Hiking is an excellent way to kill two birds with one stone. You can clock in some physical exercise whilst seeing some spectacular sights along the way. Knowing what the best hiking gear to take with you will only enhance your experience.
The French Alps are perfect for summer hiking endeavours, combining varied and exciting trails with the gorgeous Alpine views. Meribel in particular is stunningly beautiful during the summer, making it a great destination for hiking.
Alps or no Alps, it’s important to know what your particular hike will entail, so you know what things to take on a day hike and what to take for a longer trip.
So without further ado, here’s our guide to help you compile the best hiking gear for your trip:
The Hiking Essentials List
We’ll begin with what we consider to be the “hiking essentials”. These main items are essential on any hiking trip, and will come in useful regardless of weather or seasonal conditions.
Hiking can be taxing on your entire body, but it’s your feet in particular taking most of the impact. Equip yourself with the best hiking boots possible and you’ll be in a far better position.
A great set of hiking boots will strike the balance between tough material and a comfortable fitting. Swaying too far in one direction (tough and uncomfortable, or extremely comfortable but weak) can become an issue. Meribel in summer is a beautiful place to explore – you don’t want this ruined by inappropriate footwear!
So, for long hikes especially, you’ll need a pair of boots that’ll endure and won’t deteriorate easily. There’s been a shift in the industry towards achieving strength by using lighter materials (to ensure comfort).
Also, make sure they’re waterproof. You’ll notice a theme when it comes to hiking wear.
A backpack is essential for obvious reasons: you need something to put all your belongings in.
Capacity, durability and comfort are key areas to consider when choosing your backpack.
Capacity: Your backpack needs to be able to hold your hiking gear comfortably, without becoming stretched for space.
Durability: Your backpack needs to be able to endure the length of your hike, and not be prone to falling apart from weight and continuous use.
Comfort: You need to be comfortable carrying your backpack when it’s completely full.
Like with hiking boots, there are different backpacks for different hikes. Whether your hike requires ultralight gear or something more substantial and comfort based, make sure you find one best catered to your trip.
An often underrated piece of equipment, a satellite phone is an absolute hiking essential. Going beyond the normal phone signal reach, a satellite phone uses (you guessed it) satellites to help you communicate when you’re off the grid.
If you’re careful and plan in advance, you minimise your chances of anything going wrong. However, things can always happen (hiking or not) that we don’t foresee.
When it comes to hiking and potentially going off grid for a period of time, a satellite phone will keep you connected to emergency services and SOS responses.
No matter how short or “easy” the hike is, it’s worth bringing one of these along with you. It’s always better to be safe!
Offline / Paper Map
As we said earlier, being careful and planning ahead will always come in useful.
A map is essential whenever you go hiking. Your phone is probably equipped with multiple navigation apps. Make sure they have offline functionalities, so you can access your routes when there’s a lack of WiFi.
But don’t just rely on your phone’s navigation apps. Phone batteries die out, portable chargers stop working, WiFi becomes sparse, the list goes on…
The technology is extremely useful, don’t get us wrong. That’s why we recommended the satellite phone!
However, it does have certain limitations, so bring the old fashioned physical map with you as a smart plan B.
Just don’t expect it to start giving out directions!
Whether going solo or in a group, a medical kit is just as important as a satellite phone for going off grid.
A first aid kit with the essential items can be difficult to compile, with some people over-preparing and others taking nothing at all. You still want to pack light, but don’t underrate the importance of certain medical equipment.
Do some research on building yourself a first aid kit for your trip, and balance it with the rest of your packing.
Now that we have the essentials sorted, your hiking outfit is next on the agenda (minus the hiking boots, which we’ve explained above).
It’s important to go through each part of the outfit and make sure it’s a good fit for your trip. Factors such as weather and the length and difficulty of the hike should be kept in mind when making your purchases.
For example, avoid cotton materials as they retain moisture and don’t easily dry out, which isn’t ideal for hiking.
Hiking Socks + Sock Liners
Starting from the bottom up, a good pair of socks made from wool or silk will keep your feet warm and comfortable. Those two materials in particular are also good for wicking, meaning they’ll draw moisture away as you start to sweat and/or if it rains.
