The GR20 Hike – What you need and what you can expect.

Given that the GR20 is listed by National Geographic as one of its World’s Best Hikes: Epic Trails, the GR is a popular but still tough multi day hike. There’s no need to think you can’t do it but don’t take a 10 to 15 day trek in the mountains lightly. The fitter and stronger you are the easier it’ll be and the more enjoyable. Trekking everyday for 6-8 hours in the mountains carrying a heavy pack is tough physically, so be prepared or be prepared for a bit of pain. There’s no technical knowledge needed but there are some stages with ropes/chains to climb including the infamous Cirque de la Solitude (more on that in another post). Take a look at my last post if you want to know why you should do this trek. If you are doing it in winter it’s a whole other thing, you need some technical knowledge and you need to know what you are doing as the track can disappear under snow.

Day One Refuge from our camping spot about halfway down.

Day One Refuge from our camping spot about halfway down.

So what do you need in your pack? Well for starters you need to know what to expect when you’re out there. The refuges are the only places you are allowed to camp at (wild camping is technically illegal but not too frowned upon especially if you get caught out (there are wild boar to think about though)). What you will find at these refuges is practically everything so if you wanted you could carry nothing but water and clothes. However you would need to book ahead (during the busy periods) as there are limited spots in the huts and limited rental tents. Sleeping in dorm is probably not what you want, if you get someone that snores you’ll be very tired when you wake up at 6 to start hiking.

The refuges almost always serve meals, usually pasta and trust me you’ll be hungry so it’ll taste great. They also all sell food, it’s more expensive (but it comes in on donkeys) and it can be hit and miss what you get: staples are pasta and sauce and biscuits. Some refuges have great cheese and/or saucisson (dried sausage made from wild boar mostly). There’s almost always no bread. The refuges also supply camp burners/stoves for you to use. There are usually only two burners so the wait can be long, especially if you’re just wanting a cup of tea/coffee.

There are showers, they are cold except for at a couple of places. This is ok if you arrive early in the afternoon and it’s still warm or you’re really dirty and just have to. Sometimes we just went dirty. There’s usually a basin for rinsing/washing clothes as well. This is great as it means you can carry less. Get some quick dry stuff and you’d be able to wear the same (clean) clothes everyday.

GR20 - starting out fresh with a heavy pack full of food and fuel for the cooker.

GR20 – starting out fresh with a heavy pack full of food and fuel for the cooker.

The other way to go is to carry all your own gear. The refuge will then cost you 7€ for the night. We carried a lightweight two person tunnel tent, the Narvik 2 from Tatonka. It weighs a bit over two kilograms. It’s only drawback is that it’s not free standing and that caused a bit of a headache at a couple of campsites, where it was tough to get the pegs in on the rocky ground. There can be a lot of rain at different times and it’s nice to be dry, so get a good one. A good sleeping mat is nice as well, a lightweight therm-a-rest. would be the way to go, though I didn’t have one at the time. Ours weighed 800 grams. You can get one down at 300 grams and trust me every half a kilogram counts.

We also had our Trangia. to cook with, which meant less waiting in lines and being able to cook next to our tent (a big plus when the hut is at the top of a hill and you’re camped down the bottom).

Cold and well fed. The days are hot but the nights are still cold in the mountains. Being well fed is crucial. Pasta was a daily meal on the trek.

Cold and well fed. The days are hot but the nights are still cold in the mountains. Being well fed is crucial. Pasta was a daily meal on the trek.

On top of this you need sun gear and rain gear. There can be days where if it rains you won’t able to walk as the rocks can be too slippery to climb, so be prepared to hang around in the tent all day if needed (and maybe factor this into your time frame). We trekked in September and were very lucky, a little bit of rain but not days rained out.

Shoes. We went in hiking boots. And while many people were in runners or lightweight low cut hikers I’m glad that I had the ankle support. A pair of thongs/flip-flops in your pack for when you reach camp.

Camera. Whatever your kit is. I lugged a DSLR and a Joby GorillaPod. , but the best camera is the one you’ve got with you right?

A guide book. This will tell you everything you need to know about every day’s trek and let you decide when and if you can ‘double’ stages if you want/need to.

At a mountain lake. note the packs and the terrain

At a mountain lake. note the packs and the terrain

Add in needing 2 litres of water for a day and your pack weight starts to add up. I carried almost 20 kilograms including water and food, while my fiancé carried about 15. We were however also backpacking for 3 months so had a little extra than just what we would take if we only went for the trek. With what I know now and a little bit of money spent on a couple of new things for my kit I reckon I could be down to 13 kilos including food and water pretty easily.

So that’s it. Any questions you have leave below and I will answer them. Would love to know how many kilograms your pack was if you’ve done it and stayed tuned for more on GR20.

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