Hiking shoes - With the advent of trail running and "fastpacking" foot ware for trail walking has gotten lighter and more minimalist than ever. Today, most hikers on some of the classic Alps trail hikes wear shoes that look more like running trainers than climbing boots. We support this trend, and think the fast and light crowd got it right. Fortunately for us here in the Alps, the hut system allows us to carry very light packs, and the need for monster boots is thankfully avoided.
Modern hiking shoes, though they look like running shoes, are quite specialized and offer a range of features suited especially for the rugged trail. For example good hiking shoes have an aggressive tread, a protective toe-cap, and are somewhat stiffer under foot than your typical running shoe. These features protect your feet and keep you both from damaging them as well as simply getting sore from so many miles.
For most fit folks with normally strong ankles, a low cut shoe is all you need. As an example: a great low cut trail walking shoe is the Sportiva "Ultra Raptor". Though it is sold as a "trail running" shoe, it is also great for long walks. (Even trail runners spend a lot of time walking).
If you worry about your ankles, or have had problems with twisting your ankles in the past, then you will most likely want a slightly higher topped shoe. Again, Sportiva has some great examples, such as the "Stream GTX"
Last, though we try to do our walks in relatively dry and snow-free conditions, if your trip is close to either the beginning or to the end of the summer season, you may need more of a boot to deal with any snow you might encounter. Under these conditions, a mid-height hiking shoe (rated B0 in boot parlance) might make more sense. Again, Sportiva has some good examples, such as the Sportiva "Nucleo GTX".
Socks - Though some folks go for the no-show sock look, we feel that a little bit of ankle coverage offers some valued protection. But you can match your sock height to your fashion sense and shoe/boot height. Wool, polyester, or a combination are the materials of choice. A little bit of padding for the sole is also a nice thing you have. Don't overdo it, with thickness, as too much sock will make your feet overheat. Two changes is all you need.
Gaiters (optional) - A trail-runner's ankle gaiter may be nice for keeping out pebbles and dust, keeping socks clean.
Pants - Light nylon hiking pants or "zip-off" pants are probably the most cool and versatile for this trek, as well as being quick to dry in case we're caught out in the rain. Another option, though warmer, is some kind of light and stretchy synthetic pant with a hard finish. In our opinion the best pants of this kind incorporate Schoeller or a similar light soft-shell type nylon fabric. Stretchy and comfortable, this kind of fabric is also somewhat resistant to wind, snow and light rain. Many pants of this kind are made by both U.S. and European manufacturers.
AVOID COTTON PANTS as they will make you too vulnerable to hypothermia should we be caught out in wet and windy weather or the temperatures turn cold.
Shorts (optional) - Often shorts are much more comfortable on hot summer days than even the lightest hiking pants, and being small and lightweight are worth throwing in the pack.
T-shirt, sleeveless blouse or lightweight long-sleeved shirt - For hot days. Keep in mind the need for sun protection.
Rain/Wind Pants - Normally we do these climbs in our synthetic climbing pants described above. If the weather turns foul, however, you will need a pair of very lightweight waterproof rain pants to keep you dry. Our favorites are extremely light weight two-ply Gore-tex. Our pants weigh 8.5 ounces.
Rain/Wind Parka - Again, go for extreme lightweight.
Rain Poncho (optional) - Some people like a poncho as a solution to the waterproof-vs-breathable conundrum. This is fine but is not a substitute for a proper rain parka as well. A poncho doesn't keep body heat in well enough, and any strong wind renders it less effective as rain protection. If you bring a poncho, keep it light.
Long Underwear Tops - A light synthetic or very light merino wool base layer. You might want to bring both a longand short-sleeved version of this.
Long Underwear bottoms - Light synthetic or wool.
Hut Socks - We like to bring a light pair of socks to switch into when in the hut. One pair is plenty.
Hut pants (optional) - We often like to bring a very light pair of shorts, or "yoga" tights to change into in the huts. This is a luxury item, so keep them as light as possible.
Light insulating shirt - Something about the weight very heavy synthetic underwear.
Heavier insulating layer - A light-weight down or synthetic insulated sweater or pull-over. Marmot's Zeus jacket or Patagonia's Nano Puff Hoody are good examples of what we mean.
Light Gloves - Most of the time you will be comfortable with a pair of simple "WindStopper" gloves.
Baseball cap or other sun-hat with a brim -
Neck Gaiter - The "Buff" is a Spanish invention. Its a stretchy lightweight neck gaiter, ear warmer, headband, pirate head piece, hair control unit, and Lord knows what else. Google "Buff" to learn more. Indispensable!
