Packing to Summit Mount St. Helens

June 08, 2018 2 Comments

Packing to Summit Mount St. Helens

Have you ever considered hiking to the summit of Mt. St. Helen’s? If you are like me, having never lived in the Pacific Northwest, and never thought much about volcano hiking - Mt. St. Helen’s was just some crazy volcano that exploded sometime before I was born in the early 80’s. I knew the name but didn’t know much about the history or the fact that you could hike to the summit of this beautiful beast!

Every year around February, 100 permits to climb up the infamous volcano become available for each day between April 1 and October 31 on the Mount St. Helen’s Institute website. The permits are highly sought after, and are snatched up very quickly.  The site crashes for a few hours causing everyone to panic about getting a permit on the day they are hoping to go. Who knew?!

I signed up for this hike on a whim, mostly because a good friend, and co-worker of mine had this crazy idea to get a group of us together to hike up to the summit.  She had done the hike before, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I’m a decently avid hiker (especially after living in Colorado) and have had some incredible experiences trekking around some notable spots in the world.  So I figured, why not?  The 12 mile round-trip hike and accompanying 5,699 feet elevation gain is future Christie’s problem.

As the date of our hike inched closer (May 24, 2018), I started to get more serious. The more I read, the more I realized this thing is intense! No one has died hiking to the summit of the volcano since the trail reopened in 1987 - but still. Through my research, I saw that there could be plenty of snow still on the volcano, no shade, and some people have actually gotten lost before. I refused to be a volcano hiking nincompoop and prepared as much as possible ahead of time (although, some things you can never fully know until you do it!)

Therefore, for anyone that is interested, I wanted to share my small amount of knowledge and packing list on successfully and tranquilo-ly completing this summit. Because yes, although it took me 12 hours and it was HARD (I mean, HARD), it was 100% worth the views and the feeling of accomplishment. So, let’s dive in!

Preparing to summit Mount St. Helens


First, it is important to know which route you will be hiking up the volcano. There is a summer route and a winter route.  The route you take will completely depend on the amount of snow left on the mountain. We still had a ton of snow on May 24th so we ended up taking the winter route called the Worm Flows Route. If you are going at a different time, or a different route, or have different weather than I did - you will need to adjust your packing list to fit hotter days and less snow. If you scroll to the bottom of the linked page to the Worm Flows Route, you will see trip reports which are VERY helpful and I would recommend reading many of these leading up to your hike to see what the conditions are.

Second, do yourself a favor and begin the hike very early. We ended up starting at 5:08 am (yes, on the dot) which ended up being great because the sun was just coming out - so we didn’t need flashlights or headlamps. However, we met people who started even earlier (2:30 am!) and were back in town having beers nice and early in the afternoon. To start early, I’d recommend staying or camping near the trailhead.   This helps avoid adding on a long drive, on top of a long day of hiking.  We stayed at the Lone Fir Resort and couldn’t recommend it more! The cabin was the perfect size for all 7 of us, it has a great little restaurant (with cold beer!), and was only about 20 minutes to the trailhead.  Super convenient!

Third, get yourself a GPS or an app on your phone that tracks the hike. We used “Hiking Project” and it worked beautifully. It’s nice to see how far you’ve gone, how much you have to go, and to make sure you are still on the right trail. And now what you’ve all been waiting for… the packing list!!


  1. A comfortable, durable, sizeable backpack – I used my trusty 24 Liter backpack from Osprey and it ended up being perfect. If you are doing the winter hike, I honestly wouldn’t go any smaller.  This allows you to wear a bunch of layers, and gives you the capacity to shed and carry them in your bag as the day warms up. 
  2. Trekking Poles – Before this hike, I had never been a big fan of trekking poles.  They always seemed to get in the way.  But, they were invaluable during our hike up to the summit.  They really helped me find extra stability hiking through the snow and when bouldering across rocks.  I’ve also read and heard they are super helpful during the summer months when instead of snow, you’re going up through volcanic ash.
  3. Gaitors – I didn’t end up finding these super helpful through the snow but I have heard they are much appreciated when hiking through ash during the summer months.
  4. Ice Ax – a must have if you are doing the hike in the snow and want to GLISSADE back down the mountain (watch the video below, so much fun)! Ice Axes can be rented at REI or at the Lone Fir Resort.
  5. Crampons – I have a pair of Yak Tracks which I purchased from Amazon and they always work like a dream. You’ll absolutely want these for the winter route.


  1. Hiking Boots – if they are waterproof, even better. Don’t skimp here. It’s a long ass hike.
  2. Hiking socks – I wish I would have brought an extra pair (so 2 total). My feet were so wet at the top of the summit and thankfully one of my friends had an extra pair. It felt amazing to put on a clean, warm, fresh pair!
  3. Pants – I wore a black pair of good quality yoga pants which suited me perfectly during the hike. But if you are going to GLISSADE down (which I recommend, SO FUN!), then I would also bring a pair of snow pants to put over them.
  4. Shirts and Jackets – it was way warmer than I was anticipating so I wore a dry fit t-shirt and my Houdini from Patagonia (which is VERY thin and kept me from getting sunburned) the entire hike. I also had another jacket and long sleeve shirt with me that I didn’t need and stayed in my backpack the whole time.
  5. Baseball cap – I almost never wear these but was so glad to have one. It really helped keep the sun off my face.
  6. Polarized sun glasses – the sun is very strong and direct as there is virtually no shade cover.
  7. Gloves – only needed if you are going to glissade down the volcano through the snow.
  8. Pro tip – I wish I would have brought a pair of flip flops and left them in the car to put on after the hike. Some people also recommend leaving a clean, dry pair of clothes in the car as well.

Food and Drinks

  1. Water – I brought two 32 ounce Nalgenes and two Gatorades. I am definitely someone that drinks a lot of water but felt that I could have used one more liter. So, I’d honestly recommend at least 3 Liters of water and a couple Gatorades.
  2. Food – bring more than you think you need. I had about 5 Cliff bars, a few packets of trail mix, a sandwich, 3 mini sandwiches, Snickers, and two packets of dried Mango which ended up being too much.


  1. Sunscreen - you’ll need it!
  2. Toilet paper – there are no bathrooms and not much tree cover to pee, ladies!
  3. Ibuprofen – just in case! One of my friends also brought a first aid kit which would probably be smart but we didn’t end up using it.
  4. Flashlight – I brought a headlamp since I thought it would be dark but I didn’t use it.
  5. Camera – duh!  Pics or it didn't happen!

You Can Do It!!

And that’s about it! It’s a difficult, intense hike but was really worth all of the effort.  With a bit of physical training before hand, plus these packing tips, you can do it too!  Even though it was super challenging, I'm so glad I pushed myself to do it.  Getting out of your comfort zone is where all the magic happens. Feel free to comment if you have any other questions, I'd love to help! You won’t see me on Mt. St. Helen’s next year (or probably ever again) but I’d love to see you up there!

How to Summit Mount St. Helens

2 Responses

Traveling Tranquilo
Traveling Tranquilo

June 13, 2018

@Megan Fitzpatrick – Thanks!! I still can’t believe it either sometimes. And, the app has worked out pretty well so far in Colorado!

Megan Fitzpatrick
Megan Fitzpatrick

June 13, 2018

man still so impressed that you did this!! That app sounds really awesome — definitely going to download it since it would be such a good resource for these type of big hikes!

P.s. -Glissading looks so fun

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