Friday, March 23, 2007

Choosing the Right Gear-Part Two: Footwear

Welcome to Part Two of our nine part series on choosing the right gear. Part two offers advice for choosing the appropriate footwear for a hiking tour through the Alps.

It is no coincidence that footwear tops our equipment list as the very first essential item. More than any other piece of equipment, footwear will either carry you along on a floating cloud of ecstasy, or strike you down and abandon your remains like a shriveled and smoking piece of charred bacon. Analogies aside, footwear will either make or break your hiking tour. Fortunately, with a little information, choosing the right footwear for the trail does not have to be a daunting task.

Today we’ll break the subject into 4 basic categories.

1. The basic levels of hiking boots and shoes.
2. Materials.
3. Construction.
4. Proper Fit.

1.The 3 basic levels of hiking boots and shoes. Begin your search for the right footwear by matching your activity with the correct category.

A. Lightweight hiking. These trail shoes and boots are designed for day hikes and very short overnight trips. Comfort, breathability and cushioning characterize this level and trail running shoes fall into this category. Our village-to-village tours essentially link multiple day hikes and since we usually don’t’ carry heavy overnight packs this is an appropriate level for many of our clients. However, we recommend that heavier hikers, people who need extra support, or anyone who plans to carry a few nights worth of gear across varied terrain consider the midweight level.

B. Midweight hiking/backpacking. These boots are more supportive underfoot and are designed for on and off trail hiking with light to moderate backpacking loads. These models are typically more durable and supportive than lightweight models. They are still intended for short to moderate trips over moderate terrain but we recommend this category if you’re unsure about the level of support that you require. This is a good, safe, middle-of-the-road category that will handle anything that you might encounter on any of our standard hiking tours.

C. Extended backpacking/mountaineering. These boots are designed for multiple day trips, on and off trail, with moderate to heavy loads. Long distance backpackers typically choose this category. They are extremely durable and supportive and they offer a high degree of ankle and foot protection. Some are even stiff enough to accept crampons for snow/ice travel. Many of our lighter day-hikers find this category to be overkill. However, consider this category if you like the highest level of durability and support available or if you believe that your activities demand it. Some of our clients are avid backpackers and mountaineers. These boots work great for them but beware, this level can be very, very heavy.

2.Materials. We recommend footwear that is lightweight, breathable, and waterproof on our standard hiking tours. However, you should also look for materials that complement your hiking/walking style.

A. Synthetic blends and split-grain leather. These materials characterize a boot that is lightweight and breathable so we typically find them in the light to mid-weight category. They tend to be soft so they are comfortable and they only require a short break-in period. They are typically less water resistant than full grain leather so we recommend that our hikers combine these materials with a waterproof barrier like Gore-Tex.

B. Full grain leather. Full grain leather is extremely water resistant, durable and supportive so we typically find it in the extended backpacking category. Full grain boots are designed for extended trips, heavy loads and hard terrain. They are not as lightweight or breathable as nylon/split-grain but full grain leather typically lasts a long time. Expect an extensive break-in period. These boots are extremely waterproof, (and hot) when mated with a waterproof barrier.

C. Waterproof barriers. Waterproof breathable barriers like Gore-Tex, when built into a hiking boot or trail running shoe, can do a great job of keeping water out while also helping perspiration to escape. They essentially catch any water that leaks through the outer material and seams. Waterproof performance depends on the type of barrier used, the materials protecting it, how well the boots are taken care of and the construction techniques used in manufacturing. (See notes on waterproofing in the next category). Waterproof barriers usually make a boot or shoe feel hotter.

D. Vibram sole. Vibram brand soles last forever! It increases the price of the footwear but it's worth it.

E. Polycarbonate insole/steel shank. The insole is the material that strengthens the footwear and provides support under foot. Polycarbonate insoles come in varying degrees of flexibility based on the intended use of the footwear. A stiff insole for example, is designed for the backpacking, heavy load carrying crowd. Some extra-stiff boots will even feature a steel shank embedded within the insole. This is very stiff!

F. Unobtainium-Kevlar, carbon and the future. New materials come around every day. Try them if you like and let us know what you find.

