Mt Whitney/Affordable Hiking Gear

1/3 of the way up Mt Whitney (7am)

Truth-be-told, I never really thought about hiking Mt Whitney until we heard back from the registration lottery that we had a secured a pass.  Then there I was, about a month out from our confirmed date (June 16th), in a state of gear and shape that would (and is) not recommended for successfully climbing the highest summit in the contiguous United States. The longest hike I had under my recent belt was 6 miles. I didn’t have hiking boots, a backpack, poles, or any of the gear and endurance needed to hike 22 miles total and reach an elevation of 14,508 feet.

The first step (literally) was to train. Simply, we hiked, and starting with a local 8 miler we increased the mileage and altitude every weekend. Our second hike was another local 12 miler. Then we checked off real day hikes (Mt Baldy, 12 miles and 10,000 ft elevation) and lastly Mt Gorgonio (20 miles, 11,000 ft elevation). Granted, we had no idea how our bodies would feel over 12,000 feet (typically when altitude strikes with ailments) but we trained what we could control.

All of this, impressively, with only about 15% of the gear we would actually take to Whitney. We had purchased hiking boots early on to break them in, but the school-sized backpacks needed an upgrade. Since most people hiking Mt Whitney in a day spend 14+ hours on the mountain (the average for amateur hikers sans altitude sickness being 16 hours) there is a lot of necessary gear needed for survival. And coming from someone who hiked Gorgonio with two water bottles and a book bag, I'll be the first to admit that the cost and length of this list will make even the most eager and curious outdoor patron cringe and possibly turn on their heels with hands in the air (as I did several times). In addition, there are dozens of even more recommended items that come from blogs, websites, and stores that can further the tizzy: What do I need? How much? Which one? What size? What kind? How Many? Why?

Luckily, there are a number of local and nationwide resources that aim to make getting off (ok, WAY off) the couch as easy as possible. This means that if I can go from six miles to twenty-two, and a Volcom backpack to a day-pack equipped with gear, so can you. Unlike climbing Mt Whitney, which requires training and a strong will, you can easily secure what you need to try hiking this summer without breaking the bank (or cluttering your closet).

Day pack (30L, +/- 10L)
Hydration system (think camel-back or something like that of 3L)
Water filter
Hiking poles (these can be the difference of making it to the top…or not)
Hiking boots, socks, pants, sun glasses, headlamp, gloves, light outer-layers, dryfit shirts and undergarments
Sunblock, bug spray, iodine tablets, advil

There are some items you must buy. Boots and clothes, accessories, and non-reusable items like sunblock are final purchases. The best way to get these pieces is to shop clearance and sale in local stores so you can try things on for correct fit:

REI (nation-wide)
Adventure 16 (Southern CA)

Other items, such as water filters, hydration systems, backpacks, and hiking poles can often be rented. While local retail stores (above) offer rentals, there several online rental stores that ship nationwide for a minimal cost and an overall total that is a fraction of what it would cost to actually buy such items:

Order items for a duration of time (3 days to one month). Pay for shipping and length of rental – ships anywhere in the U.S. Owner Dallas Shewmaker is an avid outdoorsman who started for the exact reason we use it – why buy for a  one-off hike or camp when you can rent? User-friendly and full of advice, Dallas and his team are the epitome of customer service and care.

Sample price: (hiking poles) = $33/MONTH (retail price is over $33 EACH)

Combo store (retail and rental) you can buy your non-refundables and rent items like poles all in one stop.  Also hosts monthly events by experienced trekking employees  to discuss anything from topography to weather to gear.

Sample price: (hiking poles) = $5/first night and $2/every night after (must pick up and return to store)

I ended up borrowing a backpack and filter from friends, renting poles, and buying everything else. I probably spent a total of $180 on gear and clothes, which would have been closer to $300+ if I had actually bought everything I needed.  And yes, we made it to the summit of Mt Whitney – and you can too (or any of the sister mountains) without spending too much out-of-pocket.

Mt Whitney Summit

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