Always Be Prepared

In the White Mountains, weather is notorious for changing quickly and dramatically. We have a saying around here "If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes". Mount Washington, at the heart of the Whites, is home to some of the worst weather in the world. The best way to keep dangerous situations from occurring and to have the most enjoyable experience in the mountains is to be prepared.

Brown University student Ryan Mason recently conducted a study to measure the preparedness of hikers in the White Mountains. Mason gauged preparedness based on how many of the HikeSafe's 10 essentials hikers were carrying as they set out. Out of nearly 200 hikers that were interviewed, Mason found that only 18% were hiking with all 10 essentials. 60% of hikers were hiking with less than 8 out of the 10 essential items- which means that the majority of hikers starting a hike that day were under prepared. This is an unsettling statistic not only for hikers in the Whites, but also for local Search and Rescue volunteers who expend personal time and resources to help hikers who often are simply unprepared.

For your safety and the safety of others, check your pack for the 10 essentials:

Map: A good map is critical for planning a trip route and for finding an alternative route in case of an emergency.
Compass: A compass is crucial for orienting your map and navigating your route. A compass is especially handy if you stray off trail and need to find yourself on a map.
Warm Clothing: Always dress like an onion- in layers! Layers are important for adjusting temperature on the move. Remember to wear synthetic clothing, as it will dry out faster. A hot, gloves, long pants, and a fleece or sweater are always a good idea in the high summits of the Whites.
Extra Food and Water: Remember to pack enough food and water for the day, plus a little more in case of an emergency. Carry at least 2 liters of water with you, and try to refill halfway through the day.
Headlamp: Always bring a light source when you hike- even on a day hike! You could always end up hiking later than you planned, and night-vision is not as reliable as a decent flashlight or headlamp.
Firestarter: Waterproof matches are a dependable firestarter option, as are lighters. Please only use fires as a last resort, and be familiar with the Leave No Trace guidelines for fires (check 'em out
First Aid Kit: A great idea is to have a first aid kit that lives in your pack. Keep it well-stocked with bandages, mole skin, alcohol wipes, basic medications, medical tape, tweezers, etc.
Whistle: A whistle will last longer and be louder than your voice. In case of an emergency, this could be your key to being found.
Rain/Wind Layer: Especially in the high summits of the Whites, wind or rain protection is essential for staying warm and dry. Make sure to bring layers that will fit warm clothes underneath.
Pocket Knife: A pocket knife will come in handy for everything from first aid to making lunch. Don't forget it!

Out of these 10 items, the three most commonly left-behind items are whistle, compass, and firestarter. Although modern technology might seem like the panacea for all forgotten items, remember that your iPhone cannot start a fire. Furthermore, GPS-enabled cell phones often don't have service in the Whites. Sometimes it pays to go old-school. To learn more about the 10 essentials and the HikeSafe program, visit their website at

In addition to bringing the right gear, hikers should check the weather before going out. For the most recent weather forecast, check out the Mt. Washington Observatory website at

 weather panel; see home or weather pages for text display

Hikers should also make sure to leave their hiking itinerary including start time, route for the day with alternative routes in case of bad weather and end time with someone before going out. A great way to do this is to check in at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center or at the Highland Center in Crawford Notch, where there are hiker sign-in books. These are also great places to check the latest trail and weather information as well as purchase last minute essential equipment for your hike. You can also call (603) 466-2721 for updated backcountry information. 

If you're interested in reading more about Ryan Mason's study, check it out at

Happy Hiking!
Abby C.
Backcountry Information Specialist
Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
(603) 466-2721

Cited: Orenstein, David. "White Mountain Hikers Often Unprepared." Brown University, 27 May 2013. Web. 30 July 2013.

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