3. Construction.

A. Upper construction. Basically, the more seams a shoe or boot has, the higher the risk for leaks and blowouts. Leaking occurs when water seeps through the seams and needle holes between panels. Blowouts occur when general wear, repeated flexing or a snag cases a stitch to break and multiple panels to separate. In general, the fewer seams an upper has, the more water-resistant and the more durable it will be.

B. Lower construction. Soles are either stitched or cemented to the rest of the boot. Stitching is reliable and can be undone to replace the sole when it wears down. Cementing is faster and less expensive. Cementing is not always reliable or durable on less expensive models though stronger glues come out every day. Most cemented soles can also be replaced.

Notes about waterproofing: Waterproof leather is leather that’s been treated to be waterproof. Some synthetic materials are waterproof however no material is waterproof without watertight construction. Watertight construction refers to the techniques used to keep out leaks like seam sealing and special stitching. Watertight construction is usually combined with waterproofed materials and waterproof barriers.

3. Proper Fit. This is the most important element of the entire boot/shoe buying process. You might find a nice lightweight, waterproof hiking boot that’s breathable and manufactured from quality materials but it’s meaningless if it doesn’t fit properly. We recommend that you spend a lot of time testing different models to find the right fit. Here are a few suggestions to make the process easier.

A. Find a reputable outfitter. They should be able to measure your foot properly and identify the characteristics that make your foot unique, (bone spurs, pronation, supination, etc.). If you don’t believe that your salesperson knows what they’re talking about then find another.

B. Wear hiking socks to the store. If you don’t have hiking socks then buy some. Most outfitters will lend you a pair to try on but don’t walk away with new boots without treating yourself to new socks. We recommend synthetic, wool or a blend of the two. Avoid cotton socks at all costs! They hold moisture and encourage blisters.

C. Not all sizes are created equal. Manufacturers use proprietary lasts that are designed to accommodate certain types of feet. Some are narrower and some are wider. Each company is different so it pays to try a few brands.

D. They may feel strange at first. More supportive footwear will feel stiff. In general, you should be able to move your toes but you don’t want too much room or your foot will slide around.

E. Walk, walk, walk! Walk around the store, jump up and down and try the boots on an incline if you can. Many outfitters have stones and hills for simulating trail conditions. Try to walk uphill and downhill. Make sure that your foot does not slide forward when walking down hill. Make sure that your heel does not lift. Look for hot spots, places where the foot and shoe rub uncomfortably. You won’t be able to leave the store but try to stay in the boots for at least an hour if you can. Use it as an excuse to look at trekking poles and rain gear.

F. Remember that your feet change size throughout the day. They are the smallest in the morning and the most swelled in afternoon and evening. This is especially true following a long day on the trail. If the boots feel tight in the morning then they’ll probably feel really tight following your hike.

G. Consider custom foot beds. Custom foot beds offer more support than the standard foot bed that comes with the shoe. They’re custom molded to the shape of your foot and make an enormous difference at the end of the day. Your salesperson can help you with this.

Extra thoughts: Don’t’ forget to take proper care of your new footwear. Clean your boots and trails shoes by brushing away dirt and mud that can reduce breathability and ruin the materials over time. You can wash most fabrics with mild soap and water. If your boots get drenched then stuff them loosely with newspaper and dry them in a warm place. Do not place them near a fire, heater or other heat source. Leather boots will need to be conditioned on a regular basis. Again, your salesperson can help you choose the appropriate product for your footwear.

Join us next time for Part Three of our series: Base layers and general hiking attire. As always, please contact Ryder-Walker if you have any questions. We look forward to hearing from you.

Newly reopened! Space available on Secret Swiss Valleys II

We just reopened the Secret Swiss Valleys II, scheduled for August 10-17, 2007. This is the tour that National Geographic Adventure touted as one of their 25 trips to do now.

The tour was previous sold out, but unforeseen circumstances allowed us to reopen the trip. Please contact Ryder-Walker if you’d like to know more about this tour or if you’d like to sign up. We look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Eiger Trail is Sold Out

Get ‘em while they’re hot! I posted the previous message and voila, we filled the last spot on the Eiger Trail. However, don’t despair if you missed out. We still offer this trip as a self-guided option.

“What’s the difference between guided and self-guided tours?” I’m glad that you asked.

