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packing for the Alps

I am going on the MY Way Tour of France and will be in Chamonix at the end of May. If I plan on spending the day at the Alps, what kind of clothes would I need. I will only have a carry on for the trip. Do I need a hat and gloves?? What about boots?? Any help would be appreciated!! Thanks!

Posted by
14067 posts

I've not done the My Way tour but I have done the 21BOE with 2 nights in the Lauterbrunnen Valley in September and am doing the GAS tour the end of August with 3 nights in Muerren. I always travel with carryon.

I will plan to layer taking a waterproof jacket (Marmot Precip) and a Land's end Polarfleece 100 vest. I always have Smartwool glove liners in the pocket of the vest. This is what I took last time and it worked fine for the visit up the Schilthorn where it was pretty chilly (0C/32F). It was very pleasant later in the day so I was able to take off layers.

If you live in a warm climate and are not used to the cold you might consider a beanie for your head.

I found last time that boots were not really needed on the one trail I did which was wide, level and well-trodden. Of course that was Sept when there was no snow or mud. I managed fine with the athletic shoes I wore everywhere else.

I will also pack 1 long sleeve shirt which will be a Land's End Heat Crew. It's actually long underwear but I size up and wear it as a shirt.

Have a wonderful time on this tour! It looks like a lot of fun!

Posted by
15607 posts

You're going to want some warm things in France in May anyway, just in case. I like to take thermal undies as they take up little room or weight and easily dry overnight. A waterproof jacket sounds like a good idea as it will act as a windbreaker on Aiguille du Midi. Warm gloves, yes. Warm hat, yes. You can buy them in Chamonix if you don't think you'll need them on the tour. Sunglasses with good UV protection and sunscreen - even though it's cold, and those rays penetrate through the thin air.

Unless you plan on serious hiking, you won't need boots. I wear Ecco low-cut hiking shoes on my trips, great for walking on cobblestones. That's all I needed for the My Way Alpine tour. If you think you may be uncomfortably cold, take disposable chemical hand-warmers. There are also foot warmers to put in your shoes, but a thick pair of socks should keep you warm enough. If you get really cold, you can pop into the heated cafeteria up top for hot drink or soup.

Take a big bottle of water with you and watch out for altitude sickness. There's no potable water and the bottled water is overpriced. Stay hydrated. If you start to feel uncomfortable drink a lot of water, if the feeling doesn't pass, descend!

Posted by
1194 posts

Elevation, elevation, elevation. The higher you get the colder it gets. It can get pretty chilly at the top of the mountain. You can't predict mountain weather.

I've found this to work best for me:

  • a waterproof rain trench
  • a puff jacket ( mine is a Patagonia nano-puff)
  • a light hat
  • wind stopper gloves
  • base layer carried in a zip lock (mine is a t-zip)
  • silk 3/4 sleeve silk base layer in zip lock
  • leggings or silk long johns
  • a collapsible water bottle
  • a light day pack
  • shoes with a good tread

Note that most of these items can be combined for warmth or worn separately. They will take you from warm to snow. Wear either a short or long sleeve tee with a pair of light synthetic pants. Add in a snack and you're set for the day.

I carried these in my carry on and still made the 7 kg limit. Wear your jacket and shoes at weigh in.

Edit: I should note that I use the T-zip and leggings for pajamas in the Alps. The puff jacket looks great on the street. The wind stopper gloves are black and work in the city too. The shoes are my walking shoes in the city, though they have tread soles. There's a lot of double duty going on.

Posted by
5836 posts

The higher you get the colder it gets.

Adiabatic lapse rate (change in temperature with change in elevation/pressure) is -3F to -5F for every +1000 feet of elevation change. -3F for saturated air and -5 for dry air for elevations within mountaineering ranges. Air temperature at 5,000 ft ASL would be expected to be 15F to 25F degrees cooler than sea level. Its physics.

Posted by
1194 posts

@Edgar - to add to your reply. The Schilthorn is 9744 feet so we can almost double your calculations. As a WAG 30-50 degrees cooler than sea level. Plus wind.

Posted by
703 posts

we were in chamonix in early june 2014 and in the late afternoon in the village it was 36 deg C. Thats hot. up at the glacier we were walking around in T shirts, my wife was down to a singlet top. we were prepared for cooler weather but did not need it. the same thing happened about a week later on Mt Titlis. beautiful clear and warm day. so you never know.
layers are the way to go.

Posted by
2141 posts

Hi, agree that layers are the best choice. We were in Chamonix in May 2015 and were forunate to have a beautiful, sunny day. In the town the temp was about 50F, at the top of the Auguille du Midi, about 30F. Being from Ohio, 30 is not that cold to me. I was comfortable in a fleece with a zip/hooded sweatshirt. Our friends from Calif had winter coats, hats, and gloves! Loved Chamonix!

Posted by
5836 posts

Climate history is generally a good start in the planning process. However, keep in mind that means or averages are not the extremes and temperatures will likely be hotter or colder than average by definition.

Weather statistics for Chamonix, Rhône-Alpes (France)
Chamonix weather station: 1042 m.a.s.l., (About 3400 ft asl)
https://www.yr.no/place/France/Rh%C3%B4ne-Alpes/Chamonix/statistics.html
May: Normal = 10.6°C High = 16.8°C Low = 4.4°C 13 days w/ precipitation
June: 13.5°C 20.0°C 7.1°C 12

If you will be higher, adjust for elevation effects.