As John Muir put it, “The Mountains Are Calling, and I Must Go…”! If you are as well one of those who submit to the irresistible pull of our wild places, the unshakable draw of the mountains… it’s worth asking which equipment and supplies you should have while hiking in the Alps. Here’s the essential clothing and gear you need in Tirol’s mountains in the summer:
Decide what it’s for; what kind of hiker are you? Are you an ultra-long distance backpacker along the Eagle Walk, a heavy load hauler, or primarily a day-hiker, wanting to take your family on a walk around the shores of turquoise, spring-fed Hintersteinersee Lake? The kind of hiker you are, and where you plan on hiking affects the type of gear you need.
Boot up and lace them up tight. Your boots will make or break your trip. You’ll enjoy hiking more with boots that offer a balance between being fairly light and yet moderately supportive. Sneakers and running shoes won’t provide enough support or sufficient traction. Here in Tirol we love outdoor adventure, but gym shoes are a NO GO in the mountains. You wouldn’t wear your mountaineering boots for dancing, would you? And sailing shoes, as the name suggests, belong on a sailing boat—and not on the feet of a woman trying to make her way across rugged terrain along a black-rated mountain footpath; which I saw the other week. Up on the mountain, you are strongly recommended to wear boots that were made for walking…. So, before hitting the trail you need to make sure you have a sturdy pair of suitable boots.
When you’re hiking trails that are well maintained and easy, get lightweight, ankle-high hiking shoes or boots. For more rugged terrain (intermediate rated trails; Mountain Footpath, red) get mid-weight trekking boots that offer more protection and support. When you typically go hiking or backpacking in an Alpine environment that’s rugged, steep and exposed, and may involve some challenging, off-trail hiking along difficult rated trails (Mountain Footpath, black), get heavy-duty mountaineering boots of the semi-rigid variety that are usable with walking crampons. The extra height and stiffness of these boots provides an extra dose of traction and helps support the climber in steep and rocky terrain.
Let me go straight to the most important point: You don’t need to make sure that the colour of your hiking shoes matches your jacket. Nothing fancy here ;-)
Layering your clothing is a tried-and-true way to maximize your comfort in the outdoors. Each layer has a function. When it comes to the next-to-skin layer of your layering system, natural fibres such as wool have virtually replaced traditional cotton and polyesters thanks to its soft “ultrafine” fibres. Wool is surprisingly comfortable on warm days, excellent for cool days and keeps on insulating even when wet. Moreover, wool can be worn on consecutive days with minimal odour build-up. The insulating middle layer helps you retain heat by trapping air close to your body. Softshell or fleece jackets provide warmth for a variety of conditions. The most versatile outerwear choice is a waterproof-breathable jacket—find or buy one in your favourite colour. Look for jackets made of Gore-Tex which are by far the most comfortable. Lightweight and quick-drying polyester hiking pants are preferable to jeans or heavy cottons, which can be uncomfortable in wet or warm weather. Hiking shorts are an ideal option for easy walks but not suitable for high mountain regions (that’s how famous Austrian mountaineer and Mount Everest climber Peter Habeler puts it and you can be sure he is definitely in the know of it). :-)
Packing List for Day Hiking and Walking:
- Cap or hat
- Light liner gloves
- A brimmed hat will protect against sun and rain
- Sunscreen (don’t forget to apply it generously)
- Water Bottle (to be filled with refreshing, crystal-clear spring water)
- Extra shirt (although wool offers reliable warmth and keeps on insulating even when wet you’re better off with a dry extra shirt).
Helping take pressure off your knees, hiking sticks are a traditional part of the walker’s uniform. Today, hikers are going high-tech with the newest trend of using two trekking poles. I especially like telescoping poles (because they are easier to travel with and can be used in the winter for ski touring trips). In the summer, these poles take stress off your joints, especially when you have to take a big step down. Plus, poles are essential for balance when crossing streams or snow fields.
Heading to the backcountry? Your goal is to find a backpack that fits your trip length and body type. Consider the total weight and the bulk of the gear and food you’ll typically carry, so that your pack has enough space for your needs (see the above packing list). You can carry a lot if you’ve got pecs of steel, but for those of lesser stature, such as a 1.60 metre tall girl, carrying a lighter load makes for a much more enjoyable experience. Backpacks come with a number of straps that let you adjust your load for maximum comfort. Some packs feature an adjustable suspension, which can be modified to fit your torso. Either type of pack should have bottle holders that keep precious water within easy reach. Plus, I like the convenience of quick access for some items, like an outside pocket where you can easily get sunscreen and sunglasses. And it comes in handy if trekking poles go strapped to the outside if you don’t need them.
The other important thing to remember is carry sufficient water, and even more importantly, drink it. Always pack at least one or two energy bars to prevent your insulin level from going haywire while you’re busy trying to bag a peak. When you’re out in the backcountry putting in a full day of activity, you want food that will nourish you, strengthen you, revitalize you and taste really good. Whether it’s a hearty tidbit like a Tirolean “Marend” brought in your daypack or it’s enjoying culinary delicacies from one of the many trailside eateries is up to you, your planned trip and your taste.
Note: If the idea of heading to the backcountry on your own sounds intimidating to you, we might suggest a guided hiking tour. Tirol truly is a hiker’s paradise and guided walks and hikes are available for free from local tourist information offices throughout the country. Or, experience the natural beauty of Tirol at your own speed with a certified mountain guide. Hiking in the Alps lets you explore some of the most wondrous terrain found anywhere on earth and experienced mountain guides share a passion for the mountains, a determination to share this passion with others and a commitment to deliver outstanding mountain experiences and to help each individual achieve their personal goals. Just as with swimming, it is always best to learn from a trusted expert.