Top to Bottom: Gear to Hike the NH 48

Looking back on some of our early hikes together in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the first thing that sticks out is how much time we spent agonizing over the “right” gear to bring. Always packing at the last minute, we both had many late nights where we considered what to bring and what to leave behind. Indeed, questions like what layers we would need and how much emergency gear is too much kept us up way past our earlier bedtime and often resulted in packs that were bigger and heavier than they should have been.

These days, with many 4,000-footers under our belts, our process is much more dialed. Our packs, as a result, are a lot lighter and smaller. So, what’s our ideal kit for summer hiking in the White Mountains?

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Upper Body Layers

A long-sleeve, hooded sun shirt, like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody, is the staple of our kit. It’s no warmer than wearing a short-sleeve T-shirt, with the added benefit of keeping the sun off your arms and head. The long sleeves and hood also serve a second purpose during bug season.

Then, for layering over the sun shirt, we pack three additional layers: a windshirt, a lightweight rain shell, and a puffy.

The most versatile layer, the windshirt easily handles the Whites’ ever-changing weather. From lightweight, ultra-packable nylon versions like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite to more substantial woven jackets, such as the Outdoor Research Ferossi (also available in women’s sizes), these jackets take up minimal space and are perfect for hiking above treeline or if the temperature drops.

As staying dry is one of hiking’s central tenets, a good waterproof hard shell is vital. However, much like windshirts, shells vary in weight and durability. While an ultra-lightweight option like the Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid might be perfect for when you’re wearing a small pack or the chance of rain is slight, a more robust option made with heavier-duty nylon and high-end waterproofing like the Marmot Minimalist Jacket (also available in women’s sizes) makes more sense if the forecast looks wet.

A lightweight puffy, like the Arc’Terxy Atom SL Hoodie (available in women’s sizes), is the final upper body layer. Whether you’re waiting while your hiking partner gears-up in the parking lot, taking in the White Mountains’ fantastic views, or facing a real emergency, a good puffy can be the difference between feeling cozy and being miserable.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lower Body Layers

When it comes to pants, we keep it pretty simple. A stretchy soft shell is our general go-to, but the exact weight depends on the forecast temperature. If only one pair is in the budget, check out the Marmot Scree—the perfect blend of comfort and durability. Plus, you can add a base layer underneath to adjust their warmth. With June being a fierce bug month, however, the one thing you won’t find us wearing is shorts.

If the weather looks wet, bring along a pair of rain pants, as well. Although the amount of time carrying rain pants far exceeds the time spent actually wearing them, we are always thankful to have them during a heavy rainstorm. Pick something like the EMS Thunderhead for the right amount of lightweight breathability, at a price that won’t break the bank.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Footwear & Trekking Poles

Picking the right footwear is one of the most complicated decisions for spring and early-summer hiking. On some trips, where encountering snow, deep mud, and wet trails is a real possibility, waterproof hiking boots are mandatory. As the snow melts, water crossings get less spicy, and the trails begin to dry, we transition to waterproof trail runners for their lighter weight and ability to provide some protection in muddy, wet conditions. And, as the trails dry further, you’ll find us wearing regular trail runners for the chance to let our feet breathe.

We also carry trekking poles to reduce the strain on our knees and improve balance. Warm-weather hikers will appreciate a pole with either cork or foam handles, like the Black Diamond Trail Pro, as they help absorb moisture from sweaty hands.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Hats & Gloves

With many of the White Mountains rising above treeline, the weather on your favorite summit can be starkly different from what you found in the parking lot. To prepare, we carry a winter hat, as having one can make the difference between enjoying a summit vista or scrambling back down to the trees.

For the same reasons, we also pack a pair of EMS Power Stretch Gloves. In the early spring, we often supplement them with a warmer set of gloves or mittens.

Finally, for sun and bug protection, the venerable trucker cap is a staple of almost every trip. With their mesh backs, truckers vent well, making them ideal for high-exertion activities.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Emergency Gear

When you pack for a day in the mountains, it’s fun to think about summits and good times. But, you should also take a minute to plan for the worst-case scenario. While packing the layers mentioned above checks off some of your essentials, and our guide helps you out with food and hydration, you still need a few more items.

