Hiking Mt. Washington next month! help with gear

7:18 p.m. on January 31, 2011 (EST)
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I am hiking Mount Washington in February. I have hiked the mountain in the summer before, and I know how tough it can be. I have some questions about clothing though. I plan on having a wicking layer, then a insulation layer, then a shell type layer. For my upper body, I need a wicking layer, and was wondering if merino wool would work. Would it keep my really warm against my skin with nothing under it? I was thinking this one:

Then I am going to have a fleece, and then my rain gear, as well as possibly an under armour hoodie overtop of the fleece depending on the weather that day.

For the bottom, I have under armour longjohns, and on top of that I was going to wear my pajamma pants(They are extremely warm), and then my rain pants on top. 

I'm going to need new rain gear for the trip, my old pair is way to small. I need it to be breathable, and comfortable, and not too expensive. Any ideas?

My main concern is the wicking layer, just wondering if the merino wool would work, any other suggestions are welcome!

9:33 p.m. on January 31, 2011 (EST)
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merino wool is a fine material for a base layer.  it does not wick moisture quite as well as some synthetic fabrics, but it is very good for handling moisture and keeping you warm in winter conditions.

winter on mount washington presents some interesting challenges.  you have to plan for temperatures as low as -30 or -40 fahrenheit, and winds as high as 100 miles per hour.  it can blow harder than that, but you should not go above the treeline in those conditions, even if you are experienced with winter hiking.

you need windproof shells, top and bottom, for winter in the white mountains.  if you are on a budget and taking a short trip, you could look at gore tex paclite shells at campmor, cabela's, or on sale.

you will need warm boots, and you should have crampons and snowshoes.  make sure the crampons fit with your boots ahead of time.

for sleeping out and times when you are not moving, you should have a warm insulated jacket (down or synthetic, i prefer down) and a sleeping bag than can handle extreme cold.  you should also think hard about hats and mittens for cold weather. 

the most important thing you bring to winter hiking is good judgment.  if the weather is bad, or could turn bad quickly, the best decision you can make is to keep yourself safe rather than taking risks.  it's a fairly unique and amazing place in the winter - have fun up there!

10:44 p.m. on January 31, 2011 (EST)
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well I can give some information because I just climbed 75% of the way up on 1/23 when it was between -30 and -50 F depending on the wind gusts. I stopped above tree line because it was merely a scouting trip for me to learn the trails, since I am going back up this Sunday, Feb 6th.


Firstly - do you have any mountaineering experience at all? If your answer is no, you don't want to climb Mt Washington in winter. Parts of the Lion's Head route (if you take this way) are extremely steep, pushing 80-85 degree slopes, and falls here could have serious consequences. If you have no experience with mountaineering technique with an ice axe, crampons, and even rope work, this is not the place to learn. Also, above tree line, there is 2-3 thousand feet of exposure with no protection from any elements, and it can be quite steep there as well. Other trails also require crampons and ice axe, but I am unsure of their difficulty. NONE are easy up this mountain in winter.


No offense but if you are considering wearing pajamas on the mountain, it sounds as though you don't have any mountaineering experience - any cotton at all is a bad idea when hiking in the winter. Cotton does not retain heat when wet, so once it absorbs sweat from your activity, you will become hypothermic and die. I can't stress this enough - no cotton at all - no cotton socks, hoodies, underwear, pants, NOTHING. All materials should be synthetic. Go to walmart and find any of the nylon/spandex material work out clothes they have - these are perfect for base layers, and cheap.


If you don't have the experience, I can HIGHLY recommend Synnott Mountain Guides out of New Hampshire as a GREAT guide service that can teach you many of the basic skills you need. They have a website.


Also, starting off with more basic winter hikes in the white mountains is a great idea if you don't have the money for a guide service. A good day hike can give you a taste of what to expect, and can help you hone your skills and conditioning.


If you do have the experience, here is what I wore on the 23rd. 


For my top and bottom base layers I wore a techwick light layer. Over the top layer I wore a basic fleece vest. Over this I wore a soft shell jacket. Over the bottom base layer, I wore a medium weight polypropylene pant, and over that a windproof water resistant insulated shell pant. I carried a down jacket in my pack for emergencies, and also had a waterproof windproof shell jacket with no insulation that I put on above treeline to break the wind. On my feet I wore a pair of liner socks, and a pair of smart wool heavy weight socks over those. I wore Scarpa Inverno double plastic mountaineering boots over these. I used gaiters over my boots and outer pant shell to prevent snow and ice from going down the ankle of my boots.


