Packing for a 4,000 footer

When life gives you sunshine… go climb a mountain!

My mom and I have made this a new annual tradition, to hike a new path and stay in a new hut each summer. It started with Mizpah and Mount Pierce a few years ago (somewhat on a whim), and then continued in earnest last summer with Lakes of the Clouds on our way to the summit of Mount Washington. This year, we wanted to hit yet another new peak, so we headed over to Greenleaf Hut, on Mount Lafayette.

Our hike was in the first week of the 2019 season, June 3-5. And our destination was Lafayette via Greenleaf (an Appalachian Mountain Club hut) with the idea that we would hike up, get to the hut early and chill for dinner and sleep there, then go to the summit and back the next day, sleep at the hut again, and head down.

This was plan A.

What actually happened was plan… D? E? Something later than C, because everything conspired against us to change the safe, fun, and comfortable options we could choose between.

We had packed well for hiking in the White Mountains in the summer. But we forgot that June isn’t actually summer up there. Before we got to the hut, it was snowing. By the time we sat down for snacks (delicious pumpkin curry soup and apple bread), the summit was obscured in clouds and a snow squall. People were coming in with a chilly blast and their buffs pulled over their faces to keep save even a fraction of warmth. When we went to bed that night, it was 38 degrees Fahrenheit inside, and we wore every single layer we had brought with us, plus our requisite 3 wool blankets, plus sleeping bags that the hut staff loaned us, which truly made it possible to rest. (Our back up plan here was to steal a million more blankets from other bunks because there were only 7 guests and 5 staffers in a cabin that can sleep 48 in the high season!).

Backpacks and bunk beds

All our gear in the room we delightfully had to ourselves at Greenleaf

So instead of hiking up and down the same day, or hiking over and down, or hiking over and over another mountain, we worked with the awesome hut croo to rebook ourselves into Lonesome Lake for night #2, and we trekked down and then up to the Appalachian Trail on a totally different path.

The result was actually delightful – we loved seeing a new place, we got to finish a full 15 feet of the AT, and we met many people who had really interesting stories from their longer (or in some cases, shorter) hikes there.

I highly recommend checking out some of the AMC huts in New Hampshire. And when you do go, you can see what we packed and consider what you might need for your own trek!

We’ll start with the least important but most unique to the Jane-and-Sally-go-hiking experience:

“HUT LIFE”
We kept this in a separate packing cube / plastic bag since we only needed it at night, and it was SO nice to pull out a little, clean gift to yourself when you arrived at your bunk, and not have this get caught up in all your other gear.

  • Flip flops – for when you’ve arrived and get to finally let your feet breathe
  • Washcloth or some other sort of towel (most huts have running water in the sink, though no showers)
  • Lounge clothes – often the clothes you’re going to wear the next day, though sometimes it’s nice to have one soft shirt / bra / pair of shorts just for a change
  • Power bank – in case there’s no option to use a common plug and you need to recharge your devices for photos the next day
  • Earplugs – in these big shared rooms, there is ALWAYS someone snoring. Sometimes it’s even your mom.
  • Headphones – for the same purpose, blocking out some noise in common rooms when you’re trying to force yourself to sleep at 9 PM.
  • Entertainment – a book (or if you’re basic like us, a Kindle), playing cards, drawing supplies, etc. One person told us his indulgent item was a collapsible fishing pole!
  • Sleeping bag liner with built-in pillowcase – we have this one and LOVE it. Having a liner means you can stack wool blankets on top of you without having them on your skin, and it was perfect when we borrowed a sleeping bag in sudden winter weather. They have an orange one available now, which I would have gotten if it was an option – whenever possible, having something bright with you on a mountain is a good idea for being visible to rescuers in a pinch.
  • Mini-wallet with your ID, some cash, and credit card – technically you need this for any hike, but I keep mine in this part of my bag since I mostly use it to buy souvenirs at the huts!
  • Travel clothesline – so anything that is wet or even damp can dry overnight
  • Snacks, including your favorite teabags
  • Evening bathroom essentials – medicine, toothbrush, etc.

OVERALL HIKING AND SAFETY GEAR
For this one, we go to the AMC – their list of the 10 essentials is… essential. Summarized here, but don’t skimp on this category – make sure you’re preparing for every outcome.

  1. Map and compass/GPS
  2. Extra water and a way to purify it – this may seem extreme but just get some purification tablets, keep them in your bag, and if you toss them every few years because you never had an emergency, you’re doing pretty well!
  3. Extra food
  4. Lighter / matches / fire starter
  5. Flashlight / headlamp – your phone does NOT count, this needs to be able to last for hours and have extra batteries.
  6. First aid kit
  7. Knife or multi-purpose tool
  8. Waterproof / wind gear and extra clothing
  9. Sun screen, sunglasses, lip balm, maybe even ski goggles
  10. Tarp, bivy sack, or emergency blanket – again, don’t cut corners here, just buy an emergency kit, tuck it in your bag, and hope you never have to use it.

In addition, I pack the following:

  • Hiking backpack – with a raincover (that should really never come off / out of your bag – make it live there!)
  • Hiking poles – bring 2 even if you think you only need 1, it’s helpful on some downhills or if one breaks
  • Extra tips for hiking poles
  • Water bladder AND water bottle
  • Gatorade or other sports drink to get varying liquids
  • Sport beans – I love these for when I need just a pop of sugar but don’t want to drink more
  • Lots of food of varying types – jerky, granola bars, sandwiches, apples, etc.
  • Bathroom kit (see REI’s tips for how to use the bathroom in the woods – including hand sanitizer and a small shovel)
  • First aid kit – and make sure it contains things that are in good shape (bandages that still stick, Advil that’s not expired)
  • Hike Safe Card or similar – this is basically disaster / rescue insurance!
  • Bug net and insect repellent – to cover your face when the black flies start swarming
  • Trip itinerary – and make sure to leave one with a friend and ideally also put one copy in your car (at the trailhead) where it’s out of site. Mom has been making us mini-maps that show specifically where we’re hiking and they’re a great addition so we don’t need to unfold something each time (though we also had the full versions). Plus, it’s nice to have a copy of the narrative description of the trails!
  • Whistle
  • Gaiters, YakTrax, etc depending on your terrain
  • Fitbit or other tracker or watch
  • Foam pad, for safety and comfort – Mom used hers as protection against losing all her body heat on the cold benches at dinner
  • Tick removal tool
  • Poncho

CLOTHING
Rule #1-100 – NO COTTON

  • Buff – I can’t live without this and take my Survivor one on every trip, even a simple sleepover at my cousin’s house
  • Gloves or mittens
  • Hiking boots
  • Hat with a visor, to protect your face from the sun
  • Wool socks or similar
  • Wicking underwear
  • Wicking t-shirt
  • Wicking long underwear (something you can layer under other pants)
  • Synthetic long pants – I like the kind that zip off into shorts. They may not be styling but they are great for the shifting weather of the mountains
  • Rain jacket / rain pants – even if you already have a poncho!
  • Puffy vest that packs down into something small – we ended up wearing these to sleep! Super important to not lose heat even when you’re done hiking

CAR PACK
To have handy for when you’re done your hike!

  • Bathing suit
  • Towel
  • Quarters for any shower you may be near (this is 100000% our favorite part of hiking – sorry to every other part!)
  • Other shower essentials – body wash, shampoo, etc.

What else do you pack on a hike, or wish you had? I’ll keep this list updated as we inevitably learn more lessons!