The Eiger Trail guided and self-guided versions are the same in every respect, (itinerary, accommodation, luggage transfer, scenery etc.), you are simply on your own when you choose the self-guided version and you choose your own dates. This means that in lieu of a guide, we provide written hike descriptions and four-color topographical maps and all the other instructions to run the tour independently. The self-guided version is also less expensive. The cost is $1850 per person in double occupancy. You will have to pay out-of-pocket for a few incidental transfers during the tour but don’t worry because the main transfers to and from the tour are covered within Switzerland. Please note, that not all self-guided tours mimic their guided counterparts exactly so it pays to examine each tour independently.

If you’re interested in the Eiger Trail as a self-guided version then either email us or give us a call. We are happy to discuss the tour in further detail. We are also happy to add your name to waiting list if you’d like to join the guided version of this tour. Toll free within the U.S. 888.586.8365 Outside of the U.S. 001.970.728.6481

Only one spot left on the Eiger Trail.

We only have one room available on the Eiger Trail. We can accept either a single or a double so please contact Ryder-Walker if you would like to participate in this fabulous tour.

Here's a breakdown for anyone who might be interested in the tour:

The Eiger Trail

Classic scenery is the hallmark of the Berner Oberland where the famous trio, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, dominates not only the landscape but the imagination of the traveler-- and has so for well over a century. The Jungfrau region is an alpine wonderland: rolling green meadows lie peacefully beneath awe inspiring, glaciated peaks, tiny chalets dot the hillsides, and farmers continue the ancient herding traditions of the land. The resort villages of the Oberland too are legendary, both for their historical charm and their modern comforts and conveniences, including a transportation system supporting a number of carless villages and allowing access to the region’s myriad hiking trails.

Crossing the mighty Bernese Oberland range is a challenging undertaking that demands a good level of fitness, but the rewards are vast. As we link the region’s villages, we traverse high ridges, follow valleys, and climb to a number of high and lonely passes separating the deep and dramatic valleys cutting through the range. Our first days begin quietly, winding through pastoral valleys and woodlands. As we head toward the remote Kiental, the snowy Blumlisalp Massif towers above and challenges hikers to reach the Hohturli, the route’s highest pass and the most challenging day of the trek, taking us close to the realms of glaciers and perennial snow. Our final days are dominated by the Jungfrau Massif and the lovely Wetterhorn, or peak of storms.

The villages along the way range from the glitzy town of Gstaad, one of the more charming villages in the Oberland, to the wonderful old farm community and resort town of Kandersteg. We’ll visit tiny Griesalp-- little more than a post bus stop and two small hostelries amid high pastures, as well as the carless resort villages of Wengen and Murren, clinging to the steep sides of the beautiful Lauterbrunnen valley. We’ll finish the tour in cosmopolitan Grindelwald, situated directly beneath the North Wall of the Eiger.

Throughout the week we’ll experience a range of accommodations reflecting the character of both the Bernese Oberland and the individual villages. Gstaad finds us in an intmate hotel with classically Swiss ambiance. Lenk offers a superb kitchen and a peaceful atmosphere. A small berghaus in the Engstligental presents a spectacular mountain retreat surrounded by gorgeous peaks.

Kandersteg, delivers a wonderful Victorian-style hotel, while a simple berghaus offers a cozy welcome in Griesalp. In Murren, we stay in a pleasant inn perched on the edge of the valley with views across to the Jungfrau.
Wengen’s charming “gemutlichkeit”inn offers a warm welcome and famous Swiss hospitality and finally Grindelwald, offers a chalet hotel with typical, regional ambience and charm.

Food ranges from haute cuisine in elegant dining rooms to regional specialties in cozy, authentic stubes. Dinner is typically a four or five course meal shared in the company of the group and breakfast is taken at your leisure. Most days, lunch is a picnic enjoyed in a meadow on or at a pass. Other days, we have access to a mountain restaurant or hut for lunch. Your guide will let you know in advance about each day’s routine, including details about lunch, what to put in your pack, and what to expect on each day’s hike.


Day 1 Arrival Zurich or Geneva Airport. Travel by rail to Gstaad using Swiss Card. Meet guide and group.

Day 2 Gstaad - Lenk. Begin with a chairlift ride to the fabulous Wasserngrat, with beautiful views of the pastoral Saanenland. Wander through enchanting meadows and limestone outcrops with superb vews of the emerging glaciated peaks of the Oberland. Descend to the idyllic Lenk by cable car. Elevation gain: ca. 3700 ft. Descent: 853 ft. Distance: 9 miles.

