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Clothing & Equipment


To be prepared for the vagaries of Mount Washington's weather, hikers should definitely plan ahead. While light summer hiking clothing – such as shorts and a t-shirt – may be sufficient for wearing at the start of the hike, extra warm and weather-resistant clothing should be packed along for use higher on the mountain.

Some suggestions:

Footwear should be sturdy, comfortable and well broken-in, water resistant, and with a good sole to give secure footing on rocks, mud, etc. Most hikers wear hiking boots to provide all of the above plus extra support and protection from rough rocks. Appropriate socks should be worn to give good cushioning and to avoid the formation of blisters (wool or synthetic socks are recommended – cotton socks tend not to perform as well). Extra socks should be carried for changing if your first set gets wet from rain, sweat, etc.

Shorts are great to start out in on hot days, but long pants should also be brought for cool and windy conditions, which are likely higher up on the mountain. Synthetic or wool pants are recommended. Cotton pants – such as jeans, chinos or corduroys – are not recommended, since the cotton can absorb water (from rain, fog, or sweat) and can chill you, sometimes severely. An extra windpant might be considered on particularly cold days.

A t-shirt might be enough for you if you are hiking uphill on a warm day, but extra shirts should be brought for the likely chill above treeline and for the less-exerting trip down. Wool or synthetic (acrylic, polyester, polypro) shirts are recommended. It's also good to have a jacket (fleece, pile, or synthetic insulation) to provide extra insulation.

A brimmed hat (such as a Red Sox cap) can help keep direct sun off your head and out of your eyes, and can keep rain from drumming on your head and from splashing your eyeglasses if you wear them. A stocking cap (wool, fleece) is recommended as well.

Even in mid-summer, gloves or mittens (wool or fleece) are recommended. It may sound silly to pack mittens in mid-July, but once you've experienced a mid-summer storm on Mount Washington, you'll understand.

Raingear is a crucial inclusion in your pack. Please leave your poncho at home – the winds above treeline, and the steepness and roughness of the rocks on the mountain, will wreak havoc with it. Also leave behind the very inexpensive light plastic raingear that is more at home on a golf course – it can tear easily on the rough rocks above treeline. Do bring a good rain jacket and rain pants, so that you can keep the rain (often wind-driven) from soaking your clothing and from chilling you to the bone.

Raingear also does double-duty as windgear – even on a dry day, you'll want to be able to keep the wind from penetrating your clothing and chilling you. Regular coated raingear does not allow moisture from sweat to leave your clothing, so it may be a tad uncomfortable, but should be manageable. If you want, you can use one of the several "waterproof breathable" fabric rain suits, or can have separate, light and breathable wind shirt and pants.

You'll want a roomy pack to carry the clothes you aren't wearing all the time, plus to carry other items. To keep things extra-dry in your pack, line your pack with a large plastic trash bag. (Even high-quality packs can leak through seams, and water can often dribble in through the top.)

Equipment, etc.

In addition to clothing, there are some other items you'll want to bring along on your hike.

Food and water are critical necessities. Bring along ample amounts of trail snacks and lunch food. A mix of quick-energy items and long-lasting energy providers are recommended. Eat what you like, but eat! Do watch out for any items that may be perishable.

The need to drink lots of water is sometimes overlooked by inexperienced hikers. A climb up and down Mount Washington on a typical summer day can require 4 or 5 quarts of water! Bring at least two quarts along – you can refill your water bottles at the summit (if you make it!), and drink it on a regular basis. Avoid diuretic beverages, such as strong coffee or alcoholic beverages – they can result in a net loss of water. Since the potability of water along the trail cannot be guaranteed, be prepared to treat it (such as by filtering or chemical treatment) if you're counting on it.

Bring basic tools for navigation, such as a map, a guidebook or trail description, as well as a compass (and know how to use it!). Other handy tools include a watch and a pocket knife.

Just in case your trip takes longer than anticipated, bring along a flashlight, with an extra bulb and extra batteries. Have at least one light per person. Experienced hikers typically use a headlamp, to allow them to keep their hands free while using the light. A second light is a useful safety item, in case your primary light fails.

Be optimistic- bring sunglasses and sunblock. But be realistic too – in June and July especially, insect repellent might be helpful to keep black flies and mosquitoes at bay.

Also bring some emergency items, such as a basic first aid and repair kit, whistle, and some spare nylon cord, plus matches and basic emergency fire starting items. Also carry basic emergency shelter – it can be as elaborate as a climber's bivouac sack or as simple as a light poly tarp (such as a painter's drop cloth) or a couple of extra-large trash bags. The purpose is to be able to keep the worst of the rain and wind at bay should you need to stop for an extended period.

If you take medications, on a regular or occasional basis, remember to pack them along. Also, if you wear eyeglasses, bring spares along, especially if the loss or breakage of your regular pair would make it hard for you to travel the trail safely and at your usual pace.

A group of hikers might wish to consider bringing a light sleeping bag, a foam pad, and a light plastic tarp as basic emergency items.

Many hikers like to use a walking staff or a set of poles – whether "trekking" poles or just plain ski poles – which can be helpful to maintain balance and such. However, be prepared to secure them to your pack if you find that they get in the way on some of the steeper sections of trail, where you may wish to keep your hands free.

Maps and Guidebooks

There are several good maps and guidebooks that feature Mount Washington, its terrain, and its trails.

A longtime standard reference book is the AMC White Mountain Guide. It includes paper maps and detailed trail descriptions (including mileage, elevation gain, and other information) for hundreds of miles of trails in the White Mountains, including Mount Washington. Water-resistant versions of its maps are available separately. (Mount Washington is on the Presidential Range map.)

Wilderness Map Company publishes a simple but very fact-filled map (in expanded brochure-style) of Mount Washington and its typical dayhiking routes, on heavy paper stock.

Map Adventures publishes both paper and water-resistant versions of hiking maps of the White Mountains.

National Geographic-Trails Illustrated publishes a water-resistant map of the Presidential Range and environs (White Mountain National Forest, East Half, 741), including Mount Washington.

Mount Washington and the Heart of the Presidential Range is a detailed map of Mount Washington and surrounding peaks by noted cartographer Bradford Washburn. It is published by the Appalachian Mountain Club, and is available in paper only.

The AMC White Mountain Guide and a selection of maps are available through the Observatory's online store at http://www.mountwashington.org/store/

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