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. There are a lot of good reasons to head to the mountains in the summer.
Aside from the astonishing natural beauty, exploring the mountains in summer is the perfect getaway in my mind. It’s a region that’s packed with things do that’ll keep active folks like me beaming for days on end.
Whilst the weather can be changeable (there’s no guarantee of perfect sunshine for days on end), if you’re in Europe you’ll find the Alps are usually hot and sunny for most of July and August. They’re also less humid than than the Med (and a lot less crowded). Whilst June and September can be less predictable, they can be spectacularly good if you’re lucky.
But 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 practicing for years and I think I’ve almost perfected it (hopefully I can save you from 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.
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So let’s get started. Here’s my guide to what to pack for your alpine adventure.
Getting active 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.
No problem! A few essentials will have you kitted out for most of your stay.
You’ll want to start with a couple of pairs of lightweight shorts and technical (breatheable) t-shirts or vest tops to wear during the day. 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 find that I never look 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 turns. It’s best to pack a few layers to adapt your outfits to differing weather, and be prepared on longer walks with extras in your bag. Conditions can change quickly in the mountains.
I’d recommend one or two pairs of long sports leggings/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 is 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, you’ve got to accept 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 the weather turns. 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.
I love my Mountain Hardware jacket (in the photo above). I’ve had it for years and it’s a real old-faithful. It’s light enough to pack in a small day bag, but has proven endlessly resilient over the years (even in mid-winter). I re-waterproof it with Nikwax once a year to bring it up a treat.
The lastest version of my jacket is the Mountain Hardware Ozonic Waterproof. You can find it on Amazon here.
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.
Off the mountain
With your adventuring wardrobe sorted, it’s time to turn our attention to everything else you plan to get up to when you’re away.
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 occassional big 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.
For this part of my trip, I want to get out of my running shorts. But it’s also good to know that 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 fancy 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 (I like to try and pick similar colours to help me with this) makes it easy to create different oufits each day without packing my whole wardrobe. 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. But even though I’m not normally a dressy kind of girl, and now 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 sportwear 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 litte more expensive than something you’d pick up in H&M, but they’re so versatile I don’t mind (and besides which, I’m an enthusiastic sale shopper). As a bonus, they take up next to no space in your luggage and wash really well.
In case it’s cooler
Moving on, you’ll also want some warmer layers for cooler evening. 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 pouring down.
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.
It goes without saying that comfortable shoes are the name of the game in the mountains.
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 boots you’re happy in, there’s no reason not to take these instead.
I love my Salomon Speedcross for mountain walking – they’ve got great grip and are so very comfortable when I’m on my feet all day. For reasons I don’t entirely understand they’re incredibly popular in France, where we’ve been known to play matching shoe bingo…
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 (and I love my heels usually) – you’ll almost certainly find yourself off tarmac at some point, and it’s not worth the bother.
I’ve been traipsing up hills and round bars in my Birkenstock Gizehs for a couple of years and find they’re perfect for this sort of trip. They don’t look out of place in town or a restaurant, and as a bonus have both grippy soles and adjustable straps to help them fit just right. Find them on Amazon here.
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. I walk (and ski and cycle) with the Salomon 10L trail pack. Aside from being really comfy to wear it’s light and easy to in my luggage. I save my larger pack with rain covers and more fancy features for adventures at other times of the year.
Find my Salomon trail pack on Amazon.
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, but I’m more likely to take a reuseable 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 ubiquitious saddle bag for! I’m sure you’ll have your own favourite.
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 about it for me. I shamelessly love going to this part of the world in the summer, but I hope that I’ve reassured you that you can enjoy the best of both worlds on a trip like this. Pack your athletic essentials to explore the mountains and get active in the great outdoors. But also bring a dress or two for fantastic 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 don’t need to bring your whole wardrobe. I’m also very confident that whilst you might get through a few t-shirts, you only really need two pairs of shoes. This means there’s all the more room to bring a few alpine cheeses back with you…
And lastly, if you think I’ve missed anything, let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear your mountain essentials.