How to Pack for a Colorado 14er

A guide to preparing for whatever Colorado weather is thrown at you.

By: Siena Muscianisi + Save to a List

Whether you've hiked Colorado fourteeners before, or you're a first timer and have absolutely no idea how to prepare for your first journey in the high Rockies, this article will give you everything you need to know on how to pack for one of these 14,000 foot mountains. If you're like me, and never know what weather to expect (because let's face it, this is Colorado), it can be hard to bring the right amount of gear without things getting too bulky.

Backpack

First things first. If you are just planning on doing a short day hike, it is always better to find a reasonably light weight back pack. Even though you have a big journey ahead of you, it is arguably safer to not have a huge backpack even though it may carry more gear. It will keep you from having to lug too much weight around and slowing you down. Secondly, it could potentially strain your back or neck. My personal preference is the Camelbak MULE, a small to medium-sized backpack that includes a water bladder. It is not too big, not too small, and just the right size to carry your porridge. The reason I like this pack is because you can adjust everything so that it fits comfortably while you are hiking, and it is super easy to get on and off. This MULE has 3 main compartments which are ideal for dividing up the gear you will need on your hike. 

What to Bring

In the largest compartment, you will want to store all of your essential clothing. I always make sure to bring some extra wool socks in case I cross a stream and get my feet wet. Socks are small and easy to stuff, and they save your feet from being cold the rest of the day. Secondly, always pack extra underwear at the bottom of the bag. You know, in case you put your underwear at the top of the bag, and they fall on the ground in front of all your friends. I like to have some long underwear leggings because they pack small, and are a good extra layer for under your hiking pants. It is always smart to pack a fleece layer, raincoat, and hat and gloves. If it gets super cold outside, these things will come in handy, and will do a good job of keeping the wind off. I always make sure to have my long underwear shirt on top of everything else in my pack. When I am hiking, and a little chilly, but don't want a big jacket to put on, I usually throw on this long underwear long sleeve. It keeps me from overheating, but also does a good job of keeping me a little warmer. I recommend keeping this shirt at the top because I find myself constantly taking it on and off throughout the hike. Lastly, make sure to include a first aid kit in the bottom of your Camelbak, under your extra pair of underwear. Anything could happen and it is good to be prepared.

There is also medium sized compartment on the pack. This is usually where I store all of my snacks. I like to have one or two protein bars for the day, along with some trail mix, a sandwich, and of course, chocolate. There is nothing better than chewing on a Kit Kat bar once you reach the top of a mountain. I think it is important to take in mostly proteins for these hikes because they last the longest. However, protein bars don't last me the whole day, so I highly recommend some sort of meat sandwich or PBJ for lunch. I also like throwing in some trail mix just for a little variety.

There should be one more little pocket on your Camelbak. I would use this pocket for any little devices you may need like earbuds, extra hair ties, definitely sunscreen, and sunscreen chapstick. Even though you are high in altitude, you will not believe the sunburns I have gotten on my face because of the intense sunlight and windy weather. 

What to Wear

Now that you know what you should bring with you, you are probably wondering what you should wear to begin with. I would start by wearing a quick dry T-shirt if it is warm outside. For the bottoms, I prefer zip off pants. This way, if it is warm to start, you can zip off the bottom half of your pants, and be left with regular shorts. If it gets cold and windy, you can just zip the bottoms right back on. These pants are super light and dry really fast if you get wet. If you don't have any at the time being, just wear some regular running shorts. For future reference, REI has some great zip off pants that you can bring with you on your next adventure. To top it off (literally), bring a hat on your hike. I recommend a baseball cap or if you have a hat that covers the back of your neck as well, it doesn't hurt to bring that instead. Any hat you choose will keep the sun off big time and will make it easier to block out the light while you are hiking. Also, make sure you bring a hat that lets air in. Not a full bore leather hat, or believe me, you will get a heatstroke. You'll thank me later.

One more tip before you go - Make sure to pack some earbuds so you can listen to "On Top of the World" by Imagine Dragons when you get to the top of the 14er. Best feeling ever! Well...that and the Kit Kat bar :)

Good luck and have fun!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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