Hiking the White Mountains is a great activity for visitors to New Hampshire in all seasons. The White Mountains are beautiful and joyous to climb and there are opportunities for all levels of hikers to get out and enjoy the outdoors. However the mountains are very high, very steep and very remote and many travelers are injured or lose their life each year due to poor preparation. If you are planning on hiking the White Mountains, whether on a short jaunt or a multi-day trek you should pack carefully. Hikesafe.com has released their 10 essentials list which serves as a guide for safety while hiking the White Mountains. I have edited my own version of this list below with some of my recommendations and additions:
Essential White Mountain Hiking Gear ListPlease note that it is not strictly necessary that each member of your party carry each of these items but every hiker should carry their own pack containing: warm clothes, rain gear, extra water, food, a flashlight and a whistle. For the most part the other items can be one per hiking party, assuming everyone plans to stay within visual contact for the duration of the hike.
Map and Compass – While all trails in the White Mountains are marked some are much better than others. A map is an essential hiking safety tool and it is fun to track your progress along the trail and know what is up ahead. I recommend the Wilderness Map Company White Mountains Map and Guide. It is easy to read, waterproof and has short descriptions of the major trails. Obviously a compass will make your map more useful and guide you if you get lost.
Warm Clothing – The conditions at the summit of the high peaks can be extremely different from those at the bottom. Do not assume because it is sunny and warm in town that you will meet the same weather on the mountain. You should pack clothing you can layer easily and that wicks moisture away from your body (non-cotton). Each person should carry their own warm gear including a hat, sweater and long pants. Extra socks are also a must.
Rain Gear – Again with unpredictable conditions at the summit you should be prepared for a sudden squall, shower or even snow storm at a moment’s notice. A full set of rain gear and hat should be in each hiker’s pack and can help prevent hypothermia in the event of a sudden weather shift.
Proper Footwear – White Mountain hikes can be very steep and often include large sections of exposed rock. Many forested trails are thick with roots and rocks hell-bent on tripping you so proper footwear is an absolute must. Proper footwear would be hiking boots which have sturdy soles and hold your ankles steady. One of the biggest causes of blisters is improperly fitted boots so even if you like buying everything online you should absolutely try hiking boots on in a store. Wearing two pairs of socks with your boots will keep your feet warm and also protected. Carry moleskin and stop to cover any rubs or hotspots BEFORE they become all-out blisters.
Water – This is essential for all hikes. Dehydration is a serious risk even on cool days. I like to carry 2-3 litres per person for a full day hike. This will vary on the person and the conditions of course but it is better to err on the side of too much water than too little. It is not safe to drink from streams or lakes in the White Mountains. Consider bringing some Gatorade or other electrolyte powder to re-hydrate and help you get your second wind. Each member of your party should carry at least one litre on them at all times.
Food – Another essential. Pick snacks that are lightweight and full of protein and fat. GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) is a great hiking standard. Cheese, jerky, granola bars and PB&Js are all great staples as well. Each member of your party should carry some food on them at all times.
Whistle – all party members should carry one to alert rescuers of your location in case you become lost or fall. Many packs have whistles built into the chest strap buckle – check yours!
Flashlight or Headlamp – all party members should carry one. Essential if you get caught with a setting sun.
Other Safety gear:
First Aid Kit/Repair Kit
Epipen if you suffer from severe allergies
Hiking Poles – With steep rocky trails hiking poles can help protect your knees from the impact of your descent. They also help you use your arms to lift on steep sections and to steady you on slippery terrain.
Guide Book – The official AMC White Mountain Guide is excellent.
Trash bag – As the saying goes “Take nothing but pictures, Leave nothing but footprints”. All trash should be hiked OUT of the forest. There are no trash receptacles on the trail. A trash bag can also be used for on-the-fly rain protection for your gear.