Hut Trips 101 - Information About What To Expect on a Hut Trip
After hiking to a number of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association huts, I've put together some information that may help a beginner heading out. Before I say more, I should state that this is my list of gear to bring and my advice - take it as just that! This is, by no means, a definitive guide to everything about huts, just my take on it. As the saying goes, "Your mileage may vary!"
An additional caveat: I should mention that I'm a big believer in the Boy Scout motto "Always be prepared"...I tend to bring gear to be prepared for any situation. It's come in handy plenty of times, but if you've got a large group, you may be able to shed some pack weight if you've got someone like me in the group.
What you Should Know
The 10th Mountain Division Huts are all very well stocked with consumables such as toilet paper, paper towels, firewood, matches, paper for starting fires, and (obviously) snow for drinking water. They all have mattress pads and pillows, leaving you only to need your sleeping bag and perhaps a pillow case. With the wood burning stoves and good insulation, the interior of the huts can get quite toasty at night, so the sleeping bag does not necessarily need to be a winter rated sleeping bag.
Each hut has an outhouse, typically a few feet from the hut itself. This may seem obvious (and signs in the hut advise you of this) but it is imperative that the outhouse is used, and not a nearby tree... remember that your drinking water comes from the snow around the hut, so it's best not to contaminate it! That said, you have no guarantee that an animal may not have had similar ideas, so it's a good idea to filter (with a standard backpacking filter) or boil the snow melt before drinking it. The huts have good instructions posted on how you should wash dishes (using a small amount of bleach -provided at the hut - to kill any bacteria in the water).
Each hut has a central wood burning stove for heat, as well as an additional wood burning stove/oven that can be used for cooking. The temperature of the oven is tough to control, so I wouldn't recommend serious baking, but searing meat or toasting bread is easy enough. There are also at least two propane burners which are much easier to control. The kitchen comes fully stocked with plates, silverware, pots and pans.
Each hut has a variety of board games and books to read, so if you need some downtime from playing outside, there's plenty to do inside. A solar panel provides enough electricity for minimal lighting within the hut (typically in the kitchen and dining area) and small tea light candles are stocked at the hut as well. A headlamp is strongly recommended, as lighting varies hut to hut, and a few snowy days in a row would prevent the battery from recharging.
People who are new to the huts are often pleasantly surprised when they arrive at one (partially because the hike in is so brutal...). The huts are very nice and well maintained, offering a nice comfortable respite from the coldness outside. They are not nearly as rustic as one might expect a cabin off the grid to be.
What you should bring if you're snowshoeing
- If you're snowshoeing...
- Waterproof hiking boots
- If your hiking boots aren't waterproof, you should still be okay but your boots may be soaked through by the time you reach the trail. Wear two pairs of socks - polypropelene liners and wool outer socks to keep the moisture from causing blisters and making your feet too cold.
- Since you can't anticipate when you'll be breaking trail, these are almost a must if you're snowshoeing. If you're skiing, ensure you've got ski pants with sufficient powder cuffs.
What you should bring if you're skiing
- If you're skiing...
- Ski boots (duh...)
- Skins (if you're on skis)
- The trails to these huts require more traction than basic wax can offer. If you don't have skins for your skis, consider snowshoeing instead.
- Avalanche Safety Gear: Beacon/shovel/probe
- This gear is not necessary if you stick to the main trail in and out of the hut, but if you're planning to explore around the hut to get some turns in, be safe. But you knew that already...
What you should bring...regardless of your floatation
- Hiking/Skiing Poles
- If you're snowshoeing or skiing, poles help greatly with stability. Standard ski poles work fine.
- Backpacking Backpack
- you'll need a pack with good support and enough room to carry a sleeping bag, food, and any gear you bring. A hefty day pack may suffice, but it could be pretty tight
- Sleeping Bag
- a good quality, light sleeping bag. Odds are, the hut will be pretty toasty with its wood burning stove, but through the night the temperature does drop. A good summer sleeping bag is probably sufficient.
