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Alpine treks - frequently asked questions

To view the full list of all our trekking courses around the world, please visit the overview page by clicking here. This page answers some of the most common questions that we are asked by clients about trekking in the Alps...
Are trekking poles required?

For all our guided treks, we classify trekking poles as obligatory equipment, and will not let anyone start without them. For self-guided it is your choice. The reason for our position on poles, is that they are essential safety kit to help you off a mountain if for example you twist an ankle or knee. Even if you are fine, when you learn to use poles efficiently they take up to 30% of the load off your knees on ascents, and make it a lot easier ascending hills. With stats like this, why wouldn't you use them?

Can I use a hydration tube pack?

Hydration systems are good for enabling you to sip fluids whilst trekking, which is great. On the downside, they are highly prone to leaking, and generally the users are unaware how much they have drunk, so struggle to monitor their intake, an are likely to run out unexpectedly. When the weather is very cold (unlikely on sumer treks), the tubes and valves can freeze. Whatever your decision, it is worth taking a small bottle as a backup in case you have issues with the bladder system (e.g. platypus).

Can I charge my phone / camera?

Never assume that you can recharge a phone or camera in any of the huts. Most are sporadically powered by generator, and the lights run off the hut batteries on a low voltage system. In valley hotels / gites there are power sockets, so look at any itinerary carefully to judge where / if it is worth taking a charger.

Do huts cater for vegetarians?

Yes they do, as long as they are warned in advance. We require this information at the time of booking, to be listed on the online form. When you arrive at a hut, it's worth reminding the hut guardian that you are vegetarian, so they know who you are. Other dietary requirements may be possible, but often the vegetarian dish is offered. Do note that huts ate not restaurants, and they don't cater for preferences a la carte.

What are the evening meals like?

Generally hut evening meals are great, and at least three courses. Often they start with a soup, then the main is a good balanced meal such as a stew with vegetables or pasta with meatballs, then there is a dessert. You can buy soft or alcoholic drinks to have with your meal. The drinks are not included in any of the package prices.

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Tour du Mont Blanc in Italy with the south face of the Grandes Jorasses behind

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What plans are there for lunches?

We do not provide any lunches on our courses, as peoples preferences vary so much. Some nibble on a chocolate bar, while others eat several sandwiches or cereal bars. Our recommendation is to take what you normally enjoy eating on a hill day. The huts all offer a packed lunch for approximately 10€ a day, and they mainly stock chocolate etc to buy. On many treks you pass other huts / cafes / gites / restaurants, and if you opt to stop there for a meal, that is fine too.

Where can I get drinking water?

When trekking each day it will vary where and how often you can get water. Most people do not need to carry any more than 1 or 1.5 litres of water to get them between sources. These vary from water troughs, to taps, huts, and villages. If you are guided, your leader will be able to advise when the next water supply is so you can ration.

Do the huts take credit cards?

Occasionally they do, but cash is king in the Alps. Many huts do not have internet access for card sales, so take enough money with you. Most valley bases accept card. It is highly recommended that you take a card as several villages you pass through have ATM machines where you can withdraw cash.

Where do I go to the toilet?

All mountain huts and accommodation have toilets, so use the facilities before you set off each day. Likewise any hut facilities that you pass each day can also be used. On busy routes there are a few extra toilet facilities. If you are out in the wilderness and need a call of nature, if guided then ask your leader where to go. They will assess where is best for your privacy and to safeguard water sources. Carry some toilet paper and a small bag to carry any tissue to the next rubbish bin.

Can I leave items I don't require?

If you are starting a trek from our Alpine base in Chamonix, then any items that you don't require on your trek (e.g. suitcase, travel clothes etc) can be left at the base. We are the only UK trekking operator with a full time base in Chamonix, so this facility is a great advantage. It is really essential that you travel as light as possible, so this facility helps.

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Passing over Grand Col Ferret on the TMB, and starting the descent into Switzerland

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What boots are most suitable?

