Planning to hike the White Mountains? Take these 15 items with you

Planning to hike the White Mountains? Take these 15 items with you

A dog hikes in New Hampshire. Courtesy of Alaina Savage

By Katy Savage

November 28, 2023

Every year thousands of hikers flock to New Hampshire to take on the enchanting White Mountains, and every year the state offers the same important precautions: These steep landscapes come with inherent risks, even for the most experienced adventurers.

The weather conditions in the White Mountains are some of the most extreme and unpredictable on the planet. One of Mount Washington’s claims to fame is a wind gust that reached 231 miles per hour on April 12, 1934 — making it the fastest surface wind ever measured in the Northern and Western Hemispheres.

Weather at the 6,288-foot summit of Mount Washington can be drastically different from weather at the base.

Major David Walsh, the assistant chief of law enforcement at New Hampshire Fish and Game, said the biggest problem hikers run into is not checking the weather before hiking. 

“They have to realize tomorrow’s another day and that mountain will be there,” he said. 

Hiker safety has become a more apparent issue in the past couple years, with the rise of post-Covid revenge travel.  

“They just ignore the weather,” Walsh said. “They just underestimate the wind in the White Mountains. They really just need to pay attention to the forecast, don’t underestimate the mountains. and just have that self control to turn around.”

New Hampshire Fish and Game saw 24 search missions ending in fatalities in 2021, 22 in 2020, and 20 in 2019, including hiking accidents, drownings and suicides, Walsh said. Statewide, there were a total of 183 search and rescue operations last year, with 80 occurring in the White Mountains alone.

Walsh said the most common hiking injuries happen on the descent.

“People are more fatigued and they start down and get those lower leg injuries,” he said.

In the winter, frostbite and hyperthermia are common concerns. 

Hikers should also beware cell phone service is limited or nonexistent and is not a reliable source for communication or illumination. 

 “People think, ‘we’re going higher up, we’re going to get cell service, and that’s not always like the case,” said Ron Arsenault, a law enforcement officer at  New Hampshire Fish and Game. 

Before heading out, the Fish and Game department recommends packing these 15 essentials with you: 

Shoes with Traction

This is a must for hiking in the White Mountains. Wear microspikes for lower elevation excursions. 

Snowshoes and Crampons

Snowshoes are a minimum for winter hiking in the mountains and crampons are non negotiable for those going above the treeline.

A Navigation Tool

A map and compass or a GPS device is essential for hiking. 


A headlamp is a crucial hiking accessory, ensuring visibility during shorter daylight hours. 


Though it’s winter, the sun’s rays can still be intense, especially when reflecting off the snow. Sunscreen protects exposed skin from harmful UV rays and prevents sunburn, an often overlooked aspect of winter hiking.

First Aid Kit

A must for any hiking excursion, your kitt should include bandages, pain relievers, blister treatment, and any personal medications. 

Fire Starter

In cold conditions, having waterproof matches or a firestarter tool can provide warmth in emergencies and is useful for melting snow for drinking water.


A lightweight and compact emergency shelter, like a space blanket or a bivy sack, provides crucial protection in case of unexpected weather changes or emergencies.


Carrying high-energy, non-perishable snacks and meals is vital for maintaining energy levels during winter hikes. Nutrient-dense options help keep the body warm and fueled.


Staying hydrated is as important in winter as it is in summer. Insulated water bottles help prevent water from freezing, ensuring a steady supply throughout the hike.

Rain Gear

Waterproof and breathable rain gear, including a jacket and pants, protects against rain and snow, keeping the hiker dry and comfortable.


A multi-tool or a sturdy knife is a versatile tool for various tasks, from gear repairs to food preparation.

Extra Warm Clothing

Layering is key in winter. Wear insulated jackets and thermal layers, providing flexibility to adapt to changing temperatures.

Balaclava or Facemask

Protecting the face from cold winds is crucial. A balaclava or facemask shields exposed skin from freezing temperatures, enhancing comfort in harsh conditions.


Overmitts are insulated, waterproof mittens worn over regular gloves, providing additional protection against cold and wet conditions. They are particularly effective in maintaining hand warmth during winter hikes.

Hikers should check the forecasts at the base and summit before venturing out.

Hikers can also purchase a Hike Safe card at This card provides protection against liability for associated rescue costs in case of assistance needs.  

Those looking for a winter hiking adventure are urged to connect with a guide. The Appalachian Mountain Club has locations at AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch and the Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch.  Redline Guiding in Intervale also offers guided expeditions as does 



  • Katy Savage

    Katy Savage is an award-winning reporter with more than 10 years of experience working in daily, weekly and digital news organizations as both an editor and reporter. Katy is a New England native and has a passion for telling stories about where she grew up.

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