- Camera and spare batteries
- Day pack
- if you're going for multiple days, you may wish to get out and explore. Your large backpack isn't well suited to a day hike, so a lightweight small capacity day pack is a good thing to bring. You can find decent packs that weigh less than a pound at places like REI. (I recommend GoLite)
- Water bladder (Camelbak)
Camelbaks (or the equivalent) are great because they allow you to sip water along the trail to stay hydrated. If you have to stop to drink from a water bottle, you're less likely to drink as much.
There are a few things you can do to keep the tube from freezing: use warm water and blow the water back into the bladder (and out of the tube) after each sip. If the tube/bite valve do freeze on you, pulling it into your jacket will often thaw it out. Once you can get water flowing again, the warm water will help to melt any remaining ice in the tube. Insulated tubes can help, but they too will freeze - the above tricks still apply.
- toothbrush, toothpaste, ear plugs (in case there are snorers in the group)
- Empty water bottle
- if you've got a Camelbak, you don't need to fill a water bottle for the trail. At the hut, however, drinking water from a Camelbak is a bit of a challenge. Having a wide-mouthed (i.e. Nalgeen) water bottle makes pumping water (most water pumps are designed to fit easily on a Nalgeen bottle) and drinking water much easier.
- Between the Colorado sunshine and the reflectivity of the snow, sunglasses are a VERY good idea to protect your eyes
- protect your scalp from the sun
- the hut has solar-powered electric lights to illuminate the cooking and dining areas, but there are plenty of dark spots in the hut, and the trip to the outhouse is made much easier with a headlamp.
- Map and compass
- This is critical. Unlike in the summer when a trail is easy to follow, a snow storm could bury the trail completely, leaving you to navigate hopefully by the blue diamonds marking the trail, or by orienteering.
- It's Colorado: you're at a high altitude and the snow is reflecting all that sunlight. Wear sunscreen.
- Glasses/Contacts and cases
- May seem obvious, but I put the obvious things on my checklist so I don't forget them!
- Water filter
- at the hut, snow is melted in a large pot for water, but filtering it prior to drinking is a good idea. Not everyone at the hut needs a filter - usually two or three is enough
The name of the game for hut trips (and backpacking) is weight. You want to minimize what you carry as much as you can. Clothing is an easy place to shave this weight. You want to carry only what you need - keeping in mind that, in Colorado, the weather can change instantly. 5 changes of clothes is probably unnecessary - no one else in the hut will mind that you wear the same thing for three days!
The word of choice for Colorado hiking is layers. Bulky coats and clothing is a waste of weight and space. Instead, it's better to pack a light weight coat, with multiple thin layers underneath that you can add or shed throughout the day as temperatures rise or drop. Cotton should be avoided at all costs - once it gets wet, it loses all of its insulation properties, plus it takes forever to dry. Polypropylene, on the other hand, will stay warm after it is wet, dries quickly, and wicks moisture away from your skin.
I do typically spoil myself a little for the trip - I hike in all polypropylene layers, but I tend to bring a cotton shirt for the hut itself. Cotton is still more comfortable lounge around in!
- Down Booties
- down slippers with a foam sole - these make relaxing inside comfy, and you can walk to the outhouse in them too
- Thin base layer shirt (long underwear top)
- Mid-weight layer shirt
- Thick layer shirt
- Long underwear or fleece pants (I bring both, and tend to lounge in the fleece)
- Wool socks - 2 pairs
- Silk/polypropylene liner socks - 2 pair
- If your feet tend to blister, wearing liner socks should help considerably.
- Underwear (again - avoid cotton if you can)
A common mistake I've seen people do is to bring as much warm weather gear as they'd take skiing with them. Unfortunately, when you're working as hard as you are hiking or skiing uphill, you tend to stay warm all on your own without heavy winter coats. Ski gear tends to breath poorly and be quite bulky, making it uncomfortable on the trail and difficult to stuff into a pack. A better option, if you have the gear, is to bring more layers and use soft-shell outer layers. The soft shell (typically a fleece-like material that's water resistant) will allow your body to breath more effectively and should keep moisture from soaking you. Of course, the downside here is that the soft shell outer layers are not nearly as warm, but as long as you stay moving, that shouldn't be a problem.
- Soft shell jacket
- Soft shell pants
- if you don't own soft shell pants, my second choice are waterproof and breathable (i.e. not rubber or plastic) rain pants. It's unlikely that you'll need any insulation on your legs...they'll be plenty warm. My third choice is either ski pants or just tights/fleece.
