sunrise-over-mountains sunrise-over-mountains_mobile

Beginners Guide to Hiking a 14er

Beginners Guide to Hiking a 14er


a young man getting ready to hike

A Beginners Guide to Hiking a 14er

Get Ready to Hike Your First Colorado 14er With These Tips

Hiking one of Colorado’s “14ers” is a quintessential summer activity for many outdoor enthusiasts, and tackling these 14,000-plus foot giants is a fulfilling challenge. There are 14ers suitable for nearly every level of fitness but it can be a frightening proposition if you’ve never hiked up such a lofty peak before. Here’s what you need to know, and do, to get the most out of hiking your first 14er.

Start training early

Bagging your first 14er will be much easier and more enjoyable if you have a base level of fitness. Spend some time hitting easier trails to get your lungs and legs ready for the challenge. Your body may have trouble adjusting to the high altitudes of a 14er, but you can make things easier on your body by training beforehand. If you don’t have any trails nearby, any cardio or strength training is better than sitting idly!

Choose an "easy" 14er for your first peak

Each of Colorado’s 54 mountain peaks above 14,000 feet is graded based on how difficult it is to make the ascent., the go-to website for everything 14er-related, has grouped each of the state’s peaks according to difficulty, making it easy for you to choose a mountain to climb. Long’s Peak and Pikes Peak may be two of the state’s most well-known peaks, but they definitely aren’t recommended for beginners (especially Long’s—it can be a dangerous climb). Mt. Bierstadt is one of the easier options due to its length, relatively gentle elevation gain, and even it’s proximity to the Denver-metro area. You’ll see people of all ages and abilities tackling this peak on any given morning during the weekend, including families with children. Mt. Elbert is also widely considered to be one of the easier peaks, but the distance can be intimidating: it’s 9 miles round trip compared to Bierstadt’s 7 miles.

Get an early start when hiking a 14er

In the mountains, afternoon storms in the summer are almost inevitable, and you want to be off of the mountain before any storms roll in. Having to weather a lightning storm at 14,000 feet above sea level while surrounded by rocks isn’t something any hiker wants to experience. The general rule is that you need to be coming off of the summit by noon at the absolute latest. Using Bierstadt as an example, most hikers would want to begin by 9 a.m. at the absolute latest. However, getting an earlier start lets you miss much of the crowding, and many hikers will begin their climbs as the sun is rising.

Pack plenty of food and water

Altitude sickness can hit you at any time when you’re hiking a 14er, but you can mitigate many of the effects by staying properly fed and hydrated. Bring more water and snacks than you think you’ll need, and don’t hesitate to take breaks to chow down. You’ll be burning a lot of calories during your uphill trek, so nourishing your body is extremely important.

How to dress for hiking a 14er

When you’re tackling the easier 14ers in Colorado, dress like you would for any other hike: avoid cotton, wear lots of layers, use a dependable daypack, and always bring a rain jacket. If you’re getting an early morning start, a hat and gloves could also be helpful, as it gets quite chilly throughout the night and early mornings at these elevations. When it comes to footwear, let your preferences lead the way. Many hikers hit the trails with basic trail running shoes or sneakers, while others prefer the support of hiking boots that cover the ankles. There’s no right or wrong choice, just wear what makes you comfortable as long as they cover your toes and are durable.

Other helpful gear for climbing a 14er

If you’re getting an alpine start and will begin your trek in the dark a headlamp is another useful tool. Trekking poles can also come in handy, especially when you’re coming back down from the summit. And, don’t forget the sunscreen and first aid kit. You don’t need a ton of gear for hiking your first 14er, but remembering to bring these basics will make for a far more enjoyable journey.