Hiking a 14er can be a challenging and rewarding experience. However, it’s important to have the right gear to ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable hike. In this article, we’ll go over what gear you need to hike a 14er, including the ten essentials, clothing and footwear, food, and a few other important items. Here is my complete answer to this very important question: “What gear do I need to hike a 14er?”
Table of Contents
The Complete 14er Packing Checklist
Before we dig through everything in detail, here is the complete 14er packing checklist I use for my hikes and climbs. While you might not bring everything on this list on each and every trip, it is a good idea to think through each item and decided whether or not you will need it. When in doubt, bring it out.
Always Bring the Ten Essentials
The “ten essentials” are a list of items that every hiker should carry with them on the trail. These items are essential for survival in case of an emergency and can make a big difference in case of unexpected weather or other unforeseen circumstances.
1. Navigation Tools
Having a map and compass, and knowing how to use them, are essential for navigating in the wilderness. A GPS device can also be helpful, but should not be relied upon as the only navigation tool as batteries can die, or the device can fail. Plus, relying on GPS actually makes your navigation skills worse over time – that’s no good! I recommend these north and south 14er map packs from National Geographic, along with this compass from Suunto. My GPS unit of choice is the Garmin InReach Mini, which doubles as a satellite messenger.
2. Headlamp and Batteries
A headlamp and extra batteries are essential for navigating in the dark and for unexpected delays. Make sure to bring extra batteries as well as the headlamp because in high altitude conditions, batteries drain quickly. My favorite headlamp is the Black Diamond Spot 400 – it’s ideal for mountain hiking.
3. Emergency Shelter
An emergency shelter can be a lightweight tarp or bivvy sack, or an emergency blanket. These items are lightweight and take up little space in your backpack, but can provide vital protection from the elements in an emergency. If you are on an overnight trip, your tent can serve as your emergency shelter – no need to pack something additional. I always keep this SOL Thermal Bivy with me in case of an emergency.
4. Extra Water
Bringing enough water to stay hydrated is essential. It is recommended to carry at least 2-3 liters of water on a 14er hike, especially on hot days. You should also have a way to purify more water in case you run out, like a water filter, stove for boiling, or purification iodine tablets.
5. Extra Food
Bring extra food, high in calories and easy to eat on the go, to ensure you have enough energy to complete your hike. High energy snacks such as energy bars, dried fruit, nuts, and beef jerky are good options. Check out my full article on snack ideas to bring while hiking 14ers.
6. Extra Layers
Bring extra layers of clothing including gloves, hat, and a warm jacket to adjust to changing temperatures, especially when hiking above tree line. It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared – especially when hiking in the spring or fall. Check out my full guide to hiking layers.
7. First Aid Kit
A basic first aid kit should include band-aids, moleskin, gauze, and any necessary prescription medications. Make sure you are familiar with how to use the contents of your first aid kit and know how to treat common injuries such as blisters, sprains, and cuts.
My first aid kit of choice is the Mountain Series Explorer Medical Kit, which has enough supplies to last 4 people a full week in the backcountry.
8. Sun Protection
Sun protection is important on a 14er hike. Bring a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays. They are much more powerful at higher altitudes – especially 14,000 feet.
For sunglasses, I rely on the Julbo Camino Spectron 4, which provide great durability and protection at a very affordable price. Don’t forget some strong sunscreen, like this zinc-based cream from Thinksport.
9. Knife or Multitool
A knife or multitool can be useful for a variety of tasks such as cutting rope, preparing food, and making repairs to gear, especially in an emergency or survival situation. I personally recommend a multitool because it provides so much more utility without adding much additional weight. This leather-man tool is my favorite. I’ve been using their products since I was a boy scout at camp, as they are top notch.
10. Fire-starting Kit
A small, lightweight fire-starting kit can be essential in case of an emergency. Cold is one of the biggest killers in the mountains at night, so being able to start a fire is sometimes the difference between life and death. It includes items such as matches, a lighter, and fire starter. This little emergency kit keeps stormproof matches dry for when you need them.
What to Wear for a 14er: Layer Your Clothing and Adapt
The weather on a 14er can change quickly, and it gets colder as you ascend, so it’s important to wear layers that you can easily add or remove as needed. This isn’t a good places for shorts unless they are zip-offs. A good layering system includes a moisture-wicking base layer, a warm insulation layer, and a wind and waterproof and windproof outer layer. Add gloves and a hat to round out your outfit and keep your fingers and ears nice and warm.
