What basic gear do you need to hike a Colorado 14er?

Morgan Tilton

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Approaching Longs PeakPhoto by Morgan Tilton

Raised and still living in Colorado’s high-altitude hamlets, I first started hiking the state’s 14,000-foot peaks when I was a college student more than a decade ago.

Today, I’ve climbed more than 40 of the 58 fourteeners that I aim to ascend on foot including official and unofficial peaks.

Based on my experience, here’s a starter list of what you need to wear and pack while hiking a standard route on a Colorado 14er in the summer season.

This list is not comprehensive and does not include safety equipment for more technical routes, such as if climbers plan to ascend or descend technical Class 4 or Class 5 pitches using ropes. Or for climbers that plan to navigate snow fields and couloirs nor those who plan to ski mountaineer the 14ers in the winter.

This guide also does not include backpacking gear if you choose to break up a longer route with an overnighter.

To learn more, read our recent stories, "What are Colorado 14ers? And why are they a big deal?" and "How to hike your first Colorado 14er."

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Ascending the Southwest Ridge route of Mt. ShermanPhoto by Morgan Tilton

What clothing layers to wear and pack

Everyone’s body temperatures vary as much as the weather.

I usually opt to hike in a short-sleeve shirt and often prefer knee-length alpine shorts versus ankle-length climbing leggings. The key is to choose synthetic layers over cotton because the fibers dry faster.

If you prefer to take more or long breaks, if the temperatures are expected to be low, or if windchill is in the forecast, it’s a good idea to cover up your skin with pants and a long-sleeve shirt.

Always pack a rain jacket, beanie or neck gaiter, and gloves. If the rock is cold, you’ll likely appreciate scrambling with durable, svelte full-finger gloves on.

It’s also a good idea to bring a packable down jacket or micro puffy and a light fleece for insulation if needed.

To protect your eyes and face from sun exposure, wear sunglasses that block UV radiation. Polarized glasses will help reduce light glare and eyestrain, which is important when you’re traveling above treeline.

A ball cap helps and so does sunscreen with UVA/UVB protection.

If the skin on your hands is sensitive, gardening gloves provide breathable, streamlined skin armor.

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Socked in on Sunlight PeakPhoto by Morgan Tilton

Footwear choices

Footwear preferences and designs have widely evolved over the past decade for hikers including on 14ers.

Ultimately, your footwear choice is a personal preference that supports the shape of your feet and your body’s needs. Mostly, make sure that your footwear fits your feet well and will not cause blisters.

Then, you’ll want your hiking socks to pair well with your footwear for the conditions. Your socks should not be too short, too long, too toasty, or too thin. Merino wool blends are a great choice because the natural wool fibers help maintain body temperature and trap air for insulation even when the socks get wet during a stream crossing or after sweating on the ascent.

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Enjoying the views while descending Pyramid PeakPhoto by Morgan Tilton

Some hikers prefer to use traditional built-out hiking boots, which usually have more material around the ankle. The height can range from low-cut to mid to high. Full-grain leather will provide enhanced support and protection while other designs with a hybrid of leather and nylon mesh, for example, enhance the boot’s breathability and flexibility.

Other hikers use hiking shoes, which are more minimal. Some folks even opt for ankle-height trail running shoes with mesh uppers, which typically do not offer a strong shield against potential rock fall, prevent dust from entering the shoe, or provide as much ankle reinforcement. The tradeoff is that these lightweight shoes have a precise fit, allow a closer connection to ground, and can feel more agile while scrambling.

The best of all worlds is called an approach shoe, which offers protection, support, and an athletic fit in one package.

Whichever style you choose, it’s a good idea to get a pair of hiking shoes with an outsole that is made with a grippy rubber and moderate versus shallow lugs.

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Approaching Sunlight PeakPhoto by Morgan Tilton

Pack and essentials

Bring a comfortable day pack with enough room for ample water and food, the quantity of which will be tailored to your hike and personal needs.

If you need to refill water along the way, bring a water filter. Be sure to map out where your water sources will be along your route in advance.

It’s always a good idea to pack an outdoor bathroom kit like the PACT Outdoors Bathroom Kit, which includes instructions.

To help you monitor the day and a turnaround time, as well as to leave breadcrumbs for your descent, record your track using a watch or an app on your phone or both.

If the route has dirt singletrack, collapsible hiking poles can be a great tool before and after scrambling through a boulder field.

A certified climbing helmet is important for protecting your head in case there is natural or human-caused rock fall.

First aid and emergency

In case there’s an emergency, include a first aid kit, headlamp, satellite messenger, fire starter, knife, and emergency blanket.

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Adventure journalist Morgan Tilton covers the outdoors with a focus on travel, industry news and human endurance. Featured in more than 70 publications, she’s a recipient of more than a dozen North American Travel Journalists Association awards.

Crested Butte, CO
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