A headlamp, like the powerful and rechargeable Black Diamond ReVolt, is important, just in case the hike is longer than expected. A lightweight bivy can be a lifesaver if someone gets injured and you need to wait for help. As well, a minimalist first aid kit, supplemented with other first aid supplies, helps address trail injuries. Additionally, fire starters, a water purification device like a Sawyer Mini-Filter or purification tablets, and a map and compass (or another navigational device) are all worth the extra weight.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Packs

Although this may seem like a lot of gear, it all fits neatly into a 20- to 30-liter pack. The Black Diamond Speed Series—especially the Speed 22—delivers the space you need in a lightweight, no-frills package. While it may be tempting to bring a larger bag, remember that you’ll end up filling that extra space, resulting in a heavier load, slower times, and maybe a missed summit.

 

Although not every item listed above is essential to hiking a New Hampshire 4,000-footer, having the right combination of layers, equipment, and emergency gear can make your experience safer and more enjoyable—not to mention more efficient. But, the best advice is to get outside and discover what works for you. If you have a key piece of hiking gear, tell us about it in the comments!


The Top 6 Summit Views in the New Hampshire 48

With almost 50 4,000-footers to choose from, picking out just a few with the best views can be as challenging as hiking them. No matter where you hike in the White Mountains, you’re in for a visual treat, but these six take the cake for the most impressive summit views. That is, if you can get up to them.

Easy Hikes

Looking towards Mt. Washington from Pierce. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking toward Mt. Washington from Pierce. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Pierce

If you are looking for a big view, with a minimal investment in “sweat” equity, try Mount Pierce. It delivers the best view-to-effort ratio among New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. Beginning from Route 302 in Crawford Notch, a little over three miles of hiking on the gentle (for the Whites) Crawford Path brings you to Mount Pierce’s stunning summit. With its almost 360-degree views, a lot can catch your eye. But, first, you’ll have to avert your gaze from the jaw-dropping perspective of Mount Washington’s southern aspect, the Ammonoosuc Ravine and the Cog Railway.

From Pierce’s summit, you can head back to Crawford Notch. Or, if you’re feeling fit, follow the Crawford Path for an additional 1.2 miles to Mount Eisenhower, another New Hampshire 4,000-footer with fantastic views. From Eisenhower, you can backtrack on Crawford Path or take the Edmands Path to Mount Clinton Road, and then road-walk back to Crawford Notch.

Franconia Ridge from Cannon. | Credit: Doug Martland
Franconia Ridge from Cannon. | Credit: Doug Martland

Cannon Mountain

Another moderate 4,000-footer with great views is Cannon Mountain. Located directly off Route 93, this 4.4-mile round-trip hike up the Hi-Cannon Trail gains approximately 2,000 feet on the way to one of the Whites’ best views.

Once you get to the top, climb the summit tower, and look east for a breathtaking vantage of the iconic Franconia Ridge. On a clear day, you can look past the ridge to see the Presidentials, including Mount Washington. To the south, you can see the Kinsmans and, to the west, the Connecticut River and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

On days when the tram is running, Cannon’s summit gets busy, however. Luckily, the Hi-Cannon Trail has a few great places to sit back and admire the view without the crowds along the way. Plus, you can poke around the summit’s Franconia Ridge side for slides offering solitude and stunning vistas.

 

Moderate Hikes

Franconia Ridge from Garfield. | Credit: Tim Peck
Franconia Ridge from Garfield. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Garfield

Most climb Garfield via the Garfield Trail, which starts at the Garfield Trail parking area off Gale River Loop Road. From the lot, it is five moderate miles to the foundation of an old fire tower on Garfield’s bald summit. From there, you can look out at the entire Pemi-Loop. Here, the distinct peaks of Franconia Ridge extend on your right and Twins and Bonds to your left. In the middle lies Owl’s Head and the eastern half of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. On clear days, don’t forget to look further east towards the Presidentials to find Mount Washington looming on the horizon.