This is probably our most commonly asked question, so we have produced a specific page to answer these queries. The link is Key Alpine Kit. The simple answer to the question above is as follows. On every trekking course we operate, including snowshoeing, you will require well worn in trekking boots that are waterproof and which offer good ankle support. Retailers will usually rate this style of boots as B2. If you are unsure, ask at your local store. If you are in any doubt as to the suitability of your boots, we advise you to take them on the course, and the staff will check your equipment. If they consider the boots unsuitable, they will advise you to hire some boots for approximately £5 per day.

Do I require gaiters & head torch?

The weather can change rapidly in mountains, and so we recommend that you take gaiters on all Alpine treks. What was a sunny day can easily be followed by a snow storm on a high pass, so gaiters are essential. For the same reasons, all trekkers should always carry a head torch, in case they are delayed by bad weather, and for emergency use, as well as practicalities such as finding the hut toilet in the night. For all winter snowshoeing treks, high gaiters (i.e. up to just below the knee) are required every single day to keep your legs and boots dry.

Which items do I not need at all?

Over the years we have seen some unique items packed in peoples bags, despite the fact that we supply highly detailed specific kit lists. Please pack only what is on the list that is sent you when booking. Here are some of the most interesting useless items we have found people carrying to date in the Alps; a dress (for hut dinners), a UK road atlas (to stiffen the back section of the rucksack), fluffy ear muffs (they didn't like hats but got cold ears), and alarm clocks (use your phone alarm).

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Trekking in the quiet wilderness of the Fiz region of the Aiguilles Rouges in Chamonix

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What type of insurance is needed?

Our Booking Conditions require all clients booking on a course to arrange activities insurance as soon as their booking has been confirmed (by e-mail or in writing). You must check that your policy includes cover for the following: medical expenses, mountain search & rescue, personal accident, money & documents, any travel delay, personal liability, legal expenses & cancellation, as well as other circumstances for which you require cover. We recommend that you use BMC Alpine & Ski insurance: www.thebmc.co.uk or 0870 010 48 78. It is highly unlikely that any non-specialist trekking insurance will provide this level of cover. Upon arrival on a course, you will be asked for documentary proof of your activities insurance. Full details of the cover provided by the BMC and Snowcard insurance policies are on the insurance page (click to link).

What is the etiquette for tipping?

When you are staying in mountain huts, they do not expect to receive tips. Hut guardians make a lot of their income from selling extras, such as wine with dinner, or chocolate bars etc, so they always appreciate you purchasing extra items such as these. If you are trekking in a guided group, it is always a nice gesture to tip your guide if you have a good time. It's up to you how you choose to do this. Some opt to buy their guide lunches each day, others get them a nice bottle of wine at the end of the trek. Financial tips are not required, but if you prefer this, a tip of about 10€ per head for a group of 6 would be generous, and of course appreciated.

Do the huts supply towels?

The huts do not supply towels, but they are provided on the nights at each end of the trek in the valley accommodation. We recommend you take a small lightweight travel towel for use in huts. Even this is a optional luxury. If you wish to travel extra light, you can simply use a spare base layer to dry yourself on.
  Do I need a sleeping bag & pillow?

No you don't. In huts they supply a bed with a pillow and duvet / blankets. You do not need to carry any bedding at all, apart from a sleeping bag liner for hygiene and confort. Huts insist that you use the liner, and they can be bought when you arrive in the Alps, or you can pay to hire them each night when in huts, though obviously this is far more expensive.

What about a hot flask or stove?

In the summer we recommend neither, but if you prefer a hot drink, then parhaps consider taking a small hot drinks flask (c. 0.5 litres). You can buy hot drinks in huts to put in it. A flask may well be nice if you are on a winter trek, but generally we advise against them in summer. Carrying a stove is never necessary, as there are so many places in the mountains that you can buy a hot drink, so weighing your bag down is totally unecessary.

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Stopping for lunch on the Tour du Mont Blanc with the Peutery ridge in the background

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How much cash do I need to take?

This will vary from trek to trek, but on all our treks you are briefed well before you depart, so can arrange this in resort. If huts are included, most people find that approximately 20€ a day spending money is quite sufficient. Most treks pass a ATM cash machine at some point, so you can get more cash out if required.

What currencies are required?

Check what country you will be trekking in, and take some local currency to get you going. In most Alpine countries the huts accept all the local currencies (Euros in France & Italy, Swiss Francs in Switzerland). However in Swiss huts they also accept euros too, though at a slightly less preferential exchange rate.

