What hiking equipment should we bring to the Alps?
In this entry we are going to go through the essential equipment that we should always bring in our backpack when we are preparing any hiking trip, specially in the Alps. Supposing we are going to go for a weekend hike (2 days) and that we will stay in hostel accommodations and mountain huts, we are going to skip the camping equipment or any other equipment needed when you are doing free camping.
We can, pretty much, separate all of our hiking equipment in these categories:
Hiking Boots: A decent pair of hiking boots are an absolutely must when going hiking. Make sure you feel comfortable wearing them and that you have tried them a couple of hours before doing the hike: an uncomfortable pair of boots can ruin your hiking trip. For more than a day trip, a waterproof membrane (Gore-Tex for example) on the boots is recommended. Remember that your hiking boots need to be cleaned each time in order to stay healthy! Every year, you should also apply a waterproof spray (if you have used them some!)
Gaiters (optional): Depending on the weather and the nature of the terrain, gaiters might be an essential piece of equipment or a personal choice. In Spring, early Summer and Autumn, it is not uncommon to have the need of crossing soft snow patches. Gaiters can prevent snow from entering the boot, keeping our feet dry and warm.
Hiking socks: Make sure you have some socks with mid-calf length, to avoid blisters using the boots. Specialized hiking socks are more cushioned where you need it most. You would be amazed how big a difference they can make!
Number one rule, you are probably going to get wet! Or at least a bit. But do not worry, read below and check Why you should hike under the rain!
Microfiber towel: perfect to keep it in your backpack, little space required.
Underwear: If you want to avoid thigh chafing try to avoid Cotton underwear. Synthetic quick-dry materials will keep you dry and comfortable. Like for example, these boxers from Arc’teryx. And yes, underwear is mandatory!
Pants: Waterproof over-trousers may save you depending on the weather: always good to
have a pair in your backpack. Materials like Gore-Tex PacLite will take a very small volume in your sack. When it comes to base layers, you may want to have a look to some convertible pants: they might not be the most fashionable, but it will give you the flexibility you need during Summer hikes. It is very common to have more than 10 or 15 °C difference between lowest and highest altitudes in the early morning and early afternoon.
Waterproof jacket: Usually called hardshell. Essential in the Alps. You will thank me later. You can try with cheaper waterproof membranes, sacrificing some breathability. In some cases, this can be counterproductive, since you will get wet of sweat anyways (and after that, you get cold). Or, otherwise, go for a Gore-Text membrane, which is more expensive, but has good breathability properties. Check out several reviews online at sites like OutdoorGearLab. This is a core piece, usually expensive, and you want to buy the right one. Also check some great jackets from Mammut.
Waterproof backpack cover: Really useful to keep everything you carry dry. You may be fully waterproof yourself, but if your backpack is not, forget about dry, clean clothes! Some backpacks already have this feature integrated.
Gloves: Sometimes gloves are really needed even if there is no snow around. Cold wind and rain may make painful to hold and use hiking poles. In addition, in some high trails we sometimes need to grab chains to help us on a steep or rocky section: they might be really cold, mostly in Spring, Autumn and early Summer! Waterproof/Windproof gloves are always useful. For Windproof gloves, you can try the WindStopper material. You may be a bit confused now, what is the different between Gore-Text and Windstopper? Check it here.
Thermal clothing (optional): Depending on the weather, thermal base layers might be necessary. In general, if we do not expect the temperature to be above 5°C, it is a good idea to wear a thermal shirt as a first layer.
Smartphone: Who does not have one of these wonders of technology with them? If you are one of those that has a “Legacy Phone”, you are a survivor. For the rest, you might find useful all the apps that you can find to serve you in the mountains. Soon, you will WeHike as well as an app!
External battery for Smartphone: Unfortunately these “wonders” of technology do not last much when using them a lot, an external battery might be a useful tool to keep them alive, mostly if you use it with a GPS app.
GPS (optional): If you do not want to rely your navigation to the GPS of your phone, you might one to go for a more professional option like a standalone GPS device. These things can be bought for under 100 bucks.
Sunscreen: Mandatory in the Alps, especially while hiking on snow (if that’s the case, use factor 50 at least!) and during the warmest summer days.
Hat: Avoid overheat, and in some cases, sunburn (you know what I am talking about 🙂 )
Sunglasses: Mandatory to protect your eyes from long exposure to sun light, in addition to looking like a badass.
Lip Balm: Your lips might get dry when exposed to the sun, as well as sunburn.
Water bottle: Always carry at least 1 liter water bottle, 2 liters if hiking for more than 5 hours and even more in the warmest summer days. I encourage you to have it filled up with, actually, water, if possible.
Water reservoir: Sometimes it is really useful. For some, it gives a “bad taste” to the water. But if you buy a good quality one, it should be OK! Really handy not to get off your backpack each time you are thirsty.
Sweet snacks: Who does not like sweets? Swiss chocolate will do the trick! Sugar is a good source of quick energy to tackle the beginning of your hike, or give yourself a boost midway.
Lunch snack: Things like dried meat, dry fruits, bread or crackers.
First Aid kit
This is a Do-It-Yourself first aid kit, please do not hesitate in getting a more professional kit or ask for advice from a doctor, in case you have any further medical requirements.
Small and big bandages: For wounds.
Zinc oxide tube: To prevent thigh chafing and treat monkey butt .
Ibuprofen: Perfect to diminish different muscular pain or headaches.
Cloth tape: In case there is a need for a stronger bandaging.
Roller bandage: To cover bleeding areas or wounds.
Map: A physical map of the area is always useful to avoid problems. It does not use any batteries!
Pen and paper: These landscapes inspired artist from all over the world, including Tolkien! You might want to give it a try.
Cash: Some areas, if not most, do not work with credit card. Make sure you have some cash on you. Plus, alpine goats seem quite reluctant to credit card fees, you will have to discuss with them…
Head Lamp/Flashlight: This can be quite handy when sleeping at shared dormitories. Really needed when at a Mountain Hut, which often have no electricity running during the night. LED is better for consumption matters. I personally prefer the one running with external common batteries, since it is easy to exchange them once it stops working.
Extra batteries: For our electronics that are using batteries is always good to bring some extra ones.
Compass: Useful tool, you can as well use a smartphone app, but it is not as “cool”.
Swiss Knife: yes, it has to be Swiss, no questions. This of course will help you cutting that smelly cheese!
Rubbish bag: Use a bag to collect all the trash after a break for a sneak, in plastic or even better, recyclable materials. We cannot stress this enough. Leave no trace, please maintain the Alps clean of rubbish.