Even experienced trail runners find it challenging to climb Mt Whitney. It’s the highest mountain in the United States and the Sierra Nevada, with an elevation of 4,421 meters or 14,505 feet. Its trail camp starts in Inyo National Forest, located at Whitney Portal, 8,300 feet above sea level, before reaching the summit in Sequoia National Park.
Completing the 22-mile round trip hike to reach the peak of Mt Whitney isn’t an easy feat. The Mt Whitney trail will challenge even the fittest and most experienced trail runners. On average, this trail will require you to hike 12 to 14 hours to reach the summit and back.
Fortunately, bringing the right gear for the hike will increase your chances of succeeding. Being well-prepared can become your key to reaching the peak of Mt Whitney without putting your safety on the line. In fact, when you bring the right gear with you, you can make the most out of the experience and actually have fun!
To hike Mt Whitney successfully, take note of the packing list below. I’ve arranged items in different categories to help you pack. These items will make all of the difference when you hike the famous Mt Whitney!
The items listed here are non-negotiable and crucial to your hike to Mt Whitney. These items impact your safety and comfort, which in turn, will also influence your ability to complete the hike. Ensure that these items are included in your Mt Whitney gear list, and you won’t have any problems reaching the summit!
Comfortable Hiking Boots
Your ability to hike 22 miles depends on the condition of your feet. Your willpower and determination won’t do any good if your feet become too weak in the middle of the day hike. Or worse, become injured after a few hours of starting the hike.
Invest in high-quality, comfortable hiking boots before conquering Mt Whitney. Ideally, the boots should provide you with sufficient ankle support or offer you the flexibility of a trail running shoe. Either way, spend some time breaking into your hiking boots before the actual hike. This will help soften the fabric or leather of the boots and ensure that the materials flex at the right points as you hike.
Comfort should be a priority when hiking Mt Whitney. The more comfortable you are, the easier it’ll be for you to conquer the trail.
To protect your feet from blisters, choose to wear thick socks that offer a little bit of cushion and have a thin sock liner. Wearing two socks is ideal because the socks will rub together instead of your foot rubbing against your hiking shoes. Aside from wearing a pair of hiking socks, put on a wool sock, too. Wool socks pull moisture away from your feet, help your feet dry quickly, and have antimicrobial properties.
Because the Mt Whitney trail will require you to hike for at least 12 hours, I highly recommend starting your hike at 3 AM. In this way, most of your hike will happen during day time.
But keep in mind that 3 AM is still dark, which is why it’s essential to bring a head lamp, preferably one that offers a red light mode. Red light doesn’t cause the pupils to shrink the way white light can, so it’s a better option for nighttime use.
Head lamps allow you to have lighting in the direction of your vision without needing to use any of your arms. Holding a flashlight as you hike at 3 AM might be an option, but this will make your arm go numb or feel tired fast.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to bring extra batteries for your head lamp. Even the most powerful head lamp will be useless for your Mount Whitney trail hike if you fail to bring extra batteries!
Your day pack should be big enough to fit all of your essentials — your water bottles, snacks, and extra layers of clothing. However, I wouldn’t suggest carrying an extra large backpack as it might cause you to get tired easily. It should just be the right size — not too small that you’ll have to leave some of your essentials at home and not too big that you’ll end up going overboard with your hiking gear.
I would also suggest using a day pack with a hip belt, so the weight isn’t all on your shoulders. If possible, use something that comes with chest and hip straps. For a day hike, I think a bag that holds 22 to 35 liters is ideal.
While some people like carrying water bottles during their hikes, others prefer using a hydration bladder. Hydration bladders are a type of hydration system built as a waist pack or backpack containing a reservoir or bladder, usually made from flexible plastic or rubber. The reservoir uses a capped mouth for filling with liquid and a hose that enables the wearer to drink without using their hands.
Countless brands produce high-quality hydration bladders today, so pick one that suits your budget and preferences. You need to drink a lot of water to combat the effects of altitude on your body.
Your Mt Whitney gear list will never be complete without a water filter. Carrying one during your hike enables you to top up on water whenever you find a water source, allowing you to filter water and make it potable. Believe me, bringing about five liters of water is still not enough for your Mt Whitney hike.
If you still don’t have a water filter, buy one and test it out weeks before your actual hike. It’s important to learn how to properly filter water before you hit the trails. This will give you peace of mind knowing that you can always have something to drink even if your water bottle and water bladder are empty on the way down.
