14 Tips For Taking On Your First 14er

Prepare for one of the best views you'll ever have.

By: Chema Domenech
February 9, 2016

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Out here in Colorado, hiking 14ers (peaks of 14,000 feet or higher) is a favorite pastime and a badge of honor. Once you get a taste of reaching your first summit, you will surely be addicted. Plus, your friends will think you're a badass...because you are. Here are 14 tips to help you get to the top of your first 14er:

Catch the Sunrise from Grays Peak | Photo: Kyle Frost

1. Pick an easy peak for your first time.

When choosing your first peak, consider elevation gain (vertical feet from the start of the trail to the top of the peak) and route distance. A good place to start would be a hike with around 3,000 feet of elevation and a distance of 7 to 8 miles. I personally recommend Grays Peak or Quandary Peak. ​

2. Plan and study your route.

14ers.com is a great site that covers all of the Colorado 14ers. It has current information on routes and trail conditions with printable maps. It also has a wealth of information on route length, elevation gain, and comments from people that have recently hiked the trails.

3. Be prepared for changing weather.

Make sure the chances for thunderstorms are low. That being said, who can really trust the weatherman? Summer weather can change in a matter of minutes from blue skies to thunderstorms, especially Colorado. If a thunderstorm comes along when you're above the tree line, you will be sticking out like a lightning rod. Just be sure to always keep an eye on the sky and never hesitate to head back down if it looks like a storm might be rolling in. That 14er isn't going anywhere. You can always try again.

4. Hike with a buddy (or a few).

There is always some risk when hiking a 14er and a buddy can help you out in a tricky situation. When making decisions on the hike, it's nice to have someone to bounce thoughts off of. Better yet, you will have someone with whom to share your adventures and struggles.

5. Take a small first aid kit.

Small cuts and blisters are always possible. Also, in case something more serious happens it is always good to be prepared. You can make your own kit or buy one. This first aid kit is a good option for day hikes.

Hike Mount Sneffels | Photo: Greg Owens

6. Bring multiple layers.

The morning will be chilly, but as you start your hike you might begin to get warm. When you reach the summit it will probably be windy and cold. Dress in synthetic layers to keep you dry. Also, it is crucial to have a windbreaker layer like a fleece and a light rain jacket to protect you from the weather.

7. Start out early.

Most of the time I wake up before the sun is up so I can be at the trailhead at daybreak. This is your best chance for good weather and catching the sunrise is always amazing.

8. Eat a hearty breakfast.

You will be expending a lot of energy. This is a time where consuming complex carbs along with some protein and fats is a good thing. One of the great perks of hiking!

9. Stay hydrated.

I try to drink around a liter before starting the hike. Carrying water inside is easier than on your back and will keep you hydrated at the beginning of your hike. Bring plenty of water but not too much. At 2 pounds per liter, water is the heaviest thing in your pack. Every individual has different needs, but as a rule of thumb, I bring 1 liter for every 2 hours of hiking. It will probably take you 3-4 hours to hike your first peak so bring 2-3 liters. I recommend a water bladder like a Camelback.

10. Take snack breaks often.

You can easily burn 4,000 to 7,000 calories on a hiking day. Make sure you are munching on your breaks; this will prevent fatigue and give you an energy boost. Peanut M&Ms are one of my favorite. Check out Snack Attack: The Best Food For The Trails for more ideas.

Summit La Plata Peak | Photo: Mike Fennell

11. Push past your initial doubt.

The first half-mile of almost every 14er is super tough. It is steep, you are at a high altitude and you are just getting warm. Your mind will tell you that you can’t do it, but if you push for a bit longer, you will discover that it gets easier.

12. Offer and receive encouragement.

One of the coolest things about hiking a 14er is the immediate bond you create with fellow hikers. On your way up, people coming down will encourage you by telling you how awesome the view is (it really is). Make sure you do the same as you pass fellow hikers on your way down.

13. Take it easy on the way down.

Coming down may feel like a walk in the park after reaching 14,000 feet. Don’t be fooled, your legs will be tired and it’s easier to twist an ankle. Take your time and make it back safe so you can climb your next 14er.

​​14. Enjoy the summit.

You are on top of the world! This is a big accomplishment, take time to enjoy the view and reflect on your success. High five fellow hikers and trade stories of your adventure.

Summit Mt. Yale | Photo: Chema Domenech

Cover photo: Greg Owens

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.