Are baggage transfers included?

We do not include baggage transfers in any of our trekking courses. The main reasons for this is that the mountain accommodation is well away from roads, so cannot be accessed by a baggage transfer minibus. We see that as a selling point! Obviously there is an ecological point here too, as the baggage transfers are completely unecessary - what do you need a bag transfer for? You don't need to dress up for dinner, are carrying a small day sack anyway, and can wash underwear / socks / base layers in the huts anyway.

What do baggage transfers cost?

On most of the routes that we offer as treks in the Alps, baggage transfers are not possible. If you want to pay for a bag transfer on the days that it is possible, it can be arranged, and costs from 50€ per person per week if all the participants require the service. Contact us for details. Some operators include baggage transfers, but obviously you are staying in the shady valleys next to a road, not in the stunning wilderness of the mountains...

How long are the days trekking?

This is the million dollar question. How quick do you walk? For example the Tour du Mont Blanc takes people between 7 and 14 days of trekking (already a factor of 2). The record for the TMB is just over 20 hours! We design our itineraries around a nice steady trekking and ascent rate, so each day averages around 5 to 8 hours trekking and about 900m of ascent. The days are not designed to be particularly challenging, but your trekking endurance fitness does need to be good so that you enjoy it.

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Trekking group on the summit of Croix de Fer with the Rhone valley and Martigny below

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What temperature are the huts?

The huts are all designed to be comfortable and suitably heated. For example most people have the meals wearing t-shirts rather than needing extra warm clothing. However the temperatures drop if you go outside in the evening or early morning, for example to take photos, so we recommend you take a warm insulation jacket. During the nights the bedding is more than sufficient to keep warm, and if you get too hot, you can always open a window. Don't worry at all about being cold in huts!

What is the temperature range?

In the summer the valley temperatures can get as high as +35C, and the high passes in bad weather can drop to just below freezing, so you need to pack for a wide temperature range. On good weather days you will be most comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt, and if you have any mountain weather you'll need to wear trousers, insulation jacket (e.g. fleece) and full waterproofs. You need to plan for everything so as not to be caught out.

How do you stay clean / wash?

Most mountain huts on popular trekking routes such as the Tour Mont Blanc and Haute Route have showers, so you can take a travel towel and soap to wash each day. On some more remote treks such as the GR20 you should take wet wipes to cater for huts without any showers. You can also wash clothes in huts and hang them out to dry on the terrace. This means you can travel light and avoid any baggage transfers. Keeping clean isn't a problem on Alpine treks.

Can I shorten any of the days?

On some treks if you are tired and want to opt out of a section, it may be possible. For example on some valley sections of the TMB you could catch a bus. Obviously this is not included for you (or your guide) if you opt for it at any stage during the trek. We should stress that most groups do not require this ever.

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On the summit of Mont Buet with Mont Blanc behind on a Chamonix trekking week

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My pack is too large. Will it be OK?

We suggest a c.35 litre pack as the largest that is required for Alpine treks. Many people tell us that they have a far larger pack, and ask if it will be OK. Yes it will obviously work, but you need good side compression straps to stop the contents slopping around, and rubbing your back and shoulders. Also you will be carrying up to two extra kilos of bag for nothing. It's up to you, but clearly a suitably sized bag will be best.

What week for the best weather?

You wouldn't believe how hard it is to predict weather, and though we have been operating courses well over a decade, there is no clear pattern. In the Alps it is slightly easier to predict the weather patterns, than say in the UK, as there is a stronger continental influence on the weather systems. We can only predict the weather for a particular week in the Alps during as season, as accurately as you can for you home on the same week. During the course we can provide you weather forecasts with a high degree of accuracy. To view web links to some of the better weather sites that we use, you can visit this link; weather forecasts. All we can provide is an outline of the general tendancies that you can often expect. For what they are worth, some people attempt to provide very generalised 6 month forecasts, adapting the current weather for fairly predictable climatic shifts, such as El Nino years or the after effects of climatic disruptions like the Eyjafjallajokull eruptions in September 2010. The forecast of one of the long range sites that is specific to the Alps is at; TVmountain, and if you don't speak any French you can translate it through Google Translate. In terms of the generalised weather patterns, that we stress are highly subject to change, the outline to potentially expect is;

June - still fairly snowy in the high mountains, with cooler nights, and the longest days.