- Lightweight down jacket [optional]
- A soft shell is perfect for the trail, but as soon as you stop moving you quickly lose heat. On a sunny day this isn't an issue - but on a cold snowy day it can be uncomfortable. I picked up a super lightweight, highly compressible down jacket from GoLite a year ago and I love having it on hut trips. It weighs less than a pound and I can easily cram it in my pack (these coats are designed to be packed - I'm not talking about a ski parka or the coat that George Costanza had in Seinfeld...). I use it on the trail if we're going to stop and sit for awhile (such as removing skins from my skis or lunch), it's my "extra layer" of warmth (rather than bringing another shirt), and - I can't emphasize this enough - it's perfect for trips to the outhouse!
- Thin gloves
- Thick gloves
- two pairs of gloves is a good idea, in case one gets wet. Might as well have thick and thin ones to accommodate for the weather
- Winter hat
- Ball cap
- I have short hair, so my scalp gets sunburnt if I don't wear a hat. Usually, I'm too hot to wear the winter hat, so it's good to have something else to keep the sun off my head without making me overheat.
- This is what I wear skiing - it wraps around my head and neck and offers a lot of protection from the wind. I rarely wear it when hiking because I get too hot, but it's one of the many lightweight pieces of gear you can carry to compensate for not having a heavy winter coat.
In addition to any communal food, I have a certain things that I like on the trail or at the hut. I take small amounts of food in ziplock bags, trying to gauge how much I will eat on the trip. This is my personal list of items:
- 2-3 liters of water
- Water's a hard one. It's so heavy, so you don't want to bring too much, but it's kind of critical for the hike. I've run out of water way too many times, so I try to ere on the side of bringing too much water, despite the weight. I carry less on the hike out.
- They're portable, lightweight, and salty
- Planters Cajun Snack Mix
- Crasins - dried sweetened cranberries
- Beef Jerky
- good protein
- Clif Bars
- Gel Shots/Clif Bloks/Honey Stingers
- a quick shot of energy so you don't have to wait an hour for your Clif bar to digest
- Pop Tarts
- Mini Gouda (Baby Bells) or other cheese
- Trail mix
- Dried fruit
Depending on the group you travel with, you may be responsible for your own meals. The group I usually travel with handles two dinners and a breakfast (for group meal ideas, check out some of my trip reports), so I'm on my own for lunch and a breakfast. For lunch, a lot of people bring up the dehydrated meals you usually take backpacking. While tasty on the trail, I find them to be a bit ulgh when you've been eating better food. I prefer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or if it's lunch on the trail, just my trail food (Jerky, Clif bars, etc). Cup-o-Soup is another lightweight option that may be more palatable than a dehydrated meal.
For breakfast, a common staple is instant oatmeal. I recommend bringing up some coarse ground coffee for the percolators too (don't forget non-dairy (dry) cream and sugar).
- Toilet Paper
- the huts are well supplied with toilet paper, but if you need to go along the trail, having some in your pack is a good idea
- First Aid Kit
- the hut has a first aid kit, but I like to carry a small kit for anything along the trail
- these aren't necessary, but it's nice to know how much farther the trail is and what elevation you're at
- Swiss Army Knife
- a handy thing to have in case you need to make a repair on the trail
- Repair kit
- Things break...usually at the worst possible time. I like to keep a handful of lightweight things in my pack that I can make a MacGyver-esque repair of broken gear if need be. My repair kit has duct tape, dental floss and a needle (to sew holes or repair nylon straps...or clean corn out of my teeth), nylon cable ties (zip strips), safety pins, a small carabiner, nylon straps, etc.
What's At the Hut Already
From my experience at the 10th Mountain Division Huts, they are consistently stocked with key items, removing the need to bring certain items. They have:
- Snow melting pots
- Coffee percolators
- Propane and Wood burning stoves
- Toilet Paper
- Paper towels
- Hand sanitizer
- Dish soap
- Minimal electric lighting (although a headlamp or flashlight is still highly advisable)
- Shovels (for clearing the decks and snowmelt)
- Matches, Firewood, Fire starting paper, Axes
- Plastic Trash bags