GR20 Logistics

Planning a GR20 hike is tremendous undertaking. Known as the hardest trek in Europe, the GR20 has more than its fair share of challenges. The route, weather, and trail conditions…

Planning a GR20 hike is tremendous undertaking. Known as the hardest trek in Europe, the GR20 has more than its fair share of challenges. The route, weather, and trail conditions all conspire to truly make this one of the most difficult hikes around. Adding to that difficulty is the fact that Corsica can be extremely tricky to get around when compared to the rest of Europe. Infrequent public transportation, limited train routes, and lack of clear schedules can make planning for the GR20 nearly as hard as the hike itself!

We wrote this guide to help you plan for all the small details and tricky logistical items that are sure to arise as you plan your own GR20 adventure.

View of Refuge d' I Paliri.

In this guide you’ll find:

Corsica can be reached easily from the rest of Europe by either air or sea. The most popular port of entry for either air travel of ferries will be Bastia on the northeast coast of the island. You will also have the option of flying into Calvi, Figari (near Porto Vecchio), or Ajaccio.

When considering which city you’ll arrive in, your main consideration should be whether you are hiking from north to south (starting in Calenzana) or hiking south to north (starting in Conca). 

For those hiking the GR20 in the traditional north to south direction, Bastia or Calvi will be your best bet. For those hiking from south to north, Porto Vecchio or Figari will be the most convenient. 

Bastia has the largest number of flights from the rest of Europe, with connections to France, England, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and others.  For ferry connections, Nice and Marseilles in France serve all the major ports in Corsica .

Bastia is a lovely port town and will be most GR20 trekkers gateway to Corsica.

Getting to Bastia from the airport

Connecting from the Bastia Airport into central Bastia is relatively straightforward. The most cost effective means of transportation is the public bus linking the airport and Bastia. When exiting the terminal at the airport, look for a large, unmarked white bus. You can ask around at the airport information kiosk and they will point you in the right direction. 

Check bastiabus.com for schedules and more information.

A bus ticket from the Bastia Airport into Bastia costs 9 €

The bus costs 9 euros and drops travelers off near the port in the main part of Bastia, or adjacent to the train station.

Getting to the start of the GR20 (Calenzana)

For those hiking the GR20 from north to south the trail starts in the lovely town of Calenzana. Calenzana is just inland from the coastal town of Calvi. Your best bet will be to arrive in either Bastia or Cavli, both located in the north of the island. Making your way from either of those two cities to Calenzana is described below:

Getting to Calenzana from Bastia

Most trekkers will enter Corsica in Bastia and then make their way to Calenzana from there. While it is theoretically possible to arrive in Bastia and the start the GR20 the same day, we wouldn’t recommend it. It is much better to give yourself an entire day to reach Calenzana. Here are your options for getting from Calenzana to Bastia:

Getting to Calenzana by bus from Bastia:

The bus from Bastia to Calvi runs twice a day (including Sundays) in the summer season (generally July 1 – August 31st), with departures typically at 10:30 and 17:00. Outside of the summer season, the bus runs once per day at 16:30 (Monday – Thursday, and school holidays) and 17:00 (Fridays). Keep in mind there is no bus service on either Saturday or Sunday outside of the summer season! The route is operated by Les Beaux Voyages.

The bus leaves from the stop just adjacent to the train station in Bastia. Be sure to check corsicabus.org and the Les Beaux Voyages website for the latest bus schedules and to confirm exactly where the bus departs. The staff at the train station are a good source of information for this.

The bus to Calvi picks up from outside the Bastia train station.

Getting to Calenzana by train from Bastia:

Corsica has a very simple train line that connects Bastia, Ajaccio and Calvi. To get from Bastia to Calenzana via train, you’ll first need to take the line to Cavli. The schedule for this train is highly variable and changes by the season so be sure to check the “unofficial” Corsica Train website here. Trains typically run twice per day, but be aware that services can be greatly reduced or non-existent on Sundays. We paid 16 euros per person for our ticket in September 2019. 

Train ticket for the route from Bastia to Calvi.

Getting from Cavli to Calenzana:

Once you arrive in Calvi you’ll need to take the bus to Calenzana. The bus is operated by Les Beaux Voyages. You’ll want to stop by their office, which is located just up the street from the train station, to purchase a ticket before getting on the bus. The bus then picks up from across the street from the Les Beaux Voyages office. See the map below for locations of the train station, bus office, and bus stop.

Calvi to Calenzana bus
It is a short walk from the Calvi train station to the Les Beaux Voyages ticket office and bus stop to Calenzana.

The bus from Calvi to Calenzana and the start of the GR20.

Getting to the start of the GR20 (Conca)

For those hiking the GR20 from south to north, you’ll start in the town of Conca. Conca is just inland from the southern coast of Corsica and can be easily reached from either Porto Vecchio (via the Figari airport) or Bastia. As with all travel in Corsica, be sure to give yourself a full day to make it to Conca from any of the major cities in Corsica.

Getting to Conca by bus from Porto Vecchio or Figari airport:

There is no train service in the southern area of Corsica, so you’ll need to take the bus to Conca from either the Figari airport or Porto Vecchio. From the Figari airport you’ll need to catch the bus operated by Transports Rossi to Porto Vecchio. The bus operates only a few times per day, so be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get to Conca.

From Porto Vecchio you will then take the bus operated by Les Rapides Blues towards Bastia. The bus departs from the Porto Vecchio bus station near the marina twice daily at 8:00 and 13:30. It operates daily from June 15th to September 16th. Outside of that time frame the bus only runs Monday – Saturday.

You’ll get off the bus at the Ste Lucie de Porto Vecchio stop. From there you’ll need to call the Gite La Tonnelle (04 95 71 46 55) in Conca to arrange for their minibus to pick you up and take you to Conca. You can also inquire at the Bar U Colombu across the street from the stop as they can also call the Gite. It is advisable to contact the Gite before you depart to be sure they can pick you up in Ste Lucie de Porto Vecchio. Alternatively, you can always take a taxi from the bus stop to Conca, though this is a pricey option.

Porto Vecchio to Conca
Your journey from Porto Vecchio to Conca will look something like this.

Getting to Conca from Bastia:

If you’ve arrived in Bastia, you’ll need to catch the Bastia-Porto Vecchio bus operated by Les Rapides Blues towards Porto Vecchio. You’ll take the bus to the Ste. Lucie de Porto Vecchio and then connect to Conca using the mini-bus operated by the Gite La Tonnelle (04 95 71 46 55). As stated above, be sure to contact the Gite in advance of your arrival to be sure they can pick you up! Otherwise, you’ll have to call a taxi for the ~20 minute ride to Conca. 

Where to stay before and after the GR20

Depending on whether you’re hiking the GR20 from north to south, or from south to north you’ll either start in Calenzana and finish in Conca or vice versa. Either way you’ll want to be sure you secure accommodation for before and after your trek. Here are your best options in both Calenzana and Conca:

Where to stay in Calenzana

Calenzana is a lovely, compact town with several lodging options. For those on a budget, the Gîte d’étape Communal offers dormitory accommodation as well as space for camping. It is located at the entry to the town and the bus from Calvi will almost certainly make its first stop at the Gite.

For those looking for slightly more luxurious accommodation we recommend the Hotel Au pied des Oliviers as well as the Hotel A l’ombre du Clocher. Both make for a lovely way to start or finish your GR20 adventure!

A street in Calenzana, Corsica.
Calenzana is a great place to start your trek.

Where to stay in Conca

For those starting or finishing the GR20 in Conca you’ll have a few accommodation options. On the more basic end the Gite La Tonnelle offers dormitory and private rooms along with camping. They also arrange transit to/from Ste. Lucie de Porto Vecchio for onward connections to either Bastia or Porto Vecchio.

On the more upscale end, the Hotel San Pasquale has lovely grounds as well as very friendly staff. We highly recommend.

Transportation on the GR20

For the most part the GR20 is an isolated trail, visiting only the occasional road or village. You’ll spend many of your days high in the mountains with no easy options for leaving the trail. However, there are a few points along the route that offer connections to the rest of Corsica should you need to leave the trail for any reason. Here are your main options:

Haut-Asco ski area

From the Haute Asco ski area there are twice daily minibuses that connect to the train station at Ponte Leccia. The service is operated by Corsica Giru (+33 6 26 65 38 00). From the train station at Ponte Leccia connections can be made to Bastia, Calvi, and Ajaccio. 

Hotel Castel de Vergio

From Hotel Castel de Vergio, a bus service offered by Autocars Cortenais connects trekkers with Corte. From Corte, onward connections to the rest of Corsica are possible. 

Vizzavona

Vizzavona is conveniently located on the main rail route, making it easy for trekkers to connect to Bastia and Ajaccio. 

Village de Bavella

From Village de Bavella it is possible to connect via bus to Ajaccio and Porto Vecchio. 

It is possible to leave the GR20 at the Haut Asco ski area.

 

Where to take a rest day on the GR20

There is no question about it, the GR20 is one of the hardest hikes in the world. If you’re looking for an easy and enjoyable way to make it a bit more manageable, we recommend taking a rest day to enjoy your beautiful surroundings and recharge your body. Here are our top options for taking a rest day on the GR20:

Vizzavona

Vizzavona is the most natural place to take a rest day. It is approximately half-way through the GR20 and has a range of services available including transportation links to the rest of Corsica. You have a variety of accommodation options including luxurious hotels as well as a nice campground. In addition, you’ll have the most options for dining of any of the stops along the GR20 and the chance for some nice excursions from town if you’re feeling up to it. 

Here are your best lodging options in Vizzavona:

Hotel Casa Alta: On our GR20 trek we opted to splurge a bit and stay at the lovely Hotel Casa Alta – a beautiful and well run bed and breakfast located in a secluded stand of pine trees on the outskirts of town. We highly recommend it!

View of a room at Casa Alta Hotel in Vizzavona.

Lovely views from a room at the Casa Alta B&B in Vizzavona.

 

Hotel U Castellu: Another excellent option for a break from the campgrounds and refuges of the GR20 is to stay at the Hotel U Castellu in Vizzavona. This hotel gets great reviews for its quiet setting and comfortable rooms.  

Vizzavona Campground: While certainly not luxurious, the Vizzavona campground has an excellent shop and laundry facilities. The location is also great, set just outside of the main part of town.

Castel di Vergio

Castel di Vergio and the accompanying hotel make a great rest day stop for those who are feeling the effects of the very difficult first few days of the GR20. For those heading from north to south you’ll have enduring some of the hardest days on the trek, and there is no shame in want to take a day off here and recover! While there aren’t many amenities to speak of, there is a nice hotel, restaurant, as well as a bus service that provides transit links to Corte and the rest of Corsica. 

There are really only a few accommodation options at Castel di Vergio:

Hotel Castel di Vergio: The hotel offers both private hotel rooms as well as a simple gite. While not the most scenic building, it does have an excellent restaurant,friendly staff, and a great bar. 

Castel di Vergio Campground: Adjacent to the gite, this is one of the nicer campgrounds you’ll encounter on the GR20. Hot showers, a covered cooking area, and an extremely well stoked shop make this a nice place to spend an extra night, even if you’re camping. 

The well stocked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio

The well-stoked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio

 

Luggage storage on the GR20

Given the difficulty of the GR20 it is essential to carry only what you need and nothing extra. However, many walkers may be traveling with more than just the essentials. When we hiked the GR20 we had plenty of additional luggage that we didn’t want to carry on the trek: a laptop, extra clothes, and some cold weather gear. We knew that we didn’t walk to take it with us on the GR20, but finding a way to store our luggage was difficult. 

Our solution was to strategically book a hotel in Bastia that we knew would agree to hold our luggage for the duration of the trek. This meant that we would stay at the hotel both before and after our trek, with the hotel keeping our excess luggage free of charge. You can’t beat free!

For this, we stayed at the Best Western Bastia Centre, which was happy to accommodate our luggage storage request. If you’re traveling through Bastia both ways for your own GR20 trek, we highly recommend staying at the Best Western to solve the luggage storage issue. If you’re not transiting through Bastia, staying at one hotel both before and after the GR20 is likely your best bet to find luggage storage. Just call or email the hotel you are thinking of staying at before booking to confirm they’ll store your luggage.

Luggage transfer on the GR20

For those who are interested in a luggage transfer service on the GR20 our simple advice would be to scrutinize what you are packing and plan to carry it all yourself. The reality is that luggage transfer on the GR20 is very expensive and is likely to require that you not hike the traditional GR20 route. The reason for this is that much of the GR20 is extremely remote and it is not possible for transfer companies to reach the various refuges along the route. Several companies offer guided and self-guided GR20 hikes that include luggage transfer, but be sure to look closely at their itinerary and think hard if you are okay sacrificing hiking the entire route in order to have your luggage transferred.

Hiker on the GR20

You’ll be much better off trying to lighten your pack than arrange for your luggage to be transferred .

 

Money on the GR20

The main consideration to think about regarding money on the GR20 is that it is pretty much a cash-only. There are no ATMs along the route, not even in Calenzana and Conca at the endpoints, nor in Vizzavona at the midpoint.

It is essential that you to estimate your expected daily costs (food and lodging), plus some cushion for transportation and other miscellaneous or unplanned items. Keep in mind that if you made reservations for refuges or hire tents, you will have paid in full for this accommodation ahead of time and won’t need to carry quite as much money.

Hikers silhouetted at the top of a bocca on the southern half of the GR20.

They’re not going to find any ATMs around here!

 

A small number of places accept credit cards, (such as the campground shop in Vizzavona and many of the hotels) and you might be lucky enough to get cash back in a pinch. In general, things are relatively expensive in Corsica, especially along the trail. Check out our How Much It Cost Us to Hike the GR20 article for more on what you can expect to pay. 

Ready to keep planning your GR20 adventure?

Logistics on the GR20 are definitely not easy, but we hope this article provided you with some of the essentials to make sure you have a great trek. Our best advice is to be prepared and be flexbile!

If you’re looking to keep planning the perfect GR20, be sure to check out the rest of our comprehensive resources below:

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How to Train for the Walker’s Haute Route

So you’ve decided to trek the Walker’s Haute Route. Congratulations! You are in for the adventure of a lifetime. Perhaps you’ve started planning your itinerary, putting together a packing list,…

So you’ve decided to trek the Walker’s Haute Route. Congratulations! You are in for the adventure of a lifetime. Perhaps you’ve started planning your itinerary, putting together a packing list, and booking your accommodation, but have you thought about your physical preparation? Obviously, you’ve at least taken the first steps since you’ve found your way to this post, and for that your future self will thank you. That’s because being physically prepared for a tough trek like the Haute Route is the single most impactful action you can take to ensure your trip will be as enjoyable as possible. 

 

Looking down into the Matteral Valley on the Walker's Haute Route.

Looking waaay down into the Mattertal Valley. You’ll want strong legs to tackle ascents and descents like these!

 

Training for the Haute Route will make your experience exponentially more rewarding for a number of reasons, including…

  • You’ll be able to focus on the beauty of your surroundings instead of the pain and fatigue in your body.
  • You’ll eliminate the unnecessary stress of falling behind schedule due to spending longer-than-anticipated days on the trail.
  • By taking the time to prepare in advance, you’ll enjoy the anticipation of your upcoming trip and completing your trek will be immensely rewarding.
  • You’ll improve your fitness and health by working towards a goal that is exciting and meaningful.

Keeping reading to learn what you need to do to feel strong and prepared to conquer your very own Walker’s Haute Route adventure.

What’s in this post?

Hiker climbs a ladder to reach Pas des Chevres on the Walker's Haute Route

The ladders may look intimidating, but they’re actually not the most challenging part of the Haute Route.

 

How difficult is the Walker’s Haute Route?

The Haute Route does not require advanced mountaineering experience, but its challenges certainly should not be taken lightly. For one thing, it is a very strenuous endeavor. Expect to cover around 15km and 1,000m of elevation gain each day. Much of the hike requires walking on steep, loose, and rocky terrain.

In addition to the basic physical challenges, there are also some sections that are technically difficult. Parts of the trail along the Europaweg and on the approach to Pas des Chevres are very exposed and come with a small risk of falling rocks.  There are ladders and chains to negotiate at a few points along the trail as well, with the toughest being near Pas des Chevres. Additionally, some hikers opt to take a variant that involves a short glacier crossing, but that can be easily avoided.

One final consideration involves the health of your knees and overall leg strength. There are very long, steep descents on nearly every stage of the Haute Route, and these can create problems and irritate chronic injuries for those with sensitive knees.

If you approach it with a solid fittness base and some trekking experience, you should be well suited for the Haute Route. There’s no need to be too intimidated by this trek, but it’s a very good idea to train ahead of time, be realistic about your abilities and expectations, and use good judgement in the mountains.

The Walker’s Haute Route in numbers:

Total distance: 225 kilometers (140 miles)

Total elevation gain: 14,000 meters (45,932 feet- that’s about the same as climbing to the top of Mt. Everest from base camp four times!)

Average Daily distance*: 19 kilometers (11.5 miles)

Average daily elevation gain*: 1,166 meters (3,827 feet)

*Averages are based on a traditional 12-day itinerary

 

Beautiful wildflowers along the trail near Arolla on the Haute Route.

