Essentials for Hiking Half Dome

16th of January, 2011 ·  3 Comments

Half Dome. Photo by friend Nik Glazar.

Yosemite, California.

  • 9 Miles from Trailhead to Summit.
  • 9 Miles from summit to trailhead.
  • 1 Mile from sea level to summit.
  • 400 feet of cables. (Photos I took while on the cables: going up; going down.)
  • 14 hours, including breaks (also including working up gumption to go up and back down the cables while on the summit).

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, should have these things. Personal preference extras like hiking polls, knee braces, hats, notebooks, and similar are up to you, but this list was compiled with three trips behind it, and the best possible experience in mind.


I recommend the M.U.L.E. for guys, the L.U.X.E. for chicks. Or a similar hydration pack, though Camelbak really does have the best bite-valve. Maybe it’s time to upgrade your Costco hydration pack with a Camelbak bladder.

Or just have a backpack and some way of carrying two liters in containers that can be refilled. Blaine used Smart Water bottles last time. I put a Camelbak Unbottle inside a standard backpack the first two times.

Last thing I can think of on the cheap is maybe you already have one or two CamelBak Better Bottles. You can get a Hands Free Adapter hose for $10. All you need is a pouch of some kind to put them in inside your normal school backpack. Bonus points if you already own an Insulated Bottle Carrier. (Note: this is only on the cheap if you already own the bottles. It also only works if you have two of them, since the most common size is .75 liters. .75 liters + .75 liters is 1.5 liters, which is kind of iffy for a hike of this magnitude. You’ve been warned.)

And make no mistake: you need a backpack. This is a huge hike, and you’ll need food, which means you’ll need someplace to store the food.


I’ve hiked this twice wearing Converse All-Stars and once in Soloman hiking shoes. I’ll never go back to Converse, but while doing research for this article, Blaine wrote, “I’ll have to get back to you about the gear (although “Chucks” come immediately to mind).”

They were terrifyingly slippery on the cables, and walking down the non-cabled part of the dome itself was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. Getting proper hiking shoes made both non-issues.


Because you’ll be surprised at what a luxury new socks are halfway through this hike. I strongly recommend wool. You can get good socks at The Sock Drawer in downtown San Luis, or sometimes from Costco.


Heading up the cables without them is dangerous and needlessly painful. They might also help keep your hands warm when the sun goes down.

I recommend mechanic’s gloves. I’ll be wearing something similar to these.


You should have at least one light, but I’ll be bringing a headlight and a flashlight. Both should be small and use LEDs. And have fresh batteries. It’s pretty likely the sun will go down while we’re still on the road, and having proper lighting will make the difference between it being cold, dark, miserable, and treacherous, versus being cold, dark, and miserable.


In the words of Jim Culbreath, “when my bunghole’s happy, I’m happy.” Cannot overstate this.


Cotton shirts get sweaty and stay sweaty. They chafe against backpack straps. A nice wool or synthetic workout shirt will wick moisture away from your body, they don’t chafe nearly as much, and will cut down on the number of unendurable complaints. All the same goes for underwear, plus less swamp-ass.

I am very fond of the fit, feel, and price of stuff at Target. Men’s short sleeve. Men’s underpants. Women’s short sleeve (just the same as men’s short sleeve, only with room for boobs). Not linking to women’s underpants because I don’t know anything about anything. But I stick by my whole, “no cotton,” thing on that subject, regardless.


Because you don’t know if you’ll charge ahead, fall behind, have to turn back, or simply get exhausted and super-irritated listening to me all day.


Beg, borrow, or steal one, but each person should have their own camera. Here’s a bunch for under $100. Or combine an iPod and a camera, and get an iPhone.

Look, if you depend on someone else to take pictures, you probably wont get the shot you were hoping for. And your camera partner will get irritated the fortieth time you make them stop and give you the camera so you can take a picture of a lizard or a waterfall.

I feel that’s pretty comprehensive. Please note the list doesn’t include any camping equipment. It’s just stuff for the hike itself. The last thing I can think of to list is practice. Going into this without doing a few hikes before hand is just plain stupid, and will almost guarantee you’ll be miserable and throw up.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to include ideas in the comments.

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