We planned on the full monty, but were happy with the Southern half. After 7 days on the trail, here are some tips we’ll use when we come back for the Northern half.
Whilst we did a lot of research and prep for this through hike, there are some things that you only learn on the job (so to speak). Here are our nuggets of wisdom:
Pack light: Everyone says this, because it’s true. Our packs were light but could have been lighter. As per the comments below, we could have ditched the tent and the sleep mats straight off and would have been ok.
Book ahead and reserve a Refuge tent: These are in place, set up and ready for hire. They cost around 10e/pp including a sleep mat compared to 8e/pp if you BYO. You save the tent weight in your pack as well as set up/breakdown time. They are also in the prime locations of the Refuge and not down a hill by the cheap seats. Downside is that it reduces flexibility and means you have to stick to a hiking agenda (no impromptu rest days). Another tip: take rest days 😁
Take a lightweight sleeping bag and liner: We hiked in the first half of September and it was still warm. At night the temp dropped to around 50F/10C which meant you could pack a super light sleeping bag and wear clothes if you were cold. My sleeping bag was super warm and most of the time I was on top of it.
Breakfast is not worth the cost at 8e/pp (hot drink, bread and jam): Take energy bars or packs of ready oats. Most of the Sud refuges had gas to boil water. We had porridge and a kettle with us but didn’t pack them in our packs as we wanted to save on weight. Mistake I think. Ahead of some of the big hikes it would have been great to have a bowl of porridge to start with.
North South vs South North: This is a tricky one. Starting at the North means that you get the heavy climbs done in the first 4 days and there is a promise of easier days ahead. Starting in the South, however, gives you time to get used to the trail, get stronger, understand the landscape, potentially, so that the Northern part is more manageable? I don’t know on this… 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other. I’m sure there’s pros and cons to both. The psychology is interesting, if you start in the North you have the promise of easier days but could be put off immediately; starting in the South you have threats from everyone walking the other way about how hard the North is.
Read up on water sources so you only carry what you need per hike: Some routes have water sources en route and some don’t . If there is water available you can start with 1 ltr and pick up as you need it. This can lighten your pack by around 2kg.. If there is no water on the hike, then take what you need. There’s definitely a strategy to this.
Don’t carry food (unless you are on a budget and you don’t mind carrying everything): There is plenty to buy on route although it is significantly marked up. (Pots of tuna/rice salad are 3.50e but make a good lunch. Baguette is around 2.5e (over priced but who doesn’t like bread). There are no energy bars to buy / some places have snickers or candy but not many.
For evening meals most of the refuges served something whether it was lentils, pasta or pots of stew: It’s ‘ok’, it’s not a gourmet delight but you don’t have to prepare it, cook it or clean up afterwards so it’s worth the money… just (18e/pp +/-). You also have the chance to sit and chat with other hikers and hear their stories, although stories about dislocated thumbs or broken noses are not really the stories you want to hear when debating whether to continue. Saying that, we met some really, really nice people along the way and we hope to stay connected.
Clothes: I was pretty happy with what I took and I’d maybe only change 1 thing.
- Fjall Raven Hike pants – wore these in the evening to keep legs warm and to have something not sweaty
- Hooded down jacket – wore this at night and first thing in the evening. Also doubled as my pillow.
- Rain shell – Used it on the rest day when it rained.
- Mountain Hardwear Hike shorts – wore these nearly everyday for hiking
- 2 hike shirts – wore these in the evenings / could have just had 1. These are lightweight and quick dry so didn’t really add to the weight
- 1 hike t shirt – Icebreaker and excellent – wore it every day. Washed as needed
- 3 pairs of Smartwool socks – 1 clean pair for camp / sleeping – 2 alternating for hiking
- 3 pairs Exofficio undies – rotated and washed
- 2 Icebreaker bras – rotated and washed
- Camp shoes – ugly but received so many compliments from fellow hikers. Take that Fashion people who laughed at my shoes…..
- Asolo Hiking boots – Amazing – best shoes ever – never had a blister in these. We saw a lot of people with trail runners on, but T + I really appreciated having ankle protection. Note, the trails are MUCH rougher than those in North America.
- Baseball cap – wore it everyday (to cover my unwashed non green/grey hair)
- Wooly hat – didn’t wear it on head but used it to relieve pressure on my shoulders after my collarbones bruised from carrying the pack.
- 2 bandanas- wore one to guard the back of my neck against the sun and used the other for the other collarbone (see above)
- Backpack: Osprey, Lumina + Levity (male and female version) Exceptionally light and VERY comfortable for both of us.
- Hiking poles are a must. Just ask the grumpy dudes carrying heavy ass pieces of wood. We used Black Diamond carbon fiber – super light. We made a lot of people jealous.
- Trail bars / Cliff/Pro Bar – Good to have for lunch and trail snacks
- Nuun tablets – we took too many I think. Used them but not obsessively
- Toilet paper – most necessary
- Headlamp – yes – used everyday
- Hand sanitizer – yes
- Sunblock – yes
- Bag of medicine (migraine tabs, ibuprofen, Imodium) yes – used in most cases
- BabyWipes – Most places had showering facilities (mostly cold) so we could have reduced the amount of baby-wipes we took. I overpacked – haha
- Liquid Soap for Body, hair, + clothes (Camp suds): Yes, this does exist and was amazing. Saying that, I chose to avoid using it on my hair as I didn’t want my natural highlights to turn green from the soap.. : ). Only those with grey hair would understand this dilemma. Another thing to note that there were a lot of well groomed hikers. Blokes shaved their faces and ladies shaved their legs… Made T + I feel scruffy.
- Although a GPS is not necessary, having a GPS app on your phone with all the maps allowed us to plan the days. Also having the GR20 guide on the phone was really helpful to read ahead.
- Clothes pegs: we took 10 and they’re were SO handy to peg out our smalls of an evening.
- Sam Splint: We took one of these but thankfully didn’t need it. As far as first aid is concerned we were never more than 100yds from another person.
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