Beautiful wildflowers along the trail near Arolla.

 

I don’t live near mountains…Will I be able to get fit enough?

Okay, so hopefully the first section of this post convinced you that yes you CAN complete the Walker’s Haute Route, but also that you really, really should take our advice and train ahead of time. However, if you’re like a great many people who aspire to trek the WHR, you don’t have trails in your backyard on which to complete said training. If that’s your situation, don’t despair. We’ve known plenty of people who’ve become incredibly strong hikers without the benefit of mountain training. Here’s some ideas for flatlanders:

  • Use the stairclimber machine at your local gym. Go slow, as this torture device machine definitely induces greater perceived exertion than most sections of the Haute Route.
  • Walk or run up and down the stairs at a nearby high school stadium or similar venue.
  • Get on a treadmill and walk at a brisk pace. Play around with setting the incline to a variety of levels, ranging from 5-12%.
  • Many bridges make excellent artificial hills. Make sure the one you choose has a safe pedestrian area and then walk back and forth across that sucker a bunch of times. Sure, it’s not the most exciting option, but consider it an opportunity to build both physical strength and mental fortitude.

As much as possible, complete the above activities while wearing a weighted pack similar to the one you plan on hiking with. Commit to one or more of these moves and you might be shocked at the high level of hiking fitness you can build without ever leaving sea level.

 

Basic Training Plan for the Walker’s Haute Route

Top of a mountain pass on the Walker's Haute Route

You’ll be glad you used this training plan when you’re climbing up steep mountain passes like this one!

 

Six Months Before Your Trek: Build Your Endurance Base

As we alluded to earlier, you can expect to spend long days on the trail while hiking the Haute Route. Most walkers complete their trek in 12-14 days, meaning they’ll need to average around 15 kilometers (10 miles) per day. To prepare for extended periods of hiking, you’ll should try to build a solid foundation of aerobic endurance. So what does that actually mean? Simply put, your body needs to be accustomed to sustaining low(ish)-intensity exercise for longer than an hour.

Like a lot of training, the best way to get your body used to moving for a long time is to-you guessed it- regularly move for extended periods of time. You can achieve this a lot of different ways, but the important factor is that you’re frequently and consistently doing cardio exercise. Aerobic activity (AKA “cardio”) includes things like jogging, cycling, walking, swimming, using the elliptical machine, or anything else that requires moderate, sustained exertion (your heart rate should be elevated, but you should be able to maintain a conversation and keep up the activity for at least 30 minutes).

Starting six months prior to your trek, aim to complete 30-60 minutes of aerobic activity 3-5 times per week. If your fitness regimen already includes this kind of thing, just keep on keeping on!

 

Three Months Before Your Trek: Build Your Strength

In order to feel great throughout your trip and avoid injury and burnout, you’ll need the endurance base you started building in the previous training phase, plus ample leg strength. Ideally, at this point in your training you should begin to increase the frequency and intensity of your hiking. Your main goal is to continue to build your aerobic endurance while also training your leg muscles for long-distance hiking. If you can’t hit the trails, you can achieve similar results by doing anything that involves incline; bike uphill, set a treadmill to high incline (4-12% grade), or spend some time on the step machine at your gym.  Heck, you could even walk the stairs at the local high school stadium if you wanted to.

Additionally, now is the time to start incorporating a leg strengthening routine into your weekly training. Many hikers neglect strength training for any number of reasons; they don’t think they need it, they don’t know how, they don’t have time, or they just find it boring (this last one is the favorite excuse of yours truly!) However, strength training plays a huge role in giving you the power needed to tackle hard climbs, build stability, stay light on your feet, and prevent injury. You don’t need to spend a ton of time in the gym to get results, either. Even just a few minutes a week in the comfort of your home can make a world of difference.

Everyone’s fitness goals are different, but we generally recommend completing the following short workout 2-3 times per week to build Haute Route-ready legs:

  • 10 goblet squats (with medium weight)
  • 10 lunges on each leg (add weight or jumps to increase the challenge)
  • 10 step-ups on each leg (weights optional)

Complete three sets of each exercise.

 

Hiker with large blue backpack walks on a trail surrounded by wildflowers.

As your trek draws nearer, it’s a good idea to start hiking with a weighted pack to simulate what you’ll carry on the WHR.

 

Two Months Before Your Trip: Put on Your Pack

Remember all of that brand new gear sitting in your closet? Now is the time to break it in! In the eight weeks or so before your trip, try get in as many longer hikes (or walks) with your gear as possible.  Think of it as a “dress rehearsal” for your trek. The benefits of breaking in your gear at this point are twofold. First, you’ll be able to test your boots, backpack, socks, and so on to ensure that they fit well during longer hikes. Second, you’ll begin training your body to hike while wearing a heavy backpack.  If you’re new to backpacking, you’ll be surprised by how much more challenging it is to hike with the extra weight.

Even if you’ve been strength training, chances are you’ll be using new muscles when hiking with a backpack. The best way to condition your body? Hiking as much as possible with that heavy backpack! In the two months before your Haute Route trek, try to complete at least one challenging hike at least once a week while wearing your pack. Your backpack should mirror the weight you intend to carry on your Haute Route hike, including food and water. Ideally, you should work up to hikes that are 15-18 kilometers (5-10 miles) long with 500 meters (1,500 feet) of elevation gain. If that’s not possible, try to complete a weekly long walk (5-10 miles) while wearing your pack and with as many hills as possible (see the previous section for more ideas on this). As an added bonus, these hikes/walks are a great opportunity to start breaking in new hiking boots and other gear.

Reminder: During this training phase, you should keep up your aerobic and strength training from the previous sections, simply replacing one of your weekly aerobic workouts with a long hike. 

 

One Month Before Your Trip: Time for a Test Run (Hike)

This stage in your training is awesome because it requires you to take a vacation (you’re welcome). If at all possible, try to take a 1-2 night backpacking trip in your local woods.  If you aren’t planning on camping along the Haute Route, you don’t need to take an overnight trip, but you should still try to fit in two back-to-back days of long, hard hiking.

This important step allows you to try out different ways of packing your backpack for maximum fit and comfort, practice setting up camp, and get your body used to hiking consecutive days in a row. It will also give you the chance to see what items you packed that you don’t need, and what you may have forgotten.

Keep up your established aerobic and strength training until 10 days to one week before the hike. In the last week before your trip, continue doing some light cardio and strength, but take extra rest days and don’t do any big, challenging hikes so your body is fresh for your upcoming adventure. Finally, pat yourself on the back and take pride in showing up to your Haute Route trek fit, prepared, and the best version of yourself!

Hiker walks uphill on the Walker's Haute Route.

Ultimately, walking long distances on hilly terrain is the best way to prepare for the Haute Route.

 

Adapting the Hike for Varying Ability Levels

Unfortunately, the Haute Route is not the friendliest trek in terms of accessibility and adaptations.  There are sections that don’t allow for shortcuts, and some of the detours can be less than perfect.  That being said, it is still possible to complete significant portions of the hike, even if you’re not able to do the whole thing. If your training doesn’t go as planned due to injury, illness, or the realities of life that inevitably creep in from time to time, there are ways to reduce the level of challenge on the trek. Here are a few suggestions:

    • If possible, consider adding an extra day or cutting out a segment to reduce the average distance you’ll need to cover each day.
    • Use a luggage transfer service to eliminate the extra demands of carrying your heavy pack (note that these do not service all stops along the Haute Route)
    • Use public transportation to avoid the more challenging stages of the hike.
    • Plan for a rest day midway through your hike. Les Haudères and Zinal make great options.  See our Haute Route Logistics article for more information about luggage transfers, rest days, and detour options.
    • Enlist a few friends or family members to come with you and rent a car. You can alternate between hiking and driving the support vehicle to customize the amount of time spent on your feet.  Plus, you’ll still be able to enjoy much of the same spectacular Alpine scenery from the road.

Clouds parting to reveal stunning views on the way to Cabane du Mont Fort.

Clouds parting to reveal stunning views on the way to Cabane du Mont Fort.

 

The Bottom Line

Move, preferably uphill and with weight on your back, as much as possible. Do this and you will be able to enjoy every moment of your incredible trip so much more. Plus, the time and effort you spend working towards your goal will make the real thing that much sweeter. I can’t stress enough how glad we were that we’d prepared for the challenge of a thru-hike like the Walker’s Haute Route, and I hope our experience can help you have your best possible trip.

 

But wait…there’s more!

If you’re looking for one-on-one support in preparing for the Haute Route, we can help! Learn more about our personalized coaching services. 

Be sure to check out our entire series on the Haute Route to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for this incredible adventure!

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10 Essentials for the Walker’s Haute Route

The Walker’s Haute Route (WHR) promises to be an unforgettable adventure for anyone willing to tackle the challenge. This spectacular hike begins at majestic Mont Blanc and ends at the…

The Walker’s Haute Route (WHR) promises to be an unforgettable adventure for anyone willing to tackle the challenge. This spectacular hike begins at majestic Mont Blanc and ends at the iconic Matterhorn, but what lies between the two peaks is the best part. The Walker’s Haute Route winds its way through some of the most stunning scenery, quaint villages, and rugged trails that the Alps have to offer.

Looking way down towards the valley from Jungen on the Walker's Haute Route

Looking way down towards the valley from Jungen.

 

While the rewards are undoubtedly worth it, completing a Haute Route trek is no small feat. In addition to the very real physical challenges that exist, this hike requires a good deal of planning and logistics to ensure a smooth, successful, and enjoyable experience. No need to stress through-we’ve got you covered.

In this post we’ll share our most valuable advice for those hiking the Haute Route. These are the things we wished we knew before completing our own trek, as well as the brilliant insider tips we picked up from other hikers we met along the way. This post  will help you to make sure you’ve thought of everything before setting off on your own Haute Route adventure. And if you’re looking for more in depth content, don’t forget to check out our Camping Guide, Trip Report, and more!

 

Views back towards Arolla as you make your way to La Sage on the Walker's Haute Route

Views back towards Arolla as you make your way to La Sage.

 

1. Be Flexible

The Walker’s Haute Route traverses rugged paths and high mountain passes, which are challenging enough in good weather, but can quickly become dangerous in adverse conditions. At higher elevations, storms can roll in quickly, and can be especially hazardous when you’re in highly exposed areas.

Additionally, large patches of snow can remain on the trail well into the summer hiking season. While some of these snowy sections are easy to cross, others can be very difficult, slow, and potentially unsafe to try to negotiate without the proper gear and experience. In particular, the sections between Cabane du Mont Fort and Arolla tend to present the biggest issues with late-season snow.

A hiker crosses a large snow field on stage 9 of the Walker's Haute Route

Plenty of snow in mid-July en route to Cabane du Moiry.

 

Finally, there are some sketchy sections of the trek that require extreme caution, such as the approach to Pas des Chevres (which has loose rocks and requires scrambling).

So why are we telling you all of this? Because if there’s only one rule you follow on the Haute Route it should be this: give the mountains the respect they deserve. The Haute Route is unique in the sense that there are virtually endless route options, variants, and detours available. In situations where the weather forecast is ominous, the trail conditions are sketchy, or your gut is telling you that something is out of your league, you have options. Use them!

It’s not the end of the world if you have to detour or adjust your plans to stay safe. In our opinion, it doesn’t make you an less of a badass hiker. In fact, it illustrates your experience and wisdom when it comes to trekking. Be open to whatever unique challenges the trail throws at you, after all that’s part of the journey!

Climbing a ladder to reach the Pas des Chevres on Stage 7 of the Walker's Haute Route

The ladders are actually the easiest part of the ascent to the Pas des Chevres!

 

2. Get in shape

With a route that traverses more than 180km and over 12,000m of elevation gain, it’s imperative that you are physically prepared for the Haute Route. Sure, every year there are more than a few untrained couch potatoes that manage to slog their way through this trek, but we are absolutely certain that you will have an immensely better experience if you are in good trekking shape. Nobody wants to approach each and every mountain pass with a sense of dread and exhaustion.

We recommend following a regimen of cardio and strength exercises at least twice a week in the months leading up to your trip. Additionally, do as much hiking with a weighted pack as possible ahead of time.It’s a good idea routinely do strength training exercises to build leg and core muscles in order to protect against injuries and give you more stability on steep trails. Ideally, you should be able to comfortably complete hikes of 20km with 1,000m of elevation gain on consecutive days.

Keep reading: How to Train for the Walker’s Haute Route

A rocky, high mountain view from the trail on Stage 10 of the Walker's Haute Route

Expect to climb up, up, and more up, and then go all the way back down- every day of the trek!

 

3. Think ahead when it comes to logistics

Even though we encourage you to be flexible throughout your Haute Route adventure, it’s still a good idea to do some advance planning. There are several logistical issues you’ll need to consider when preparing for your journey, including getting to and from the trail, luggage storage and transfer, detours, rest days, and money.

The point-to-point nature of the Haute Route means that you’ll finish your trek somewhere different from where you started (unless you’re crazy enough to do the whole thing again in reverse!) Most hikers will end in Zermatt, and many will need to make their way back to Geneva to catch a flight home. Although Zermatt is a car-free town, it is well connected by transit links. The easiest way to get from Zermatt to Geneva is by train. We recommend booking your onward travel in advance to ensure you get a seat and to score the best prices. Furthermore, if you have extra luggage that you don’t want to carry while hiking, you’ll need to decide if you want to store it in Chamonix or have it sent ahead to Zermatt. If you need to detour from the trail, we strongly suggest downloading the SBB and Postbus apps, which are great tools for helping you figure out how to get from point A to point B.

Be sure to check out this in-depth logistics article, where we cover everything you need to know to have a smooth and stress-free trek.

The PostBus provides easy and convenient access between many points along the Walker's Haute Route.

The PostBus provides easy and convenient access between many points along the Walker’s Haute Route.

 

4. Pack light

Carrying an unnecessarily bulky/heavy pack is a surefire way to make your Walker’s Haute Route trek abundantly less fun. The more weight you haul on your back, the greater effort you’ll need to exert on an already arduous trek. Additionally, there are some technical and exposed sections of the hike that require surefootedness and a compact center of gravity, neither of which is aided by a large backpack throwing off your balance. In all honesty, you don’t need to carry that much for this trek.

Many hikers choose to stay in huts, but even those camping will only need to bring food supplies to last a couple of days. Think about it this way: you can either wear slightly dirty shirts and cruise up those mountain passes comfortably, or you can opt for clean shirts and slow schlepping. For more about what to pack (and what to leave behind), be sure to check out our comprehensive Walker’s Haute Route Packing List.

A hiker walks through pink and yellow wildflowers on the Walker's Haute Route

Gorgeous wildflowers AND a not-too-heavy backpack? You truly can have it all on the Walker’s Haute Route!

 

5. Make new friends

One of the best parts about long-distance hiking is the people you meet along the way. Since many hikers stop at the same places each night, you’ll end up seeing familiar faces and forming meaningful connections.  The mountain huts simply ooze with camaraderie, and you’ll undoubtedly enjoy some incredibly memorable meals with awesome people from all over the world who share your love of the mountains. Even if you opt to stay in a tent, the campgrounds are  wonderful places to share a drink and a chat with your fellow trekkers.  However you do it, make sure to strike up conversations with as many hikers as you can along the way. Connecting with others will significantly enrich your experience and make it so much more meaningful.

Picnic tables at the campground in Zinal along the Walker's Haute Route.

There are so many places to hang out with new friends along the Haute Route!

 

6. Have a food strategy

While it’s true that with the abundance of services along the way you’re unlikely to starve on the Haute Route, it is still paramount that you approach your fueling with a bit of foresight. Switzerland is expensive, and if you are forced to rely on purchasing all of your meals at the mountain huts and restaurants you pass along the way, you’re going to end up spending a king’s ransom. If you’re aware of that reality and factor it into your budget, that’s great, but if you’re caught unprepared you’ll be in for an unpleasant surprise.

So how do you avoid paying 30 CHF for a plate of pasta every time you need to eat? We recommend stocking up on provisions in the towns you pass through along the route, packing your camp stove, and self-catering most meals. This will ensure you’re getting healthy fuel and plenty of snacks throughout the day, and it will save you a lot of money.  But there’s a catch. Grocery stores are nonexistent in many of the smaller hamlets, so you’ll need to do a little research to figure out your next refueling stop and carry enough food to last you until that point.

Additionally, keep in mind that many shops close for a midday lunch break and nearly everything is closed on Sundays. With a little upfront planning, you can eat well and have plenty of room in your budget for little splurges, like a homemade blueberry tart or post-hike beer (or both!)

Cooking on a camp stove outside Cabane du Moiry

Self-catering at the mountain huts gives you a chance to eat outside and enjoy the views!

 

7. Bring a map

In all honesty, we didn’t use our paper map at all during our Haute Route trek. Instead, we used our smartphone as a GPS device, which allowed us to see our exact location on the route, as well as topographic information and all of our campsites. On the whole, the Walker’s Haute Route is very well marked and pretty straightforward to follow. That being said, there are numerous variants and trail junctions that make it surprisingly easy to wander off course.