Toilet Paper and an Extra Bag
Hiking to the peak of Mt Whitney will take you almost an entire day or a couple of days if you decide to camp, so expect that you’ll have to pee several times. With this in mind, don’t forget to include some extra toilet paper on your Mt Whitney packing list.
It’s also important to bring an extra bag as you’ll use it to store your used toilet paper. During hikes, I discourage everyone from throwing anything out in nature, especially toilet paper, just because it’s biodegradable.
Using hiking poles is optional, but I highly recommend it, especially when going downhill. Mt Whitney has granite sections, which can be very brutal to the knees and hiking poles can significantly help evenly distribute the weight, making it easier for you to navigate through the trail.
If you don’t have any experience using hiking poles and plan on using them on your hike to Mount Whitney, practice beforehand. Using hiking poles will take time to get used to, so practice weeks before.
Sunscreen is essential yet many still forget or exclude them from their Mt Whitney packing list. When you hike, you’ll be exposed to the sun for long periods — and hiking Mt Whitney means intense exposure to the sun for at least 12 hours. This can cause painful sunburns short term and can increase your risk of skin cancer long-term. Sunburns can also hasten the onset of skin damage.
Apply sunscreen at least one hour before you start your hike. This will allow your skin to absorb the product. If possible, bring a travel-size sunscreen and re-apply every two hours. Even waterproof sunscreen can come off whenever you sweat.
Bear canisters are a requirement when hiking in the Sierras, so make sure to bring one when you hike Mt. Whitney. As the name suggests, a bear canister minimizes your chances of negative bear encounter on the trail by securing food and other scented items from bears. It also protects your foods from rodents, raccoons, and other critters who are naturally attracted to human food.
Bear canisters come in different types, and determining the size you need can help you narrow down your options. Presently, bear canisters come in small, medium, and large sizes. Determine the amount and kind of food you’re planning to bring on your hike, so you can identify which bear canister is ideal for your needs.
Because most of the area in and around Mt Whitney is solid bedrock, you can’t easily dig a hole in the ground whenever nature calls. Additionally, there isn’t enough soil in the area to decompose the amount of human waste one would deposit. Thus, the United States Forest Service requires all hikers in Mt Whitney to bring a wag bag.
Wag bags have chemical crystals that gel human waste and render it inert. This allows you to properly dispose of your waste in a garbage can. In short, it provides a sanitary way to dispose of human waste when there is no running toilet available.
If you’re going to hike the Mt Whitney trail between the months of November to April, you’ll need to pack some snow gear with you, including an ice axe and crampons. During these times of the year, expect deep snow and very cold temperatures. But make sure to check local advisories, as the road to Whitney portal is usually closed when the snow gets worse.
The best time of the year to hike Mt Whitney is July through early October because it guarantees a clear trail with no snow. So if you want to save energy by bringing snow gear, I advise you to reschedule your hike during these months.
A sleeping bag, one that’s warm, should always be on top of your Mt Whitney gear list. Depending on your preferences, you can bring one that’s down or synthetic. A sleeping bag will make you feel warm and comfortable, especially during the night, as temperatures can reach up to -5F or -20 C.
Different people will set different requirements when it comes to sleeping bags, so I encourage you to take the time when you decide to buy one. Some people will still feel cold even with a -20 or -5 rated bag, while some can sleep soundly in a 45F bag.
It’s best to bring a sleeping pad that’s inflatable or made with foam. A good sleeping pad is essential for staying warm, especially if you want to hike during the cold season. Some trail runners will even bring a second pad in the winter because the added insulation keeps them warm at night.
Don’t have a sleeping pad yet? No worries, as you can rent one at any Recreational Equipment, Inc. or REI outlet. Renting is often a better option if you don’t want to invest in one yet or don’t know what type of sleeping pad to get.
First Aid Kit
You’ll never know what will happen during your hike, which is why it’s important to bring a first aid kit. Your first aid kit should have blister-specific bandages, like Mole skin and Compeed, bandaids, Advil, and Bacitracin. If you want a lightweight option for cleaning your teeth during your teeth, opt to add dental floss to your first aid kit.
Your first aid kit should also have antiseptic wipes, gauze pads in different sizes, medical tapes, insect sting treatment, non-stick pads, and butterfly bandages. Bringing safety pins and tweezers also helps.
