- Quality hiking shoes. I’ve seen people wear all kinds of footwear on Whitney, from heavy backpack boots to sandals. I like lightweight hikers, either low (my preference) or mid cut. The key is that they be comfortable enough for YOU to wear for the entire day and sturdy enough to protect your feet from impact/bruising, as you will be walking on granite much of the day. Obviously, this is the key piece of equipment and a personal decision based on comfort and fit. Some people like higher cut versions for ankle support. I lean towards a lighter weight shoe over additional ankle support. If we were carrying heavier packs or embarking on a longer journey, I might think differently. I’ve experimented w/various brands including Montrail, Salomon, Vasque and Merrell. I’ve had differing experiences with each. Over the last couple years, I have been alternating back and forth between what amounts to a Salomon trail runner (XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX), and a low-cut hiker from a brand called Oboz. I like them both a bunch. I used the Oboz Firebrand II on Whitney last time, and they were excellent. I will likely use the same version this year. The reason I chose the Oboz over the Salomon’s is because the Salomon have a pull-tie lacing system, which I love as they really form to the foot, but if that pull-tie were to break mid journey, you are out of luck. Also, the Oboz have a bit beefier sole, which I believe offers better foot protection over the 22+ miles. Consider also whether you want a shoe with Gore-tex. Gore-tex provides extra warmth and more importantly is waterproof. It’s also slightly heavier (and hotter) and sometimes you don’t want or need the extra warmth. Many brands offer shoe models with and without Gore-tex or some similar waterproofing technology. Key tip – bring an extra pair of shoelaces! Do I need to mention the shoes should be well broken in prior to the hike?
- Hiking poles. Don’t ask questions. Do not second guess this requirement. Assume it’s a necessity and get them. Get the poles that telescope so they can be adjusted for your height or minimized and tucked away if necessary. Have the sales person explain how to use them.
- Headlamp. Gotta have it. It will be dark for the first few hours hiking (we roll out about 3-3:30 a.m), and often it is dark when you finish. Black Diamond and Petzl make good products. You shouldn’t spend more than $40-45. Don’t bother with the models that are more expensive and have big battery packs. They will be uncomfortable. Always bring an extra set of batteries though.
- Appropriate underwear/base layer. Get something that is not going to be uncomfortable and that is going to wick moisture. There are a number of manufacturers that make capilene base layers/underwear. Patagonia supposedly has the best, but their stuff is very expensive. I’ve used REI name brand and Ex Officio and both are just fine. Much like shoes, if this part of your gear is uncomfortable, it’s a bad day. By the way, I am not referring to long underwear here.
- Quality socks – 2 pair. Keep one in your pack in case feet get wet. Also, on the return trip from long hikes, I like to change out. Socks get compressed over the day and the simple act of changing them makes a difference re foot comfort. What you are supposed to do is submerge the foot in a stream/lake to reduce swelling and then throw on the new socks. I tried it on Whitney and on Half Dome. It seemed to make a difference. For what it’s worth, I use Smartwool (warmth/wicking/cushioning).
- Pants. Find a pair of hiking pants that are comfortable. I have a pair that has zip off legs so you can convert to shorts in the event that it gets warm later in the day. The first time I did Whitney, it never even got close to being warm enough to zip off the legs. Last time on Whitney, I had the legs zipped off for a good portion of the afternoon. The key is finding a pair that will be comfortable. I like loose-fitting pants that offer range of movement and that don’t bunch up or catch on the knees as I move. There is a lot of stair stepping on Whitney and you don’t want anything restrictive. I also like them to have some kind of built in belt so that there is no issue w/sliding down. I recommend the quick dry material for sweat wicking and in the event it rains or you have a mishap over a creek. There are lots of brands. I’ve had good results with the REI label.
- Layering – upper body. What I actually wear on the hike is usually a game time decision based on my read of the weather. This past year, I wore a wicking t-shirt underneath a runner’s half-zip long-sleeve t-shirt – again, very breathable. During the morning portion and upper altitude sections, when it’s cooler, I threw on a lightweight soft shell jacket over those layers. If I thought it was going to be colder, I would add a long sleeve wicking base layer. Some of this is personal preference and personal sensitivity to temperature changes. Layers that breathe and dry quickly are advisable. If your gear is soaked and the temp drops, your body is going to get cold if your clothes are slow drying. You definitely need some type of warmer outer layer, which means a fleece and/or a lightweight soft shell jacket or vest. The soft shell is my preference. The purpose of this whole layering strategy is obviously to enable you to peel off layers or layer up as weather dictates. Also, I keep a lightweight down vest in my pack just in case. Patagonia makes one that compresses down into a very small bag and easily tucks away. Lastly, if I don’t put it on to start the hike, I also keep the long-sleeve base layer in my pack.
- Outer wind/rain shell. Pants and jacket. You need to get some kind of compressible/packable outer layer to throw on in the event it rains. It is also serves as another layer if the temp really drops or if it gets windy. The first time I did the hike, I ended up wearing my jacket most of the way because it got so windy. Last year it never came out of the pack. As an example, I use the Marmot Precip pants/jacket. There are other brands obviously, but this should give you an idea of what I mean. The Marmot is totally waterproof, cuts the wind and packs easily. Mountain Hardware, Patagonia and others also make good outer shells. Patagonia tends to be silly expensive.
- Hat. I bring 2 hats. One is to keep you warm if it’s cold. Get one that is going to breath/wick moisture away. Marmot, Mountain Hardware and others have good stuff. I also bring a hat to keep the sun off my face. Baseball type hat or wide brims are good. I end up using both throughout the day.
- Gloves. I bring 2 pairs – a very light running glove, and a slightly heavier polartec type glove. I have yet to use the heavier pair, but I pack them just in case. A nice sunny day can quickly turn into a snow storm at high altitude.
- Sunglasses. Get some kind of wrap variety. It gets very bright when you are up high, in part because you have nothing but white granite everywhere, which reflects the light. Key item.
- Daypack. Get one that is comfortable enough to wear for a whole day. That means it should have some kind of suspension system that is comfortable on your shoulders, and allows air to circulate between the pack and your back. I have a strong preference for the Osprey packs, and in particular the Stratos series for this type of hike. They are light and small, but large enough to pack what you need. They are also ventilated for your back. I have a Stratos 24. 24 relates to size. They make bigger versions, but this has been more than adequate on two ascents. Mine is about 7 yrs old and is still a great piece of equipment. The new designs are improved and even better now. Also key for this pack is that it has a compartment for a water bladder, which brings me to my next item.
- Water bladder system. I use a 3-liter water bladder. I drink a ton of water generally, plus high altitude dehydrates at exponential rates. 3 is large, but I actually drained mine well before finishing the first time, which is not good. Get the 3-liter bladder. Camelbak and Platypus make perfectly good solutions, as does Osprey. Platypus is a little less expensive. You pay extra for the Camelbak name. I own both and have never noticed a difference. You just want the bladder and drinking tube. You don’t need the containment packs that they sell because your backpack will have a compartment for the bladder.
- Water bottles. I fill 2 lightweight water bottles with a water and electrolyte mixture, and tuck the bottles into the side pockets on the outside of my pack. Electrolyte replenishment is key. I can show you exactly what I use at some point. Obviously, there are different types of bottles you can use.
This list does not include nutrition, first aid or other items, which we can address when the hike gets closer. It can take a while to acquire everything on the list. Some items you may want to purchase sooner rather than later to test and get used to.
Prepared by Ed Schultz