A good map can save you hours of frustration and, more importantly, save your life in an emergency. Even though we relied primarily on a digital map, we still strongly encourage everyone to carry a paper map. You never know when your battery could die,  your phone could fall into in a puddle, or any number of undesirable flukes could occur. We recommend bringing the following two Swiss Topo maps: Swiss Topo #5003 Mont Blanc-Grand Combin and Swiss Topo #5006 Matterhorn – Mischabel. Both can be purchased here.

A screenshot of using a smartphone GPS app to navigate on the Walker's Haute Route

This is what our GPS navigation looked like on our phones while hiking on the WHR.

 

8. Consider taking a rest day

If you’ve got the time, we highly recommend adding a rest day into your itinerary. Rest days are wonderful for a number of reasons. Perhaps most obviously, they give your body a chance to recover from a succession of physically demanding days on the trail. This can be a game-changer when it comes to preventing injuries and/or burnout. Additionally, rest days can be a great opportunity to spend time in one of the many charming villages along the route. When you’re hiking all day, there can be limited time to actually explore and immerse yourself in the places you pass through, but a rest day gives you the chance to slow down and absorb all of the delightful culture and history that these places have to offer. We enjoyed spending a day off in Les Haudères (which you can read more about in our trip report), but Le Châble, Arolla, and Zinal would also make great options.

Laundry drying in a window in Les Hauderes along the Walker's Haute Route

Another great rest day perk? Clean laundry!

 

9. Take care of your knees

We’ve completed a lot of tough hikes, but the Haute Route takes the cake for toughest on our knees. Expect very long, very steep descents on nearly every stage of the trek. These can be brutal on your joints, particularly knees and hips. By the end of our trip, our bodies were feeling pretty battered.  Fortunately, we took a few preventive measures that kept us feeling strong enough to finish with smiles on our faces.

One of the most important things you can do to minimize the effects of 1,000+ meters of daily descent is to make your pack as light as possible. This can be a little tricky when you’re camping, but every ounce you can shave off really does make a difference. Our trekking poles were also invaluable when it came to keeping us stable on steep, loose sections and taking some of the impact off of our joints. We can’t say enough about how helpful it is to use trekking poles!

Finally, if you’ve got knee issues, there’s no shame in using the cable car when the opportunity presents itself. There are several stages where hikers have the option to ride down and avoid a long slog.  This can be a great way to minimize the impacts of tough trekking.

Hiker with trekking poles on stage 12 of the Walker's Haute Route

All smiles (and grateful for my trekking poles) on our final day of the WHR!

 

10. Leave no trace

The environment in the Alps is incredibly beautiful and even more fragile. Many thousands of people recreate in this region each year, and even small things can add up to have major impacts. It doesn’t take much time spent on the Haute Route to see the negative effects of human activity, from rapidly diminishing glaciers to braided and eroding trails, to litter left behind by careless walkers.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Your choices can make a real difference in keeping the Alps healthy and protected for future generations. Stay on marked trails, minimize wild camping, carry out all of your trash, and respect the flora and fauna. Taking these simple measures will help you enjoy and appreciate the stunning beauty of the Haute Route so much more.

Glacier views on the way up to Fenetre d'Arpette

The stunningly beautiful (and rapidly receding) Trient Glacier on the way up to Fenêtre d’Arpette.

 

Conclusion

Heed these ten little nuggets of wisdom and you are well on your way to a successful Walker’s Haute Route adventure. While there will certainly be plenty of surprises throughout your journey, even a small amount of intentional preparation will go a long way to ensure your trek is smoother and more enjoyable. Is there anything you think should be included on this list? Let us know in the comments below. Wishing you an unforgettable Haute Route experience!

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How to navigate on the Laugavegur Trail | GPS maps

Iceland’s Laugavegur Trail is on many hikers bucket list. The trek brings you to some of Iceland’s most beautiful scenery while also helping you escape from the tour bus crowds…

Iceland’s Laugavegur Trail is on many hikers bucket list. The trek brings you to some of Iceland’s most beautiful scenery while also helping you escape from the tour bus crowds that have become all too common at many of the country’s top sights. One question we frequently hear from readers who are interested in hiking the Laugavegur Trail is how we went about navigating while on the trail. Did we bring maps? Was the route hard to follow? How hard was it to find the huts and campgrounds along the Laugavegur Trail?

Finding your way on the Laugavegur Trail shouldn’t cause any headaches!

Rest assured that with the proper tools and resources, navigating on the Laugavegur Trail should be a straightforward endeavor. In this post we’ll explain exactly how we navigated on the trail, including how we utilized GPS on our phones to make navigating a breeze and also provide some resources for those who would like to do the same. Let’s get started!

In this post

Should I bring a paper map on the Laugavegur Trail?

The short answer is yes. You should always carry a paper map on any backcountry expedition. While we chose to rely on GPS data loaded into a navigation app on our phone, a paper map is an essential item to have as a backup. Technology has done wonders to make trail navigation easy and accessible, and we highly recommend you utilize it to help navigate on your own trip. However, if that iPhone you brought runs out of battery or you drop it in a puddle, you’ll be glad you had your handy paper maps to rely on.

Laugavegur Trail Map

At a minimum, we recommend carrying the Island Serkot 04 map, as it provides a useful overview of the Laugavegur Trail and surrounding areas. A weatherproof carrying case like this one wouldn’t hurt to have either.

Once in Iceland, you’ll also be able to find maps with much better detail on the Laugavegur Trail, which we would also suggest picking up. You’re best bet in Reykjavik is to stop by one of the many outdoor stores. They should have several maps available.

Read more: Be sure to familiarize yourself with the trail, elevation profile, and more by checking out our Laugavegur Trail | Maps, Routes, and Itineraries post.

Offline GPS maps for the Laugavegur Trail

One of our favorite tools to utilize on long treks, including the Laugavegur Trail, is an offline GPS map of the entire route and surrounding terrain. It makes on trail navigation incredible easy and the set-up is a breeze. You simply download the necessary GPS files on to your phone and open your chosen GPS app (more on that below).

You can then easily view your location, the trail, huts, campgrounds, and more along the Laugavegur. We utilized this frequently on our own hike to know how far we had hiked at any given point, check that we were still on the trail, and know how close we were to our stopping point for the day.

We think this is far and away the most convenient way to navigate on the Laugavegur Trail and want to help you successfully utilize offline mobile maps on your Laugavegur trek. Keep reading below to learn more about how your phone can work as a GPS and how we can help you feel confident using this navigation method.

Using your phone as a GPS

Modern smartphones are incredible machines. You can send email, video chat with someone halfway around the world, and check your bank account all with a swipe of your finger. Another great feature of smartphones is their ability to act as a GPS device. You regularly use this feature when navigating with Google Maps, Apple Maps, or other mapping software that comes standard on most phones these days.

The problem is your phone relies on having an internet connection in order to download the background mapping data that needs to be displayed for you to know where you are. You see, the GPS in your phone only provides a location point, but the really valuable data is the background map that shows the various streets, businesses and even traffic conditions around you.  Without an internet connection to show the background map, your Google Maps app will look something like this:

Blank TMB map

Not a very effective way to navigate

Solving the background map problem

While the issue of a background map not displaying isn’t typically a problem in cities or towns where ample cell phone service (and thus internet connectivity) exists, it can be a huge problem when you’re, say, crossing a snow field on the Laugavegur Trail without service. The solution? GPS Navigation apps that allow for downloadable background maps. These apps allow you to select a predefined area, in our case the entirety of the Laugavegur Trail, and download the background map to your phone.

This allows you to access the map data without a cell phone connection and still know exactly where you are! Even though your phone is not connected to cell service or internet, the GPS will still work without incurring any “roaming” charges. Pretty cool, huh? I’ll show you exactly how we did this for the Laugavegur Trail below.

Laugavegur Trail maps – What we provide

For those looking for Laugavegur Trail GPS resources, we offer a complete mapping digital download for just $4.99. Included you’ll get access to both .gpx and .kml files for the entire Laugavegur route along with all of the huts and campgrounds on the trail.

This data will give you the confidence to know exactly where your next hut or campground is and exactly how to get there.

These custom maps can be used on Android and Apple devices and works with both paid and free GPS navigation apps.

Purchase your own Laugavegur Trail GPS files here.

Which app should I use?

There are dozens of GPS apps that will work for navigating on the Laugavegur Trail, however, we have a few favorites. We recommend utilizing either Gaia GPS or Maps.me for your offline navigating. The main difference between the two apps is that Maps.me is free to download and use, but has limited base maps. On the other hand, Gaia GPS requires a $19.99 annual subscription to use but has superior offline base maps and more robust navigational tools. Check out the comparison below to see how a specific section of the Laugavegur Trail displays in each of the apps.

Comparison of Gaia GPS and Maps.me for the Laugavegur Trail
Comparison of Maps.me and Gaia GPS for the Laugavegur Trail

As you can see, Maps.me can easily display the route as well as campground markers along the way. However, the same section of trail displayed in Gaia GPS gives the user much more information such as adjacent trails, topographic lines, and elevation shading. For this reason, we highly recommend you invest the $20 to use Gaia GPS, although we certainly understand those who prefer to use a free option. Instructions for downloading and accessing the GPS data for the Laugavegur for both Maps.me and Gaia GPS are included below.

Gaia GPS for the Laugavegur Trail

The instructions below provide a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom Laugavegur Trail GPS data we’ve created in Gaia GPS.

Step One – Download the Laugavegur Trail GPS file

When you purchase our Laugavegur Trail GPS download, you’ll get a link for the GPS file included in your order confirmation email. You’ll want to be sure to open the email and download the .KML file directly onto your phone (as opposed to on another device) to simplify the process. After completing the download you’ll be prompted to open the file in Gaia GPS, which you should do.

Laugavegur Trail GPS download

Gaia GPS will then import the data and you should see the Laugavegur Trail route and waypoints for the huts/campgrounds displayed on the map.

Laugavegur GPS map
Success! You’ve imported the Laugavegur Trail GPS data in Gaia GPS.

Step Two – Choose your map source
Next, you’ll want to select your base map. This will be the background map that you will eventually download and use to navigate while trekking, even without cell phone service. There are tons of background maps available for download, but we highly recommend the “Outdoor” layer for those hiking the Laugavegur Trail. To choose this map source, simply select the layers icon in the top right corner and then select ‘Outdoors’.

Laugavegur background map

Step Three – Navigate to the Laugavegur Trail and download your background map
Once you have selected the “Outdoor” base map, you’ll need to download the entire area of the Laugavegur Trail. Remember, without downloading this data you’ll have no way to know your exact location on the trail when you don’t have cell phone service. To download the map background data, follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to the area of the Laugavegur in Gaia GPS
  2. Select the ‘Create’ button (circle with a plus sign in the upper right hand corner)
  3. Select ‘Download Map’
  4. Draw a rectangle with your finger that encompasses the entire Laugavegur route
  5. Set the ‘Max Zoom’ to 17
  6. Name your map ‘Laugavegur Trail’ and select ‘Save’
  7. Allow the download to complete and you’re done! (you’ll want to be connected to WiFi for this)

That’s it! Now you’re all set to navigate on the Laugavegur like a pro with an offline GPS map in Gaia GPS. You can now zoom in on specific sections, view trail segments, and see all of the huts and campgrounds along the route!

Using the Gaia GPS app on the trail

The final step to navigating like a pro on the Laugavegur is to the able to successfully use Gaia GPS on the trail. To view your current location, simply select the location button on the top menu. At this point your phone will activate its GPS, and (providing you have a fairly clear view of the sky, which should be no problem in Iceland) in a few moments it will show you exactly where you are by displaying a yellow arrow. Use this whenever you want to see how far you’ve gone, how much further you have left until your next stop, or if a fork in the road has you questioning the correct way.  NOTE: The yellow arrow shows you where you are, but will not necessarily point towards the direction you are actually facing. This is important to remember when you are orienting yourself!

Maps.me for the Laugavegur Trail

The instructions below show a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom Laugavegur Trail GPS data we’ve created in Maps.me. Maps.me is an excellent free navigation app that allows you to download offline background data. As we noted above, downloading background data is the the key to successfully utilizing GPS to navigate on the Laugavegur. The primary shortcoming of using Maps.me for navigation while trekking is the limited base map data. You won’t find any topographic lines, terrain shading, or other helpful features. However, we know that many trekkers will be just fine with Maps.me and you can’t beat the price! Here is your step-by-step guide to utilizing our Laugavegur GPS data with Maps.me:

Step One – Download the Tour du Mont Blanc GPS file

When you purchase our Laugavegur Trail GPS download, you’ll get a link for the GPS file included in your order confirmation email. You’ll want to be sure to open the email and download the .KML file directly onto your phone to simplify the process. After completing the download you’ll be prompted to open the file in Maps.me, which you’ll want to go ahead and do.

After opening the GPS file with Maps.me, the app will navigate to your current location and will also display a message stating that your bookmarks have successfully been loaded. You’ll need to move the map from your current location to Iceland and verify that you see the track and waypoints displayed.

Laugavegur Trail Maps.me

Step Two – Download the Laugavegur Trail background maps

Once you have successfully loaded the Laugavegur GPS data, you’ll need to download the entire area of the trail as a base map in Maps.me. Remember, without downloading this data you’ll have no way to know where exactly you are on the trail. To download the background map data in Maps.me, follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to the area of the Laugavegur Trail in Maps.me
  2. Zoom in on the trail until the app prompts you to download a map region
  3. You’ll need to download the ‘Iceland’ map to cover the entire Laugavegur Trail.
  4. Verify that you’ve downloaded the required base map by navigating to the ‘Download Maps’ menu.
  5. Once you’ve checked that the Iceland map has been successfully downloaded you’re all done!
Maps.me download for the Laugavegur Trail
Verify that the ‘Iceland’ map is downloaded.

That’s it! You’re all set to navigate on the Tour du Mont Blanc like a pro with an offline GPS map utilizing Maps.me. You can now zoom in on specific sections, view trail segments, and see all of the campgrounds along the route!

A note on battery life

One of the easiest ways for the app-navigation method to go awry is for your phone battery to die. I recommend two strategies to help prevent an unexpected dead battery from sabotaging your trip. The first is to ensure that you always exit the app before locking your phone. This will prevent the app from continually locating you, and thus draining your battery. You can also keep your phone on “airplane mode” to prevent it from wasting battery life while searching for cell service.

The second way to prevent a dead battery from causing problems is to carry a backup battery system. These are relatively inexpensive and are worth their weight in gold when you find yourself with a dying battery. I like the Anker PowerCore 20100, but any decent option should do.

Want more Laugavegur content? Keep reading!

Be sure and check out all of our Laugavegur Trail resources below to help plan your perfect trip!

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GR20 Packing List

There are some long-distance hikes in which you can get away with carrying stuff you don’t need. Sure, you may find yourself huffing and puffing a little more than you’d…

There are some long-distance hikes in which you can get away with carrying stuff you don’t need. Sure, you may find yourself huffing and puffing a little more than you’d like and your knees might be cranky by the end of the day, but on the whole you’ll be alright. Maybe you’ll even be glad you brought along that collapsible camping tea kettle or extra fancy toiletries (although we seriously doubt it).

The GR20 is not one of those hikes.

Rugged mountains on the GR20 trail in Corsica.

You’ll be thankful you packed smart when you’re up here!

 

Not only is the GR20 very long and physically demanding, but it also has several sections that are quite technical. When you’re awkwardly climbing your way down a steep gully or hoisting yourself up a sheer slab of rock, you’ll be glad to have as light a pack as possible. Indeed, carrying a backpack that is too heavy is a common cause of hikers quitting their trek all together. We’re not telling you this to scare you, but rather we want to spread the word about one of the most important keys to success on this trek-your GR20 packing list.

When packing for the GR20, you need to be ruthless. Leave behind everything except for the absolute essentials, and we promise your trek will be exponentially more enjoyable.  In this post, we’ll share our best advice for on must-have gear, as well as give you our tried-and-true GR20 packing list, organized into helpful categories and suitable for both campers and those staying in the refuges.

What’s in this post:

GR20 Packing Basics

There are limitless ways to hike the GR20; you can carry your own tent, stay in refuges or hire tents, self-cater, eat meals at refuges, hike at a slow pace, double up on stages, and so on. Your GR20 packing list will need to be tailored to your individual itinerary and needs. Someone who is purchasing most of their meals and staying in refuges will have a significantly different kit than someone who is carrying all of their own camping gear and cooking their own meals. Despite all of this variability, there are a few basic truths about packing for the GR20 that apply to everyone. These include:

  1. Keep your backpack as light as possible! (see the next section for more on this)
  2. It is essential to dial in your footwear.
  3. Bring hiking poles and learn how to use them prior to your GR20 trek.

 

Hiker with a backpack and trekking poles on the GR20

Puffy jacket? Check. Trekking poles? Check. Lightweight Pack? Check. Gorgeous scenery? Check!

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? 

As a very general rule, campers (with their own tent) should keep their pack weight below 13kg, including food and water. Those staying in refuges should carry no more than 9kg.  If you are backpacking for the first time or have a chronic injury, the weight of your pack should be significantly less than these guidelines.

Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for lightening your load:

  1. You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Before you write us off as total dirtbags, hear us out. First, you’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry. Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
  2. Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
  3. Consider leaving your bulky camera equipment at home. Unless photography is your passion, most smartphones take great photos and save a ton of space and weight.

Hikers on a steep trail.

You’ll be happy to have a light backpack on steep trails like this.

Footwear on the GR20

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the GR20, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the TMB! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

In terms of other specifications, we feel that the only other must-have is a good, grippy vibrum (or similar material) sole for steep descents and loose paths. Otherwise it’s up to personal preference when it comes to how much ankle support you need, waterproof versus quick-dry, sturdy versus lightweight, and so on. I hiked in non-waterproof trail runners, while Ian used traditional hiking boots and we were both very happy with the results. Some people argue that trailrunners can’t withstand the wear and tear of the rough conditions of the GR20, but I didn’t have any issues in this regard, and I was grateful to have comfortable, reliable footwear.

Hiking boots

Your trusty boots are one of your most important pieces of gear.

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toe socks.

Trekking Poles

BRING THEM. Enough said. Seriously, these are a total game-changer on a tough trek like the GR20. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections. Make sure your poles are lightweight and collapsible, as you’ll need to stash them frequently on scrambling sections that necessitate having your hands free.

Backpacking backpack

The type of pack you’ll need for the GR20 will depend on your individual itinerary.

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several hikes with your bag packed the same way (and with the same weight) you’ll carry on the GR20. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. Those staying in refuges will find that 30-40L is perfect. If you’re purchasing a new one, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs. Bonus points if the pack has a system for quickly stashing your trekking poles!

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Battery Backup

If you plan on using your phone as a GPS to navigate along the GR20 (which we highly recommend!), it’s imperative that it stays charged. Even if you’re not, you’re likely to have something that necessitates having a full battery. Some refuges will allow you to charge electronics (sometimes for free & often for a small fee), but this certainly isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Carrying a small battery backup or one of these nifty portable solar panels will give you a little more freedom and peace of mind.

Cell phones charging

Charging electronics can get a little crazy on the GR20, if you’re lucky enough to find somewhere that’ll even let you.

 

Hydration Bladder

Corsica can get extremely hot in the summer months, and you are more than likely to face some sweltering temperatures while hiking the GR20. You should plan on drinking upwards of two liters of water per day- indeed some hikers will need three or even four liters on long, hot day. Staying adequately hydrated is crucial for this trek, as the heat and the physical exertion can take their toll. Although there are water refill points along most stages of the hike, these are not always the most dependable or conveniently located. Instead of relying on spotty water sources, we strongly recommend that you fill up a large hydration bladder with all of the water you’ll need before setting out for the day. We love using our 3L Platypus hydration bladders because they make it easy to fill up on larger quantities of water, their handy straws promote more frequent and efficient hydration while hiking, and they allow you to carry the weight in an optimized way against your back.  We definitely feel that a good bladder is an essential item for the GR20.

 

Sunset at Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu

You can choose to bring your own tent or use hire tents like these on the GR20.

 

Camping-Specific Gear List

If you plan on camping along the GR20, there’s a lot more gear you need to think about than just your hiking basics. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered!

Use this camping gear list in conjunction with the personal items list, miscellaneous list, and men’s or women’s clothing list to put together your perfect kit.

Our most recommended piece of camping gear: Freestanding Tent

In all honesty, we did not actually bring a freestanding tent with us on the GR20. We’re still using our trusty Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight, which has lasted us nearly a decade and hundreds of nights out in the backcountry. We typically recommend this tent wholeheartedly for any backpacking trek, due to its high quality design and affordable price tag. Even though we love this tent dearly, there were countless times we wished we had a freestanding tent on the GR20. This is because the ground at most camping areas consists of very hard-packed dirt, making it virtually impossible to get a stake in. Additionally, it can be very challenging to find an even surface to pitch your tent on, and sometimes you’ll realize you need to move it once you’ve already erected it. Unlike with a traditional tent which you have to completely break down to move, a freestanding tent allows you to simply pick it up and put it anywhere you please. Freestanding tents give you the ability to shake out all of the dirt, rocks, and grass that you’ll inevitably track in much more easily than with a traditional tent. And one last reason? Many freestanding tents are designed so that you can pack up the tent while the rain fly remains erected- a complete lifesaver on wet mornings. We met dozens of hikers along the GR20 who were using the MSR Hubba Hubba and absolutely loved it. This is arguably the best backpacking tent on the market right now.



ItemOur recommended gear 
TentMSR Hubba Hubba Backpacking TentThe MSR Hubba Hubba 2 is the best overall tent you can buy, and the freestanding features are perfect for the GR20.
Sleeping bagMarmot Trestle 30A 30° F or 0° C sleeping bag should keep you plenty warm on the GR20.
Sleeping pad Nemo Astro Insulated Sleeping PadThis is a must-have for side-sleepers! Even if you're not, this is one of the most lightweight and comfortable sleeping pads out there. It held up well on the hard and rocky conditions of the GR20.
PillowTherm-a-Rest pillowA camping pillow can be great when you're spending 14+ nights sleeping in a tent, but this is an optional item for those looking to save weight.
StoveMSR Pocket Rocket StoveIan has used this stove for nearly a decade and highly recommends it! A stove isn't 100% necessary on the GR20, as the refuges provide gas cooktops, but it can be nice to have.
Backpacking potGSI HaluliteFor those planning to cook their own meals this pot will serve you well.
UtensilsMSR Deep Dish plate , MSR Stainless Steel mugHumangear Spork Best $4 you will ever spend!
Plate/Bowl/MugMSR 2-person mess kitWe find this bowl and mug combo to be light, durable, and perfect for camp dinners.

NOTES FOR CAMPERS:

  • If you plan on camping in hire tents, you do not need to carry a tent or sleeping pad, as those are included in your rental. You do, however, need your own sleeping bag.
  • If you plan on self-catering most of your meals, you should bring your own pot and utensils. Many refuges provide pots, pans, plates, cups, etc, but there is no guarantee what you’ll find at any given place. Nearly every refuge has a gas cooktop that you can use, so it’s not necessary to bring your own stove and fuel unless you don’t want to wait in line at the cooking area. You do, however, need to supply your own lighter/matches.

Refuge-Specific Gear List

If you’re planning on sleeping in refuges, gites, and hotels along the GR20, you can keep your pack relatively small. However, there are some specific items you’ll want to make sure you pack. While you don’t need much, there are some essentials that you’ll be glad to have for these communal accommodation situations. Use this list in conjunction with the other lists (except for the camping gear list) to ensure that you’re well prepared for your GR20 adventure.

Note: there are some repeats on this list that we’ve also included on the other lists. However, we wanted to highlight items on this list that are especially important for anyone who is staying primarily in dorm-style accommodation.

Our most recommended piece for the refuges: Eco-Friendly Bedbug Spray

We’re not trying to scare you, but the reality is that bedbug infestations are very common in the GR20 refuges and gites. Besides being pretty gross, bedbugs can really put a damper on your trek by covering your body in uncomfortable bites and getting into all of your clothing and gear. Many hikers swear by using a bedbug spray like this Eco-Friendly one to keep the nasty little buggers at bay. This spray comes in a 3.3 ounce travel-friendly bottle and doesn’t have a strong scent. While it may not reduce your risk of bedbugs entirely, it’s definitely worth a shot!


 

ItemOur recommended gear 
EarplugsMack's EarplugsThe perfect defense for that snorer next door!
Sleeping maskAlaska Bear Sleeping MaskPerfect to block out light while sleeping in refuges.
Sleep sheetVumos Sleep SheetIf you sleep warm, you may want this in addition to your sleeping bag for the nights when you need a lighter option.
Sandals/SlippersCrocsBoots cannot be worn inside the refuges, so you'll want something to wear indoors. While not the most stylish, Crocs make the perfect refuge shoes!
Sleeping BagMarmot Trestles 30Sleeping bags are required in all of the refuges. This one should keep you plenty warm, without being too heavy.
Bedbug SprayEco-Friendly Bedbug SprayBedbugs are a common issues in many of the GR20 refuges, but they don't have to be a nuisance if you're prepared.

Refuge de Carozzu GR20

Every refuge is unique, but you can expect them all to be quite cramped…er, cozy.

 

Personal Gear List

Whether you’re camping or staying indoors, these items are must-haves for your GR20 packing list. While we’ve included some toiletries that are absolutely essential for this trek, we’ve left it up to you to determine your personal list of additional self care items (comb, toothbrush, prescription medication, etc).

Use this list in conjunction with the camping gear list OR refuge-specific list, and the miscellaneous and clothing lists to build your perfect GR20 packing list.

Our most recommended piece of personal gear: Headlamp

As we discussed in our trip report, we firmly believe that getting an early start each day is one of the most important keys to success on the GR20. The Corsican mountains and valleys can get unbearably hot in the afternoon sun, making it so that you’re exerting yourself more than necessary on terrain that is already challenging without adverse weather conditions. Additionally, in the summer months especially, the threat of afternoon thunderstorms is very real and should not be taken lightly. It’s of utmost importance that you’re off the high, exposed peaks and ridges before the storms move in. So why am I going on and on about all this in relation to a headlamp? Because there will be days on the GR20 where you need to pack up and get on the trail before daybreak, and hiking in the dark can be slow, frustrating, and dangerous without a good headlamp. Our Black Diamond Storm headlamps were absolutely invaluable on those early mornings; they are lightweight, long-lasting, have adjustable brightness settings, and they’re totally comfortable. Trust us on this one, you don’t want to leave for your trek without a good quality headlamp.


 

ItemOur recommended gear 
Multi-toolGerber Suspension Multi-PlierPerfect for cutting cheese and bread, repairing gear, and a million other purposes!
First-aid kitAdventure Medical KitsA good backpacking first aid kit is essential. You hope to never have to use it, but will be glad you have it when you need it.
Camel BakPlatypus 3L Hydration BladderWay easier than a water bottle! We suggest carrying a 3 liter version.
Pack-coverSea to Summit Pack coverThis is a truly essential piece of gear given how hard it can rain on the GR20! The best pack-cover we've ever used.
Men's backpackOsprey Atmos 65LWhile backpacks are a very personal item, we find Osprey to make by far the most comfortable packs on the market.
Women's backpackOsprey Aura 65LOne of our favorite features of Osprey packs is the 'anti-gravity' mesh. So comfortable!
Trekking polesBlack Diamond Trail Trekking PolesEssential for long downhills!
Travel towelSea to Summit Drylite TowelGreat to have in huts and campsite showers.
HeadlampBlack Diamond Storm HeadlampGreat headlamp with long battery life and adjustable brightness.
Dry bagsSea to Summit Ultra-Sil dry bagsKeeps your clothes and other items dry in a downpour!
SunscreenWe recommend a waterproof sport version with SPF 30 or higher.
Toilet paperAs any hiker will tell you, it's always better to be prepared! Most of the bathrooms you'll find along the GR20 don't provide toilet paper.
Hand SanitizerMost bathrooms on the GR20 also don't provide hand soap.
Extra BatteriesIt's a good idea to have a few spare batteries for your headlamp, should you need them.

Miscellaneous Gear List

These odds and ends are the unsung heros of the GR20 packing list. From getting your stinky shirt clean to keeping your phone charged, these items help your trek run smoothly. Make sure to use this list in addition to the other categories to complete your GR20 kit.

Our most recommended piece of miscellaneous gear: Battery Backup

Chances are, you’re getting out on the trail to get a break from the constant demands of screens and technology and that’s wonderful. However, don’t underestimate the importance of having a charged cell phone on the GR20. Your phone can be your navigational device, your camera, your guidebook, and your notepad all in one. Charging opportunities are extremely limited along the route, so a battery backup can be an absolute lifesaver. This one is dependable, relatively small, and can fully charge your phone 1.5-2 times between charges. Check it out here:


ItemOur recommended gear 
GuidebookThe GR20 Corsica: Complete Guide to the High Level Route (Cicerone Guides)A must-have resource, and also available digitally to save weight in your pack!
EarplugsMack's EarplugsEssential for sleeping in huts, but we also love using them in the tent at crowded campsites.
Sleeping maskAlaska Bear Sleeping MaskPerfect to block out light while sleeping in refuges or campgrounds.
Travel adapterAll-in-one Travel AdapterGreat for all of your travels.
Digital watchCasio digital watchWe recommend a simple digital watch to keep track of hiking times.
CameraSony a5100 mirrorless cameraOptional item for the photography lovers. Consider using your phone to save weight.
Battery backupAnker PowerCore 10000Great for charging electronics when you don't have access to an outlet.
Biodegradable soapSierra Dawn Campsuds Outdoor SoapPerfect for doing the dishes or washing a few clothing items.
Plastic Bags- quart, gallon, and garbage bags. We used these constantly for everything from storing trail mix to keeping our sleeping bags dry. A must-have for backpacking.

Gite U Fagone laundry

Pack light- you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do laundry along the GR20!

 

Women’s Clothing

When you’re wearing the same clothes for over two weeks in various weather conditions and while doing some serious trekking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials. Plus, if you’re anything like us, you have no idea how many pairs of socks to bring. This list is also a handy (and experience-backed)  guideline for quantities of items such as shirts and socks.

Emily’s favorite piece of clothing: Altra Lone Peak Trailrunning Shoes

I recently became a believer in hiking in trailrunning shoes. For ages, I had happily hiked in my Keen Targhee boots (which I still enthusiastically recommend, especially for those with wide feet), but after a chronic injury and ensuring research to try to alleviate it, I decided to make the switch. I can confidently say that I don’t think I’ll ever go back to boots (except for on an extremely wet and  boggy trail like the Coast to Coast). I am completely in love with my Altras for a number of reasons. First, they held up to the gnarly conditions of the GR20, and that is no small feat. Additionally, I was grateful for the wide toe box that kept my feet very comfortable, while still feeling supported in the shoe. The zero-drop structure took some adjusting to, but now my feet and leg muscles are stronger and more stable as a result. These shoes are incredibly lightweight, yet I had no issues carrying a large pack while wearing them. The outsole is made of a very grippy rubber and has large lugs to keep you feeling confident on steep and loose terrain. I hiked hundreds of miles in these shoes this summer, in a variety of landscapes and weather conditions, and I never got a blister. Although they are not waterproof, I have come to prefer that, as I like quick-drying and breathable over something that traps moisture for days. If you’re looking to switch to the dark side, I highly recommend Altras as your first trail shoe!


ItemOur recommended gear 
Underwear (2-3 pairs)ExOfficio Women's UnderwearVery packable and easy to wash on the go!
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Micro Crew SocksIn our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Sports Bra (1)Brooks Women's Rebound Racer Sports BraThis is the most versatile, comfortable, and high-quality sports bra that Emily has found on the market.
Long sleeve base layer (1)Smartwool Women's NTS Mid 250 CrewA great merino wool base layer for chilly mornings.
Short sleeve hiking shirt (1-2)Smartwool Women's Merino Short SleeveMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick drying, and odor resistant.
Leggings or hiking pantsprAna - Women's Halle Roll-upStylish, lightweight, and great to hike in.
Running shorts (1 pair)Lululemon Run Speed ShortsThese shorts are so comfortable, packable, and quick-drying, that Emily didn't even feel the need to buy hiking-specific shorts.
Down jacketPatagonia Down SweaterLightweight, super warm, and packs down small. This jacket was perfect for this kind of trip!
Rain jacketOutdoor Research Helium II JacketA high-quality all-weather jacket that packs up small.
Rain pantsColumbia Storm Surge pantsOPTIONAL: Great for those heavy downpours, but arguably not worth their weight on the GR20
Hiking boots/Trail ShoesAltra Lone Peak Trail Shoes
or
Keen Targhee II Mid Hiking Boot
While Emily still highly recommends these Keens for those looking for traditional hiking boots, she recently switched to hiking in Altra trailrunning shoes and absolutely loves them.
SunglassesSuncloud Loveseat Polarized SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you're in the mountains all day. And these are stylish too!
Underwire/standard bra(1)After a long day of hiking in a sweaty sports bra this can be a welcome relief to change into.
GlovesSmartwool Liner GlovesPerfect for cold evenings and scrambling on frigid rocks early in the morning.
HatHeadsweats Performance Trucker HatHelps keep the strong Corsican sun off your face.
Sandals/Camp shoesChaco Z1Super comfortable around camp with great support.
BandanaIs everything from a small towel to extra sun protection.
BuffBuff Original Multifunctional HeadwearNice to use for sun protection or to keep your ears warm in chilly temps. Also makes a great headband.

Men’s Clothing

When you’re wearing the same clothes for nearly two weeks in various weather conditions and while doing some serious trekking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials.

Ian’s most recommended piece of clothing: Smartwool T-Shirt

After years of hiking and traveling in synthetic tech tees, switching to Merino wool was a major upgrade. Like synthetic materials, Merino is quick-drying and moisture-wicking, but unlike the synthetic materials I can hike in it for days without any funky smells. When I did need to wash it, it would be dry and ready to wear again no time at all. Plus, I find it to be more comfortable and stylish, since it looks just like a normal t-shirt. This was convenient for times when I wanted to wear it off the trail. Smart wool makes an all around great shirt that is well worth the price. Check it out here:


 

ItemOur recommended gear 
Underwear (2-3 pairs)ExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Boxer BriefHighly recommended! You can bring 2-3 pairs and wash them easily in sinks or showers. A must!
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion SocksIn our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Long sleeve base layer (1)Smartwool Men's NTS Mid 250 CrewVery versatile mid-weight base layer
Short sleeve hiking shirt (1)SmartSmartwool Men's Merino Short Sleeve shirtMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick drying, and odor resistant.
Hiking pants (1)Prana Brion pantsThese are great for hiking and also look great walking around town!
Hiking shorts (1)Prana Brion Hiking ShortsAwesome shorts that are great for hiking.
Down jacketPatagonia Down Sweater HoodySuper warm, and super packable.
Rain jacketOutdoor Research Men's Helium II JacketA good rain jacket is a must! This one packs up small and light.
GlovesSmartwool Merino Wool Liner Gloves Perfect for cold evenings and windy ridges.
Rain pantsMarmot Precip PantsOPTIONAL: These can be amazing for those heavy downpours, but are arguably not worth the extra weight.
HatHeadsweats Performance Trucker HatHelps keep the strong Mediterranean sun off your face.
Sandals/Camp shoesChaco Z1 sandalsSuper comfortable around camp with great support.
Hiking bootsSalomon Men's X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking BootSuper comfortable and super waterproof! These held up well to the gnarly trail conditions on the GR20.
SunglassesSuncloud Mayor Polarized SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you're in the mountains all day. And these are stylish too!
BandanaIs everything from a towel to extra sun protection.

 

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How to navigate on the Tour du Mont Blanc | GPS Maps

We often get questions from readers asking how we navigated during our TMB trip. Did you buy maps? Was the trail hard to find? What about finding all the various…

We often get questions from readers asking how we navigated during our TMB trip. Did you buy maps? Was the trail hard to find? What about finding all the various campgrounds that you stayed at? This post will explain exactly how we navigated on the TMB, show you how to use some of the awesome tools that we employed on our trip, and even provide some custom resources for those using our Guide to Camping on the Tour of Mont Blanc as well as anyone looking for a custom Tour du Mont Blanc map solution. Let’s get started.

Tour du Mont Blanc Map with alternate routes shown.
The Tour du Mont Blanc circumnavigates the Mont Blanc massif.
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10 Essentials for the Laugavegur Trail

The Laugavegur Trail is one of the most spectacular trails in the world. While completing this epic trek, you’ll visit stunning waterfalls, soak in geothermal hot springs, and meet countless friendly…

The Laugavegur Trail is one of the most spectacular trails in the world. While completing this epic trek, you’ll visit stunning waterfalls, soak in geothermal hot springs, and meet countless friendly people. We truly believe it is the best way to see some of Iceland’s most stunning landscapes. 

Hikers enjoying the view on the Laugavegur Trail

The Laugavegur Trail’s stunning landscapes.

 

Even though our Laugavegur Trail adventure turned out to be one of our all time favorite experiences, there was a LOT that we wished we’d known before setting off. Now that we’ve completed it, what recommendations do we have for those trekkers eager to tackle Iceland’s most famous hike? To make it easy, we’ve distilled our experiences into ten key takeaways. 

Here are our 10 Essentials for hiking the Laugavegur Trail:

  1. Bring really warm clothes
  2. A sleep mask & ear plugs will be invaluable
  3. Be prepared for all four seasons (sometimes in the same day!)
  4. Treat your feet
  5. Plan on camping if you prefer flexibility
  6. Arrange your transport ahead of time
  7. Carry your own food
  8. Be prepared for river crossings
  9. Bring plenty of cash
  10. Leave no trace

 

1. Bring really warm clothes

We hiked the Laugavegur Trail in early July expecting balmy, warm, summer weather. Think again! While we were extremely lucky that we didn’t have much rain on our trek, the temperature was WAY colder than we had anticipated. At several points, we were so cold that we found ourselves wearing every piece of clothing we had, rain pants included! This was especially problematic given that we were camping and couldn’t warm up in the huts at night.

It gets COLD in Iceland!

 

Our advice? Bring an extra mid-layer to wear under your jacket (which should be a packable and lightweight down jacket like this one) along with long-underwear or leggings that you can layer under your hiking pants. In addition, you’ll definitely want to pack gloves, a warm hat, and a cozy pair of socks. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did!

To get a complete list of essential gear for the Laugavegur Trail, be sure to check out our Laugavegur Trail packing list.

 

2. A sleeping mask & ear plugs will be invaluable

We were fortunate to have brought both of these items along for the Laugavegur Trail and would highly encourage you to do the same. Summer in Iceland is beautiful, but that midnight sun isn’t always appreciated when you’re trying to get some sleep after eight hours of hiking. For this reason we strongly recommend that you pack a trusty sleeping mask in your pack. These can be purchased inexpensively (we like this Alaska Bear version) and are worth every penny!

The midnight sun in full effect.

 

In addition to the sleeping mask, ear plugs are essential on the Laugavegur. It goes without saying that you’ll want these if you are planning to sleep in huts, as you’re almost guaranteed to have a snorer nearby. However, we think ear plugs are essential for campers, too. Many of the campgrounds along the Laugavegur can be quite cramped with only a few feet between tents. That means you’ll almost certainly  be treated to your own symphony of snores at least one night on the trail! 

Do yourself a favor and be sure to pack some nice, silicone ear plugs (we love these ones from Mack’s) to ensure you can get a restful night’s sleep.

 

3. Be prepared for all four seasons (sometimes in the same day!)

The hiking season on the Laugavegur Trail runs from mid-June through the end of August. This might lead you to believe that you’ll be hiking in lovely, warm, sunny weather. While that certainly could be the case for a couple of hours, you’d be extremely lucky to have that type of weather for your entire trek. In reality, the weather in Iceland can change in an instant and you should be prepared for sun, wind, rain, and even snow at any point along the trail and on any day of the year.

A hiker walks through a large snow field on the Laugavegur Trail

You can still expect to encounter lots of snow on the trail in July!

 

Practically, this means that you’ll need to have versatile clothing items that can be worn in a variety of conditions, along with good rain and wind gear. For clothing, we really like merino wool items that can be layered together (see our Laugavegur Trail packing list for specific ideas) along with a good down jacket. For wind and rain, a packable rain jacket and good pair of rain pants will be worth their weight in gold should the weather turn foul on your trek. Anything with GoreTex fabric will be great for the Laugavegur Trail, and we specifically love these ultra-lightweight rain jackets from Outdoor Research and dependable rain pants from Colombia.

 

4. Treat your feet

Of all the gear you plan to bring, the single biggest impact on how you feel on the trail will come from how you treat your feet. This advice rings true for any hike, long or short, but it’s especially salient for treks in variable weather like the Laugavegur. We recommend a waterproof pair of hiking boots or trail running shoes. Before your trek, your shoes/boots should be broken in with at least 30 miles of hiking with a weighted backpack. Match your boots with a pair of high-quality merino wool hiking socks and you’ll be as ready as you can be for everything the trail will throw at you!

You’ll encounter a variety of trail conditions on the Laugavegur Trail.

 

For boots or trail runners, we recommend trying on a wide variety of pairs at your local outdoor store to see what fits well and feels good. Be sure to bring your backpack with some weight in it to get a sense of how a particular pair of boots feels with a heavy pack on. 

For socks, we highly recommend using a pair that’s designed specifically for hiking and made out of merino wool. Our favorite brand is Darn Tough, which makes a breathable, comfortable, and very odor-resistant hiking sock. You can bring a few pairs (2-3 should be fine) and wash them as needed along the way.

 

5. Plan on camping if you prefer flexibility

The popularity of the Laugavegur Trail means that advance bookings are essential for those staying in huts along the route. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as you’ll know exactly how far you need to go each day and you’ll have assurance that you’ll have a cozy bed to sleep in each night. However, you’ll also give up any ability to change your plans. If the weather is bad, you twist an ankle, or you’re simply hiking faster than you expected, you’ll have have no option but to continue on to the hut you reserved. 

How can you get out of this conundrum? Pack your own tent. 

Camping at Álftavatn on the Laugavegur Trail

Camping will also give you some incredible views!

 

Every stop along the Laugavegur Trail includes campsites that do not require advance reservations. Therefore, camping will give you the flexibility to stop at whichever point makes the most sense, given the weather and how you are feeling. We ended up hiking faster than we were expecting and loved having the ability to keep going past the campsite we had originally planned on staying at in order to get a head start on the next day. Camping isn’t for everyone, but for those interested in having the most flexibility possible, it is definitely the way to go. 

For more details on camping be sure to check our our Guide to Camping on the Laugavegur Trail.

 

6. Arrange your transport ahead of time

Despite the trail’s remoteness, getting to and from the Laugavegur Trail is actually quite easy. There are frequent and convenient bus services that will drop you off in Landmannalaugar and pick you up in Þórsmörk (or Skogar, for those also hiking the Fimmvörðuháls Trail). We highly recommend utilizing the Reykjavik Excursions Hiker Pass service, although there are also several other companies providing transfers to the hiker from Reykjavik. 

Be sure you’ve arranged transport to the start of the Laugavegur Trail!

 

However, the problem is that the bus services are often fully booked in the peak summer months (specifically July and August). If you simply show up at the bus station the day of your trek, there’s a good chance you’ll be out of luck with no way to get to the trail. Given this fact, you’ll want to be sure you’ve reserved your transport to and from the trail well in advance of arriving in Iceland. Ideally, you should have your service booked two months before starting your trek. Trust us, you’ll be glad to know you’ve got a ride back to Reykjavik after you’ve just hiked 33 miles!

For more tips on booking transportation, where to stay before and after hiking the Laugavegur Trail, and more, be sure to check out our Laugavegur Trail logistics post.

 

7. Carry your own food

Iceland is known for many things: stunning scenery, remote wilderness, soaring volcanoes, and…..for being incredibly expensive. As far as Icelandic adventures go, the Laugavegur Trail can actually be quite budget friendly (be sure to check out our Laugavegur Trail budget article for more information), especially for those willing to camp and cook their own meals. Still, there will undoubtedly be plenty of things you’ll need to buy that will be shockingly expensive. 

Trust us, food will be more expensive on the trail!

 

One of the easiest ways to lessen the impact on your wallet (and to ensure you’re fully  prepared for your trek) is to bring food from home. Chances are, you already have a good sense of where to find backpacking meals, muesli, energy bars, and other hiking food in your own hometown. Do yourself a favor and stock up on everything you’ll need before coming to Iceland (just be sure it’s all packaged food – fresh food can get you into trouble at customs!) You’ll not only save yourself from the extremely high food costs in Iceland, but you’ll also save yourself the time and hassle of having to assemble all of your meals once you arrive in Reykjavik.

 

8. Be prepared for river crossings

The Laugavegur Trail is a great trek for hikers of all ability levels. For the most part, the terrain is easy to navigate, the trail well-marked, and services are available at frequent intervals along the way, thanks to the excellent hut system. However, there are several rivers that will need to be crossed without the aid of a bridge, and these can be quite intimidating. Being prepared for these will make your Laugavegur trek much more enjoyable, not to mention much safer.

A river crossing near the Alftavatn Hut on the Laugavegur Trail

River crossing after Álftavatn. Be prepared for lots of these!

 

To begin with, you MUST bring a pair of shoes specifically to wear when crossing rivers. Attempting to go barefoot will almost certainly result in a dangerous fall into icy cold water, something you most definitely want to avoid. We recommend bringing a pair of sturdy sandals (we prefer Chacos) or even an old pair of running shoes that you don’t mind getting soaked. Either way, they must be sturdy (no flip-flops) and relatively light to carry.

Additionally, you should always check with the wardens at each hut you pass to get the latest information on any upcoming river crossings. They’ll be able to give you an idea of the water levels (which can reach waist deep), as well as provide guidance on the best place to cross. Generally speaking, the widest part of a river is the best place to cross, as it will be the shallowest. Additionally, always be sure to unbuckle your backpack’s hipbelt when crossing a river, as you want to have the ability to easily remove it should you fall in the water. Finally, we find that a good pair of trekking poles provide welcome stability when crossing a fast-moving river. We recommend these Black Diamond poles for their durability and affordable price tag.

 

9. Bring plenty of cash

You won’t find any ATMs along the Laugavegur Trail, and while many of the huts do have credit card machines they run on solar power, which can be spotty at best. Rather than take your chances with the Icelandic weather, we recommend carrying enough cash to last the entirety of your trek. The amount you’ll need will vary significantly from hiker to hiker, but you can use our Laugavegur Trail budgeting article to get a sense for how much you should carry.

No ATMs in sight!

 

10. Leave no trace

Our last essential item for trekking the Laugavegur Trail should go without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway: please utilize Leave No Trace practices on your trip. Iceland has an extremely fragile environment, and it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by generations to come. 

There are a few Leave No Trace practices that are of particular importance on the Laugavegur Trail. These include packing out all of your trash, not hiking off-trail, and choosing not to wild camp, no matter how tempting the spot may be. Remember that you are just one of thousands of people who trek this incredible trail every year, and we all have a right to enjoy it in it’s most pristine condition.

 

Conclusion

Taking these 10 Essentials to heart will go a long way in ensuring you have an unforgettable time on Iceland’s Laugavegur Trail. We think this trek is hands-down the best way to experience the incredible landscapes of Iceland and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to enjoy a few days in the wilderness in this magnificent country.

For more resources to help you plan the perfect trip, be sure to check out all of our Laugavegur Trail posts:

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The GR20 Sud: Trip Report

In this post, we’ll share our experiences from the southern half of the GR20. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the first half of this two-part series,…

In this post, we’ll share our experiences from the southern half of the GR20. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the first half of this two-part series, in which we documented the good, the bad, and the ugly of our adventures hiking the infamous GR20 Nord. Read on to get an idea of what it’s like to trek the challenging and beautiful GR20 Sud.

 

Mountain views along stage 10 of the GR20

The southern half of the GR20 may have gentler landscapes than the north, but the views are just as beautiful!

 

Stage 10: Vizzavona to Bergeries d’E Capanelle

Total time: 4:30

After a rejuvenating rest day spent basking in the sun at the Cascades d’Anglais and being force-fed Corsican delicacies by the amazing owners of Casa Alta B&B, we were excited to get back on the trail. We made quick work of the steady, wooded climb out of Vizzavona, after which the trail hugged the hillside for much of the remainder of the stage. The hike wasn’t too taxing, although the final, sweaty climb up to the Bergeries d’E Capanelle wasn’t the most fun at the end of the day. 

When we got to E Capanelle, we were confused about where to camp. (By the way, the bergeries is also known as Gite U Fagone, just to further everyone’s confusion). We knew we could camp at the bergeries, but the guidebook also claimed you could camp for free next to the dilapidated PRNC refuge located up the hillside. After a very difficult conversation (in which my sorry French skills really proved the true extent of their horribleness), we pieced together that we couldn’t camp for free anywhere in the area so we better pay up and pitch our tent before all the spots got taken. Indeed, the small camping area was filling up quickly so we headed up the wooded slope to find a spot. 

Refuge de Capanelle

The PNRC Refuge de Capanelle.

 

Upon locating a good place to pitch, we were greeted by a large snake. After further inspection, we discovered that there was not one, but two very big, very gross snakes hanging out right next to where we intended to place our tent. Nervously jumping at every twig and root on the ground, we made our way to a different spot, leaving that one for the local residents. 

Snakes and confusion aside, Bergeries E Capanelle ended up being a nice place, although strange things continued to occur throughout our time there. To be fair, we witnessed one of the biggest full moons of our lives that evening, so that may have had something to do with it. One very odd aspect was the Refuge E Capanelle, adjacent to the Bergeries. We wanted to use the refuge’s cooking gas, so we decided to hike up there for dinner. Despite the fact that you can pay to sleep there, the place has a very creepy, abandoned feel to it. The tiny building was dark, dirty, and totally empty when we were there, although the gas tank was full enough for us to cook our pasta. Graffiti covered the walls of the kitchen and trash was strewn about the common room. Not wanting to hang out there too long, we hightailed it back down to our campsite as soon as we finished eating. 

Gite U Fagone laundry

Despite its quirks, we couldn’t deny that the Bergeries E Capanelle boasted a very impressive laundry line!

 

The second oddity occurred sometime during the night. We were woken by the sound of footsteps very close to our tent. We sat up, tensely listening as we heard what sounded like someone or something very big snapping twigs as they made their way through the forest and between the tents. After scanning the darkness, we finally deduced that it was cows. Cows had wandered into the campsite and were walking through the tightly packed tents and trees! Breathing a sigh of relief, we popped our ear plugs back in and were sound asleep in no time. 

 

Stage 11: Bergeries d’E Capanelle to Bocca di Verdi (high-level variant)

Total time: 7 hours

Still feeling bolstered by our rest day and the clear weather, we decided to take the high-level variant for Stage 11. This route takes hikers over the summit of Monte Renosu and along-you guessed it!- a rocky ridge before dropping down to Bocca di Verdi. The climb up to the top of Monte Renosu wasn’t particularly strenuous or technical, and we had the summit to ourselves to savor the excellent views in all directions. After we reached the top, the real challenge began.