Day 3 Lenk - Engstligenalp. Today we’ll travel over a high pass by towering waterfalls and impressive peaks to the high alpine meadow, Engstligenalp. Overnight in a comfortable berghaus in this enchanting spot. (No luggage access on this night). Elevation gain: ca. 4523 ft. Descent: 1604 ft. Distance: 10 miles.

Day 4 Engstligenalp - Kandersteg. Ascend through pasture and woodland enroute to one of the local peaks, offering fantastic views to the Eiger on a clear day. This is a relatively short and seldom traveled hike that carries us toward the world of large, glaciated peaks. An optional lift drops us into the enchanted village of Kandersteg and our well appointed hotel. Elevation gain: ca. 2309 ft. Descent: 4874 ft. Distance: 7 miles.

Day 5 Kandersteg - Kiental. Enter the very heart of the high peaks of the Oberland with a scenic chairlift ride out of Kandersteg, to a beautiful cobalt blue lake situated in an amphitheater of rock beneath the dramatic Blumisalp massif. We’ll lunch directly beneath the glaciers tumbling from the region’s highest peaks. Pass through the spectacular Hohturli (“high little door” in Swiss German) to enter into the remote and lush Kiental. (No luggage access on this night). Elevation gain: ca. 3595 ft. Descent: 4389 ft. Distance: 9 miles.

Day 6 Kiental - Murren. Ascend through high alpine pastures to a dramatic high mountain pass that is a portal to the central Oberland. The Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau come into full view as we descend toward the fabled Lauterbrunnental. Elevation gain: ca. 3844 ft. Descent: 3194 ft. Distance: 8 miles.

Day 7 Murren-Wengen. We’ll descend to a beautifully remote valley and into one of the high finger valleys above the Lauterbrunnental for lunch. We’ll rest beneath looming glaciers and the brooding mass of the largest peaks, the Eiger, Monch and Junfrau. From there, we enjoy a relaxing ramble along the valley floor to view the thundering falls and the vestiges of pastoral culture in this picture perfect valley. A quick ride by cog railway carries us to carless Wengen. Elevation gain: ca. 1853 ft. Descent: 2683 ft. Distance: 9 miles.

Day 8 Wengen-Grindelwald. A most classic ramble lies before us today as we cross the Kleine Scheidegg, the saddle beneath the infamous Eiger Nordwand, or north wall. Much of our walk today will be through peaceful and untrammeled pasture and woodland. The views over the Lauterbrunnen valley, with its distinctive u-shape, formed by a glacier and its many thousand foot waterfalls, are truly unforgettable! Elevation gain: ca. 2578 ft. Descent: 3369 ft. Distance: 9 miles.

Day 9 Depart.

Tour Profile

Difficulty: Distances up to 11 miles and ascents of up to 4000 feet make this a challenging trek. Hikers should be in good condition.

Cost Includes: Hotel costs, breakfast and dinner daily, guiding. Taxes, and porterage at hotels. Luggage transfers for up to two pieces. Swiss Card and all lifts and cog railways incidental to itinerary.

Equipment: In addition to hiking clothes to suit
temperatures from 40° to 80°, equipment for this tour should include a daypack, sturdy hiking boots, rain and sun protection.

Tour Dates: July 31-August 8, 2007

Tour Cost: $2785 per person in double occupancy

Gateways: Zurich or Geneva

Please contact Ryder-Walker if you have any questions regarding the Hiker’s Haute Route or any of our tours. We’d love to hear from you.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Red Rock Country is Sold Out!

Here we go again: Red Rock Country, scheduled for April 28-May 6, 2007, is now closed. This is the tour that explores the hidden and remote canyons of the Desert Southwest.

I know what you’re thinking, “You’re the European Trekking Specialists.” Yes, but before we head abroad and when we get home, we immerse ourselves in the quiet canyon country of our backyard. There really is no other place like it on earth.

We’re always happy to add your name to the waiting list so please contact us. You can also check the current availability of our guided tours by following this link.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sold Out: The September 2007 Italian Dolomites Trek II.

More news: The Italian Dolomites Trek II, scheduled for September 8-15, 2007, just sold out. We still have space on the first tour, Italian Dolomites Trek I, scheduled for June 18-25, 2007.

