I’ve been working towards the 46ers (the 46 mountains in Adirondack Park that are over 4000′) for a few years. I’ll admit to being an idiot when I started – wearing jeans, sneakers and a cotton shirt, carrying only 500ml of water and a small one-shoulder backpack that contained my wallet, an apple and a pb sandwich, I climbed Cascade and Porter mountains. Despite the lack of proper gear, I had a great time (except the descent. Those boulders are killer on the thighs) and I was hooked. 4 years later, I’m looking at a finish; I’m only four peaks away.
I’ve learned so much in the past four years. What to carry, what to leave, and what to wear. When to push on, when to turn around and when to put the camera down and enjoy the view.
But the biggest, most important thing has always been what to have in my pack. I started winter hiking last year, and it’s been a learning curve for how to pack.
I have two packs – one for summer, which is smaller, and has a built in rain cover; and one for winter-like conditions (so anything from fall to spring). With my larger pack, if weather conditions look iffy, I bring a rain cover – I absolutely do not want my extra gear in there getting wet – especially the clothes. If I need to change, I need to change into dry clothes!
I always carry a map and compass, and more importantly, I know how to use them. If you don’t know how to use either, sign up for a back country course, ask a friend, or sign up for a guided hike! It’s a good skill to have. A GSP can be a good thing to have, but technology can fail. Plus a compass takes up next to no space, and a map can help you figure out how far (or near) you are to your goal. If you happen to run out of water, it can also help you find the nearest water source, not something a GPS can help you with. When I’m on a new trail, I often have a guidebook, to give me an idea of what to expect next.
My hiking partner and I have gotten stuck on a mountain, as the sun set, with a 2 hour hike back to the parking lot. Headlamps are a must. It can be surprising just how quickly the dark comes on – the trees filter out a lot of light, and the sun sets earlier as it falls behind mountains. Add in cloud cover, and you could be stuck on a trail that you can’t follow.
Having a headlamp is great, but what happens in the batteries die? Especially in colder temperatures, batteries just don’t last as long. Extra batteries, that you can easily find!, really should accompany you.
Another essential in my pack is a small first aid kit. I keep wetnaps (for cleaning cuts and scrapes, or my hands if they get mucky with pine sap), a few bandaids of varying size, Second Skin (for blister relief), duct tape (to keep the bandaids on) painkillers (Advil, Tylenol, Aleeve, whatever), antiseptic cream (Polysporin or the like), water purification tablets, and a small pair of scissors (the foldable ones you can get for sewing). For most minor injuries, this is enough. Anything more serious, I wouldn’t be able to treat on the trail anyway. In addition to this, I have a travel size bottle of sunscreen, lip balm (with SPF), and mozzie spray for the summer months.
Hanging off my pack is a whistle, which is mostly in case I’m lost and need rescuing. I can blow a whistle a lot louder than I can yell.
I nearly always (except for that time that I hiked with The Fiancé, and left him for dead) hike with the same person, so she carries fire starters – matches, and fire starting material (lint works well, or actually fire starters that you can get at an outdoor store). While she carries this, I carry the first aid kit.
In winter and shoulder seasons, I carry a space blanket with me. I have occasionally kept it in my pack in summer months, if the temperatures are expected to cool significantly overnight.
Considering I’m often out for over 10 hours hiking, invariably I end up having to empty my bladder. It would be disgusting if we all just left our waste sitting in plain view, so I carry a plastic trowel, so I can dig a cathole to bury my waste. Along with this, I have kleenex (for either this, or if my nose gets runny) and a a plastic bag for garbage (kleenex, or food waste)
I always have some extra clothing in my pack, less in summer, more in winter. But I always have a spare set of socks, in case of a soaker when crossing streams and rivers. I keep them in a plastic bag, to protect them from a dunking, if I fall in a river. (Again.) In summer, I also carry water shoes if I’ll be crossing a larger river that I may have trouble fording.
One of the things always in my pack, winter or summer, are water resistant grippy gloves. In summer, they protect my hands from pine sap, poking bits, and help me climb up rock. In winter, they cover fabric gloves that keep my hands warm, and allow me to grip snow covered things (ladders, branches, rocks) without getting my hands wet.
A breathable rain jacket, and either rain pants or gaiters, also come in handy if I’m in a particularly muddy area. I generally only have the rain pants if there’s a good chance of rain that day (which for me is roughly 40%), otherwise I stick to gaiters.
I could not hike without a wide-brimmed hat. Sunglasses just don’t do it for me, when I’m switching between shade and sun. But a wide-brimmed hat works no matter what.
When I first started hiking, I carried a lot of food. Actually, thinking about it – I still do, I just eat less of it now. But here’s what works for me, with the caveat that what works for me might not work for you:
- A small bag of trail mix (raisins, dried bananas, peanuts, cashews, m&ms, sunflower seeds)
- Protein bar (more for emergencies than actually eating)
- Cheese (Babybel is really easy to take hiking)
- An apple (which is more to give the apple a tour of the trail, I rarely eat it)
- A small baggie of veggies (carrots, celery, broccoli and cucumbers, usually)
- Yogurt (one of the single serve containers)
- A sandwich (of which I only eat half, if that)
- Chocolate covered pretzels (guaranteed these will be gone)
- A multi tool utensil (fork, spoon, screw driver, ratchet) to eat the yogurt
- Whiskey (because you have to celebrate the summit somehow!)
I don’t eat about half of what I carry, food-wise, but just in case. If I need to spend the night on a mountain, I want to be able to feed myself. Or if I meet someone who has no food left, I want to be able to help out.
I hiked 6 Adirondack mountains (Cascade, Porter, Algonquin, Iroquois, Wright and Giant) , and then I hiked Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. On Kili, I was told to drink 3L of water a day, to help with the altitude adjustment. That’s stuck with me, so I always carry 3L of water – 2L in a camelbak, and another litre in a plastic water bottle.
The water purification tablets in my first aid kit and in case I run out of water, and need to refill out of a stream. (This happened on June day when we hiked the Dix Range.) I also have a life straw, which contains a filter in the straw.
Special to Winter
New York State regulations state that either skis or snowshoes are to be worn when there is 8 or more inches of snow. In early and late winter, this often means that in lower elevations there is less than the required amounts, but as you climb the amount of snow starts to grow. So I pay attention to trip reports to gauge how much snow there is.
Additionally, I carry an extra bottom base layer, and two extra tops – one base layer, and one outer layer. When we stop for a break at the summit, I start to get cold, so I pull on the outer layer. It goes back into my pack when I start hiking.