On my head I wore a hat, above treeline I took the hat off and wore a balaclava to protect my neck and face, and wore ski goggles. Any exposed skin at those temperatures freezes in 3-5 minutes. As I approached tree line before putting on my balaclava, I could feel pin prick sensations on my cheeks - the beginnings of the freezing process.


For most of the approach hike I was sweating. It is a long 2 or more miles to reach the lions head winter route and it's a fairly consistent upward slog. During this time I was shedding my layers to vent and help sweat evaporate so I wouldn't become wet and cold.


Once the difficult climbing began, you move more slowly, so the layers were not a problem and I didn't sweat as much, but stayed nice and warm from the movement.


hope this helps, and feel free to ask more questions. I love to pass on as much information as possible, just as it was given to me.

10:50 p.m. on January 31, 2011 (EST)
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oh and for relatively inexpensive rain gear, check out the Eddie Bauer First Ascent line. It is made and tested by professional mountaineers who use the gear on big time mountains.


I personally bought the BC-100, which is a windproof and waterproof shell, for $60. It is waterproof with up to 30 FEET of water standing on it. Pretty crazy deal for that price. I got it that cheap at the mall in Portland, Maine, if you are anywhere near there. Otherwise online I think they are closer to $130.


columbia brand is always pretty good too, and you can usually get a waterproof jacket with a zip in fleece for a little over $100 in most department stores.

10:58 p.m. on January 31, 2011 (EST)
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Thank You for your replies! I would like to invest in rain gear now, because in the summer I will be going to seabase, and I know I will need good rain gear down there. I am going to go with Marmot precip jacket and pants as of now unless i find a better alternative. They are pricey, so I am looking for something on sale. As of right now here is my layers/ other clothing items. 


-A merino wool long sleeve shirt(The one in the link, if not something similar)

-Columbia Fleece(100% Polyester)

-Marmot Precip Jacket (http://marmot.com/products/precip_jacket)



-Under Armour Long Underwear



Should I wear anything in between my long underwear and precip pants?


For my head I have a facemask, an under armour hat, ski goggles. I will have crampons and ice axes as well. 

11:07 p.m. on January 31, 2011 (EST)
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you'll have to see as you go how hot you get from the activity level. It's a game of constant off and on with clothes to regulate temp.


Again, just checking - you say you WILL have crampons and ice axes - are you experienced with them? The mountain is no joke in winter, I'm just trying to make sure you make safe decisions if you are not experienced.

11:12 p.m. on January 31, 2011 (EST)
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I 100% understand the mountain is not a joke, I have hiked it before in the summer, and that was challenging for me at the time, and I know it will be 10x harder during the winter months. Although I do not have experience with the crampons and ice axes, the Mt. Washington EMS will be teaching us how to properly use them ahead of time and will also be leading us during the entire hike, so i should be fine. 

11:17 p.m. on January 31, 2011 (EST)
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I responded with a couple question which you handily answered while I was typing:D

That's good you're going with a guide service, Mt. Washington really isn't the mountain to wing it on.



11:21 p.m. on January 31, 2011 (EST)
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going with the EMS school is a great idea - they are top notch as well and will provide great instruction and will do their best to ensure safety.


have fun, it will be an adventure!

11:32 p.m. on January 31, 2011 (EST)
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I would suggest wearing a layer between the  underarmor and the precip pants depending on the expected weather conditions. You will be fine for the long slog past treeline because of all the activity producing heat, but once things start to slow down at the near vertical stuff you will be exposed in high winds while producing less heat. The base layer and pant will serve you well if the temps stay in teens-twenties, but I doubt you will get that lucky next month. I would suggest picking up either a polypro or merino wool insulating layer for your legs.


11:12 a.m. on February 1, 2011 (EST)
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I woudn't bring Marmot precip pant opr jacket in winter because they tend to freeze and crack at extrem low temp. Even the marmot sales rep says so. There is also the the fact that that the precip coating is not the most breathable out there. It's not bad gear, just not the one you should take with you. Imgine forking two hundred bucks and after the first winter having to send them back. If you're on a budget I would also recommend the first ascent line. In winter having the right gear is essential. Then again, if this is a "one time" thing go for the cheapest and good luck, worst case the guides will save you. ;-)

Have fun, Mount Washington is very fun in winter.

