My Dad had always wanted to successfully hike a 14er, which means scaling a 14,000-foot mountain … on foot. Although he climbed Hallett’s Peak approximately two decades ago, and dragged my mom and me up Flattop Mountain one decade ago, the achievement of summiting a fourteener still urged him back to Colorado. In August 2017, we did manage to tick hiking a fourteener off his bucket list, just a few weeks before he turned 70.
Hiking a 14er is no easy feat, which is why it is a goal of so many travellers and outdoor enthusiasts. I’ll confess that we were only moderately prepared to summit Quandary Peak, one of the easier fourteeners. So, for first-timers, I have prepared a list of 14 essentials to hike a 14er. Some of them are physical items, some of them are not; but I hope they all help you to successfully hike a 14er!
14er Hiking Essentials
You increase your chance of summiting a mountain exponentially when you increase your fitness. Specifically concentrate on cardio (since you will be walking in a high altitude environment) and your leg muscles. Sure, climbing up may be difficult, but coming down gently for the sake of healthy knees can be even trickier. Your body will thank you for training beforehand. In the days leading up to the 14er hike, you should complete some shorter strenuous walks.
2. Time to Acclimate
It’s no surprise that Colorado, the Rocky Mountain State, is elevated. After all, Denver is called the “Mile High City.” Altitude sickness results from the body being unable to adjust to high altitudes. To reduce your risk of altitude sickness, spend time in Colorado completing small hikes before you face off with a 14er. Seasoned hikers have passed away from this condition, so do take care. Some locals recommend you spend a week minimum in Colorado before attempting to hike a 14er.
3. Time to Climb
Do not underestimate how long it will take you to safely hike up and down a 14,000-foot mountain. Allow yourself an entire day for the excursion. We hiked during a busy long weekend, and the amount of people on the trail can slow you down, too. It’s best to set off in the dark because of afternoon storms during Colorado summers. You need to descend back below the treeline before storms hit because of lightning.
14er Hike Packing List
If there’s one thing you need on your mountain hike, it’s water. Carrying water is simpler if you use a water bladder, such as a Camelbek. The pouch of water is connected to a long hose, so you can drink without pulling a bottle out from your backpack during every break. You may also want to carry an additional sports drink. Water can be very heavy, but as you drink it, the load will lighten.
Would you be able to survive a 14er without any snacks? Sure, but snacks make for a great energy boost. Trail mix, a combination of nuts and dried fruit, is a classic hiking snack. We also took along beef jerky and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Clearly, protein was a priority for us. Hard candies are also a light item to pack, and they can prevent your mouth from getting dry.
In addition to hiking, you can find plenty of outdoor adventures activities in Colorado.
I don’t know how many times I peed while hiking up Quandary Peak. A lot. More than 10 times. So it was really important for me to have a good stock of tissues to accompany me during all my toilet breaks. You don’t want to hike with soggy underwear. Besides, mountain goats are attracted the salt in urine, and you really don’t want one chasing you after you take a leak. (It’s not likely, but just sayin’.) Tissues are also useful for eating and for wiping your sweaty brow if you didn’t bring a small hand towel.
If you’d rather not spend the entire morning and afternoon squinting into the sun, you had better bring sunglasses with you. (Besides, a good dose of squinting could really contribute to forehead wrinkles.) You’ll be more comfortable if you wear sunglasses, especially at the top of the mountain in mid-day. It’s really, really bright.
Say ‘no’ to sunburn by applying loads of sunscreen. And make sure to bring some along because you’ll likely sweat it off while you’re hiking the 14er. You will be above treeline for most of your hike, which means you will be exposed to the sun for many hours.
9. Proper footwear
With all the steps that you’ll be taking to hike a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado, you’re not going to want any of those steps to be uncomfortable. Investing in proper footwear will make your long day journey much more bearable. It’s best to be properly outfitted for hiking boots or hiking shoes at a store, where you test them out by walking on small ramps. Hint: You don’t want your toes to run into the front of your shoe when you walk downhill. You’ll also want to invest in thick wool socks to avoid forming blisters.
10. Sweat-proof Clothes
Although cotton is comfortable in everyday wear, avoid wearing cotton on your 14er hike. When you sweat, the cotton will absorb the moisture and lock it in. Instead, wear athletic clothes or specific outdoor clothing that is breathable, does not absorb water and dries quickly.
11. Lightweight Jacket
You probably won’t wear a jacket all day, but if you should definitely bring a lightweight, water proof or water-resistant jacket to the mountain. Wear it as your body warms up when you start your journey before dawn. You may also want to wear your jacket on the mountaintop since it can cut the wind. Depending on when you hike a Colorado fourteener, there may still be snow at the summit.
12. Accessories (Hat/ Gloves/ Scarf)
Packing accessories like a hat, gloves and scarf won’t take up a lot of space – or add a lot of weight to your backpack. You’ll want to bring them along, too, just so you are prepared for all sorts of weather. Bundle up when you take breaks from hiking.
A knit hat will go a long way towards keeping your body temperature up, and wearing gloves or mittens is the only way to stop your fingertips from freezing.
13. First Aid Kit
Hopefully your mountain hike will go smoothly, but you never know what is going to happen. That’s why you need to be prepared with a first aid kit stocked with salve and bandages for any scrapes and blisters. You should also bring along larger bandages and any braces that you have previously used, like knee braces and ankle braces, in case your joints become stressed. If you have allergies, anti-histamines could come in use, as could pain reliever.
14. Walking Poles
You may not need walking poles to hike a 14er, but it will make life much easier. Sure, you may look cooler without them, but hiking sticks help on both the ascent and the descent. You can distribute weight between four limbs, which lessens the pressure on your joints; and you can compensate with your body strength if you have weak legs.
So, those are 14 things that I think can help you to successfully hike a 14,000-foot mountain. Is there anything I missed? And if so, what would it replace in the current top 14 essentials list? A camera or smartphone would be nice to capture the memories, but for me, it didn’t make the top 14. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Inspired to hike a 14er?