How to be comfortable in the mountains
Sore feet? Stumbling in the dark? Out of water? We’re here to help!
The summer hiking season is in full swing in the Adirondacks, but don’t let our well-marked trails fool you. A hike into the mountains is really a trek into a beautiful, rugged backcountry. Weather conditions can change rapidly and outings can take longer than expected, but it’s pretty easy to plan ahead and be prepared. We guarantee you’ll be more comfortable and that will make your adventure more enjoyable, giving you time to focus on the important things, like how awesome the view is.
What’s in your pack?
There is no single list of essential hiking gear, but there are some basic guidelines that are good to be aware of. Check out our recommendations below, and consult other sources for more ideas, especially if you’re new to hiking. Always sign the trail register, and always let someone know where you're going and what time you plan on returning. Have fun, and be safe!
No matter which season you’re hiking in, good footwear is a must. We’re talking sturdy hiking boots or trail shoes that are already broken in. Trust us — halfway up a mountain is not the place to discover those $300 boots are digging into your heel in a bad way. The best way to break boots in is to simply wear them for a couple of weeks prior to your trip. And don’t forget to waterproof them!
Perhaps less obvious than good footwear is one of hiking’s golden rules: don’t wear cotton on the trail. There is scientific evidence to back this up, but you’re eager to get out there, right? The short version is this: Cotton absorbs moisture and other materials don’t.
If you wear clothes made of wool or a synthetic material, it’ll still get damp from sweat but it’ll also dry quickly. That means you won’t feel as cold when you stop moving, something that’s especially important during our cool evenings and non-summer months. The no-cotton rule also applies to socks. Light wool socks and synthetic materials allow your feet to breathe, while heavy wool socks will trap heat on cold days. And since wool doesn’t absorb sweat, you’ll be far less likely to get the blisters that are caused by a wet cotton sock rubbing against your foot!
Here’s a list of the items you should keep in your pack year-round:
- Headlamp with extra batteries
- Rain gear or poncho
- Water purification tablets or pump
- First-aid kit
- Fire-starting kit
- Space blanket
- Whistle for signaling rescuers
- An extra long-sleeve shirt (non-cotton, of course)
Getting ready for the seasons
Most hikers will add items to this list, especially once they have some experience on the trail — we like to throw a light winter cap in our pack for windy summits. A comfortable hiker is a happy hiker, after all! The following are some suggestions based on each season. Please note that none of these lists claim to be all-inclusive. Always seek additional input from experienced hikers if you have any questions.
Summer: Windbreaker for open ledges and summits, sunscreen, hat with a brim, insect repellant, sunglasses
Fall: Winter cap, long-sleeved thermal shirt, windbreaker
Spring: Extra socks, gaiters, winter cap, a long-sleeved thermal shirt, windbreaker, traction devices (especially for higher elevations, where winter conditions linger)
Winter: Experienced winter hikers recommend bringing extras of every article of clothing, including a jacket and gloves. The reason for this is to have something to change into if you get wet in the backcountry — nobody plans on falling into a stream, but everyone agrees it’s cold!
It’s also important to pack like you’ll be spending the night in the woods, which means bringing an emergency shelter and sleeping bag, even on a day hike. At night the temperature in the mountains drops rapidly, so it’s essential to have the proper gear if you become injured or lost and have to wait for help.
Also be aware that snow depth increases dramatically with elevation gain, and snowshoes are required when there’s more than 8 inches of snow. Traction devices like microspikes or crampons are essential for navigating steep, icy trails, which are especially common in higher elevations.
Winter is the most challenging season to hike in, but the mountains are gorgeous and fun to be in when they’re draped in white. Pack accordingly and you’ll have a safe, memorable time in the backcountry.
One more suggestion, and this one’s pretty awesome
Summer in the High Peaks often means lines of cars at trailheads and no privacy on popular summits. There are a couple of ways to avoid this. One is to hike one of our less-traveled peaks — we promise the scenery will be just as nice — and another is to do a sunrise hike. Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like! You wake up super early and hike by headlamp to witness the most dramatic sunrise you’ve ever seen. We can only recommend this for experienced hikers since staying on a trail in the dark can be tricky, but if you’ve hiked before this is a an excellent way to see the mountains in a whole new light, pun intended.
Prepping for a sunrise hike
Get your stuff together the previous night because if you’re like me, everything takes twice as long in the morning. That's why before bed I always pack my gear, get the coffee maker loaded, lay out my clothes, and have a fast breakfast set up. The goal is to get out of the door as quickly as possible.
Start early: Estimate how much time you’ll need to get to your destination and add an hour — the worst case scenario is you’ll have extra time before the show begins.
Dress for a couple of seasons: Things are always cooler and windier on an open summit, and those factors increase with elevation gain. It might be shorts weather at your car, but it could feel like fall up high. This is especially true in the morning. If you’re someone who tends to be cold all of the time, bring some winter gear — like mittens and a wool hat — for the summit on summer morning hikes. Even if you’re pretty warm-blooded a light winter hat, windbreaker, and thin gloves are a good idea.
Bring an insulated bottle: And fill it with something warm! Coffee is great but anything warm — like tea, broth, soup, or hot chocolate — is divine during a sunrise. Insider tip: Don’t throw out that hole-y old wool sock. Instead, put your insulated bottle in it for an added layer of insulation.
Pack extra batteries: You’ll need a headlamp for most of a sunrise hike, so make sure you have extra batteries. Keep them in a zipper lock bag and always store them in your pack. As that headlamp starts to dim, you’ll be happy they’re there.
Bring extra socks: Hiking by headlamp is harder than hiking during the day. It’s dark out there, making deep mud puddles difficult to avoid. There’s nothing worse than a long walk in wet socks, so toss an extra pair in your pack. These can also double as mittens when the chilly summit wind nips at your fingers.
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