12 Tips for Climbing Your First Mountain

Are you about to climb(summit) your first mountain?

Well you’re in for an adventure of a life time.  

The views from the top are breathtaking (pun intended.)

Mount Elbert was my first mountain. I remember before the hike I was online looking for tips and tricks. Before I knew it, I found myself in a downward spiral reading into an irrational fear of altitude sickness.

You too?

So, I’ll let you in on a little secret. 

Long story short, I got the top of the mountain just fine. Without altitude sickness. However, when I made it to the top,  I was fried to a crisp and absolutely exhausted.

Still super happy I made it.

But at that time, I might have paid more than I’d like to admit for some aloe-vera and a snickers bar. I didn’t realize was how valuable those little things like sunscreen, and extra snacks would have been. 

Since then I’ve learned from those mistakes and summited other mountains with ease.

So from my personal experience and those of other mountaineers, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to help you avoid those simple mistakes and make your climb to the top a worry-free epic-success. 

You got this.

Tip #1 Make a game Plan (DON’T SKIP THIS STEP)

Plan out your whole day before the hike, as well as the day of your summit.

Why?

Safety. 

Make your plan in great detail. It should include times and location for every hour of your day.  Plan out meal times, the time you start your climb, and times for checking in with someone not on the climb. 

More important than creating a plan, is sharing that plan with someone who’s not going. That way if you get lost or injured a rescue team can quickly follow your footsteps and track you down.

For the part of the plan where you plan on checking-in with someone, make sure you actually tell that person when you’ll when be checking-in. Let them know if you miss your check-in time by 3 hours to send help.

I’d encourage you to write down that time on your hand in permanent marker so you don’t forget. 

I know it may seem a little extreme, but all it takes is a slip and fall to break a leg and be stuck in area without cell service.  

I don’t want to scare you. I’m sure you’ll do great and things will go off without a hitch. But, safety is very important and no compromises should be made when making a plan. 

nuts for trail mix

Tip #2 Bring More Snacks than you think

Climbing a mountain can be physically draining.

At high altitudes, your body is consuming more calories than if it were at sea level.

So bring plenty of healthy trail food that is high in calories, carbs, and proteins.

I brought a one pound bag a of jerky, trail mix, peanut m&ms, and protein bar and that wasn’t enough for a 10 hour climb. 

Try to bring an actual meal like and MRE or Moutain House meal.

Tip #3 Wear lots of sunscreen

Sunny or not, puts the lotion on the skin. Trust me on this one. I was shedding like a reptile for the following week because I failed to put on sunscreen. Worst sunburn I’ve ever had in my life.

It wasn’t even sunny outside! 

Turns out, that at higher elevations there is less of an atmosphere to protect you from the sun. So choose a high SPF sunscreen that is sweat proof. I’d recommend applying a second coat when you stop to take a break.

Tip #4 Pack smart and pack lightly

For my first climb, a friend and I brought one big backpack and one small hydration pack.

A pack is essential because you’ll need a place to stow extra layers, food, first aid kit, and water.

The two pack method was an accidental discovery(one big pack & one small pack.)

As we trekked up the mountain we found out that we could switch packs when one of us were getting tired.

Light or heavy pack, you will get tired.

It sounds silly I know, but we were able to keep moving without always having to stop for a break and it built a better culture of teamwork. 

You could bring two medium size packs, but if you get tired(which you will) it will be harder to have your buddy carry two separate packs and twice the weight. 

By packing smart I mean avoid packing inessentials.

Don’t bring a full mess kit if your hike is a one day climb. Don’t pack a tent if your not staying overnight.

Its important to prepare for the worst, but if you plan accordingly you shouldn’t have to worry about using those items.

So just bring what you need. 

They heaviest thing in your pack will be water. I ditched a hard water bottle for the disposable plastic bottles because they were light-weight. 

Dedicate some space in your pack for food.

A MRE(Meal Ready To Eat) is really nice to have on hand. All you need is water and they heat up on there own. They come everything you’ll need as well. Things like eating utensils and napkins. MREs usually have a lot of calories and are very filling but it can be a little heavier.

A lighter option is one of the Mountain House meals. They taste much better, but its less calories and usually requires hot water. Hot water can easily be made if you have a compact pocket stove and a metal canteen. Just remember to pack a spork.

Cliff bars, jerky, and other trail food should also be included in the pack.