Wearing a pair of thinner socks underneath the thicker pair also helps to prevent blisters.
Keep a few things in mind when purchasing your hiking socks:
Size – too big and your feet will start to chafe, too tight and the circulation to your feet will be cut off
Wicking – how good are the socks at drawing away moisture?
Material – as explained before, the material is important depending on your hike and what you’re using the sock for (lining, outer layer, etc.)
Gaiters strap over your hiking boots and help keep your legs and feet dry from rain or watery terrain.
There are two main types:
- High Cut Gaiters – cover up to the top of your calf and offer the most protection, but are more expensive as a result.
- Low Cut Gaiters – fit at the ankle, and provide protection against dirt and stones and anything else small that could hinder your comfort.
Which one you choose is dependent on your hike. Certain gaiters are also compatible with certain types of hiking boots, so make sure the pair you buy are a universal fit.
Hiking trousers are designed to withstand nature, and to keep you comfortable while withstanding said nature.
Your jeans and chinos or whatever else you wear on a daily basis, are not.
We’d recommend walking trousers with a zip, which allows them to convert into shorts. Perfect when there’s a chance of high temperatures, of if you’ve just been walking for an incredibly long time.
People don’t tend to mention underwear when it comes to the ideal hiking outfit. Instead, its omission is seen as a way of saving money.
We think it’s an extremely important aspect to consider. Considering that it’s in direct contact with your skin, it’s a key factor when it comes to comfort.
As with the best hiking boots, the best underwear is dependent upon the materials used and its ability to cope with the activity.
Merino wool or other synthetic materials (such as nylon or polyester) is ideal for comfort and moisture wicking. Flatlock seams also have the edge over normal seams, which tend to rub against your skin repeatedly and cause chaffing.
If your hike spans over a few days, then durability is key. Antimicrobial underwear will stay fresh even after several days of use, which means you can pack less weight (be aware that the antimicrobial quality of the underwear isn’t permanent, and will eventually wash out).
Base Layer Top
A base layer shirt is the first layer of your upper body hiking wear.
The base layer will fit close to your skin and draw away moisture, alongside keeping your core warm.
Regardless of temperature, keeping moisture away from your core is extremely important.
In cold weather, keeping water close to your skin means losing essential body heat, which is a very bad idea. When it’s hot, drawing away sweat and letting it evaporate will also draw excess heat away as well.
This goes over the base layer, and would usually be a fleece or similar type of walking jumper.
While the base layer helps with maintaining moisture, the mid layer provides the warmth.
Wearing this straight as your base layer, however, can cause friction and discomfort because the fitting isn’t as tight to the skin; hence why having a base layer is important.
Dependent on your hiking conditions, you can wear one or more mid layers.
The shell layer is the final layer worn over the base and mid layers. This layer helps protect you from whatever nature intends to throw at you.
A hard shell layer, such as a rain coat, is a good form of protection against the elements. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as picking up a rain coat and being done for the day.
Due to the makeup of hard shell layers, there’s a fine balance to be struck between breathability and water resistance. In other words, the two don’t necessarily co-exist as easily as we’d like them to.
The more breathable a rain coat is, the less waterproof it’s likely to be, and the same vice versa. While there are ways of creating a good balance between the two, such as better materials or using water repellent coatings, it’s worth making sure that a good balance is struck between the two before making your purchase.
Hat and Visor
These pieces of hiking gear are also underrated but important.
A hat will protect you if the weather is cold and rainfall is likely by keeping your head warm and dry. If the sun is blazing down, it’ll protect your head from sunburn.
However, a visor is a handy alternative to your hat in very hot weather. Not only will it protect your eyes from the sunlight, but it allows sweat to evaporate off your head, making you feel cooler.
If you’re hiking in cold weather conditions, keeping your hands warm is paramount.
As with your upper body, layering your gloves is useful when preserving warmth and protecting against rain at the same time. Wear a fleece liner glove to keep your hands warm, and a rain resistant layer over the top.
While it may seem weird to mention sandals after putting hiking boots in our essentials list, sandals built especially for hiking can come in extremely useful.
If your hike is gentler and the weather conditions are more tropical, specially designed hiking sandals will help your feet keep cool and comfortable.