Around-town clothes and shoes -
Trekking Poles - (optional) Some folks, ourselves included, like to use trekking poles. Three-section collapsible trekking poles are best, as they collapse shorter and are less cumbersome when packed.
Avoid poles with "shock absorbers", they add unnecessary length and weight, without adding any significant benefit. The Leki Micro Vario Carbon is our favorite. Be sure you bring the baskets!
Pack - A simple and lightweight pack with a capacity of about 30 liters is recommended. The Black Diamond Speed 30, The Millet Prolighter 30+10, and also the Deuter Guide Lite are some good choices.
Food - Breakfasts and dinners are provided at our lodgings, and picnic lunches prepared by the hotels and huts are available on request. Nevertheless you might want to bring some of your own special bars, Gu's or potions from home for handy "pocket food" on the trail. Keep it light!
Water bottle or Thermos - A pint Thermos is a nice luxury on a stormy day. For most folks, on cold days, one liter of fluid is enough for the trail, but when the weather is hot you may want a second liter. We believe in doing most of our hydrating in the huts, at the beginning and end of the day.
Head lamp - These will be used mostly for emergencies and/or finding the light switch in the cabin. We don't plan any pre-dawn starts on the trip. Any small headlamp will work. Petzl makes some very light and compact models such as the Tikkina, the Zipka and the e+Lite.
Pocket knife - Keep it simple and light. The Victorinox Spartan model is our favorite.
Blister kit - Moleskin, athletic tape. Spenco Second Skin or Compeed is well worth the price.
Sun Glasses - Modern wrap-around glasses are great, if the lenses are dark enough to block 90% of visible light (it's very bright up there!). Traditional glacier glasses with side shields are also fine for this program, though you may find them hot and annoying on the trail or approach. If you use prescription glasses you should get prescription dark glasses or use contact lenses if you can. We like to use sport sunglasses with dark lenses, designed for skiing or mountaineering.
Sunscreen - Look for as small a container as possible, or decant into a smaller container. There is no point in carrying month's worth of cream on a short outing.
Lip Protection - with sun screen.
Toiletries - Here again, try to minimize, for instance look for those small tubes of toothpaste. If you like bring 4 or 5 "handi-wipes" or similar.
Ear Plugs - VERY IMPORTANT! For noisy huts.
Sleeping liner - Most hut now require the use of sleeping liners. Find the lightest one you can. Silk, or silk and cotton blend liners typically weigh about 110 grams (4 ounces). Do NOT bring an insulated sack. The sack is for hygiene and comfort, but not for insulation.
We have loaners you are welcome to use (we wash them after every trip). Or you can bring your own, or purchase one from the first hut.
Camera - (optional, of course) It is very helpful to have a small camera bag that can be hung around the neck, attached to the pack, or stuffed in a pocket so that it is handy, but doesn't interfere with movement. Please don't carry your camera inside your pack.
Most phones can take great pictures but are easy to drop and limited battery life.
Mobile phone (optional) - Many folks like to carry phones. In general, this is a good idea from a security perspective. Be aware, however, that battery life is limited, especially when the phone is searching for a service provider as it may often do in this remote setting, so you will probably need to leave it turned off except when making a call. Watching movies or playing games on your phone also consumes a lot of battery power. Keep your phone in "airplane" mode to save power. Sorry, no wifi.
Entertainment (optional) - Preload your phone with a couple of good books from Audible.com or your local library for days of listening pleasure. Snipped-out New York Times crossword puzzles, a journal, small paperbacks, or a pack of cards. All could be fun to have along.
Phone and camera charging - Some huts (though not all) have a charging station for your use. If you need to charge electronics, bring the appropriate cable as well as a Swiss/Euro (squashed hexagon) to USB adapter.
Passport, or photocopy - We prefer to leave our passports, plane tickets, etc. safely in the lowlands and carry only a photocopy on the tour. But some folks feel naked without it, and for them it is best to carry it.
Small duffel - For leaving street clothes in hotels. Its a good idea to lock it.
Money - We usually use ATM cards to supply us with cash. Hotels, shops, most huts and restaurants accept credit cards. You'll need cash, however for hut extras and any remote restaurants. We recommend leaving your passport and similar valuables with your baggage in the hotel, awaiting your return.
GaiaGPS - For those of you who like to track our progress, we highly recommend the GaiaGPS mobile app. The Pro version ($40 per year) gives you access to many European maps (including Norway, France, Austria and Switzerland).