A small first aid kit with Excedrin or some type of headache relief is important. Your first aid kit should also have something for blisters and basic bandages. The kit I linked above is nice because it has everything you’ll need and its water-proof .

Some other things to toss in the pack is a lighter, portable charger for the phone, and extra wool socks.

winter hiking tips

Tip #5 Wear layers

The day started off at 28 degrees Fahrenheit. At the top of the mountain it was about 50 and on the trail, it was about 75.

So multiple layers were crucial to staying comfortable.

For most conditions, 3  layers is more than enough.

A base layer should be some type on polyester blend long-john or underwear and thick wool socks.

The next layer should be pants for hiking, a light long sleeve button up shirt. Adding a fleece or a lighter sweater wouldn’t be a bad idea to have on hand just in case.

Finally the outer layer should be an insulated jacket for cold weather.

Having a winter hat is also something you should include in your pack.

A bonus tip is to make sure outer-layer is a bright-contrasting color and also waterproof.

Tip #6 Wear proper footwear

In most cases, you’ll scale different terrain on a mountain climb. From wet muddy root-covered forest paths, to wide-open desolate boulder fields. Being equipped with a decent set of hiking boots can make or break a trip.

What you’ll find in a good set of boots is ankle support, breath-ability, and water resistance. 

*Pro Tip: Don’t buy your boots the day before the trip. Make sure they fit well with & without and extra layer of socks. Break your boots in before hand as well. I made a habit to where my boots anytime I went fishing or took the dog out for a walk a couple months prior to the climb. Wearing fresh boots on a hike is a great recipe for painful blisters.

Tip #7 Bring plenty of water 

Just like the snacks, bring more than you think you’ll need. A hydration pack is a good way to carry water. Another way to carry water is having a canteen or bottle.

I’d also toss some extra cheap plastic water bottles in your pack.

Having a Gatorade or electrolyte mix will really help push you through the some fatigues along the way.

Tip #8 Take breaks on your hike.

Unless your a very experienced hiker, take a break every hour.

Be wise with your breaks.

Tie your shoes, adjust your packs, re-hydrate, eat snacks, and shed a layer of clothing if you’re sweating.

When you get above the tree line oxygen will start to thin out. Taking more breaks will either be forced or more frequent and that’s perfectly normal.

If you need some an extra help with catching your breath on the mountain there’s a product made just for you.

trekking poles to maintain grip

Tip #9 Walking sticks aren’t a bad idea

Walking sticks are great for support and when used right they can help relieve some stress from your legs. A good set of sticks can also prevent slips and falls.

They can be used to help pull yourself up steps and clear brush or spider webs.

If you encounter a mountain lion, walking sticks might also helpful there too. 🙂

Tip #10 Be in shape.

I got some great news for you.

You don’t need to be a triathlon athlete to climb a mountain.

However, its literally no walk in the park.

Stamina, leg strength, and core strength is really what you need. Alot of mountains have ranked online to indicate there difficulty. If your first mountain is marked as either a beginner, or an easy trail(which it should be.) Being able to run two miles, at the least, should put you in a good position to make it to the top.

If your not quite there then take some time to train ahead of time. Just like planning out your trip, your physical fitness should not be overlooked.

Be responsible and plan accordingly.

Tip # 11 Bring a friend or try to stick with other hikers 

Bringing a friend is not only great for motivation, but also for safety.

The ol’ Buddy system.

Having someone there to contact help if you can’t can be life changing.

As I mentioned before, having friends on the trail is also great for helping share the load of equipment you’ll be taking on your adventure.

One last thing, when you get to the top of the mountain you’ll have someone to appreciate the views with and take that iconic “I just summited my first mountain” photo!

Tip #12 Start early

Like really early.

Check online when the average person starts and try to get there an hour ahead of time.

Couple of things as to why should be early.

One, you don’t want to be stuck hurrying to get down the mountain at night.

Two, if you start late you’ll be battling your way through people going down the mountain as you’re going up it.

Three, you’ll want a good parking spot. Most trail-heads don’t have Walmart size parking lots, so getting there early will ensure you get a spot.

In conclusion, have fun and enjoy the views.

Don’t worry to much.

I’m sure you’ll do just fine.

Just know that worst case scenario, if you cant make it to the top, you can always turn back and try again later when the time is right.

There is absolutely no shame in not making it to the top. The goal shouldn’t be making it to the top of the mountain, it should be about experiencing something new and having fun.

So make that your goal.

Good luck!