Unlike the main route of the GR20, this variant was not well marked at all. Because it involved several tough sections of scrambling, it was especially hard to follow the trail and to know if you were headed in the right direction. After a long series of climbing up and down along the ridge and plenty of backtracking across rocky spires and boulders to rejoin the “trail”,  we finally found ourselves on a more recognizable path and began our descent towards Bocca di Verdi. 

Views from the top of Mount Renosu, stage 11 GR20

Peaceful views out to the Mediterranean in the morning light atop Mt. Renosu.

 

On previous stages, we’d heard that it was common to see pigs rooting around amongst the trees alongside the trail. We had yet to see any pigs, and we were beginning to think we wouldn’t see any on our entire hike (which might not be a travesty for some, but we happen to quite like pigs). But low and behold, as we neared Bocca di Verdi we spotted a large, gray pig walking alongside us near the trail. It trotted ahead of us the remainder of the way, as if it were guiding us to our campsite. How cute! We thought. I hope we see more pigs! We foolishly exclaimed. Well, this is a textbook example of a be-careful-what-you-wish-for kind of scenario. 

Many hikers choose to continue for another two hours uphill to the Refuge de Prati instead of stopping at Bocca di Verdi, but after completing the challenging high-level variant, we were definitely ready to stop at Bocca di Verdi! Plus, this was a lovely place to camp. It was spacious, had great facilities, hot showers, a nice bar/restaurant, and wasn’t crowded at all. As we set up camp, we quickly noticed all the pigs that roamed the campground. Most were cute and timid, but one pig quickly made himself known as a total jerk. Campers repeatedly had to chase this swine-bully away from their food or their laundry, as he was determined to wreak havoc on anything in his path. 

We thought we did a good job securing all of our food and personal items before heading up to the terrace to enjoy a half-liter happy hour. However, as we sipped our wine, we looked down and saw everyone’s least favorite pig attempting to knock down our tent and get ahold of anything he could find. We sprinted down in an attempt to save our tent from total destruction, yelling and waving our arms at our pig nemesis. You’d think that two adults with raised voices and threatening gestures would scare him away, but that stubborn guy was not phased in the least. It look us charging at him repeatedly with our trekking poles to get the pig to saunter away. Once again, be careful what you wish for! 

With the pig crisis narrowly averted, we shared a good laugh with our fellow campers and passed the rest of the night blissfully uneventfully. 

Picnic tables outside the Relais San Petru di Verdi

The shady terrace at Bocca di Verdi is a lovely place to relax, given the hungry pigs don’t ruin your fun!

 

Stage 12: Bocca di Verdi to Refuge d’Uscioulu

Total time: 7:20

While we were glad to stop at Bocca di Verdi the previous day, it meant that today started with a stiff climb up to the Refuge de Prati. From there, the trail undulated for a long expanse along a ridgeline, with scrambling sections reminiscent of the northern half. Speaking of which, if anyone tells you that the southern half of the GR20 is easy, don’t believe them. Sure, all in all it is less demanding than the northern half, but there is certainly nothing easy about it and Stage 12 is proof of that. After the initial climb and slow, technical ridge traverse, hikers have to complete another long, steep climb and maddingly rocky descent before reaching Refuge d’Uscioulu. It’s a big day. 

Sunrise on the GR20

En route to Refuge d’Uscioulu.

 

When you finally do get to the refuge, however, you’re in for a treat. Refuge d’Uscioulu is a legendary stop on the GR20, known for its charismatic warden and beautiful setting. You’ll likely arrive to music playing, while the warden peddles all sorts of goodies from his tightly packed and shockingly well-stocked shop. 

We enjoyed a small feast of fresh oranges, cheese, and homemade fig jam before making the long trek downhill to find a campsite. Many of the camping pitches at Uscioulu are quite far from the refuge itself, meaning campers are in for a literal hike whenever they want to use the bathroom, fill up on water, or access any other facilities. Despite this fact, we thoroughly enjoyed our evening at this ambient place. If you’re looking for a quintessential GR20 experience, this is as good as it gets. 

Tents on the hillside at Refuge d'Uscoilu.

An idyllic evening at Refuge d’Uscoilu.

 

Stage 13: Refuge d’Uscioulu to Refuge de Matalza

Total time: 4:20

Many GR20 hikers opt to take a variant that allows them to combine stages 13 and 14, cutting out a stop at Matalza completely. Even though we were setting ourselves up for a series of very short days, we decided to move at a slower pace. Why would we want the GR20 to end any sooner than it had to? For us, this was the good life. Hiking in the rugged mountains by day, eating pasta and drinking wine by night, and crawling into our sleeping bags totally exhausted by 9:00pm- that was our idea of a perfect day. 

Sunrise on the GR20 stage 12

When you start your days with views like this, you may never want your trek to end!

 

Anyways, the hike from Uscioulu to Matalza offered a wealth of dramatically varied landscapes all in one relatively short stage. It began high in the mountains, where the trail followed a very rugged ridge. The views up here were beautiful, and it was especially cool to see the little village of Cozzano far below, nestled at the foot of the mountains. The trail eventually dropped down from the ridge into an expansive valley. From there it passed through forests and wide swaths of colorful ferns alongside a peaceful stream.  By the time we reached Matalza, the high mountain landscape seemed like a distant memory, as we were now deep in the valley in an area that felt distinctly agricultural. 

We were the first people to arrive at Refuge de Matalza, and once again we we whiled away a long afternoon with laundry and lounging. Matalza is a small refuge, but we found it to be quite lovely. The showers looked frighteningly rustic-pretty much just a hose hung inside a wooden shack-but they ended up being warm and surprisingly enjoyable. The friendly warden gave us each an “I [heart] Matalza” magnet, which was a surprising but kind gesture. Thoughtful, friendly touches like that were everywhere at Matalza, and we were glad we’d decided to spend an evening here. 

Showers at Refuge de Matalza.

The “luxurious” showers at Refuge de Matalza.

 

Since we were nearing the end of our trek, we decided to eat the last of the instant noodles that we’d been carrying as a backup meal. We were getting ever closer to civilization and assumed that the refuges would be increasingly better stocked with food as the days went on. Keep reading to find out just how wrong those assumptions were! Anyways, as we prepared for bed, we witnessed some of the most incredible stars we’d ever seen. Going slow and taking it all in definitely has its perks. 

 

Stage 14: Refuge de Matalza to Refuge d’Asinau

Total time: 4:50

Since we opted not to combine stages 13 and 14, we were in for another short day today. We woke to a very chilly morning, and we hobbled away from Matalza with stiff legs through the cold, damp riverbed. When we reached the high point for the day, we took a short detour to summit Mount Alcudina. Because it was an out-and-back to get to the summit, we dropped our heavy packs at the base. It was so freeing to scamper up the bouldery trail without any weight on our backs, and we made it to the top in less than twenty minutes. After our fun detour, it was time to strap the packs back on and begin the long and ridiculously steep descent to Refuge d’Asinau. 

Hikers pose next to a trail sign on Stage 14 of the GR20

We met a friendly canine friend on our way down from Mt. Alcudina.

 

I slipped and fell numerous times on the descent, and we arrived at the refuge dusty, bruised, and a little grumpy. Once we set up camp, we wandered down to the refuge to see what was for sale at the small shop. Being vegetarians, our options were pretty limited along the GR20, but we could almost always count on finding cheese, bread, pasta, and tomato sauce at every epicerie. However, the provisions at Asinau turned out to be extremely limited. We had eaten our backup meal the night before, and we were now facing a dinner and breakfast made up entirely of one demi baguette, a bag of dried apricots, and a handful of peanuts. Sure, we could have eaten the meals served at the refuge, but at 20 Euros for a mediocre plate of (possibly not vegetarian) pasta, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. Trying not to panic and actively suppressing our raging hiker appetites, we began devising some sort of food strategy to get us to the next shop at Village de Bavella the following afternoon. 

Refuge d'Asinau

Tents and a resident horse at the Refuge d’Asinau.

 

We returned to the shop, ready to buy a very weird collection of items, when the warden produced a miraculous package of pasta (the sign claimed it was sold out) from the depths of the dusty shelves behind him. It wasn’t much, but it meant that we’d be eating a hot bowl of food for dinner instead of random handfuls of this and that. We were stoked. That night we feasted on bowls of plain spaghetti garnished with salted peanuts, and it was actually pretty delicious as far as backpacking food goes. Our breakfast the next morning was comprised of an odd assortment of things, but we were fueled and content. 

Our two takeaways from this experience? First, never eat your backup meal before you’re sure you won’t need a backup (duh). Second, give pasta and peanuts a try next time you’re out on the trail (or at home, we won’t judge). 

 

Stage 15: Refuge d’Asinau to Refuge d’ I Paliri

Total time: 6:45

We awoke this morning after a bit of a rough night. My sleeping pad had apparently developed a slow leak, and I ended up having to wake up and re-inflate it every few hours throughout the night. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where the leak was coming from, and the pad’s instructions to submerge it in water to locate the hole were entirely unhelpful in the current circumstances. Although we were sad that our GR20 adventure was nearing its end, I was also a little relieved that I would only have to sleep on my deflating pad for a few more nights. 

We again opted to take the high-level variant for this stage, excited for the incredible views it was known to offer. After our initial climb,  however, we found ourselves deep within a very thick cloud. We were lucky to see just a few feet in front of us, and the chances of seeing any real views seemed slim. But as we continued onwards, the clouds began to break to reveal some of the most incredible scenery of the entire trek. The peaks were so majestic shrouded in the pillowy wisps, and the light was filtered so beautifully through the clouds. It was nothing short of awe-inspiring. 

 

Clouds surround a peak on Stage 15 of the GR20

When the clouds finally parted, the views were completely magnificent.

 

On our way down, we faced the so-called “Chain of Doom.” Basically, there was a short section on the route that required hikers to hoist themselves up a very large rock face with the help of a chain. As had been the case with most things like this so far on the GR20, it wasn’t as bad as we expected. Getting up the rock slab was actually pretty easy, but the difficult part was the fact that the chain was covered in grease. That’s right, for some unknown reason, the chain that was supposed to serve as an aid was positively slathered in thick, slippery grease. Not only did it make holding on to the chain very challenging, but it also left us covered in sticky, rust-colored goop that was impossible to get off. 

Hiker scrambling on the GR20.

Conquering the so-called “Chain of Doom.”

 

After the chain debacle, we had another long, knee-grinding descent to reach Village de Bavella. Fortunately, our efforts were rewarded when we visited the very well-appointed shop there. After the meager rations of the past few days, we were excited to stock up on some real food. We enjoyed an indulgent lunch at Bavella before continuing onwards to Refuge d’I Paliri. Many hikers choose to stop at Village de Bavella at the end of Stage 15, but if you want to camp you need to head to Paliri, which is another two hours down the trail. We didn’t mind covering a little more ground today, and the final stretch to the refuge wasn’t too challenging. 

Even though it was blanketed in a thick layer of fog when we arrived, we could instantly tell that Refuge d’I Paliri was special. It is perched on a stony cliff that overlooks magnificent rock formations and a deep valley far below, with the sea visible on the distant horizon. Clouds and light rain moved in and out throughout the afternoon, but with every glimpse we stole when the clouds parted, we became more amazed by the surrounding beauty. 

View of Refuge d' I Paliri.

Refuge d’ I Paliri is one of the most beautiful along the GR20.

 

We enjoyed one final jug of wine and tried to savor every moment of our last night at camp. It was hard to believe our trek was already coming to an end, but on the other hand it felt like we’d been on the trail for ages. We were certainly sad to see our adventure wrap up, but we were also very excited to celebrate our accomplishment with a real bed and some modern comforts!

Views of a sheer rock face from Refuge d'I Paliri

Views from the tent at Refuge d’I Paliri…Not a bad way to spend your last night on the trail!

 

Stage 16: Refuge d’I Paliri to Conca

Total time: 5 hours

We emerged from our tent on the final morning to discover that we were surrounded by a very damp, chilly fog. Neither of us was particularly eager to get on the trail at the crack of dawn, so instead we opted to hang out and sip coffee in the warmth of our sleeping bags for awhile before breaking down camp. A celebratory feeling was already hanging in the air as we finally set off into the morning mist. 

Tall trees surrounded by thick fog on stage 16 of the GR20

Stage 16 started off with a very misty morning.

 

The trail was nice and mellow for the majority of this stage. It was an easy downhill grade for the most part, and we slowly emerged from the clouds as we lost elevation. The GR20 remained stunningly beautiful to the end. The final few miles of the hike followed a balcony trail that provided gorgeous views out towards the Mediterranean. As we made our final descent into Conca, we enjoyed hearing the tolling of church bells growing increasingly louder as we approached. We finally stepped off the trail and followed a winding road down to the official finishing point in the center of the tiny town of Conca. 

Views over the mountains towards the sea on stage 16 of the GR20.

We enjoyed fabulous views of the mountains and the Mediterranean until the very end of your trek.

 

We were all smiles as we approached the finish. The GR20 had tested us both physically and mentally. It pushed us to our limits in terms of our capabilities and challenged us to overcome our fears. We emerged feeling stronger and more confident than ever before. Once you’ve completed something like the GR20, you truly feel like so much more is possible. There are so many treks we’re considering now that we would have never dreamed we could do previously, not to mention other challenges we want to tackle in other aspects of our lives. And the rewards of conquering the GR20 extend far beyond the tangible. I heard a simple expression a few years ago that has really stuck with me: Do hard things. It’s so important to push outside your comfort zone every once in awhile. That’s how we grow and that’s when we feel most alive. If you’re looking for your next Hard Thing, consider the GR20. It will be immensely challenging, it will be profoundly rewarding, it will be unforgettable, and it will change you in all the best ways. 

Trail in the foreground with a peak in the background on the GR20.

Your very own GR20 adventure awaits!

 

 

Want more GR20 resources? Check out all of our GR20 posts below:

Hikers take a selfie at the top of Mt. Renosu on the GR20

Thanks for reading!

 

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The GR20 Nord: Trip Report

We were a little intimidated by the GR20 before we hiked it. Scratch that. To be honest, we were totally and completely scared.  While reading the guidebooks and blogs in…

We were a little intimidated by the GR20 before we hiked it. Scratch that. To be honest, we were totally and completely scared.  While reading the guidebooks and blogs in preparation for our trip, we were confronted by a seemingly endless stream of warnings about the difficulty, the dangers, the scrambling, the cold showers and rocky campsites, and the number of hikers who quit early. But what the books and websites fail to mention? How FUN the GR20 is! 

This was hands down the most enjoyable and interesting trek that either of us has ever completed. Many of the same things that make the GR20 infamous as the “toughest trek in Europe” also make it the best. The dynamic and rugged landscapes, the varied terrain, the remote destinations. Heck, even the extreme heat and afternoon thunderstorms that forced us to start hiking in the wee hours of the morning ended up rewarding us with some of the most enchanting sunrises of our lives. Sure, it definitely wasn’t rainbows and butterflies the entire time (like when I dropped my trekking pole into a gorge or when a hungry pig nearly trampled our tent or when our bodies felt shattered but we had another 2,000 feet of descent to go to reach the refuge), but it was so, so worth it. 

Read on as we share the good, the bad, and the ugly of our GR20 Nord experience.

If you want to skip ahead to the second half of our trek on the GR20 Sud, click here to go to the next post! 

Stage 1: Calenzana to Refuge Ortu Piobbu

Total time: 5:15

Going into the GR20, we thought we were going to be really roughing it for the next 16 days of our lives. We imagined long days that pushed us to our absolute limits both physically and mentally, and evenings spent eating meager rations in basic accommodations. While there was definitely some of that, on the whole our expectations were much more dramatic than necessary. However, not having the benefit of foresight actually turned out to be a good thing as it meant that we enjoyed a blowout, last-days-of-Rome style evening in Calenzana before we started our trek. 

A street in Calenzana, Corsica.

The lovely streets of Calenzana.

 

We opted to stay in an AirBnB in town that was conveniently located near the start of the GR20 and the well-appointed Spar Supermarket in town. The apartment was a little odd, but it had a kitchen, washing machine, and lovely balcony so we were quite content. We enjoyed cooking a meal with lots of fresh veggies (always hard to come by while backpacking), a bottle of wine, and way too much ice cream. I’m happy to report that these choices did not backfire on us the next morning and we felt strong and energized as we started hiking out of Calenzana. 

If you’ve read Paddy Dillon’s Ciccerone guide to the GR20, you’ll know that he makes the first stage of the GR20 sound absolutely hellish. He depicts a long, strenuous uphill slog in the blazing sun and even refers to this stage as your “baptism of fire.” In reality, the first stage is tough, but it’s really not that bad. There are some sections that require scrambling, but it’s a perfect way to build your confidence for what’s to come. Plus, if you start at daybreak like we did, you’ll actually be in the shade for most of the climb. It was so fun passing all of the elated hikers who were headed in the other direction and closing in on their final descent of the trek.

