Of course, snow is a possibility any day of the year high in the Alps, and many an unwary hiker has had a vacation ruined because she did not pack properly. Going prepared does not mean that you have to travel with a Sherpa to carry gear for every contingency; it simply means carrying a few light, versatile pieces in addition to your basic garb. In general, travel with your knapsack and a soft sided, medium-large suitcase that can handle most of your stuff plus the presents you will carry home. Resist the temptation to travel with your entire wardrobe and pick a few interchangeable, flexible pieces of clothing for when you are not hiking.
One rule pertaining to luggage: pleasure in travel is directly proportionate to how light your bags are. Before you leave home, walk to the end of the block with your loaded suitcase and knapsack. Then return home and take out all of the stuff you should not have packed in the first place. If you have to pack for a wedding or a business trip before or after your hiking tour, pack a separate bag and check it in at the baggage room at the airport on your arrival to wait for your return, or send it ahead to your final destination.
Now that you have chosen one or two simple outfits for your travel and evening wear, you'll need to organize your hiking gear. Start at the bottom. You will be miserable if your feet are miserable. Pack comfortable, well broken-in, light to mid-weight hiking boots, preferably over the ankle in height. If you have hiked miles and miles in low-cuts, continue to so. If you are purchasing boots or choosing between low and high tops, take the higher boots. They not only protect your ankles from scrapes and give support, they prevent your foot from sliding forward in the boot as you descend and stop your big toe from hammering into the toe box. Unless you want to spend days three to five hiking in Birkenstocks, hike from day one in boots that fit properly. Boot sales staff are happy to help you find a model that fills this need, or you can test yourself. Lightly kick the toe of your boot against the back of the stairs. If your toe hits the front, either you need to relace with increased pressure over your instep, or the boot is too big. As to socks, choose wool or synthetic socks with a flat toe seam.
Daily dress in the Alps in the summer is typically shorts and a short sleeved shirt. To cover the extremes of the climate (freezing to boiling with the added bonus of a thin atmosphere at high altitude, winds in exposed places, sun reflecting off snow, and the occasional spell of driven sleet), the following extras are necessary and should be carried every day, regardless of how the weather looks as you set out: sunscreen, sun hat with ample brim, sunglasses, lip protection, water bottles in one to two litre capacity, wool or pile hat and gloves, polypro longjohn tops and bottoms, a fleece or wool sweater, a water and windproof shell with a hood, and, if you like, windpants.
Pack your backpack (1600-2400 cu. in.) with those items you least expect to use at the bottom-- e.g. wool hat and gloves that only come out occasionally-- and the items that are most useful, such as your shell, picnic and water bottle, accessible near the top. Wrapping your pile jacket around your lunch can keep your Swiss cheese or yogurt fresh and cool on a warm day. In your outer, zip pouches, stash your sun protection, maps, first aid items, and other quick-to-hand items you might like to carry, such as your Swiss Army knife, Swiss chocolate, and camera. Using this system, you can leave your pack assembled from day to day (except for the cheese!) and won't have to empty your pack out on the ground every time you need an item. With any luck, you will never have to get all the way to the bottom and the sun will shine on you every day! Oddly, packing for the unexpected seems to be good juju, while poor weather seems to follow the unprepared. . .
Thanks to Karen Walker of Ryder Walker Alpine Adventures for sharing her knowledge about Swiss hiking with us!
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication