When the wind is whipping to record speeds, the temps are well into the negative numbers, and rime ice is binding up your backpack, you better make sure you have some pretty capable gear. Mount Washington is one of the most extreme environments not only in the Northeast, but on the planet. And the winter is when you’re likely to experience the mountain in all its ferocity. A winter climb of Mount Washington doesn’t just start with the right gear: Make sure you’re up to the task by understanding the skills and know-how you need to have to safely climb the mountain. And once you’re geared up, spend plenty of time studying the weather and current conditions up there to make sure you’re prepared. There are plenty of days on the mountain when even the most geared-up and experienced climbers shouldn’t be on the mountain. But once you know you’re ready to go, packing the right stuff and being prepared when you break above treeline on the Lion Head is not only going to keep you comfortable (or as comfortable as is possible in a place like that) and moving higher, but it could keep you alive. So make sure you have these critical pieces of gear before your next winter mountaineering mission on Mount Washington.


1. Oboz Bridger Insulated Mid B-Dry Boots

Start from the bottom and work your way up. Your feet are what’s going to propel you up the mountain, so make sure you have enough to keep them comfortable and working right. Waterproof boots (the Bridger’s use Oboz’s proprietary B-Dry membrane to lock out moisture and keep your feet from getting clammy) are essential while hiking in the snow, and a tough leather upper will protect your feet even more when you’re traversing the icy, windswept Alpine Garden. But they also won’t feel overly bulky or cumbersome during the hike up to treeline on the Lion Head. Round it our with the Oboz O Fit Insole® and you’re looking at having happy feet where the elements say you definitely shouldn’t. Size these boots a little larger than you might for the summer to accommodate warmer socks (see below).

2. Smartwool Mountaineer Extra Heavy Crew Socks

Size your boots to fit a little bit of extra insulation, in the form of some Mountaineer Extra Heavy Socks. The extra warmth will be appreciated, as will the padding when you’re carrying the extra weight of winter gear. Merino wool is essential, especially in the winter: It will wick moisture better than almost any material and, if it does get a little wet, won’t lose any of its ability to keep you warm, which is critical in such harsh conditions.

Traction is important on Mount Washington.

3. EMS Ice Talons

When the wind is whipping and the summit cone is covered in blue ice, you’re going to want to do everything you can to ensure you stay connected to the ground. The Ice Talons are just enough to keep you stable on lite-mountaineering missions like Mount Washington. Dozens of sharp points solidly dig into the ice and snow and the rubber straps work on just about any shoes or boots.

4. EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket

A big warm down puffy like the Feather Pack (men’s/women’s) might be all that’s between you and the cold wind above treeline. A generous amount of 800-fill goose down will trap your body heat without adding too much weight or volume to your pack on the hike up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. A DWR-nylon face fabric will take care of blowing snow and ice without the need for an additional shell (unless it’s really windy) and draft flaps, an adjustable hem, and the big adjustable hood will help trap even more heat. Layer it with a fleece or another active layer as well as a wool baselayer underneath.

5. EMS Pinnacle/Empress Softshell Pant

On your lower half, layer the Pinnacle/Empress Softshell Pants (men’s/women’s) over a wool base layer bottom for the ideal mixture of insulation, weatherproofing, and breathability. Softshell pants like the Pinnacles (which share a name with Mount Washington’s classic ice climb) are made from a stretchy, durable, water resistant fabric that sheds rain and snow without getting clammy on the hike up the hill.

Gearing up at the trailhead to Mount Washington.

6. Black Diamond Guide Gloves

You probably want to keep all your digits after this hike. Bring a big pair of gloves—and we mean big—like the Guide Gloves. You won’t sacrifice any dexterity but the Primaloft Insulation and boiled wool will keep your fingers warm. A waterproof membrane locks out snow and water, and a removable liner makes them easy to dry out on overnights and longer trips. Tough leather and foam padding in the knuckles means you won’t have any durability issues with the gloves, either.

7. EMS Trekking Poles

Again, be prepared for wind on one of the country’s windiest peaks. Trekking poles will help keep you stable when the breeze is pushing you here and there, and give you more points of contact with icy or slick ground. And for the hike back down, trekking poles will get your shoulder and arms into the action, taking load off your knees and feet. There are a ton of reasons to use trekking poles year round, but they’re especially useful in the wintertime.

Winter hiking is gear intensive, so don’t think of this as the complete list. On top of your typical summer hiking gear, you may need snowshoes (depending on where you’re headed), hand warmers, and additional safety and survival items like a bivy or headlamp.