23 Sep Packing for summer in the mountains: A girl’s guide
Wondering what to pack for an adventure in the Alps this summer? My packing guide (and printable packing list) should have you covered for mountain walking, lakeside lazing and evenings enjoying the towns and cities in my favourite part of Europe. Ready to get started?
Towering peaks, deep blue lakes, emerald green forests and mountain pastures. The Alps in summer are astonishingly beautiful. But this isn’t the only reason to head here in the summer.
From hiking and biking to lake swimming and trail running, there’s plenty for those who love active adventures. Then there’s beautiful hilltop towns and lakeside villages to explore, and fabulous places to kick back and relax. And above all else, it’s peaceful. It’s easy to escape the crowds in the Alps and find your own piece of mountain paradise.
For most of the summer, the mountains are gloriously hot and sunny. June and September can be cooler and a little more unpredictable, but you’ll be rewarded either with the late spring blooming of alpine meadows or the bounteous harvest of late summer. However, there’s no hiding that the weather can be changeable whenever you visit. Storms and cloudy days are always a possibility.
This means packing for a mountain trip can be a bit of a conundrum. With so many activities on offer – and an equally wide range of possible weather conditions – it can be hard to know where to start. But never fear! I’ve been practising for years and I think I’ve almost perfected it. Hopefully, I can save you from the packing mistakes I’ve made in the past.
So here’s my guide to packing for active days in the mountains – without living in sportswear. PLUS, I’ve created a handy packing list you can download and print – so you can spend more time planning the fun parts of your trip
What to wear exploring during the day
If you plan to spend your days exploring mountain trails on foot or by bike you’re going to want clothes that are comfortable, lightweight and adaptable to different weather conditions.
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You’ll want to start with a couple of pairs of lightweight shorts and technical (breathable) t-shirts or vest tops. You can opt for gear from specialist hiking clothing brands, but comfortable sportswear that you’re already happy in is plenty good enough. As a runner, I wear a lot of my running kit and it never looks too much out of place.
Decathlon is a great place to start for great value-for-money basics like shorts and tees.
If like me, you have sensitive skin that’s prone to burning, I’d recommend opting for t-shirts over vest tops – it can be pretty exposed high up in the mountains.
If you’re planning on some serious cycling, your usual shorts and jerseys should do the job. Oh, and bring your own helmet if you can – much better than having to rent one.
Obviously, shorts and t-shirts aren’t going to cut it if the weather’s not perfect. It’s best to pack a few layers to adapt your outfits to differing conditions. Plus you’ll want to keep some in your rucksack on longer walks. The weather can change quickly in the mountains.
I’d recommend one or two pairs of long sports leggings or running tights or at the very least 3/4 length leggings. Alternatively, walking trousers are also a good bet if you have some. A couple of long sleeve technical t-shirts will give you options for cooler days. I find these really useful for summer days when it’s not cold enough for a jumper, but it’s a little too chilly for bare arms.
A lightweight but warm fleece or two is another must have – especially if you plan to head up high.
In case it’s wet
My number one essential for this part of the world? A good waterproof jacket. Whilst the weather is pretty dependable in mid-summer, it rains in the mountains from time to time and usually when you least expect it.
The right jacket means you can still enjoy being out of doors even if it’s wet. Opt for something lightweight and breathable – as wet doesn’t necessarily mean cold at this time of year. A jacket that’s also windproof is great, it’ll act as another warm layer if it gets a little blustery or if you’re heading high up.
As a rule, I don’t pack waterproof trousers for the summer (I hope to be spending more time in swimwear than waterproofs). But check the forecast before you go, and if the weather is looking dubious they may be worth some space in your case.
What to wear off the mountain
When you’re not walking, cycling or otherwise active, the chances are you’ll probably want to pull on something that isn’t sports clothing. Even if I’m in the mountains to walk or cycle, I still enjoy exploring local towns (and the occasional city) and I’m just as likely as the next person to find myself heading out for dinner or drinks at the end of the day.
Most places in the mountains tend to be a little more casual than they are on the coast or in a big city. You won’t need heels and handbags, but it’s nice to get out of my running shorts.
Packing a selection of casual shorts, skirts and t-shirts gives you plenty of options. Choosing items that you’re happy to mix and match (picking similar colours helps with this) makes it easy to create different outfits each day from fewer items. In hot weather, I tend to steer towards floaty cotton tops rather than tight-fitting tees, but it’s entirely up to you.
Oh, and I’ve got a secret weapon. Travel dresses.
If I’m honest, I only recently discovered that these existed and I’m never going back.
Cut a long story short, they’re summer dresses made from stretchy, comfy, breathable fabrics – the sort you’d normally find your sportswear made from. And you’ll find them in the usual places you’d look for technical clothing (Go Outdoors and Snow + Rock are my usual spots) from brands you’ve heard of, like Marmot and Roxy. And rather than looking frumpy, or dare I say it – ‘practical’, they’re available in a huge range of style, colours and fun prints.
