The Alps – the highest, most impressive mountain range in the center of Western Europe, covers approximately 250,000 square kilometers. They begin at the Mediterranean Sea in the South of France, and rise through the continent in an arc of about 1,000 km, crossing 7 countries: France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany and Slovenia.
The range includes 82 peaks over 4,000 meters/13,123 feet, of which the highest is Mont Blanc, which rises 4,808 m/15,744 feet, and is situated on the border between France and Italy.
The Alps are among the best hiking regions in the world, with thousands of miles of hiking trails spread throughout and hundreds of mountain huts that provide hikers with lodging and food and enable travel in nature in comfortable conditions. Many of the continent’s most beautiful and famous hiking trails are planned such that at the end of a day of walking you will arrive to a mountain hut.
All of the huts are built in a similar fashion. Most of the bedrooms are shared though there is a small number that have private rooms. The beds are equipped with warm blankets and some even have sheets. The dining room is shared. The bathrooms and showers are likewise shared by all the rooms. Most of the huts have an allotment of water or length of hot shower in exchange for a coin that you purchase separately and insert into a special device before your shower.
The best tip for those doing a hut hike in the Alps is to bring minimal gear. This is not a survival adventure in some remote wilderness region, and there are no aprés ski parties in the huts in the evening.
What there are lots of is ascents and you will feel each unnecessary kilogram on your back.
Food and water: on a hut trip it is customary to eat at the huts. Usually, you will arrive at the end of a day of walking to your designated hut between 2 – 5 pm, depending on the distance of the day’s walk. The organized dinner is usually served around 7 pm, but you can also purchase food throughout the day from an extensive restaurant menu.
The following morning, basic breakfast is served from which you can prepare yourself some sandwiches, or purchase energy bars or snacks for the way. Additionally, a considerable number of the trails will take you past additional huts or small settlements where you can obtain food or stop for a short break and a light meal.
Water: on most of the trails there is no need to carry much water as there are places to fill up along the way. Usually 1-2 liters should suffice.
Hiking gear: You don’t need a sleeping bag, just a light liner (for hygienic purposes), and a light jacket, since the days are usually warm and nights inside the huts are pleasant. Rain-proof gear is necessary as the region can be very rainy, even in the middle of summer.
As a rule of thumb, the weight of your full backpack (not including water) should not exceed 9 kg/20 lbs., and a backpack with 40-50 liter volume should definitely suffice. If you are taking a circular trail, you can of course leave any gear that you need for your trip but not for the trek at one of the hotels in the city that serves as a base for the hike.
Traveling with a tent:
Is it possible to carry a tent on your back when hiking in the Alps? Yes, it is possible but less acceptable. In Europe, most land is private and in some places you must officially obtain permission in order to set up a tent. However most of the huts will allow you to put your tent beside the hut and you can enter, buy food, join the dinner and/or shower. In our opinion, we would not recommend this mode of travel here. We are proponents of using the existing systems of the country you are in as each place has a different approach to hikes: in Europe – huts, in Nepal – teahouses, in the United States – tenting, and so forth. The vast majority of hikers in Europe sleep in the huts and much of the pleasure of the trip comes with arriving to the warm hut after an exhausting day of walking, ordering a cold glass of beer, cake or hot food, reading a good book, or meeting other travelers. Nowhere else in the world are there so many comfortable mountain huts such as there are in Europe and this kind of hospitality is an absolutely central part of the hiking experience on the continent – it would be a shame to miss out on it.
Leave the tent for regions in which tenting is customary. For those who, for their own reasons, still prefer to travel with a tent on their back, it is worth checking out each individual hike to see if it is possible and how to do so in the safest manner possible.