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hiking gear equipment list

Hiking Gear Tips

Whenever we send pre-trip information, we often get a flurry of emails with a plethora of questions regarding how to choose equipment for a trip. For many coming on our trips, hiking is only an occasional activity, which means that they don’t necessarily live in a mountainous region with access to good outdoor equipment stores.

With the advent of the Internet and mail order companies, shopping is easy, but some items are better bought in a store to make sure they fit correctly, before going on a hiking trip. 

 We are happy to assist clients when it comes to buying gear, especially if the trip begins in the Alps. Despite a weak US dollar, Chamonix is still one of the best places in the world to buy quality equipment at a reasonable price. Chamonix is nearly unbeatable when it comes to footwear, as stores such as Snell’s Sports stock a huge selection of gear from all the major manufacturers.

Even with a high VAT (value added tax) of 20% you can get a tax rebate form, fill it out and bring it to the customs officials when leaving France.
How to get tax returns on items purchased in Europe

GENERAL

Shoes/Boots are probably the single most important piece of equipment you will need to purchase before a trip. Choosing the right shoe is vital to enjoying the walk and staying injury free. With the advent of mass-produced shoes, finding a pair that is right for your feet can be an uphill struggle (sorry about the pun). There are many factors which will determine if your quest for that perfect pair of shoes will be easy to find or as elusive as the yeti was for Messner to find. In Europe, finding shoes larger than size 12 US becomes rather difficult. The width of your feet will also determine which brands you can start thinking about.

HOW TO CHOOSE BOOTS

To enable you to find the perfect shoe for you, here are some important questions you should ask yourself:

  1. What type of shoe for what type of terrain?
    If you plan a trek to Crete with us, then a Nepal Extreme shoe from La Sportiva would be way over the top. Rather try something like their mountain running shoes. Most of these models would be ideal for our trip to Crete or similar terrain. Trail running or mountain running shoes have become a popular alternative to wearing the heavy, leather boots our fathers have worn in the past. But, there is one danger to trail running shoes for mountain walking. You can easily twist your ankle if you are not paying attention. They give you little support and tend to be fairly disposable, meaning they will last only one or two trips. They often have a moderate profile to the shoe and the rubber is often ‘soft and sticky’ meaning that it will adhere to rock quite well but will equally be worn by the friction against the rocky trails. This is a major consideration when purchasing as they tend be relatively costly and will last but a short time. Trail shoes, for the most part, cannot be re-soled.
  2. What kind of foot do I have?
    For those with narrow feet, La SportivaScarpa and Aku are excellent brands to think about. They are all manufactured in Italy, (at least the higher end models) by very skilled workers. If you have problems with your ankles, a higher hiking shoe/boot with more support might be better for you. There are plenty of light or heavy-duty hiking boots out there to choose from. If a light-weight trail running shoe isn’t for you, try a light weight hiking boot. There are many on the market today so this category tends to be the most difficult when it comes to choosing shoes. A light weight yet sturdy boot would be ideal for a Tour du Mont Blanc or the Haute Route.

If you are participating in one of our more arduous treks such as our Everest Discovery trek, the Scarpa Escape GTXmodel would be ideal.

Of course, these are only our personal preferences and tend to be for walkers with narrow feet as Italian shoes have narrow lasts.

SOLES

When it comes to shoes, the soles play a vital role. Today, Vitale Bramni’s Vibram soles are possibly the best known and most respected.

After being witness to the death of several of his closest friends due to inadequate footwear, Vitale Bramni set out to design a safer shoe for the mountains, starting with the soles. Today, the little yellow symbol found under most mountaineering boots is a sign that Vibram www.vibram.com is here to stay.

The advantage to buying boots with Vibram soles is that most models can be re-soled, greatly increasing the life of your favorite hiking books. The initial cost may be higher to purchase boots with Vibram soles, but the long-term benefits will be obvious.

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HOW WILL YOU KNOW IF THE SHOE FITS?

That is a good question. It is difficult to tell in most retailers how a shoe will perform over many days with a heavy pack on and over rugged terrain. In theory, shoes today no longer need to be broken in, as long as you buy the correct size and don’t have any obvious issues with your feet. But, in life, things are not this easy and hikers tend to be hindered by all sorts of problems.

If you purchase your shoes in Chamonix or in any of the major Alpine resorts, the staff should be able to get the right boot for you. If you are buying your boots from a retailer with little experience, take good care to buy the right size.

First of all, you will need to find out what size feet you have, width, length etc. The best way to do this is to have your feet measured, provided that you are in a shop with the right equipment. Otherwise you can measure your feet at home before going to purchase shoes. If you have wide feet, then you will be limited to a certain number of brands and models.

Another easy way to see how your feet compare to the boot size is to remove the foot beds, stand on them with heals to the back edge of the foot bed and see how much room you have left between your toes and the edge of the sole. If your toes are overlapping or touching the tip of the foot bed, your boots are too small. You should have about one centimeter to spare in the front. If you have less, your boots may be too small, considering that you might be walking downhill for many consecutive hours.

Please also make sure that your heel fits snugly into the boot, without it rubbing and moving too much, otherwise blisters will be guaranteed, and your foot will slide forward too much when walking downhill, which then will cause blisters on your toes or black toe nails as well.

You should also learn how to lace boots properly. Sounds crazy, but many of our clients don’t think about what laces are actually used for. You can easily control how much pressure is applied to your feet by lacing tightly or not: A-B-C-of-Hiking writes on their website: ‘Boot Laces: The first rule is to put the boot on “properly”: Press your heel into the back of the boot, centre the tongue, then lace the boots up. Make sure to observe the 2-zone lacing principle: When hiking uphill, lace the lower zone tightly, up to the locking hooks, and leave the upper above it somewhat looser – to increase your agility. When hiking downhill, lace the upper tighter, especially around the flex point, in order to stop your foot from sliding forward within the boot.’