Bring the Right Hiking Boots
Having the right footwear is essential for a 14er hike. Hiking boots provide support, stability and protection for your feet on rocky and uneven terrain. Look for boots with a stiff sole and good ankle support to protect against strains and sprains. Waterproof options are better but usually cost a bit more. Make sure they are well-broken in before your hike to avoid blisters – and complement them with warm hiking socks. I recommend the Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX Hiking Boots.
Trekking Poles are Helpful Too
Trekking poles can help provide balance and support on a 14er hike, especially on steep and uneven terrain. They can also help to reduce the impact on your knees and joints. Look for poles that are lightweight and adjustable so you can store them in or on your backpack when you don’t need them or during technical sections. My trek poles of choice are the award-winning REI Traverse Trek Poles.
Pack the Right Food for Fuel
Bring high calorie, easily digestible food such as energy bars, nuts, jerky, and dried fruits as snacks. Packing a lunch and a few small snacks is recommended to keep energy levels high. It’s also a good idea to bring a little extra food in case of an emergency or unexpected delay. I bring around 1,000 calories beyond what I expect to eat just to be safe. It is also a good idea to bring a small bag to put wrappers and other garbage from your food to make sure you can easily pack it out with you.
Put All You Gear in the Right Backpack
Choose a backpack that fits your body, is comfortable to wear, and has enough capacity to hold all your gear. Look for a backpack with good suspension system and enough pockets and compartments to keep your gear organized. For a day trip 20-30 liters is usually sufficient space, while for backpacking trips you should have 50-60 liters of capacity. Most backpacks do not come with rain protection, which means if you get caught in a storm, everything in your backpack might get wet. I recommend investing in a rain cover so your emergency supplies stay dry.
Consider a Satellite Messenger or Personal Locator Beacon
A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon can provide peace of mind on a 14er hike by allowing you to communicate with the outside world and facilitating a rapid rescue in case of an emergency. Unlike cell phones, these devices have a signal wherever you have an open view of the sky. Make sure you keep your subscription active, software updated and batteries charged or they won’t be much help.
I use the Garmin InReach Explorer, which was sadly discontinued last year, but their InReach Mini 2 is a great choice too. Alternatively, you could use the ZOLEO Satellite Communicator, which is a bit more affordable.
Tips for Packing Your Gear for 14ers
Here are a few tips for packing your gear for a 14er hike:
Tip 1: Pack your Ten essentials in an easily accessible place.
In an emergency situation you want to be able to access your first aid kit, knife, layers, and other ten essentials quickly to address the problem. Pack them last so they end up at the top of your backpack. Even better, keep them in exterior pockets or compartments so you don’t even have to open your main compartment.
Tip 2: Put extra layers of clothing in a stuff sack to save space.
Clothing takes up a ton of space in your backpack, but they are important in case the conditions change, like a temperature drop or a sudden snowstorm. To save room, put extra layers in a stuff sack you can compress, and then put this in your backpack. It can reduce the size of your clothing by 40-50%, which is important because a bigger backpack is a heavier backpack.
Tip 3: Use a checklist while packing so you don’t forget any gear.
It isn’t easy to remember everything on this list – there’s a lot to pack for a 14er. I recommend making a checklist at the start of the process so you can physically check off each item as you add it to your backpack. If you aren’t sure where to begin, download my free 14er gear checklist.
Tip 4: Practice packing your backpack before your hike to make sure everything fits and that it's comfortable to wear.
Just like breaking in boots, packing a backpack takes time and should be done before your first hike. This gives you a chance to tweak where you put gear, ensure weight is evenly distributed, and properly fit and adjust your backpack’s straps and hip belt. If your backpack is extremely uncomfortable, consider taking it into an outdoor shop to be properly fitted, as this process is more art than science and sometimes requires adjustments.
Things You Can Leave At Home
Not everything belongs on a mountain. Now that we answered the question ‘what gear do I need to hike a 14er, we can tell you what you don’t need for a 14er. Here are a few things I see on the trail from time-to-time that aren’t necessary and will only weigh you down. Leave these at home:
Leave At Home: Canned Oxygen
There are a growing number of companies like Boost Oxygen offering canned supplementary oxygen. Many people bring these with them on 14ers to address altitude sickness, but this is a mistake. These cans do not have enough oxygen to provide more than 5 or so minutes of use, which makes them impractical. They can actually lead you to take riskier decisions because they provide a false sense of security.
Leave at Home: Firearms and Weapons
Crime is extremely rare on the outdoors and 14ers are no exception. Statistically speaking, you are far safer from crime while hiking a mountain than you are in the safety of your own home. A firearm and ammo add extra weight to your pack that increases your risk of tripping and tires you out more quickly. In rare situations, a gun can discharge accidentally, risking injury to you and those around you – an accidental discharge killed a young climber on Longs Peak more than 100 years ago after his gun fell out of his pocket and hit a rock. Leave your firearm at home.
