Hiking the Alps: How My Gear Held Up

by Gigi Griffis

As you may already know, I spent almost the entire summer here in Switzerland where I can walk out my door and onto a hiking trail in less than five minutes. And, of course, this means I spent a lot of time hiking. I explored old favorites and discovered new ones. I slept under the stars in the high alps. And I spent many an afternoon picnicking in a field of wildflowers or beside a chilly glacial stream.

It was, in short, one of the most nature-centric summers of my life.

And during all this exploring, I was lucky enough to have the chance to try out some new gear.

In case you’re looking for some great trail running shoes or a new sleeping bag, here’s how my gear held up:

Salomon Speedcross III Trail Running Shoes

Salomon shoes

Of all the gear that I got last spring and tried out this summer, these shoes got the most wear and have become a staple of my hikes. The main thing I love about them is how soft and squishy they are inside. I run in them. I hike in them. And I’m always glad for the extra cushioning in the soles.

That said, there was a massive downside when I first started using the shoes. For more than a month, they gave me blisters above my heel. Blisters are pretty standard for me the first few times I wear a new pair of sneakers or boots, but these took way longer than normal to wear in. So even though I love them now, I was less of a fan that first month or two.

Nemo Rhapsody Spoon Bag

Sleeping bag + luna

The reason I chose this sleeping bag is its shape. Unlike mummy bags, which force you to sleep like, well, a mummy, or the more square bags that don’t keep the heat in as well, this bag is shaped like a mummy bag with one key difference: there is room for you to bend your knees.

If you’re a side-sleeper or a knee-bender (or someone sleeping with a small dog inside her sleeping bag), having that extra room is pretty genius. I ended up using the bag a lot during the much-colder-than-normal summer, even though I actually only camped out once. On particularly cold rainy days, I would slip inside, cross my legs comfortably (hoorah, spoon-shape!), and work at my desk or from bed. And anytime I’d leave the room to get more tea or grab lunch, Luna would take over (as in the photo above), since she loves the sleeping bag even more than I do.

I also used it when I had a house full of company in August and didn’t have enough bedding for everyone. I made up the guest beds with blankets and comforters and Luna and I slept in the spoon bag (me with my head peeking out of the top; her with her head poking out of the unzipped bottom).

The only downside for me is that the fabric (as is the case with every low temperature mummy bag I’ve ever had, so I’m not sure you can ever get around this in the sleeping bag world) can get a little sticky and uncomfortable if you get too warm/sweaty.

Nemo Fillo Pillow

Pillow hiking

When I asked Nemo if I could get a spoon bag to review, they told me that one of their staff favorite items was the Fillo pillow—and they kindly offered to send one of those over too.

If you’ve ever slept on an inflatable pillow, you know it’s usually like trying to sleep on a pool raft—unwieldy, not terribly comfortable. Whereas lugging a regular pillow around on your travels (or through the forest) is fairly impractical.

Which is why it’s kind of genius that the Fillo combines the best of both worlds. It’s inflatable, which means it can deflate and roll up pretty small. But the top of the pillow is a thick, soft, and pillowy material, so it feels a little more like a real pillow.

I actually didn’t take this up the mountain for my night in the alps (due to extremely limited space in my bag), but I have been using it all summer as my regular pillow. Because I actually like it better than the big, stiff down pillows on my bed.

Ultra Mountain FL Trekking Poles

hiking poles Black Diamond

hiking poles in action

When I started complaining about how much I hate downhill hiking in the spring, my best friend told me I should get some hiking poles. Then my other best friend bought herself a pair and raved about how fantastic they were and how much they helped.

So I got some and I tried them on the uphills and the downhills and the easy hikes and the hard ones. And my conclusion is that hiking poles just aren’t for me. Did they make me a little faster on the uphill? Yes, I think so. Were they light and easy to fold up and carry? Yep.

But they also left me feeling, even after a handful of hikes, unbalanced and nervous. Having something (anything) in my hands while I’m hiking makes me feel like I won’t be able to catch myself if I fall. And for someone who has a little fear on the downhill, this isn’t an ideal way to feel.

That said, this isn’t the fault of the poles themselves and is more about my own neuroses. For the less neurotic, they are beloved. The friend who recommended them to me uses hers all the time (she’s pictured above hiking through the snow with Luna and the poles) and when I gave them to another trekker friend, she was absolutely thrilled (she may have even called me her savior).