Clothing is subjective here because what’s comfortable for you might not be comfortable for me, and vice versa. But here’s one thing I can advise you — avoid wearing anything that’s cotton because it’ll eventually feel sticky under the heat and increase your risk of hypothermia during the cold weather. This is the reason why experienced hikers have the expression, “cotton kills.”
Insulated pants are the best option when hiking as they’re waterproof, can wick moisture, and has increased breathability compared to other materials. Insulated pants also offer enhanced insulation, keeping you comfortable as the temperature drops.
You can also wear windbreaker pants as they allow you to move and protect you from heavy showers and cool winds. Never wear jeans when hiking as they restrict your movement and will feel very uncomfortable, especially when you start to sweat.
Gloves and Mittens
Your gloves and mittens will get wet during the day, so bring an extra pair for use in camp. Because gloves and mittens are light, you don’t have to worry about filling your entire bag as you bring several pairs.
There are obvious benefits to wearing gloves and mittens when hiking, so choose your favorite or take both. Just make sure that the gloves and mittens you’ll bring offer waterproofing.
To stay comfortable even during the harshest storms, bring a rain jacket. It’ll help prevent water from blowing into your clothes and keep you dry during storms. With a high-quality rain jacket, you’ll be able to continue the hike even if the weather suddenly changes.
The best rain jacket is one that’ll protect you from the elements, guarantees your comfort, and enable you to breathe well enough to not swamp you out.
Items For Tent and Cooking
If you intend to camp in Mt Whitney and spend the night enjoying the view from the top, you need to bring more items. These items are essential for you to get some shuteye and cook food. You’ll probably feel hungry the moment you reach the summit, so it pays to be prepared.
Ideally, it should be a 4-season tent as it can withstand powerful winds and substantial snow loads. These tents use more durable fabric and protect you from the elements. Most 4-season tents are built entirely mesh-free to trap some body heat and block out gusty winds. With these features, you’re sure to remain comfortable camping.
A tie-down cord is a must when you bring your tent because stakes alone will not work. You can use snow stakes if available, use ice axes or trekking poles, build deadman anchors, and others to secure your tent — but you’ll need loads of cord for this!
If this is your first time setting up a tent and you don’t know how to use a tie-down cord, do some research before the hike. Practice setting up your tent at home by using a tie-down cord. The weather might not be on your side when you camp on Mt Whitney, which is why it’s important to act fast when you’re already there.
You can either bring the fuel bottle type or canister type. Boiling water is important when camping as you’ll need it to cook food and have some hot drinks (coffee is a must!), so your backpacking stove will get plenty of use. Don’t forget to bring a lighter and a few boxes of matches, as well.
You’ll also need fuel for your stove. You should take plenty because melting snow requires a lot of fuel, and this will probably be your only source of water once you’re high in the camp.
This one’s a no-brainer; you need to bring food when camping in Mt Whitney. For breakfast, on the day of the hike, I suggest a breakfast that can be eaten fast. Not too filling as it might prevent you from moving around. For dinner, you can let your imagination run wild but make sure that it’s still light. Keep this in mind as the water boils at a lower temperature, meaning any food items that require boiling water will require more time and more fuel.
To save resources when camping, you can eat some high protein bars or prepare buttery dried mashed potatoes, summer sausage, cheese, couscous, or salami. You can also bring your favorite cup of ramen noodles and pour boiling water.
If you don’t want to prepare food on camp or have snacks in the middle of the hike, you can always bring ready-to-eat ones, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, and a small bag of Cheetos. My favorite snack to bring during a hike are fruits, such as apples and berries, as they help me rehydrate and are absolutely flavorful!
Sweet drink mixes are an excellent way of increasing your hydration. Gatoraid has been a favorite among many hikers because it’s convenient and comes in a variety of flavors, but it’s not your only option. There are better mixes, such as Endurox, Gookinaid, Accelerate, and many others. Make sure to check your options, so you can bring the best drink mixes when you camp on Mt Whitney.
Regardless if you’re an experienced or new hiker, never attempt to take on Mount Whitney without the necessary gear. All of your efforts to climb this mountain will go down the drain if you’re not well-equipped. Worse, you might even suffer from accidents and injuries if you climb unprepared. I don’t know about you, but these are things I would never want to happen when I hike.
Take note of the items I’ve mentioned here and prioritize packing them weeks before your actual hike to Mt Whitney. Trust me, your Mt Whitney hike will be one for the books when you bring all the essential right gear with you!