Hiking Mount Washington is not a simple walk in the woods, at least not for long. So bringing proper clothing and equipment is important for comfort and safety, even on a day hike. The gear list can vary a lot depending on the season and on personal preference, but following are some things to consider strongly for a summer hike up Mount Washington.

Day pack — A comfortable, lightweight day pack, with proper fit on the shoulders and the waist, carries the rest of the gear and clothing safely and comfortably. Other options are a fanny pack (generally not large enough nor nearly as comfortable) or a full-size long-distance backpack. Backpacking packs are often heavier than a day pack and can be awkward for ascending, although ultra-light packs will work just fine.

Water — Hydration is important on a strenuous hike, but water is heavy and lugging it up a mountain isn’t a lot of fun. Fortunately, there are water-filling stations on the summit, so about a half gallon of water should be enough for most people to carry for the hike. Bottles of water from the grocery or convenience store work just fine if you don’t want to invest in a hydration pack.

Hiking or walking shoes — Sturdy, well-fitting shoes are a must. All trails to the summit of Mount Washington present extremely rough terrain, especially above tree line, with rock-hopping and hand-over-hand scrambling for at least some portion of the ascent. Inexperienced hikers should consider hiking shoes with rugged soles and strong ankle support. While experienced bare-foot hikers have reached the summit, canvas tennis shoes, sandals and open-toed shoes are strongly discouraged unless you are already accustomed to hiking over rough terrain in them.

Socks — Proper socks can make the difference between enjoying the hike and suffering through it. The best bets are quick-dry, wicking merino wool socks. Bring 2 or 3 pairs, and change into a fresh pair on the summit. Your feet will thank you.

Trekking poles — While not an absolute necessity, trekking poles  provide welcome support, especially on the hike  down. Many people find the descent to be even tougher than the hike up. Trekking poles  ease the constant pressure on the legs descending and can be useful to balance over uneven terrain for all phases of the Mount Washington hike.

Sunglasses and sun screen — Day-long exposure to bright sun, especially above treeline, fatigues the eyes. A simple pair of sunglasses and some sun screen provide relief and protect from the Sun’s rays.

Snacks — Ascending Mount Washington burns a lot of calories, and hikers must be able to replenish their energy. Bananas, trail mix or gorp, peanut butter and other easily digestible, high calorie foods work well. Don’t bring unfamiliar foods. The climb puts a lot of stress on your entire body so avoid introducing new foods to your digestive system while you are working hard to get to the summit.

Clothing

The key to clothing selection for a Mount Washington hike is to dress in layers. The weather in the valley below the mountain can be 80 degrees, but even in the summer 40 degree temperatures with gusting winds are routine on the summit. Similarly, dry clear skies often become overcast at the summit, with drizzle, rain, lightening, or even sleet and snow. Dressing in layers with a wind-proof and water-proof outer shell provides the flexibility to deal with most conditions.  Recommended items include:

  • light-weight long pants, preferably nylon or a similar material. While not necessary, zip-away pants that convert from long pants to shorts work especially well for warm days. For women, leggings and shorts can work, although it is harder to remove the leggings and prevent overheating if the weather turn warm. Avoid jeans or any cotton fabrics.
  • a long-sleeve quick-dry shirt. Sometimes called a “base layer,” a synthetic wicking shirt works well for the dramatic temperatures on Mount Washington. Sweat evaporates from it quickly so you aren’t walking around in a soggy shirt when you reach the temperatures drops near the summit. Some hikers will also carry a wicking short sleeve shirt as well, swapping back and forth as needed. Again, no cotton. Once cotton get wet, as it definitely will from sweat even in dry weather, it dries very slowly and loses all of its insulating ability.
  • a heavy fleece jacket or wool sweater. Again, no cotton.
  • a rain jacket or shell with a hood. Something breathable so sweat doesn’t build up on the inside is best. Even if no rain falls, the shell comes in handy for wind protection approaching the summit.
  • a warm hat. Wool is best although synthetics also work.
  • mittens or gloves. In case you get caught in an unexpected squall, you will be glad for a way to warm your hands.

Additional resources

For additional perspectives on what to bring for your Mount Washington hike, you can check out these resources:

Further reading on Mount Washington day hikes

Looking for more information about day hiking Mount Washington? Here are some pages to check out.

Learn about our annual Mount Washington HIKE for Mental Health

Interested in joining a great hike, for a great cause? Learn about HIKE for Mental Health's annual Summit Mount Washington day hike.


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