Ahnu Sugarpine Waterproof Hiking Boots

Hiking boots and luna

So, here’s the one thing I usually don’t love about hiking boots: the way they look. They’re so bulky and usually either muddy brown or way too bright. And while function is more important than fashion in this case, I would really rather have both.

Which is why I fell in love with these Ahnu boots from the moment I stumbled upon them online. They have some color (but not too bright). They’re not overly bulky. And they’re still waterproof and sturdy.

The first day I got them, I pranced happily around my house all afternoon, unwilling to take them off.

Unfortunately, later, I learned the hard way that there is an art to sizing hiking boots. You’re supposed to walk around in the morning (in your normal shoes) and then go try on boots. Because throughout the day, your feet expand a little (who knew?!) and in the afternoon you’ll have a much better fitting.

I didn’t know about this when I ordered my Ahnu boots, so while I still absolutely love the color and I had a few short, easy, and wonderful hikes in these boots (which did not give me blisters like the Salomon shoes), once I took them up on a long and tough hike, I discovered that they were too small for my expanding afternoon feet. And so they’ve been relegated to short and easy hikes.

REI Lookout 40 Pack

REI back

Finally, there’s my new hiking backpack.

The reason I got a new one is because my old one is very, very big. The biggest, in fact, that you can get as a petite lady. The reason I chose the biggest is because I like having the option, when I’m traveling full-time, of carrying a little more than most backpackers would. After all, I do have a business and a dog, and while I would consider myself something of a minimalist, there are a few comforts I choose not to go without (for example, my curling iron). And so I have always carried a very large backpack (even if it wasn’t always full).

Now that I have a home base in Switzerland, though, I can afford to have two backpacks (oh, the decadence!). My big one for big trips and/or if I ever go back to my full-time no-home-base way of life. And a smaller version for overnights in the mountains, conferences in Barcelona, weekends in France.

I’ve used the smaller one a few times now and what I love most about it (other than the fact that it’s so darn light compared to the giant bag) is that it forces me to pack light, to be aware of what I bring along. And it fits the EasyJet requirements for carry-on bags, which is a big plus.

A big thanks to all the companies who provided me with free or discounted gear to review this summer. As always, all opinions are my own.

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Ali October 23, 2014 - 8:24 am

As many times as you’ve used that hiking in the snow picture, I always assumed it was you!

Andy and I got those pillows right before our current trip. I’ve only used it two nights, so maybe that’s not enough to form an opinion, but it still feels like I’m sleeping on an inflatable raft or something. Maybe I just need to give it a little more time.

I wish I had looked at your REI bag when I was at your apartment. I have an older version of the Lookout 40 (a men’s version though) and I really like it, but it’s time for a new one. Not that I have an idea how I’d get something from REI while in Europe. But man, I’m itching for a new bag.

gigigriffis October 23, 2014 - 8:50 am

I think the trick is to have it partly deflated. If it’s too full of air, it feels more like a raft. :)

For shipping to Europe, one idea: I have things shipped to a military friend (shipping to APO addresses costs the same as shipping within the US) sometimes. Do you have any American military friends in Europe? (All of mine live in Germany, so I have this – possibly incorrect – sense that we have a big military presence there?)

Ali October 23, 2014 - 12:39 pm

I think the military presence in Germany was pretty big but it’s starting to reduce. I’ve heard of a few base closures in the past couple years. I think my parents’ friend’s son is in the military in Germany but I’d have to verify that. Otherwise the only other military friend I have in Europe is in England. We’ll see!

Neens Bea October 23, 2014 - 11:07 am

Sounds like we’ve got the same type of feet – my condolences! ;-) I *always* get blisters above the heel, and it takes forever to wear in new shoes. My new hiking boots are Salomons too, but mine are called Contragrip. They are made of Gore-Tex material, which is perfect for dog walks after it has rained or in the morning, when the grass is wet with dew. I got them in April, and only now am I able to wear them without getting blisters (although, to be fair, I stopped trying to wear them in during our summer heat waves). I think I must somehow have lower ankles than the average person, because the top part of the heel cap always ends up rubbing on the soft skin above my heels. Anyway, just like you, I wasn’t too enamoured with my new hiking boots at first, but now I love them. Oh, and mine are really slippery on wet flagstones, so beware of that – it’s not normally a surface you would come across very often, but that’s the paving outside my flat. Thankfully, my dog Albert has finally learnt not to pull on the lead in that area! :-)

gigigriffis October 23, 2014 - 11:15 am

Condolences back atcha!

Neens Bea October 23, 2014 - 11:44 am

Blister Sufferers Unite – or should that be Untie? ;-)


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