The ten essentials for 14ers in winter are the basic gear you need to keep yourself alive in the Rockies if something goes wrong. They allow us to respond positively to emergencies – that is, we’re empowered to take action to save and help ourselves, instead of being entirely dependent on Search and Rescue (‘SAR’). Here’s and overview of the ten essentials for 14ers in winter.
You can survive a week or more without food – but you can only survive 2-3 days without water. In winter, it may be impossible to find unless you can melt snow or ice. Bring a small backpacking stove, fuel and pot with you whenever you do a significant hike, just in case you need to get yourself more water. I use the MSR PocketRocket 2 – it’s lightweight and extremely dependable in cold conditions. I also bring 3 liters of water along to start, more than enough for most hikes.
Pack enough food for what you think you will eat during your hike. Then pack an additional 1500 calories. I use dense food that takes up little space, like energy or protein bars. You can bring a backpacking meal to pair with your stove if you’d prefer… I consider that if ever I’m forced to break out my extra food, I’d appreciate something warm and good to eat. This Emergency Food Pack from REI includes more than enough food for 3 or more days outdoors.
I always bring at least one layer of insulation beyond what I expect to need. For example, if I think I need a base layer, mid layer, and outer jacket, I pack an extra fleece just in case things get colder than expected. I also bring a rain & wind-proof jacket with me on all climbs, regardless of the forecast, since things can change on a moment’s notice. I really like this fleece from REI for an extra mid-layer during winter 14ers.
4) Sun Protection
The sun is powerful on 14ers year-round, including the winter. It can become very powerful when reflected off the snow, towards your face. Bring a hat that protects your face, along with sunscreen to apply every 1-2 hours, or clothing to block your face entirely. Sunglasses or glacier glasses will also protect your eyes and prevent snow blindness, a rare but dangerous condition. The Julbo Camino Spectron 4 Sunglasses are a good tradeoff between price and quality, providing more protection than simple sunglasses.
5) First Aid Supplies
A lot can go wrong on even a simple hike or climb in the winter. Your first aid kit should be well stocked to handle most major types of first aid emergencies. The longer your trek, and deeper you go into the wilderness, the more you should bring. In general, you should feel comfortable caring for someone with what you have for 48 hours on most 14ers in the winter. Take a first aid class to be prepared with your kit – it’s no good if you don’t know how to use it when you need it. This first aid kit is a great start for winter mountaineering.
6) Emergency Shelter
On muti-day trips, you probably already have some kind of shelter like a tent or shovel to build a snow shelter. However on day trips, few people think to bring something in case they end up stuck outside overnight. Given the severe cold of rocky mountain winters, bringing an emergency bivy can make the difference between life and death if you’re injured or get lost out on a 14er in winter. You can buy a good bivy for less than $100, and they weigh a small amount – it’s worth the security. I recommend this MSR bivy from REI.
A small knife or multi-tool is indispensable during an emergency. It can help you get wood for a fire, building shelters, getting food, fixing gear and more. While you should carry a knife at minimum, a swiss-army type tools is even more helpful in a pinch. Larger versions with 10+ functions lose much of their usefulness, go for a balanced version. This leatherman is one of my favorites and has everything you need. It’s solid and will last.
8) Fire-starting gear
During winter in the mountains, starting a fire is critical for surviving a prolonged stay outdoors. Bring matches and a lighter, along with something to use as a fire starter. If you’re forced to stay overnight, it’s okay to violate Leave No Trace. Get to treeline, and used your fire starting gear to get a fire going, and keep it going. The warmth will keep you alive. This small flint-based fire starting tool comes with tinder to use and lasts for more than 4,000 strikes.
9) Navigation equiptment
GPS is a wonderful tool, but it’s no replacement for a good old map. In most cases, it’s smart to bring along both. GPS can help you quickly locate yourself, while a map can help you when you don’t have a signal or if something happens to your technology. A compass also can be lifesaving in an emergency or whiteout conditions where visibility becomes problematic. Make sure you know how to navigate using a map and compass! I personally recommend the InReach Explorer, which not only provides GPS navigation but also serves as a personal locator beacon if something goes wrong.
10) Headlamp & batteries
Even if you plan to be off the 14er long before dark, you should assume that something may go wrong and you may be stuck there. It will feel very good to remember you packed your headlamp. Inevitably, you may accidentally leave them on in your pocket all day – bring extra batteries so you always have a backup. I bought this Black Diamond Headlamp over 2 years ago, and it’s still serving me well today. A good price for what it offers!
The Ten Essentials for 14ers in Winter
There you have it, the ten essentials for 14ers in winter. Make sure you bring this gear with you every time you hike or climb in winter conditions to stay safe.