39.5501° N, 105.7821° W
THIS ADVENTURE GUIDE COVERS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIKING A 14ER, INCLUDING WHAT TO PACK, WHEN TO HIKE AND MORE INSIGHTFUL TIPS.
If you have ever looked into hiking around the western half of the United States then you might have already come across the term 14er (or fourteener). This interesting term is especially common in the state of Colorado, where you can find a couple dozen mountains classified as being a "14er."
But what is a 14er exactly, and more importantly, what do you need to know about hiking one?
In this in-depth adventure guide, we cover everything you need to know about hiking a 14er - including how to find the right mountain for you (especially if you have never summited a large mountain before), what gear to bring with you along the trail, when the best time to hike in the mountains actually is and finally, a few great 14ers to consider hiking yourself.
WHAT IS A 14ER AND HOW MANY ARE THERE?
In the most basic terms, a 14er is a mountain that sits at at least 14,000 feet or 4,267 meters in elevation. Presently, there are 96 mountains in the whole United States that receive this designation. The state of Colorado has the most with 53, while Alaska comes in second with 29. Interestingly, all 96 14ers are west of the Mississippi River.
The most famous 14ers in the United States are Denali in Alaska (the highest peak in North America), Mount Whitney in California (the highest peak in the contiguous USA), Mount Elbert (in Colorado), Mount Rainier (in Washington) and Longs Peak (also in Colorado).
➳ Explore this interactive map of all 53 14ers in Colorado.
SOME IMPORTANT WORDS TO KNOW:
Tree Line: this is the edge of the habitat at which trees can actually grow, either because of cold temperatures, extreme snowpack or lack of moisture. Overall, most trails up to the top of a 14er are past tree line. In Colorado, tree line is usually around an elevation of 11,500 feet, while in California tree line is around an elevation of 11,000 feet. But in Alaska the tree line is only at 2,000 feet of elevation. This is because of its much more northerly latitude.
Alpine: this term describes the landscape above tree line. Usually, alpine landscapes are quite barren and devoid of any large plant-like trees. The alpine environment is usually quite fragile and should be explored with care.
Summitting: this is the action of reaching the top or summit of a mountain. In the case of 14ers, summitting means you hike to the very top of the mountain. One way you will know you have "summitted" is when you see either a sign, flag or hiking log at the top.
HIKING A 14ER | PLANNING AND PREPARATION
\\ Picking Your First 14er | Where to Start
There are so many options when it comes to picking what 14er you want to hike. In fact, there are nearly 100 mountains within the United States that are classified as 14ers. While it might seem a bit overwhelming at first to decide which 14er to summit, in the end, there are a few things to consider that will help you narrow down the field.
Firstly, where do you want to hike. This might seem like a no brainer but it actually will help you narrow down the number of mountains significantly. While there might be nearly 100 14ers to choose from, depending on what state you are planning to hike it means the numbers shrink considerably. Below are the number of 14ers in each state.
COLORADO 53 // ALASKA 29 // CALIFORNIA 12 // WASHINGTON 2
Secondly, you need to decide how technical you want the trail to be. While all 14ers are around the same height, not all of them are created equally. Some routes simply require hiking on a single-track trail all the way to the top, while others require you to climb across a steep knife's edge. And still others require some serious climbing and snow skills.
Knowing your own hiking skill level will greatly help you decide what kind of 14er you want to attempt to summit. Similarly, this is also one of the most important things to consider in order to stay safe while hiking a 14er for nothing leads to more accidents than being too far outside of your comfort zone.
Finally, one of the last things you need to consider when picking what 14er you want to do is the overall logistics. While figuring out where to hike and what kind of trail you want to spend hours hiking on is definitely important, it is also important to figure out the basic logistics - including how you will actually get to the mountain (is a 4x4 required), what kind of services are nearby (how much preparation do you need to do ahead of time), and what gear you actually need for the hike.
While there are almost a hundred 14ers to choose from, these three points should definitely help you narrow down your search. Just remember, one of the most important things when deciding what mountain to hike is to know your own fitness and skill levels. While we are all for pushing yourself and breaking through your comfort zone, it is also important to remember that hiking a 14er is a challenge no matter what mountain you choose. And if you are totally outside of your skill level you will likely be putting yourself and your hiking partners in unnecessary danger.
\\ What to Pack For Hiking a 14er
One of the most important things to think about when planning your first hike up a 14er is what gear you are going to bring with you on the trail. For not being prepared with the right stuff - including food, water, and clothing - can 100% make or break your hike up the mountain.
The most basic gear you will need to have with you for the hike are proper shoes (comfortable hiking boots are best), a backpack that can carry enough food and water (more on that below), a warm jacket and a wind breaker (the weather at the top is usually quite rough), sunscreen, and a headlamp.
When packing for a 14er, you will want to focus on bringing gear that can withstand long hours on the trail, no matter what type of conditions you might come across. This includes wearing shoes that you can hike 10+ miles in and not get terrible blisters, clothing that is breathable but also warm, and a backpack that carries all of the food you need but is still comfortable after 3 hours of going straight uphill.
You will also want to pay attention to the trail beta when deciding what kind of gear you need to bring. For example, if the mountain includes a lot of scrambling across sometimes loose rock then a climbing helmet is a good idea. Or if the trail is known to be snowy almost year-round, then consider packing a set of gaiters or wearing long pants. Knowing ahead of time what kind of conditions you might be facing is a great way to ensure you are comfortable on the trail.
► You can find our full Hiking a 14er Gear List below.
FOOD AND DRINKS TO BRING WHEN HIKING A 14ER
Salty foods are especially great when hiking since you will likely be sweating quite a bit. Some great salty snacks to bring with you on the trail are pretzels, trail mix or GORP, nuts and seeds, and crackers. Besides packing plenty of salty foods, you will also want a healthy mix of sweets (this will help keep your blood sugar up). We like to pack a couple of pieces of fresh fruit (oranges are great) and dried fruit, some gummies (candy included), peanut butter and chocolate granola bars.
We also like to bring some sort of "victory" food for the summit. This can include a victory bagel sandwich (very tasty) or just a simple chocolate candy bar.
Besides having plenty of snacks with you for the hike, you will also want to make sure you have enough liquids to get you through the whole day. Obviously, you will want to have plenty of water - a good rule of thumb is 1 liter of water for every 2 or so hours of hiking - but you will also want something that has a bit of electrolytes or sodium, especially if hiking in the middle of the summer.
We like to pack little electrolyte packets for the trail, or just have an electrolyte drink already pre-made before starting the hike. Our go-to are the Mio Sport electrolyte squirts since they are easy to carry on the trail, there is a lot less plastic involved and they last quite a long time.
💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are planning to hike somewhere that has a fair amount of running water then consider bringing a water filter with you. This will allow you to carry less water from the start and also ensure that you always have plenty of water while hiking. See our recommended water filter below.
\\ Figuring out the Logistics of Hiking a 14er
Once you decide on what 14er you are going to hike it is time to start figuring out the necessary logistics - namely where you are going to sleep the night before and after the hike and how you are going to get to the trailhead.