Another reason for its inclusion is for longer, multi-layered hiking trips. There will be times when wearing hiking boots won’t be necessary (in your downtime, or on easier non-hiking days) and a good pair of sandals will help your feet breathe and relax.
Alongside clothing, there are a variety of accessories on offer to aid your trip. These aren’t necessarily essential, but can definitely come in extremely useful (dependent on the type of trek you’re undertaking).
Whether it’s regular admin items such as sun cream, insect repellent or toilet paper, or more particular items such as trekking poles and GPS watches, there’s a variety of walking gadgets and accessories available.
Here’s a list of items we would recommend:
- Trekking Poles
- Water Purifiers
- Headlamp (+backup)
- Slow burning calorie food
- Insect Repellent
- Sun Cream
- Toilet Paper
- Flexible Tripod
- Portable Charger
Again, it’s all dependent on what your particular hike requires, so create your own catered hiking checklist and take what you think you’ll need.
Best Hiking Gear for Women
The hiking industry has shifted more towards unisex gear and not just male-oriented clothing that women could also use.
There isn’t much that differs between the overall categories listed above when it comes to each sex – the shapes and fittings may differ, but there isn’t a category specific for one particular sex.
So while there are definitely hiking clothes for women, there are also specific items exclusive to women hikers.
Most online hiking stores will have a women’s section to browse for women-specific items. Below we’ve broken down the main women exclusive items:
Warmer Sleeping Bags (+ Air Pads)
Sleeping bags are extremely important for lengthy hikes. While you may think of a sleeping bag being inherently unisex, there’s actually an important difference between how men and women use it.
Women have different body thermodynamics in contrast to men. They tend to have a cooler body temperature. This subtle but important detail comes into play when it comes to sleeping outdoors during the night.
As a result, a woman’s sleeping bag tends to have more insulation and a higher temperature rating, accounting for their cooler sleeping temperature. The sleeping bag is also altered to account for a woman’s general body shape in contrast to men’s.
In turn, a woman’s sleeping pad (to help maintain comfort instead of sleeping directly on the ground) is also better insulated against the colder ground temperature.
Women-specific backpacks are shaped differently to men’s: shorter torso lengths, and differently shaped shoulder straps and hip belts to cater to their body shape.
While a backpack can technically be considered a unisex item also, some women find the catered backpacks to fit more comfortably.
In general, like with all pieces of clothing, choose a backpack suiting your individual body shape, regardless of whether it’s marketed as a men’s or women’s backpack.
As with the backpacks, women’s footwear tends to be shaped differently.
While it’s important to figure what shoe fits you best regardless of its gender attachment, it may be worth looking at women’s specific shoes, especially if you’re having trouble with the typical hiking boots on offer.
Women-specific footwear is narrower at the heel and wide at the toes, and tends to be lighter in comparison to men’s.
While some conditions may call for heavier footwear (such as thick snow), lighter footwear is just as suitable for hiking.
Women have different needs when it comes to hygiene in comparison to men, and this has been accounted for when it comes to hiking.
As with the hiking clothes we discussed earlier, cottons are a big “no”, and underwear shouldn’t be underrated when assembling your hiking wear. There are women’s briefs available that are breathable, quick-drying and antimicrobial (meaning they stay fresh for longer).
Also available are urination and period maintenance products.
In terms of urinating (which will happen often due to the higher water intake), there are products in the same vein as the GoGirl, which helps women when it comes to less than ideal toilet situations (a hiking trip definitely being one of those).
Period maintenance products, such as Diva Cups, are suitable for your nature adventure and are long lasting (they can be worn for up to 12 hours), which should alleviate any issues in (again) less than ideal situations.
Let’s Hit the Trail
So, now you’re all set and ready to embark upon your hiking trip, no matter what it throws at you.
If you’re a first time hiker or an experienced veteran, the French Alps is an excellent walking destination.
Whether you like to rough it outdoors on a single day or on a multi-trip hike, reward yourself at the end of your journey with a stay at Meribel or Courchevel. Part of the Three Valleys in the Alps, both places offer incredible Alpine views and beautiful luxury chalets.
Book yourself a stay at your own private chalet as a finale to your hike, and feel rewarded as you look out over the incredible views on offer.