They’re a little more expensive than something you’d pick up in H&M, but they’re so versatile I don’t mind. As a bonus, they take up next to no space in your luggage and wash well.
In case it’s cooler
You’ll also want some warmer layers for cooler evenings. A jumper or cardigan, or two, usually does the trick. I also pack one pair of jeans or lightweight trousers in case the weather turns. There’s nothing more miserable than being stuck in shorts if rain comes your way.
Down by the water
Lastly, if you’re heading somewhere with a lakeside beach or a pool (great plan, by the way!) don’t forget your swimwear and a beach towel.
What to wear underfoot in the mountains
It goes without saying that comfortable shoes are the name of the game.
For serious walking, you’re going to want a shoe with a decent amount of grip underfoot. I’d recommend trail running shoes – or walking shoes – as a lighter alternative to walking boots for the summer months. Although of course if you’ve got boots you’re happy in, there’s no reason not to take these instead.
Whatever walking shoes you go for, pack plenty of cushioned walking socks to keep your feet fresh and blister free.
When you’re off the mountain, sandals that you can comfortably walk in should cover you for days in town or evenings out. You might also want a pair of flip-flops for kicking around at the beach or pool – your call. My only advice is to steer clear of anything with even a small heel as you’ll almost certainly find yourself off tarmac at some point, and it’s not worth the bother.
Finally, there are a few essentials I’d always suggest for walking or cycling in the mountains that aren’t clothing.
First up is a good rucksack – one that’s big enough for a picnic lunch and a few extra layers.
Next, equip your day pack with a collapsible water bottle or bladder – you’ll need to stay hydrated if you’re out and about whilst it’s hot – and a small first aid kit and plenty of sunscreen. You might also want to think about packing a few essentials for your lunch if you’re planning on picnicking. I’ve been known to take packs of sandwich bags in the past, although I’m more likely to take a reusable lunch box these days.
I’d also always recommend taking a handbag or tote bag for when your trainers are off. After long days with a pack on your back, the last thing you’ll want to do is take it out for dinner. For me, this is what I pack the ubiquitous saddle bag for! I’m sure you’ll have your own favourite.
My favourite products for summer in the mountains
Over the years I’ve found a few items that I wouldn’t want to be without. When it comes to the great outdoors, I’m looking for products that are comfortable, versatile and able to stand up to the rigours of being outside (and re-emerging from storage every year).
Here are my favourites;
- Mountain Hardware Ozonic waterproof jacket. This is a real old-faithful that I’ve had for many years. It’s light enough to pack into a small day bag but is endlessly resilient (even in mid-winter). I re-waterproof it with Nikwax once a year to keep it at its best.
- Salomon Speedcross trail shoes. I love my Salomon Speedcross for mountain walking – they’ve got fantastic grip and are so very comfortable, even on 20+ mile days. They’re incredibly popular in France, where I’ve been known to play matching shoe bingo with the locals.
- Birkenstock Gizehs. If there’s a better sandal for travel, I’ve not met them. My Birkenstocks perfect for this sort of trip. They don’t look out of place in town, at the beach or even at a restaurant. And as a bonus, they have both grippy soles and adjustable straps so they’re comfortable irrespective of the surface you’re walking on.
- Salomon 10L trail pack. I walk (and ski and run and cycle) with my Salomon pack. It’s super-light but durable enough to have withstood three years of outdoor adventure and every kind of weather, Somehow it still looks as good as it did the day it arrived. It helpfully packs down to next to nothing, perfect for hand-luggage only trips. I save my larger pack with rain covers and more fancy features for adventures at other times of the year.
- Platypus 1L collapsible bottle. This takes up no room in my luggage but performs brilliantly.
My printable packing list
The moment you’ve been waiting for – my master packing list for you to download and print.
I’ve included handy tick boxes and blank spaces for you to add your own essentials. And where I’ve written ‘x ___’ you can add your own magic number to remind you how many of each item to pack.
You can download the packing list here.
That’s a wrap from me. I hope that I’ve reassured you that it’s easy to pack for both active adventures and evenings relaxing on a trip like this. Pack your athletic essentials to explore the mountains and the great outdoors. But also bring a dress or two for evenings out, treading the cobbled streets of interesting towns or for kicking back at a lakeside beach.
If you’re not afraid to mix and match your clothes, and if you’ve got the basics covered, you needn’t bring your whole wardrobe. I’m also very confident that whilst you might want more than a few t-shirts, you only really need two pairs of shoes.
Lastly, if you think I’ve missed anything, let me know in the comments below! I’d love to know what mountain essentials you always pack.