Spaces go quickly during this time of the year. Contact us to get in on the action. We also invite you to visit our website for the 2007 schedule and more details.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Choosing the Right Gear-Part One: The basic equipment list.

Welcome to Part One of our nine part series on choosing the right gear for a village-to-village hiking tour through the Alps. Spring is just around the corner, which means that it’s time to inventory our fitness and our equipment. Part One examines the basic equipment list.

We don’t camp during our hiking tours. This means that we can travel light, cover more distance, and we don’t have to worry about all of the accoutrements that accompany a multi-night camping trip. However, we do spend full days on the hiking trail. The gear that we choose to wear and carry in our daypack can make the difference between a delightful vacation and a miserable death march. The following list highlights the essential items that will help you to further enjoy yourself on the hiking trail. Please note that we do not include eveningwear on this list.

Some of the items mentioned below may require further explanation so we’ll explore them in further detail during the upcoming weeks. Future topics will include:

Part Two: How to choose the appropriate footwear.
Part Three: Base layers and general hiking attire.
Part Four: Insulating layers.
Part Five: Raingear.
Part Six: Trekking poles-What to do with them and how to choose them.
Part Seven: Water-How to find it and how to carry it.
Part Eight: Extras-Simple additions for enhancing your hiking experience.
Part Nine: Backpacks-Putting everything together.

The Basic Ryder-Walker Equipment List:

Your general wear will probably vary depending on the weather. T-shirts and shorts will be adequate on some days, whereas long pants, shirt a long sleeve sweater or fleece will be needed on others. Knickers are an excellent option for all conditions, and many Europeans use them. Long wool or synthetic blend socks ensure warmth even if they become wet. Please do not bring blue jeans or chinos to hike in. Aside from these, here is a list of essential items needed for each day, and the most useful extras.(Click on the photo for a closer look at the attire.)

Essential Items:

Hiking boots or trail shoes. These should be comfortable, waterproof and well broken in. Use what works best for you. Newer lightweight boots have proven to be just fine for most alpine hiking.
Waterproof Jacket. This should be roomy, with a hood and extend to the top of one's thigh. Gore-Tex or other breathable, waterproof fabric is recommended.
Long sleeve insulating top. Preferably of synthetic fleece. Wool is also excellent.
Synthetic fleece hat and gloves. Again wool mentioned above works well too.
Water bottle or hydration system. A minimum one-liter capacity is ideal.
Trekking poles. These can reduce knee stress by as much as 30%. We recommend one collapsible pair per hiker.
Sun protection. At higher altitudes this is imperative. You will need good sunglasses, sun tan lotion with a high SPF, and a hat with a brim.
Passport. A few of our tours cross international borders during the day. We usually never encounter customs agents but it’s nice to have identification anyway.
Travel Documents. (Eurail passes, Swiss Passes etc), may offer reductions on many lifts and help you to amend the itinerary during the day.
Pocket change. Some hikes visit and/or overnight at various mountain huts. It’s always nice to have a bit of petty cash for refreshment and meals. We recommend $50 to $100 in local currency.
Daypack. Be sure this is of adequate size to fit the above items as well as a picnic lunch or other items. Generally 1800 cubic inches is fine. If your itinerary includes nights in huts or other overnights away from your luggage, a pack of 2400 cubic inches is advised.

Useful Extras:
First Aid Kit. (This is an essential item for self-guided travelers)
Zip Lock Baggies.
Thin Dry Bag. for your day pack.
Pocket Knife. (Scissor features come in very handy).
Rain pants.
Long sleeved polypropylene undershirt or other long underwear top. Some people may like bottoms as well.

Other items should be light. It is also advisable to bring supplies of any medications you may be taking. Should you forget something, the villages on your tour are well stocked with sport and pharmaceutical goods.

Trek Considerations:
The items mentioned above are required for our treks. In addition, some people enjoy the capacity of a larger backpack since our treks usually involve one or two nights in a hut or simpler bunk style accommodation. Under these circumstances one will need extra socks, slippers or running shoes, underwear, T-shirt, a towel and toiletries. A book and flashlight/headlamp (compact!) are often desirable. Some people enjoy a travel sheet or sleeping bag liner for the hut stay.

Join us next time for Part Two in our series: Choosing the appropriate footwear. As always, please contact Ryder-Walker if you have any questions. We look forward to hearing from you.