Leave at Home: Bear Spray
Similar to my point above, 14ers are too high for most bears, mountain lions, and other carnivores. While there is always a small risk of encountering a dangerous animal, the odds are extremely small on high peaks. For this reason, bear spray is usually unnecessary on a 14er, unless the route spends a significant amount of time below the tree line.
Leave at Home: Climbing Rope
None of the 58 ranked or named fourteeners require class 5 technical climbing, so there is no need to bring a climbing rope or harness with you. While some guides choose to rope up on certain sections of class 4 peaks, most people lack the expertise required to safely use a rope in this kind of terrain where snags are common.
Leave At Home: Ice Axe and Crampons
If you are climbing a fourteener in summer conditions, with the exception of Snowmass Mountain, you do not need to bring an ice axe or mountaineering crampons. Unlike the 14ers on the west coast which are covered in glaciers and permanent snowfields, the Colorado 14ers melt quickly in the spring and early summer so this technical gear is not necessary. That isn’t the case in spring and early summer – if you go then, you will likely need them both.
Frequently Asked Questions About 14er Hiking Gear
Here are some common questions related to what gear you should bring for a 14er.
A: The ten essentials, extra layers of clothing, appropriate footwear, plenty of food and water, a first aid kit, plus a backpack to store it all in. Also consider bringing trek poles and a satellite messenger or personal locator beacon.
Climbing a 14er requires essential equipment to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. The necessary gear includes:
- Appropriate clothing: moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers, waterproof and windproof outer layers, and hat or beanie
- Sturdy, comfortable hiking boots with ankle support and good traction
- A well-fitted backpack to carry your gear
- Hydration system or water bottles with at least 2-3 liters of water per person
- High-calorie, easily digestible snacks and energy bars
- Navigation tools such as a map, compass, and GPS device or smartphone with GPS capabilities
- Emergency and first aid kit, including a whistle, headlamp, extra batteries, and personal medications
- Sun protection, including sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm
- Trekking poles for added stability and support on steep or uneven terrain
- Extra layers such as gloves, warm socks, and a neck gaiter or buff for unexpected weather changes
- A lightweight, packable rain jacket or poncho in case of sudden rain or snow
- A hat or cap for sun protection
- A multi-tool or pocket knife for various uses in emergency situations
A: To prepare for your first 14er, you should research the mountain you plan to hike, prepare a detailed plan and route, familiarize yourself with weather conditions, prepare physically and make sure you have all the gear you need. Don’t forget to let someone know where you are going and when they should expect to hear from you by.
A: This is a controversial question in the 14er community. There is significant debate about what are the best shoes for hiking 14ers. While not everyone wears hiking boots on 14ers, I highly recommend them for two reasons. First, hiking boots have more traction than typical sneakers or shoes which makes them more dependable on loose and slippery rock. Second, boots have more ankle support which prevents sprains and rolls – which are somewhat common on rocky 14er trails. Learn more.
A: You should determine how much water to bring on a 14er depending on its elevation gain, difficulty, and distance. For easier climbs and day trips, plan on bringing 2 liters minimum per person, if not more. For overnight trips, you will need 2-3 times that amount (you will probably need water to cook with). You should always also bring a method to purify more water – that could be a stove, a water filter, or purification tablets – whichever you prefer.
A: A 20-25 liter backpack has enough space to store everything you need during a 14er day trip. I like options that have exterior clasps and compartments for trek poles and water bottles as this saves even more space. If you are doing an overnight trip, you should bring a larger back with 50-60 liters of capacity for your sleeping gear and extra food and water.
A: While some people hike a 144er in nothing but a pair of shorts, this is discouraged. The weather on a 14er changes rapidly and often without warning. If you do want to wear shorts, make sure you pack an extra pair of pants you can change into if the temperature drops or the wind picks up. However, to avoid that extra weight, I would just recommend wearing pants in the first place.
What Gear Do I Need to Hike a 14er: Now You Know!
By following these tips and guidelines, you’ll be well-prepared for your 14er hike with the right gear and clothing to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Now you should know what gear you need to hike a 14er. Remember to always check the weather forecast, and be prepared for changing conditions to ensure a safe and successful time in the mountains. Safe travels on the trail!
More Resources Related to Gear for Hiking 14ers:
Are you looking for more resources related to the question, ‘what gear do I need to hike a 14er?’ Here are some links to articles and websites that I found helpful while assembling this blog. If you have any additional suggestions or advice to share, please leave a comment below. We love to gather new insights from our community of readers – thank you!