Boots Of number one importance is comfort and fit of your active footwear. Blisters can absolutely ruin any hiking trip. Lightweight boots are fine for most people, since you won’t be carrying a heavy pack. Some people prefer high ankle support, while other like lower cut trail-runners. Find a shoe that has a strong, sturdy sole and that you feel comfortable in. Make sure your boots are well broken-in before your trip. Seasoned European hikers wear their boots on the plane – if your luggage is lost or delayed, at least you’ll have a good, broken-in pair of boots to start with.
Shoes For off-the-trail, bring something light and very comfortable for the evenings and train rides. This can be anything from another pair of sneakers to a comfortable dress shoe or sandal.
Socks Thick, non-cotton socks, such as wool, will help protect your feet from blisters and stay warm when wet. Many socks are made specifically for hiking. 3-4 pair for a week with some hand-washing in the evening is fine. Thin sock liners are also a good idea for blister prevention.
Rain Gear A hi-quality raincoat with a hood is a must. Waterproofing technology varies from company to company, but Gore Tex is pretty trust worthy. The fabric is waterproof as well as breathable, which makes it great for hiking! Rain pants aren’t quite as essential, but you will definitely be grateful for them if you need to hike through extended periods of rain. We bring both. It’s best to carry rain pants and never need to use them instead of wishing you had them on a long, cold day.
Warm Layer A fleece jacket, sweater, or light down or synthetic jacket is a must. People get wet, weather changes suddenly, and we all need to be prepared for cold temperatures. Cotton does not keep you warm if you get wet. Down jackets are warm and very compactible if you want to keep weight down.
T-shirts Bring a few. If you want to pack light, bring 3-4 for a week and hand-wash as you go. Poly blends or wool hiking shirts are good, cotton is a bad choice if the weather is bad.
Pants A couple pair that are light and breathable. Quick drying, poly blends are best. Jeans are restrictive and dry much too slowly when wet.
Shorts 1 pair for warm days should be fine.
Dinner Wear None of your restaurants will require formal attire. You will want something nice, and not just your hiking clothes, but casual attire for dinner is fine. If you are staying in 4 and 5-star hotels, more elegant clothing for dinner is appropriate but not necessary.
Swimsuit There are pools and spas in many of the villages and village hotels. If you like to swim or use a sauna, bring one.
Backpack You’ll need a day pack for your hikes. It should be large enough to carry your warm layers, camera, water, lunch, and rain gear. No matter what the weather when you start out, you want to be prepared for a variety of weather conditions. Make sure you have space for an extra set of clothes for the hut nights! Preferences vary, but a 30-35 liter pack should be appropriate.
Walking/Trekking Poles They look like collapsible ski poles and are very common in the Alps. I find them to be a great help on steep slopes, up or down. They help distribute your weight from your knees and can make a vast improvement in comfort, especially for people who have had knee problems in the past. They’re also good for balance. Many, many people, after a tour, have suggested that we make these a mandatory packing item. Poles can be easily disassembled to make them fit into your checked baggage, or you can buy them in Europe – they’re affordable there and make a good souvenir.
Small Flashlight For finding the bathroom at night while staying in huts or remote inns.
Swiss Army Knife Always useful. Great for cutting cheese while breaking for a picnic. Don’t leave it in your carry-on luggage or you will lose it at the airport.
Binoculars Fun for spotting wildlife, climbers on peaks, and distant avalanches.
Camera If you’re bringing a separate camera, consider extra batteries (or a charger and adapter).
Adapter Having one or two adapters for plugging in all those gadgets. For US clients, we like the Kikkerland UL03-A. If you have a lot of devices, it’s nice to bring a small power strip as well, as outlets are not always plentiful.
Sleep Sheets These are provided when you have private rooms, but you will want to bring a thin sleep sheet for any dorm nights in huts. Silk packs up much smaller and lighter than cotton. We like to bring a clean t-shirt to use as a pillowcase. If you have a private room, sheets and towels are typically provided.
Soap and Towels Towels are provided when you have private rooms, but you’re expected to bring your own when you stay in dormitory. You might also want to bring a small amount of your favorite shampoo.
Earplugs They take up little space, and can be essential for a good nights sleep. Highly recommended for any dormitory nights!
Water Bottle If you have a water bottle or a Camelback system you like, bring it. Nalgene makes a great sturdy refillable water bottle. If you want to travel light, you can buy bottled water when you arrive and re-use the bottle for the rest of the trip. Plan to carry a couple liters.
You’ll need a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen (and maybe protective lipbalm with SPF). The sun can be very strong at high altitudes, especially when reflected off snow or water – don’t underestimate it.
Your first aid kit should include blister protection, pain killers, cold medicine. Moleskin is the classic blister protection, although it needs to be taped to stay in place. Compeed blister strips are great for serious protection, and Bandaid blister strips work well, too. Duct tape is a great low-tech solution, best used for hotspots before you blister.
Sleeping Bag Even in the simplest inns and huts, blankets are always provided.
Water Filter Clean, safe drinking water is in no short supply in the Alps. You won’t need a filter. A small amount of iodine tablets are good to have for emergencies.
Hair dryer 3-star hotels and higher have them, and small inns often don’t have the circuitry to handle it anyway.