Early morning on Stage 1

 

When we reached the first bocca, we enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch with views out to the sea. The remainder of the hike to the refuge was pretty straightforward and we made good time. Upon arriving at Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu, we were immediately struck by the scene. The campground sprawled out across a huge slope which eventually yielded to dramatic rock formations and the Mediterranean Sea far off in the distance.  We also noted that the refuge itself was nothing more than a burned out shell, having caught fire earlier in the season. It was nearly empty when we arrived a little before noon, but over the course of the afternoon and evening the entire area would be filled to capacity with tents, easily over a hundred of them. We whiled away the rest of the day simply soaking it all in- the scenery, our fellow hikers, the lively cooking area, and the magnificent sunset. 

Sunset at Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu

Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu is known for its spectacular sunsets.

 

Stage 2: Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu to Refuge de Carozzu

Total time: 7 hours.

In preparing for this trek, we knew that we wanted to establish a routine of getting on the trail early in the day. If there are a couple of things that can make hiking feel way harder and exponentially less fun, it’s being out in the heat of the day and stressfully racing against impending storms. We figured that we could minimize these fun-suckers by covering most of our ground in the first half of the day. Today was the real test though…could we actually get our butts out of our cozy sleeping bags when the 5:00AM alarm went off, efficiently pack up camp in the dark, and get on the trail at a time that could still be considered “early”? Seeing as we chose to carry our own tent and self-cater our meals, we couldn’t just roll out of bed and get going as quickly as our friends in hire tents or dorm beds.  All things considered, the morning went smoothly and it felt good to get a solid start to what was going to be a very big day. 

 

Stage 2 started with a fun climb that toed the line between hiking and scrambling most of the way, as we hoisted ourselves higher and higher along huge slabs and boulders. At the top of our initial ascent, we were rewarded with one of the most spectacular views of the entire trek. Upon cresting Bocca Piccaia, we were faced with a seemingly endless expanse of rocky spires, rugged peaks, and spiny ridges. The landscape on the other side of the Bocca felt like an entirely different world than the one at our backs. 

Incredible views from Bocca Piccaia.

 

Our second day on the GR20 was certainly one of superlatives. After enjoying one of the most magnificent vistas of the hike, we embarked on what would end up being one of the longest, most tiring ridge walks of the whole trek. For hours, we slowly made our way along the undulating ridge trail, scrambling up this boulder and down that gully at a maddeningly slow pace. Don’t get me wrong- it was super fun at the start, but even the most fun things lose their luster after awhile. When we finally reached the long, steep descent towards Refuge de Carozzu, we actually welcomed it. 

Midway through the beautiful descent to Refuge de Carozzu.

 

Upon stumbling wearily into Carozzu, we snagged the flattest campsite we could find. It wasn’t that late in the day yet, but already camping pitches were hard to come by. Our spot was tilted, a little cramped, and swarming with ants, but it was pretty, quiet, and well-located so we were content. We treated ourselves to some excellent goat cheese and mint omelettes for dinner and spent the evening chatting with our fellow hikers and admiring another spectacular sunset. 

Sunset at Refuge de Carozzu

Views from the terrace at Refuge de Carozzu.

While the evening was quite idyllic, we felt a sense of trepidation building throughout the campground. Hikers heading southbound (us included) would be facing the notorious Spasimata Slabs the next day. These sheer, steeply angled, vertigo-inducing rock faces had the reputation for being one of the sketchiest parts of the entire GR20. To make matters worse, storms were forecasted to move in early in the day tomorrow, and the slabs were slippery and treacherous when wet. If we wanted to get to the end of Stage 3 safely, we needed to get moving early and quickly in the morning. We turned in before it was fully dark that evening, hoping to get some sleep despite the nerves that were buzzing within each of us. 

 

Stage 3: Refuge de Carozzu to Ascu Stagnu

Total time: 4:45

Fueled by adrenaline and instant coffee, we were on the trail and ready to conquer the so-called “Slabs on Doom” by 6:00am. As we slowly followed the narrow beam of light cast by our headlamps along the boulder-strewn trail, the dark sky was repeatedly illuminated by large bolts of lightning in the distance. While not directly above us yet, we could see and hear the spectacular thunderstorms on the horizon. The sun started to rise just as we crossed the sketchy, wobbly suspension bridge that served as a fitting warm up for the slabs. We began climbing our way up and up across the massive rock slabs, sometimes with the aid of chains or holds, but more often without. Despite the fact that the whole situation was a little scary, we couldn’t help but be completely awed by how beautiful it was. We were in a massive gorge, surrounded by towering walls of rock, and the distant storms conspired to produce a gorgeous sunrise. Orange and pink clouds framed the top of the gorge and the indigo skies in the distance were turned gold by the continual bursts of lightning. 

Sunrise on the Spasimata Slabs

Indigo clouds above the Spasimata Slabs.

 

The slabs themselves? Truly not that bad (and actually pretty fun). As a self-confessed wimp when it comes to sketchy things involving heights, even I never felt uncomfortable or wigged out. To be fair, I believe the slabs are MUCH easier and less scary when you are heading uphill. We heard from several hikers who said they were significantly more vertigo-inducing and physically challenging on the descent. If this is something that worries you, it might be a good idea to hike the GR20 in the southbound direction. 

After reaching the end of the slabs, we were faced with a short section of scrambling and a steep descent to Ascu Stagnu. Our excitement grew as we neared the finish of the hike, as we knew the ski area would have plenty of delicious food options on offer. Just as our anticipation was building, so were those forecasted storm clouds. Luckily, we had just finished setting up our tent and taking the most amazing hot showers when the weather moved in. We napped in our tent while the storm raged outside, occasionally venturing out to triage the streams of water moving across the hard, rocky ground and threatening to flood our tent.

Ascu Stagnu is a real treat for weary GR20 walkers, and we spent the evening enjoying French fries, wine, and other hiker delicacies in the spacious, well-equipped refuge. 

PNRC Refuge at Haute Asco

The PNRC Refuge at Haute Asco.

 

Stage 4: Ascu Stagnu to Auberge U Vallone

Total time: 7:30 

Everyone will tell you that the first few days of the GR20 (especially when hiked north to south) are by far the toughest, and they are not lying. By our estimation, Stage 4 of the GR20 is the most challenging stage of the entire trek. This is the section that was rerouted after the Cirque de la Solitude was permanently closed. Now the trail takes hikers near the summit of Monte Cinto, the highest peak in Corsica, via an incredibly tough and steep ascent. From the top, you walk along a ridge (of course you do, it’s the GR20 after all) that mostly easy, save for a few sketchy places. The whole day is topped off with a long, steep, scramble-filled descent. 

Hiker on the GR20

The tough ascent on Stage 4 of the GR20.

 

All in all, we enjoyed this stage. The ascent, especially the final steep stretch, was rewarding and exhilarating and the high mountain views were unbeatable. Some badass superhumans opt to take the detour to summit Monte Cinto, but we were happy to sit that one out as this was already going to be one of our longest days on the trail. 

Disaster nearly struck on the way down, when I managed to lose hold of my trekking pole. We watched as it bounced its way down further and further before coming to rest on a rocky ledge a hundred feet below us. This is somewhat pathetic to admit, but I truly can’t imagine doing the GR20 (or any hike with long, steep ascents and descents) without my trusty trekking poles. I am way too clumsy to survive even 10 minutes without trekking poles in hand to stop my inevitable, frequent falls. Fortunately, Ian volunteered to take off his pack and scamper down the steep slope to retrieve my pole. If there’s ever been a way to get brownie points with your wife, this is it! 

When we finally reached Auberge U Vallone far down in the valley, the sun was high in the sky and it was HOT. We were ready to find a snack, some shade, and a cold rock pool to dip in. The Auberge was different than the PNRC Refuges we’d camped at up to this point, and we weren’t sure if we liked it. Although we scored a great spot to pitch our tent, there was a lot of trash around and we didn’t receive the friendliest welcome. 

Camping at Auberge U Vallone on the GR20.

Our great pitch at Auberge U Vallone.

 

However, as we spent more time there, we came to appreciate the hot showers and nice terrace, and the staff warmed up to us. Plus, there were some lovely rock pools just below the camping area in which we could relax and soak our tired feet. The first four days of the GR20 had been mighty tough, but we were both totally in love with this hike and couldn’t wait to get back on the trail. 

 

Stage 5: Auberge U Vallone to Hotel Castel di Vergio

Total time: 6:20

Our trusty guidebook promised that today would finally be a bit easier than the first four, and it really should have been if the circumstances had been different. We woke to cold, gusty winds, which would turn out to be an ominous preview of what lay ahead. Early into the day, we nearly faced catastrophe when our toilet paper supply ran dangerously low and our required pit stops occurred at a higher rate than usual. From there, things seemed to take a turn for the better, as we enjoyed a long, peaceful stretch of walking in the woods. But alas, the GR20 demons would rear their ugly heads at us again. 

GR20 Stage 5

A beautiful start to Stage 5 on the GR20, but those clouds signal trouble ahead!

 

As we reached the highpoint of the stage, the weather conditions completely deteriorated. Wind gusts of more than 50 mph threatened to knock us over and our bare hands and faces quickly went numb in the cold. It was one of those times where all you could do was put your head down, keep moving forward, and remind yourself that it would be over soon enough. Thick fog made it challenging to see the next trail marker, and obliterated any chance we had of enjoying what were supposedly wonderful views out towards the Golfe de Porto. 

Fortunately, the Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori is located about halfway along the high ridge we needed to traverse, and it provided a much-needed respite from the cold and wind. After lifting our spirits the best way we know how (by eating a few chocolate sandwich cookies), we forced ourselves back out onto the trail and hoofed it towards the valley. Although the conditions in the valley were significantly better than on the ridge, it was still cold and windy. The remainder of this “short” day seemed to last forever before we finally reached Hotel Castel di Vergio. 

Although it’s a pretty weird place, the hotel, gite, and campground provide a level of luxury that is rare on the GR20. We enjoyed hot showers, which were an absolute godsend after being in such frigid conditions all day. The campground had a large grassy field, a big treat after camping on hard-packed dirt for so many nights in a row. And the shop! Oh my goodness the shop! The small store at the gite was the best-stocked we’d seen so far, boasting rare and valuable items like fresh fruit and still-warm bread. 

The well stocked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio

Hike all the miles, eat all the snacks.

 

We capped off the evening by splitting a bottle of wine in the cozy confines of our tent. It had been a very difficult “easy day.” The GR20 was beginning to reveal one of its most basic truths: you can’t expect anything to be easy on this trek, but with enough stellar views, camaraderie, and red wine, it will all be worth it. 

 

Stage 6: Hotel Castel di Vergio to Refuge de Manganu

Total time: 5:15

Day six began with a leisurely change of pace. We slept in to an indulgent 5:30am alarm, and then we each enjoyed our own cup of coffee. Let me explain this last part. You see, in order to keep our pack weight down, we had only brought one cup for two people and had been sharing up until this point, but the well-stocked cooking area at the gite had extra cups, thus no sharing today! Sometimes, it’s the little things in life that are the most luxurious. (Side note: If you want to really strengthen your marriage in an unorthodox manner, spend two weeks sharing one cup, one bowl, and one stick of deodorant!) 

The trail immediately headed downhill from Castel di Vergio, and our cold stiff knees screamed at us in protest. After we got going, however, the day was absolutely lovely. The trail was much mellower, and we ambled along at an easy pace enjoying the sunshine and the views. We were making good time, so we stopped along the glorious Lac de Ninu to enjoy a snack break. 

Lac de Nino

Lac du Ninu makes a lovely lunch stop.

 

We arrived early to Refuge de Manganu, meaning we could spend the afternoon eating a lunch of local cheese on the terrace and a long dip in the nearby rock pool. The mood at Manganu was festive. Hikers basked on the large, rocky outcropping in front of the refuge, sipping beers, stretching out stiff muscles, and swapping stories. Everyone seemed energized after making it past the initial challenges of the trek. 

Trekkers sitting on rocks at Refuge de Manganu.

Kicking back at Refuge de Manganu.

 

As the days wore on, we got to know our cohort of fellow hikers a bit better. The cool thing about the GR20 is that nearly everyone is stopping at the same place at the end of each day, so you get to know people quite well after a few days of seeing them on the trail and hanging out at camp. We whiled away the evening chatting with so many incredible people from all over the world, including Russia, Switzerland, Belgium, and more. Perhaps one of the best parts about completing a thru-hike like the GR20 is the way that the shared experience brings together people from all walks of life to bond over their love of moving in the mountains. 

 

Stage 7: Refuge de Manganu to Refuge Petra de Piana

Total time: 5:15

Another big day and another ominous weather forecast meant that, yet again, we started hiking in the dark in an attempt to beat the afternoon storms. Just like on Stage 3, the cloudy skies produced a stunningly beautiful sunrise. Today was pretty characteristic of most stages of the GR20: a long, tough ascent to a bocca with ridiculously awesome views, followed by an undulating ridge walk requiring some awkward scrambling to reach the next bocca, and capped off by a steep descent to the next refuge that took longer than expected. Check, check, and check. 

Looking down on Lac du Melo from above.

Lovely Lac du Melo en route to Petra de Piana.

 

Refuge Petra de Piana is known for being perpetually stuck inside a cloud. It’s foggy, windy, and chilly there more often than not. Many campers choose to double up and complete the next day’s stage, just to avoid spending the night high up in these harsh conditions. When we arrived, it was cold and misty, but the wind was mercifully mild and we were worried about the impending weather that was moving in. We pitched our tent, restocked our pasta supply from the tiny shop, and settled in for the evening. Petra Piana ended up being a lovely place to stay. The little A-frame refuge had the coziest kitchen where hikers gathered at picnic tables to share food and hang out in the warmth. Between reading books we borrowed from the communal shelf and hanging out in the refuge, we had no problem passing the afternoon and evening in a comfortable, relaxing, and low-key manner. 

Hire tents at Refuge de Petra Piana

Refuge de Petra Piana up in the clouds.

 

Stage 8: Refuge Petra de Piana to Refuge de l’Onda

Total time: 4:50

Today started out with a technicolor sunrise and a cozy breakfast in the refuge. It was another stage that the guidebook promised would be easy, so we approached it with cautious optimism. As it turns out, it was nothing but relaxing and mellow the whole way. We engaged in some “forest bathing” as we meandered through the tall pines towards the Bergeries de Tolla, where we’d been told we absolutely must stop for some excellent food and drink. Upon arriving at the bergeries, we found the offerings to be less than inspiring, and ended up the proud new owners of a very large and very mediocre loaf of bread. However, the friendly proprietor brought us fresh figs from his nearby tree and we decided it was worth the stop after all. 

Mountain views on Stage 8 of the GR20

You’ll pass through beautiful mountains and forested valleys on Stage 8 of your trek.

 

We arrived at the bergeries de l’Onda before noon, as the hike was much faster than we expected. Without much in the way of entertainment, the day stretched out before us. We envisioned the minutes slowly ticking by as we twiddled our thumbs under the heat of the afternoon sun. It’s pretty remarkable how you can pass the time at camp, though, and somehow we had no problem staying busy. Between taking cold showers, exploring the nearby rock pools, doing laundry, setting up camp, repairing gear, and plenty of people watching, it was time for happy hour before we knew it. 

We headed up to the refuge to indulge in what had become a nightly tradition of splitting a half-liter of wine before dinner. Typically, this wine (a great value by GR20 standards) is served in some sort of jug or carafe. This time, however, the bergeries owner grabbed an empty, used plastic water bottle and proceeded to fill it with wine. He then presented it to us with two tiny plastic cups. While it wasn’t our classiest or most eco-friendly happy hour of the trek, it was certainly one of the most memorable! We ended the night as we did almost every night of our trip; we ate pasta for dinner and were asleep by 9:00pm. 

 

Stage 9: Bergeries de l’Onda to Vizzavona

Total time: 7 hours

We awoke this morning with visions of Vizzavona dancing in our heads. Reaching Vizzavona meant many exciting things for us; it would mark the halfway point of our trek and it would also mean we’d be treated to a rest day and a couple of nights in a B&B.  We happily roughed it throughout the GR20, but we decided to splurge on a real bed and a rest day at the midpoint of our hike. We had the gift of time, so we figured we’d take an extra day to relax and enjoy a different side of Corsica. It was a freaking awesome idea, if we do say so ourselves, and highly recommended for anyone who has an extra day to spare on their trip. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First we had to get to Vizzavona and believe me when I tell you that it wasn’t a cakewalk. The day started off well enough, with a short, unremarkable climb followed by a fun descent over huge rock slabs. Then the fun descent turned totally un-fun, and stayed that way for hours and hours of picking our way down slippery, rocky trails that seemed determined to slow our progress at every turn. We’ve always been the type to prefer hiking uphill over down, but today was especially rough. 

Rocky descent with red and white trail markers.

It’s all downhill to Vizzavona from here!

 

Fortunately, we found the most idyllic spot in the shade, next to a perfectly clear pool, in which to enjoy a lunch of stinky cheese, crusty bread, and canistrellis, which are kind of like Corsican biscotti. Up to that point in the day, we’d been cursing the hike and getting pretty demoralized, but stopping in that perfect little oasis made it impossible to stay in a bad mood. The GR20 is just too beautiful to stay mad at for long. 