If day-hiking 10 miles feels like too much effort, or if you like to linger, the Garfield Ridge campsite is only 0.2 miles from the summit. Stopping here makes this trip a little more accessible for those looking to step up the effort level or just wanting to take it slow.

Signal Ridge from Carrigan. | Credit: Tim Peck
Signal Ridge from Carrigain. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Carrigain

Another 10-mile out-and-back trip brings you to what many consider to the Whites’ best view, Mount Carrigain. Leaving from the parking lot on Sawyer Pond Road, off Route 302, hikers can follow the Signal Ridge Trail as it slowly gains altitude towards the 4,700-foot summit. As you approach, you’ll gain a ridge that meanders in and out of the trees. In between, a few spots give you a sneak peek of what’s to come. Forge past these appetizers to the main course, the observation tower on Carrigain’s summit.

From the tower, you’ll get an unimpeded view of many of the Whites’ most notable areas. To the northeast, you will see Mount Washington and the mighty Presidential Range with Crawford Notch laid out before it. To the west is a breathtaking view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Look back toward Signal Ridge to get a great look at the terrain you covered to earn this dramatic view.

Then, after taking in some of the Whites’ hottest vistas, cool off in the numerous pools and eddies found along the river that hugs the Signal Ridge Trail for the first mile.

 

Difficult Hikes

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Bondcliff

If you’re looking to truly “earn” your views, Bondcliff and Madison are strenuous yet rewarding options. Of all the 4,000-footers, Bondcliff might be the best at making you truly feel like you’re in the mountains. With views in every direction and a sheer cliff on one side, it exemplifies the ideal summit. Although none of the hiking up is particularly difficult, there is a lot of it.

From the Lincoln Woods Visitor Information Center, follow the Wilderness Trail to the Bondcliff Trail roughly nine miles to the summit. Standing on the cliff’s side can give you the feeling that you’re on the edge of the world—that is, until you look out. Look to the west to clearly see the eternity of Franconia Ridge. Then, turn your gaze to the right, where the Pemigewasset Wilderness unfolds with the prominent peaks of Mount Bond and West Bond in the foreground and Mount Garfield looming in the background. Turn away from the cliff, and the Pemigewasset Wilderness’ entire western half dominates the landscape.

Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Madison

For those willing to expend the effort, Mount Madison, located at the end of the Presidential Range, delivers big views after a heavy dose of hiking. While numerous trails lead to the summit, the most common, and perhaps “easiest” way, is to leave from the Appalachia Trailhead parking lot on Route 2. Then, follow the Valley Way Trail to the Madison Hut, before connecting with the Gulfside Trail for just under a half-mile above-treeline push to the top. Despite being under eight miles round trip, this route is rocky, rugged, and gains roughly 3,500 feet in elevation.

The summit delivers a dramatic view of the northern Presidentials and the three tallest 4,000-footers: Mount Jefferson, Mount Adams, and Mount Washington. From here, what’s always striking is the expansiveness and remoteness of the Great Gulf Wilderness—a glacial cirque walled off by the Presidentials’ prominent peaks.

If Mount Adams looks enticingly close, that’s because it is. At a little under a mile and a half away, tagging a second summit is very doable for fit and motivated hikers. For even more of a challenge, the Star Lake Trail, which leaves from Madison Hut, has much better views than Air Line, the normal thruway, and is among our favorite trails in the Whites. Farther down, the AMC’s Madison Hut can turn this long day hike into an enjoyable overnight, or provide the perfect place to stage a summit attempt on Mount Adams.

Honorable Mention

Limiting ourselves to the six “best” summit views forced us to leave several great 4,000-footers off our list. Fantastic cases can be made for others, including Moosilauke, Washington, and Franconia Ridge’s Lincoln and Lafayette. So, whether you agree with us or not, make your case for the Whites’ best views in the comments below.