11:33 a.m. on February 1, 2011 (EST)
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For the layer between my leggings and my shell pants could I wear joeboxer pants, they are 100%POLYESTER, so no cotton, that is what I meant my pajama pants, because i will usually wear these when I go to sleep camping. 


And for the outer shell and pants, this is a once and done thing, but I may hold off on buying any type of rain/wind gear such as the precip pants and jacket, as I can borrow frog togs from a friend. Would those work?

11:57 a.m. on February 1, 2011 (EST)
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if you don't wear any cotton, you'll be fine layering things up - just don't put on too much at the start because you'll be way over heated as you get going. You're going to be cold for the first 15 minutes, then should warm up as you start to sweat. Don't wear waterproof layers unless you have to. It's going to be so cold up there, that any precipitation will just be snow, not wet rain or freezing rain. So the snow will just brush off whatever you are wearing anyways. Only wear it if you need to break the wind as well, or if conditions get really bad and you need to retain extra heat - waterproof clothes don't breath well, so you will trap your sweat and this could make you hypothermic.

For what you are doing (once and done), any type of snowboarding/ski pant will be fine for your outer layer as long as it's insulated. Under the insulated pants, the joe boxers with another long underwear layer should be fine. It doesn't hurt to bring an extra layer for both tops and bottoms as well in case you get real cold from lack of activity if any emergencies arise. Better safe than sorry, don't rely on the guides to save you, instead prevent anything from happening in the first place.

also, I don't know where you live, but I've got a pair of snowboarding pants that I don't need that are windproof water resistant, brown in color, and insulated. The only problem is I think the zipper is broke, but they still button, and have belt loops if they are too big. I know this isn't the classified section, but I'd sell them to you for cheap (like 30 bucks) and you'd have what you need for the trip without spending a lot. They have been used for this purpose before, and are perfect for mountaineering. In fact, they'd continue to serve you well if you decide to do more winter hiking after mt washington.

Let me know.

7:18 p.m. on February 4, 2011 (EST)
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I'm an avid winter hiker in the whites and I use a Mntn Hardwear Typhoon jacket. It has never let me down.  Merino wool is the best baselayer material out there. The Marmot Precip stuff has pretty bad breathability. If you have no experience with crampons you are going to want to were gaiters withs loads of ballistic nylon on them so you don't rip yourself to shreds. You can get a pair at IME (International Mountain Equipment) in North Conway for 70 bucks, they are made by a local company called Savage Gear they have a lot more balistic nylon on the inside leg than the standard OR model. Gaiters will also keep the snow out of you boots and off most of your baselayer pants so you won't have to put you shell pants on until the wind really starts whipping above treeline. Make sure all your pant layers have full side zips so you can put them on over you boots. Because you are going with a guide it is probably not necessary but I always carry a -20 bag and bivy sack when I go above treeline... just in case. You are really going to want a warmer top insulation layer. I use a Western Mountaineering Meltdown Jacket as my primary top insulation layer. You are going to want to wear a insulating pair of pants in between you baselayer and shell. Patagonia Micropuff pant or a Mntn Hardwear Compressor PL pant might work well. Might see you up there because I'm planning a presidential traverse this month. Unless you want to die don't were cotton. Gear is expensive but worth it when you realize that your life is dependent on it.

2:20 a.m. on February 6, 2011 (EST)
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I 100% understand the mountain is not a joke, I have hiked it before in the summer, and that was challenging for me at the time, and I know it will be 10x harder during the winter months. Although I do not have experience with the crampons and ice axes, the Mt. Washington EMS will be teaching us how to properly use them ahead of time and will also be leading us during the entire hike, so i should be fine. 

It's not just "harder".  It's that you must have the requisite skills, or you may die.  No joke.

I just noticed you said you're being led by experienced guides.  That sounds like a good way to learn :).  In addiition to the advice you'll get here on Trailspace, you may also want to consult with the group leading the trip, to get their advice on what they deem appropriate.

Enjoy your climb!

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