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Hiking Mt Washington Gear List

The Rockpile (Mt Washington) seen from the Nelson Crag Tableland
The Rockpile (Mt Washington) seen from the Nelson Crag Tableland

Mt Washington is a serious mountain with unpredictable weather despite that fact that there’s a weather forecasting station on top. You can set out to hike it on a day which is supposed to be clear and sunny, but experience unexpected fog, high winds, rain showers, and even thunderstorms as you climb higher.

Hypothermia, getting caught out after dark, losing the trail, running out of water, falling and injuring yourself on sharp rocks – these are surprisingly frequent occurrences when hiking Mt Washington, especially during the summer months (July and August) when the risk of seasonal thunderstorm activity is at its highest and the largest number of hikers attempt to climb the peak.

Its not uncommon to encounter dense fog when climbing Mt Washington, even on days when brilliant sunshine is forecast
It’s not uncommon to encounter dense, wet fog when climbing Mt Washington, even on days when brilliant sunshine is forecast

There are no trees on Mt Washington, so there is no cover when things get nasty. You best bet is bring sufficient clothing, gear, food, and water when hiking Mt Washington so you can weather an unexpected storm without getting chilled and hypothermic. Avoid wearing any cotton clothing because it doesn’t dry quickly, doesn’t keep you warm when it gets wet, and can lead to painful chafing especially if it’s underwear.

Here’s my recommended gear list for hiking Mt Washington in July and August. In June and September, I add more insulated clothing. Winter conditions prevail on Mt Washington the remainder of the year. I’ve climbed Mt Washington many times and led numerous hikes up it for the Appalachian Mountain Club. In my experience, it pays to be cautious when hiking Mt Washington and to come prepared.

Recommended Mt Washington Gear List

  1. Waterproof map of the Mt Washington Area; 1 per person
  2. Compass, GPS unit or Phone GPS App with extra batteries
  3. Rain jacket and rain pants
  4. Lightweight fleece sweater
  5. Two to three liters of water; assumes resupply at summit or huts
  6. Lots of food – several snacks or candy bars, a sandwich, salty nuts or chips
  7. First-aid kit
  8. Emergency whistle, so you can find people when the fog drops
  9. Bright headlamp w/ extra batteries
  10. Warm hat, sun hat, and sun tan lotion
  11. Fire-making kit, so you can start a warming fire if wet (and you make it to treeline)
  12. Watch, so you know what time it is
  13. Backpack large enough to carry everything

It’s no accident that this gear list looks a lot like the day hikers 10 essentials gear list I advocate that people carry. It includes all of the gear that I carry when I hike in the White Mountains.

Martin at the Washington Summit Sign in the Mist
Martin at the Washington Summit Sign in the Mist

While you can carry less and probably get by in good weather, you’ll be grateful to have these extras when the shit hits the fan and the weather turns nasty on you, your group loses the path, or gets stuck out after dark. This happens surprisingly often, even among pros, so err on the side of being prepared.

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10 comments

  1. So true. I saw a woman climbing Mt Washington the other day carrying just a purse! Up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, no less. I was speechless.

    • Put a parking lot at the bottom and they will come. I suspect working at Pinkham is a hell job for the AMC and USFS employees with all the rescue call outs they have to do. You can only give advice, but you have to hold people accountable at some point for making their own decisions. Hopefully, it’s a low consequence educational experience.

  2. Having hiked in places like Wyoming’s Wind River Range, with fairly similar “summer” climate plus with snow possible any month, I’d suggest adding a pair of gloves. I take thin wool glove liners plus a pair of rain mitts. I also take a lightweight puffy jacket in case conditions force me to stay put (such as being stuck out overnight).

  3. Mt. Washington fascinates me, I think mostly because articles like this are such a surprising contrast to cars on the highway with bumper stickers that say, “This car climbed Mt. Washington!” Someday I’ll get there. (By my feet, not a car.)

  4. Perhaps helpful: put typical weight in the list, so people realise this additional gear weighs next to nothing.

  5. Good list! RE: #2 I would say a compass should be carried regardless of whether you have a dedicated GPS and/or smartphone with extra batteries. An ounce or two of prevention… RE: #11…. have you ever needed to start a “warming fire” on a day trip? While I usually have a fire starter of sorts if it’s that nasty out I doubt most would be able to start a decent fire even with the right tools, especially above treeline…

  6. I always take a warm hat along with gloves.

  7. There’s no wood and to much wind above treeline to start a fire. Accident analysis shows us that the people who do survive are the ones who get below treeline. I can reliably start a fire below treeline given dry wood. I carry vaseline soaked cotton balls and magnesium striker. Works everytime. I’ve had butane lighters fail when the striker gets stuck too many times, which is why I go old school with the Light My Fire.

  8. I was at an SAR presentation at the Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier in August and one of the Rangers asked the audience to name the ten essentials. I think the National Park Service lumps some of Philip’s items together so it comes out to ten and is easier to remember, so they say. . So, I said “whistle”, but they said it was not essential, which really surprised me. Being from the Northeast, I have always felt that a whistle was a means of communication, especially those extra loud whistles that you can even hear under water.
    The NPS Rangers also said that it was not necessary to have rain pants/jacket, but that “extra clothes” were essential-not even mentioning the danger of cotton. Go figure. If you have a chance to become hypothermic due to convective winds, rain and sitting on something cold, you want rain gear at the minimum.
    As an extra, I usually throw in my little collapsible Esbit stove. Esbit tablets literally stink, but they can work in a pinch with a Swedish firestick.
    There are plenty of literally paved trails (walkways) on Mount Rainier, but people still go off trail ( crushing delicate alpine flowers, I might add). In early August a woman who was taking a picture off trail fell down the slope and injured herself and could not get back to the trail. She had no water, no food no extra clothes – really none of the essentials and wound up sleeping in a hollowed out log and SAR found her the next day. She was hypothermic, but survived.

    Just as an aside, many (certainly not all) West Coast hikers tend to look down on hiking those lower elevation mountains in New Hampshire and Maine, so I was gratified to meet a guide from International Mountain Guides who said that the weather in the Northeast is more challenging in general than the Northwest and that is why they have mountaineering courses not only on Mount Rainier, but on our beloved Mount Washington, as well. He also said the trails were tougher on the AT than on the West Coast, especially in New England. Heck, I find the Midstate Trail a challenge, then again, I’m almost 70. The unpaved trails around Rainier were definitely more of a challenge, but they were not as rock-strewn, and potentially ankle breaking drainages that we are used to hiking here.

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