We finally tore ourselves away from our cansitrelli-filled paradise and continued our relentless march down to Vizzavona. Upon arriving, we stopped in at the campground’s well-stocked shop and immediately indulged in some cold beers and fresh fruit. Feeling refreshed, we walked further on to the beautiful Casa Alta B&B, our luxurious home for the next two nights. Here, we were greeted by the friendly host who stretched our high school French to its outer limits as he walked us through the amenities of the place. We proceeded to take some of the best showers of our lives and were asleep before 10:00pm.    

Keep reading to learn about the second half of our GR20 adventure! 

View of a room at Casa Alta Hotel in Vizzavona.

Lovely views from a room at the Casa Alta B&B in Vizzavona.

 

Keep reading to learn about the second half of our GR20 adventure! 

 

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West Highland Way Packing List

Making smart choices about what to pack (and what to leave behind) is a vital part of setting yourself up for a successful and enjoyable West Highland Way experience. It’s…

Making smart choices about what to pack (and what to leave behind) is a vital part of setting yourself up for a successful and enjoyable West Highland Way experience. It’s simple- the heavier your pack, the harder your effort. However, with a little thoughtful planning, you can keep your pack weight manageable while still ensuring you have everything you need to be comfortable on the trail and while relaxing at the inns, campgrounds, and villages along the way.

West Highland Way Packing List

There’s no such thing as bad weather if you pack the right gear!

 

Below you’ll find a detailed West Highland Way packing list that will provide you with great, trail-tested gear that won’t weigh down your backpack too much. This list reflects our personal packing list which will vary for each individual’s specific needs. However, this should serve as a great starting point for planning your own West Highland Way adventure! We’ve organized it into the following categories:

We’ve included specific lists for campers and those staying in dorm-style accommodation. The remaining categories apply to all types of hikers. Those staying in guesthouses, hotels, and B&B’s shouldn’t require additional gear beyond what’s on the general lists.

Complete Guide to Camping on the WHW

  • Get our Complete Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way for only $4.99 USD! All payments are securely processed via PayPal and your guide will be sent directly to your inbox. Save yourself the trouble of searching all over the internet and get access to everything you need to plan your adventure in an easy to read guide. All for only $4.99!

West Highland Way Packing Basics

There are limitless ways to hike the West Highland Way; you can customize the length of your walk, your accommodation preferences, your meal options, and so much more. Your West Highland Way packing list will need to be tailored to your individual itinerary and needs. Someone who is using a luggage transfer service and staying in B&B’s will have a significantly different kit than someone who is carrying all of their own camping gear and cooking their own meals. Despite all of this variability, there are a few basic truths about packing for the West Highland Way that apply to everyone. These include:

  1. Keep your backpack as light as possible! (see the next section for more on this)
  2. It is essential to dial in your footwear.
  3. Bring hiking poles and learn how to use them prior to your WHW trek.

West Highland Way trail

The winding path through the Larigmor.

 

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? 

As a very general rule, campers should keep their pack weight below 13kg, including food and water. Those staying indoors should carry no more than 9kg. If having your luggage transferred along the trail, most transfer services will limit you to 20kg, and your daypack shouldn’t exceed 4kg. If you are backpacking for the first time or have a chronic injury, the weight of your pack should be significantly less than these guidelines.

Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for lightening your load:

  1. You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Before you write us off as total dirtbags, hear us out. First, you’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry. Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
  2. Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
  3. Consider leaving your bulky camera equipment at home. Unless photography is your passion, most smartphones take great photos and save a ton of space and weight.

Hiking boots

Your trusty boots are one of your most important pieces of gear.

 

Footwear on the West Highland Way

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the West Highland Way, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the WHW! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly, muddy terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

The trail conditions on the West Highland Way are notorious for causing blisters. If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Trekking Poles

These are a total game-changer on a tough walk like the West Highland Way. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Backpacking backpack

The type of pack you’ll need for the West Highland Way will depend on your individual itinerary.

 

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several hikes with your bag packed the same way (and with the same weight) you’ll carry on the West Highland Way. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. Those staying indoors will find that 30-40L is perfect. If you’re purchasing a new pack, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Battery Backup

If you plan on using your phone as a GPS to navigate along the West Highland Way (which we highly recommend!), it’s imperative that it stays charged. Most accommodation providers will allow you to charge electronics, but this isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Carrying a small battery backup or one of these nifty portable solar panels will give you a little more freedom and peace of mind.

No outlets to be found here!

 

Guidebook

The Trailblazer Guide is an excellent resource for anyone planning a West Highland Way walk. This thorough guide covers everything from the history of the walk to accommodation recommendations, and of course provides a comprehensive breakdown of every stage.


Camping Gear

If you plan on camping along the West Highland Way, there’s a lot more gear you need to think about than just your hiking basics. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered! 

Use this camping gear list in conjunction with the personal items list, miscellaneous list, and men’s or women’s clothing list to put together your perfect kit. 

Quintessential Highlands camping at Strathfillan.

 

Camping on the West Highland Way is definitely worth carrying the bigger backpack. We loved the flexibility and independence it gave us. Plus, campgrounds along the trail are plentiful, convenient, and generally quite comfortable. With the right gear and a manageable pack size, you are guaranteed to have an amazing experience conquering the WHW with your own tent.

Most valuable piece of camping gear: Nemo Astro Sleeping Pad

Confession: This was the third sleeping pad I purchased in a three year quest to find the right fit. Until I got the Nemo, I just assumed it wasn’t possible to get a good night’s sleep while camping. Not only do I sleep warm (thanks to its 20 degree insulation) and comfortably, but this is also one of the most compact and lightweight options out there. It’s relatively quick to inflate and a breeze to pack away. A good night’s rest and extra space in my backpack make this my favorite piece of camping gear. Check it out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
TentSierra Designs - Clip Flashlight 2
or
MSR Hubba Hubba Tent
The Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2 is the best budget tent on the market, while the MSR Hubba Hubba 2 is the best overall tent you can buy.
Sleeping bagMarmot Trestle 30A 30° F or 0° C sleeping bag should keep you plenty warm on the West Highland Way.
Sleeping padNemo Astro Insulated Sleeping PadIf you are a side sleeper this is a must! Even if you're not, this is one of the most lightweight and comfortable sleeping pads out there.
PillowTherm-a-Rest pillowIf you're camping more than a few nights you will be glad you packed this!
StoveMSR Pocket Rocket StoveIan has used this stove for nearly a decade and highly recommends it!
Backpacking potGSI Halulite
UtensilsHumangear Spork Best $4 you will ever spend!
Plate/Bowl/MugMSR 2-person mess kitWe find this bowl and mug combo to be light, durable, and perfect for camp dinners.

 

Bunkhouse & Hostel Specific Gear

If you’re planning on sleeping in bunkhouses and hostels along the West Highland Way, you can keep your pack relatively small. However, there are some specific items you’ll want to make sure you pack. While you don’t need much, there are some essentials that you’ll be glad to have for these communal accommodation situations. Use this list in conjunction with the other lists (except for the camping gear list) to ensure that you’re well prepared for your WHW adventure. 

Note: there are some repeats on this list that we’ve also included on the other lists. However, we wanted to highlight items on this list that are especially important for anyone who is staying primarily in dorm-style accommodation.

Most valuable item for bunkhouses & hostels: Mac’s Ear Plugs


ItemOur recommended gear 
EarplugsMack's EarplugsThe perfect defense for that snorer next door!
Sleeping maskAlaska Bear Sleeping MaskPerfect to block out light while sleeping in bunkhouses.
Sleep sheetVumos Sleep SheetA nice item to have for nights in bunkhouses and hostels.
Travel towelSea to Summit Drylite TowelSome hostels and bunkhouses on the West Highland Way do not provide towels.
Sandals/SlippersCrocsWhile not the most stylish, Crocs make the perfect bunkhouse shoes!

 

Personal Items

Whether you’re camping or staying indoors, these items are must-haves for your West Highland Way packing list. While we’ve included some toiletries that are absolutely essential for this trek, we’ve left it up to you to determine your personal list of additional self care items (comb, toothbrush, prescription medication, etc). 

Use this list in conjunction with the camping gear list OR bunkhouse/hostel list, and the miscellaneous and clothing lists to build your perfect West Highland Way packing list. 

Most valuable personal item: Midge Net Hat

Midges, those tiny biting flies that come out in swarms when the sun goes down and in cloudy, still weather, are an unfortunate reality on the West Highland Way. When they are bad, they are really, really bad. If you’re caught unprepared, they can drive you mad and threaten to ruin your day. Don’t let them! A good midge net is essential for keeping the nasty little guys out of your face. We particularly liked the hat model because it kept the net from touching our face, giving us more breathing room and keeping the midges further away.

Whatever you do, get a good quality net that is specifically designed for midges. Our friends bought cheap insect nets and the holes in the mesh turned out to be too big. They ended up with midges getting trapped inside their nets! Learn from their mistake and make sure you invest in the right gear when it comes to this one. Check our favorite midge hat our here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
Multi-toolGerber Suspension Multi-PlierPerfect for cutting cheese and bread!
First-aid kitAdventure Medical KitsA good backpacking first aid kit is essential. You hope to never have to use it, but will be glad you have it when you need it.
Hydration bladderPlatypus 3L Hydration BladderWay easier than a water bottle! We suggest carrying a 3 liter version.
Small day-packCotopaxi Luzon 18L DaypackOptional item that is great for walking around town.
Pack-coverSea to Summit Pack coverThis is a truly essential piece of gear given how hard it can rain on the West Highland Way!
Men's backpackOsprey Atmos 65LWhile backpacks are a very personal item, we find Osprey to make by far the most comfortable packs on the market.
Women's backpackOsprey Aura 65LOne of our favorite features of Osprey packs is the 'anti-gravity' mesh. So comfortable!
Trekking polesBlack Diamond Trail Trekking PolesEssential for long downhills!
Travel towelSea to Summit Drylite TowelGreat to have in hostels and campsite showers.
HeadlampBlack Diamond Storm HeadlampGreat headlamp with long battery life and adjustable brightness.
Dry bagsSea to Summit Ultra-Sil dry bagsKeeps your clothes and other items dry in a downpour!
Hiking gaitersOutdoor Research Rocky Mountain High GaitersOptional. These will help keep your boots dry when walking on muddy trails.
Midge hatMidge Net HatDo not leave home without one!
SunscreenWe recommend a waterproof sport version with SPF 30 or higher.
Bug sprayBen's Insect RepellentYou'll be glad you brought this when the midges come out.
Toilet paperAs any hiker will tell you, it's always better to be prepared! Plus, not all of the bathrooms you'll find along the West Highland Way provide toilet paper.

Miscellaneous Gear

These odds and ends are the unsung heros of the West Highland Way packing list. From getting your stinky shirt clean to keeping your phone charged, these items help your trek run smoothly. Make sure to use this list in addition to the other categories to complete your WHW kit. 

Most valuable miscellaneous gear: Anker Powercore 10000.

Chances are, you’re getting out on the trail to get a break from the constant demands of screens and technology and that’s wonderful. However, don’t underestimate the importance of having a charged cell phone on the West Highland Way. Your phone can be your navigational device, your camera, your guidebook, and your notepad all in one. Charging opportunities can be unreliable along the route, so a battery backup can be an absolute lifesaver. This one is dependable, relatively small, and can fully charge your phone 1.5-2 times between charges. Check it out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
GuidebookWest Highland Way GuidebookA must-have resource
Ear plugsMack's EarplugsEssential for the more crowded campsites!
Sleeping maskAlaska Bear Sleeping MaskPerfect to block out light while sleeping in hostels or campgrounds on the West Highland Way.
Travel adapterAll-in-one Travel AdapterGreat for all of your travels.
Digital watchCasio digital watchWe recommend a simple digital watch to keep track of hiking times.
CameraSony a5100 mirrorless cameraIan loves his Sony mirrorless camera!
Battery backupAnker PowerCore 10000Great for charging electronics when you don't have access to an outlet.
Biodegradable soapSierra Dawn Campsuds Outdoor SoapPerfect for doing the dishes or washing a few clothing items.
Plastic Bags- quart, gallon, and garbage bags. We used these constantly for everything from storing trail mix to keeping our sleeping bags dry. A must-have for backpacking.

 

You won’t need as heavy of a jacket as these Highland cattle wear!

 

Women’s Clothing

When you’re wearing the same clothes for nearly two weeks in various weather conditions and while doing some serious walking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials. Plus, if you’re anything like us, you have no idea how many pairs of socks to bring. This list is also a handy (and experience-backed)  guideline for quantities of items such as shirts and socks. 

Emily’s most valuable clothing item: Columbia Storm Surge Rain Pants 

You are going to get rained on at some point while walking the West Highland Way. It’s Scotland after all-the brooding weather adds to the magic of the hike. However, it can be pretty hard to fully appreciate that special type of magic when you’re trudging along for hours completely soaked to the bone. A good pair of rain pants can be the difference maker between loving (or at least tolerating) and hating hiking on those damp, Scottish days. These Columbia rain pants are simple, effective, comfortable, and easy to get on and off over boots. Check them out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
Underwear (2-3 pairs)ExOfficio Women's UnderwearVery packable and easy to wash on the go!
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Micro Crew SocksIn our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Sports BraBrooks Women's Rebound Racer Sports BraThis is the most versatile, comfortable, and high-quality sports bra that Emily has found on the market.
Long sleeve base layer (1)Smartwool Women's NTS Mid 250 CrewA great merino wool base layer for chilly mornings.
Short sleeve hiking shirt (3)Smartwool Women's Merino Short SleeveMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick drying, and odor resistant.
Leggings or hiking pantsprAna - Women's Halle Roll-upStylish, lightweight, and great to hike in.
Running shorts (1 pair)Lululemon Run Speed ShortsThese shorts are so comfortable, packable, and quick-drying, that Emily didn't even feel the need to buy hiking-specific shorts.
Down jacketPatagonia Down SweaterLightweight, super warm, and packs down small. This jacket was perfect for this kind of trip!
Rain jacketOutdoor Research Helium II JacketA high-quality all-weather jacket that packs up small.
Rain pantsColumbia Storm Surge pantsFor those heavy Scotland downpours!
Hiking bootsKeen Targhee II Mid Hiking BootEmily has had these boots for five years and hundreds of muddy, snowy hikes, and they are still going strong!
SunglassesSuncloud Loveseat Polarized SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you're in the mountains all day. And these are stylish too!
Basic black dressColumbia Women's PG Freezer III DressFor the nights we went out to dinner in town, it was nice to have one non-hiking outfit. This comfortable, versatile dress was easy to pack and worked great.
Underwire/standard braAfter a long day of hiking in a sweaty sports bra this can be a welcome relief to change into.
GlovesSmartwool Liner GlovesPerfect for cold evenings.
HatHeadsweats Performance Trucker HatHelps keep the sun off your face.
Sandals/Camp shoesChaco Z1Super comfortable around camp with great support.
BandanaIs everything from a towel to extra sun protection.

Men’s Clothing

When you’re wearing the same clothes for nearly two weeks in various weather conditions and while doing some serious trekking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials.

Ian’s most valuable clothing item: Darn Tough Merino Wool Socks

The conditions on the West Highland Way are such that hikers are at a particularly high risk of getting blisters at some point on their walk. The moisture levels, long mileage, and stony paths conspire to create the perfect environment for blisters to sabotage your walk. Fortunately, a good pair of socks can greatly reduce your chance of foot issues. This is one of those times where you really do get what you pay for. We love Darn Tough socks because they keep our feet dry and comfortable in a variety of conditions. They have just the right amount of cushion without being too bulky in boots. Plus, the Merino wool keeps them smelling fresh for days. Check them out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
Underwear (2-3 pairs)ExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Boxer BriefHighly recommended! You can bring 2-3 pairs and wash them easily in sinks or showers. A must!
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion SocksIn our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Long sleeve base layer (1)Smartwool Men's NTS Mid 250 CrewVery versatile mid-weight base layer
Short sleeve hiking shirt (1)SmartSmartwool Men's Merino Short Sleeve shirtMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick drying, and odor resistant.
Hiking pants (1)Prana Brion pantsThese are great for hiking and also look great walking around town!
Hiking shorts (1)Prana Brion Hiking ShortsAwesome shorts that are great for hiking.
Down jacketPatagonia Down Sweater HoodySuper warm, and super packable
Rain jacketOutdoor Research Men's Helium II JacketA good rain jacket is a must for the West Highland Way!
GlovesSmartwool Merino Wool Liner Gloves Perfect for cold evenings.
Rain pantsMarmot Precip PantsFor those heavy Scotland downpours!
HatHeadsweats Performance Trucker HatHelps keep the sun off your face.
Sandals/Camp shoesChaco Z1 sandalsSuper comfortable around camp with great support.
Hiking bootsSalomon Men's X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking BootSuper comfortable and super waterproof!
SunglassesSuncloud Mayor Polarized SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you're in the mountains all day. And these are stylish too!
BandanaIs everything from a towel to extra sun protection.

 

What’s Next?

Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

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