam, it can become a safety issue. Finally, do NOT push yourself too hard. You need to respect that you’re in a remote area (hours away from medical care) in a high-altitude environment.
Your Favorite 14er So Far:
fourpaws.twofeet : Mount Sneffles – Oliver my pup did amazing and the views were beyond rewarding!
hiphoebe_ : Mount Elbert – It was my first and I loved being able to say that I stood at the top of Colorado!
peaks_and_pizza : Pyramid. It’s such a fun route and I felt great the day I climbed it, both mentally and physically, so I think that added to an overall great day on the mountain. I actually really liked Little Bear too. I’m not sure that I truly liked the mountain so much (it’s pretty scary at times) as I liked the feeling of accomplishing that peak. There’s a different feeling of excitement I get when I climb the harder Class 4 peaks than the easier ones that leave me physically tired but not mentally stimulated.
shannonoffthemap : Humboldt, because the views of the Crestones and the lakes are stunning.
summitscout_co : Longs Peak. This is a strenuous one that isn’t recommended for those who are inexperienced hikers. It is long, has a lot of elevation gain, and has tricky routes after the keyhole that has claimed many lives throughout the years. I was proud to say that I successfully completed this 14er. This mountain also holds a special place for my husband’s family who has vacationed in Rocky Mountain National Park for over 30 years.
gypsylifeforme : Torreys Peak. It was technically my second, but we did Grays and Torreys on the same day so it still felt like my first one. We had just moved to Colorado a few months before. The whole week leading up to it I worried if I was going to be able to do it or not. I knew it would be physically challenging and I didn’t know if I had what it takes. The adrenaline rush/sense of accomplishment I felt once I got to the summit (combined with the 8% beer I drank) was literally the best I’ve ever felt.
Your Least Favorite 14er So Far:
fourpaws.twofeet :Mount Elbert, hated the false summits and mentally wasn’t prepared!
hiphoebe_ : So far I don’t have a least favorite!
peaks_and_pizza : Columbia. Google it. There’s plenty written about how awful the trail is. I never knew I was capable of being such a miserable person till I climbed that mountain.
shannonoffthemap : Quandary, because it was my first one and I didn’t know what to expect, so I really struggled physically and mentally.
summitscout_co : I love every hike, because I think you gain something valuable no matter what. However, if I was to pick one, I would say Mount Bierstadt. This is a great hike for beginners who are getting into 14ers, it just had too many people for me to find as enjoyable as others.
gypsylifeforme : Bierstadt. But only because I was hungover. We decided to do it the night before when we were about 4 beers deep (DON’T DO THIS!) and invited other people that had never done one before so we couldn’t back out. This is exactly what you should NOT do.
As you can see, for every stunning on-top-of-the-world Instagram post you see, there was research, preparedness, and hard work that went into getting to the top. Maybe you’re considering summiting your first, or maybe you’ve bagged a handful but still aren’t sure if you’re bringing the right stuff. Either way, we hope this information helps. Stay safe!
Thank you again to these adventurous women for helping me with this post!