FOOT BEDS

I use Superfeet foot beds, which really keep my feet protected.

Our guides normally spend at least 8 months guiding in hiking boots, climbing boots or ski boots and feet are often abused. Because we do not all have exactly the same size feet, manufacturers of boots tend to go with the average size and shape.

Filling in the volume of a boot with a foot bed is therefore often a good way of correcting any problems you may have with your feet. If you cannot find exactly the right boot, you can try and ‘tweak’ the boot to fit your feet. If you decide to buy your shoes in Chamonix, please visit one of the three sport shops that are linked to Cham 3S, or Sanglard Sport, they have an independent boot-fitting department for ski- as well as climbing and hiking boots, owned and run by Jules and Damien.

I have had many boots fitted by both Jules and Damien, and they are simply the best in the business. When you are spending a significant amount of money on a pair of boots, you might as well have them fit and keep your feet blister free.

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PREVENTING BLISTERS/HYGIENE

One tip for preventing blisters if your feet are not accustomed to hiking is to make sure that there is no chance of friction between your feet, socks and boots.

One product I always carry and certainly wear is Elastoplast.

I often tell clients to purchase the largest width, which I believe is about 6 cm. It is best to apply the tape first thing in the morning when feet are dry and clean. The beauty of this tape is that you can leave it on for a few days.

Best to apply a large strip to the heel of each foot making sure that it does not bunch up creating a blister. Elastoplast lasts for several days and is tenacious. Best to remove under the shower.

With heels protected, the next major area of concern is often the soles of the feet. Wet, cramped feet will begin to hurt and eventually make hiking difficult. Keeping your feet clean and dry is key. An anti-bacterial foot powder once per day is a great way to keep feet dry. Think to remove boots and socks at lunch stops or during prolonged breaks. Don’t keep your boots on all day. Also, remove the foot bed from shoes in the evening in order to let them dry and to prevent bacteria from being trapped under there.

BACKPACKS

Packs can stymie the most adroit internet surfer. If you think finding boots for a trip is difficult, try getting the right pack.

There are so many brands today that the first-time buyer often feels overwhelmed by all the bells and whistles of modern packs.

After nearly 20 years of guiding trips, we have come to the obvious conclusion that simple is better. If you pick up a pack and it already feels heavy (without having put anything inside) you should probably look at another model. On most of our hiking journeys, you will not need to carry a sleeping bag or tent. Light, small packs with a rain cover if possible, are the best, and a 30 to 35-litre pack would be ideal.

We recommend backpacks from Deuter of Germany.

They have been in the business of making packs since the late 1800s and manufacture some of the best and most simple packs, which can be found today.

They require very little adjustments to make them fit properly and are equipped with the Deuter Back System.

Please have a look at the Deuter Futura AC 32 pack,

which encompasses the Deuter Air Comfort System.

and is an amazingly effective means of keeping your back dry when hiking. The mesh allows air to circulate freely, keeping your back ventilated.

Another slightly larger pack system would be the Alpine Deuter Guide 35+,

which is possibly one of the most functional packs on the market. It is an ideal pack for most of our trips including our longer trips in Patagonia, Nepal and Tibet. If you pack carefully, you can really get a lot of gear in a 35-litre pack and still have room for food, snacks and water.

Torso length is also a consideration when choosing a pack, so you will have to have a rough idea of how long your torso is before beginning the quest to find a pack.

Please have a look at www.deuter.com and click through their site to find the nearest dealer to your home, for a US retailer, please look at www.deuterusa.com.

How to Load and Carry a backpack is often a conundrum for many novice hikers. One would assume that loading the bottom of the pack with the heaviest weight is the most logical, but think again…..

Gore-Tex, one of the most innovative breakthroughs in clothing technology, can be found in many of the top brands of outdoor gear.

Gore-Tex is great provided you don’t have to wear it during the summer when a summer thundershower lasts but a few moments. You will don the jacket, hike for a few minutes and start tugging at the ‘pit zips’ as the sweat starts pouring out. Trying to regulate your body temperature when wearing full rain gear is not always that easy.

But as is often the case in the mountains, foul weather means significant drops in temperatures and therefore, a fully waterproof shell should be a mandatory part of your gear.

In the end, it is up to you as to how much you would like to spend on equipment. If your budget allows it, Gore-Tex is a fabulous piece of kit to have with you and that flash jacket will also look good in town or to the office.

We enjoy using gear from MEC or Mountain Equipment Co-op, which is a Canadian manufacturer of outdoor equipment. Please have a look at www.mec.ca for a large selection of MEC clothing and gear and also equipment from other top manufacturers.

Smartwool (see below) also produces base layers, which are great since they are very light, dry quickly, and, believe it or not, don’t smell, even after a hard and long day of hiking.

Smartwool regulates body temperature, keeping you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Socks are also another key element in keeping feet dry and free of blisters. We use Smartwool socks exclusively.

Using wool may sound anachronistic, but Smartwool socks keep odors to a minimum and will keep your feet fairly dry and warm. They are also easy to wash, and will dry fairly quickly. I have completely given up on synthetic products when it comes to socks and the same goes for layering under garments. Smartwool also makes base layers.

Darn Tough Socks is another brand, based in Vermont, that has great merino wool socks for any outdoor activity, be it skiing, biking or hiking.

 

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