July - often some of the most stable weather in the summer, though busy with holidays.

August - a tendancy of warm sunny days, and convection storms in the late afternoons.

September - as the days become shorter, the weather often improves as it becomes cooler.

What are the current conditions?

Unless the weather is highly stable, we are not able to predict conditions on any trekking route until the day before you set off. Sorry we cannot guess any further ahead than this. On all our trekking trips you are briefed on conditions before you depart. To follow the weather and see live webcams, click here; weather forecasts.

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Crossing the Col du Croix Bonhomme on the Tour du Mont Blanc in the Beaufortain

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What about knife, fork, spoon etc?

No, the huts supply all these items. Please only take the items that you are sent on your course specific kit list, that is e-mailed to you at the time of booking. If you take anything else, it is extra weight, and unecessary.
What's in your pack each day?

We suggest that for any of our Tour Mont Blanc guided courses, you only take a day pack, to carry as little as possible. The majority of clients manage with a small rucksack of 25 - 30 litres capacity. Below is an outline of the essential kit to carry each day. Don't forget that all bedding is provided in huts, and you can leave extra baggage in Chamonix whilst out on your trek. A detailed kit list is sent to all those booking, but the list below gives you an idea of how to pack a very lightweight bag for a Tour Mont Blanc trek.

Walking boots & gaiters
Insulating layer (e.g. fleece)
Trekking poles
Walking trousers & shorts

Socks & underwear x2

Wicking top x2

Waterproof jacket & trousers
Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat
Gloves & warm hat
Blister & basic 1st aid kit

Sleeping bag liner (optional)
Passport (& visa if required)
Insurance card, cash & card
Small umbrella (optional)
Waterbottle c.1 litre
Travel towel & travelwash (optional)
Toiletries & wipes (minimalist)

Medication (if required)
iPod / book / camera (optional)

Things that you DON'T need to take include; hut shoes (provided), sleeping bag, roll matt, pillow, cutlery, mugs, crockery, stoves & pots, evening wear for hut, cards / games, maps, compass, guidebooks, alarm clocks, ski goggles, balaclava, ear-muffs, scarf, etc. The art of travelling lightweight is easy if using Alpine huts as bedding and food is provided. Think of them as basic mountain hotels, at which you can purchase soft and alcoholic drinks, extra food and packed lunches for each day. Baggage transfers are not required, as you are travelling with a small pack that contains everything for personal use, and most huts are inaccessible by road anyway!
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Any further questions?
A key part of choosing a company is being able to come and talk about your plans with an experienced course advisor face to face. In an increasingly virtual world, we know our clients value speaking to real people, getting open and honest advice. The vast majority of our clients are British, and our office and outdoor store is based in Windermere in the English Lake District.

Get in contact to arrange a meeting, and come in for a coffee to discuss your course in person with a trip advisor.
NEW Tour du Mont Blanc guidebook and map

A brand NEW guidebook for the Tour du Mont Blanc, and an accompanying waterproof map, has recently been launched by Vertebrate Publishing. It's unique and innovative, in several ways; timings for trip planning for all trail users from steady walkers to faster trail runners, 1:40,000 scale custom mapping provided on the description pages of the guidebook, and full appendices and kit lists to help you plan a trip and learn all about the route. The book is a nice size format of 175mm x 120mm, and it's detailed yet compact at 140 pages long, weighing only 300g. It's been designed by a TMB expert

That expert is none other than multi award-winning author, and veteran of over 50 laps of the TMB, Kingsley Jones from our guiding team. All of that experience of the route, timings, where to eat or stay, and customised itinerary planning, comes from him spending over a year of his life on the route. We are going to supply a FREE copy of the guidebook (RRP £16.95) and map (RRP £14.95) to each group on our self-guided TMB trips. If you'd like extra copies, or are on a guided trip, you can get them in advance of your trip for reading and planning. Order them from us; TMB guidebook and TMB waterproof map.

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