Our Via Valais trail running tour project is 225+ km’s, 14,000+ meters of vertical gain, and if we have the juice, there’s a peak to climb each day as an add on. We feel it’s just the right amount of not too much. While the distance and vert is a bit more than the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc, which is done by an elite few in under 24 hours, we’ll do our tour in a relaxed 9 days, making tons of images while traveling through some of the Alps’ most beautiful terrain entirely on foot and carrying only what we need. What we carry is crucial, it has to be ultra light, and super efficient. Thankfully, we have the hut system, which provides the ability to actually run through the high Alps for days on end without the burden of pack weight.
How the Swiss Huts Work
Friends visiting from the US continually remind us of how much we’ve started to take the huts for granted. For first timers to the Alps, they’re blown away by what the huts offer. These aren’t lean to’s, or A-Frame shacks, they’re full blown mountain hotels, sometimes a hundred plus years old and quaint, other times ultra modern. Always comfortable. For hikers, climbers, ski tourers and trail runners, the huts provide meals, snacks, drinks and of course comfy beds. Learn to use them and they offer something else – freedom from carrying gear. Our Hut System page has more info.
On the Via Valais, we’ll stay in five mountain huts. From these, we can purchase day food, eat breakfast and dinner, and of course spend the night in beds without having to carry sleeping bags. With all that provided, we only need to carry what we need for running, and for staying safe in the mountains, where, like always, things can go from fun in the sun to something more serious due to weather or injury.
What to Pack for a Trail Running Tour
Besides trail running for 8 days, our job is to tell the story of this new tour. In addition to running kit, we have to carry extra camera gear with back up solutions, as such pack weight for the Via Valais is critical. Below are images of Dan’s and Kim’s kits laid out to compare what goes in for a man vs. a woman, or a pro photographer vs. a writer, who also gets to be a bit of a mule to help out. Of course some items get shared among the group like First-Aid and a water filter.
Trail Running Kit Explained
- Osprey Duro 15 liter Pack: In our experience, when you have to carry weight, there is simply no better pack than what Osprey has designed. We reviewed these packs here.
- Dynafit Ultralight 3L rain jacket and rain pants.
- 1) Extra short sleeve shirt for rotation and to not to be overly offensive in the hut dining room and 2) one long sleeve base layer.
- Extra socks. Somehow, X-Bionic stuff doesn’t stink.
- Dynafit tights.
- Long sleeve light fleece with hood (so no beanie goes).
- Dynafit Mezzalama – one of my favorite jackets of all time; light puffy on the chest with wind shell sleeves.
- Headband, Buff, and light gloves.
- BD Stance mitts – ultra, ultra light puffy gloves for when things get cold. I always debate about taking these, and am regularly happy I did.
- Dynafit’s carbon Ultra Pro pole – again, maybe I’ll take then, maybe I won’t. I always seem to decide immediately before leaving. They can sure be nice on the uphills when the legs are cooked.
- Tech stuff: USB AC plug, Suunto watch charging cable, headphones, phone (Important Apps: FatMap with route downloaded, Rega emergency App, and MeteoSwiss), and an extra heart rate monitor strap battery.
- Sony a6500 with Zeiss 16-70 f4 lens, 5 total batteries (we have arranged a re-supply for more batteries) and 384GB worth of SD cards.
- Goal Zero Sherpa 15 battery pack for charging phone, headlamp and watch.
- Julbo Aero glasses with Zebra lens.
- Tiny wash towel.
- Swiss Francs, and lots of them. Huts cost about CHF70/night for dinner, breakfast and your overnight, it does not include drinks. Day food is separate. Carry cash, huts often don’t take credit cards.
- Headlamp – after this photo was made I went and bought a Petzl Bindi to save 53 grams.
- Silk sleep sack liner – required at huts.
- Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and ear plugs (do not forget ear plugs!)
- Tape and ankle rolling wrap.
- Trail Butter – my choice for calories, reviewed here. And, if you are in Switzerland, find yourself some Mulaff Bars, they’re the creation of a gourmet baker and Swiss Olympic coach.
- Starbucks Vias – because hut coffee kind of sucks.
- Sun hat
- Soft flasks for the pack chest pockets – I much prefer having water on my chest over a bladder system which is often too much water and sloshes around. In the Alps, there are a lot of water re-fill options, including huts or carrying a light filter (see Kim’s gear).
- Hydration powder – we use Osmo Nutrition’s Active Hydration mix. I’ve been using Osmo for years and know that for me it works the best. And, Peter Sagan also swears by it. I’ll take it in the ziploc.
Dan’s total pack & gear weight, not including all food & water: 3.64kg
Behind the scenes…. friends get to help carry camera gear, so a Zeiss Touit 12mm f2.8 lens and RX100 VI also go.
- Osprey’s Dyna 15 liter pack – for all the same reasons as Dan. We reviewed these women’s specific packs here.
- Dynafit light fleece and light puffy.
- Dynafit tights
- Headband, Buff, beanie, and light gloves.
- Spare >X< Bionic socks.
- Dynafit Ultralight rain jacket and rain pants.
- BD Stance mitts – ultra light puffy mittens. Super warm.
- T-shirt. Something I haven’t been sweating in for sleeping.
- Dynafit’s carbon Ultra Pro poles.
- Julbo Aero glasses with Spectron lens.
- Phone. See Dan’s Tech list #11, and also Kindle reader for down time in the huts. It’s always good to have a book.
- Sun hat.
- Cash. See Dan’s #16 above.
- Notebook and pencil. I need to take lots of notes about the route, huts, and all the fun we have along the way.
- ALPSinsight stickers to spread around.
- Trail Butter, reviewed here. And other vegan friendly fuel.
- More Starbucks Vias – because we need coffee to run…and ditto on the suck level of instant hut coffee.
- Toiletries and more first aid: toothbrush, toothpaste, ear plugs, (someone will snore), comb (not that it will help), emergency fem hygiene products, sunblock, chapstick, KT tape, and Compeed (blister pads).
- Tiny knife.
- Rega insurance card and Alpine Club membership card.
- Goal Zero Switch 10 Core battery pack for charging phone, headlamp and watch.
- Silk sleep sack liner – required at huts.
- Hydration powder – the women’s Osmo Nutrition’s Active Hydration mix. Also because it makes water taste better.
- Katadyn Be Free water filter and soft flask. Pro tip: you don’t want to pay for water in the huts, and we’ve calculated just how much this can save you here.
Kim’s total pack & gear weight, not including all food & water: 2.8kg
The Via Valais
We’re not sharing our route quite yet, we’d like to confirm some key passages that we haven’t done to be sure it’s suitable as a trail running tour. If these passages go, we know we’ve linked up a series of trails perfect for running days on end, with fantastic nights in mountain huts. If you’d like to follow along, we’ll be posting to our social channels with #ViaValais