Mountain huts in the Alps

The Alps figure among the few major mountain ranges of the world – maybe the only one - with such an extensive network of huts that allow hikers, climbers, mountaineers, and backcountry skiers to travel light, often with only a daypack, whether on a two-day or weeklong trip.
Gouter Hut

While most huts lie at an altitude somewhere between 900 meters and 3000 meters elevation, a few sit perched at even loftier heights, such as the Gouter Hut (3835m) in France along Mt. Blanc’s standard route, and the Margherita Hut (4554m) on the Italian side of Mt. Rose. The avid hiker on a moderate or even strenuous tour will not venture to such lofty heights. However, anyone on a multi-day tour through the Alps should remember the saying, “variety is the spice of life,” when trekking from hut to hut.

Here are a few fundamentals to keep in mind

  • Huts allow you to spend days (and even weeks) in the mountains traveling light, with no need to resupply, and offer protection at night from any nasty weather (especially thunderstorms).
  • Expect amenities and the buildings themselves to be on the rustic side (dormitory style sleeping conditions, outhouses in certain locations…); the quality in this regard really varies from one hut to another. Sleeping arrangements range from small four-person rooms to thirty person dormitories. Some huts provide wool blankets, other down comforters (note: we recommend bringing a lightweight cotton or silk sleep sack).
  • Privacy (or lack thereof). Given the varied sleeping situations and the fact that most huts only have coed bathrooms, don’t expect much privacy.
  • Great hospitality as well as a warm and friendly atmosphere. Hut managers clearly love their jobs to accept spending all summer (and sometimes part of the winter) in an often harsh (dare we write austere) mountain environment. In many cases, the more rustic the hut, the more friendly and outgoing the hut manager.
  • Family-style dining. Enjoy sharing your meal at group tables with other mountain travelers. This means helping to set and clean up the table. Expect delicious, simple, and copious three-course meals. Note that everyone is served the same meal at the same time (the Dolomites being the exception to the rule). For “special diets,” huts will almost always accommodate vegetarians (but not vegans). If you are vegetarian, let the hut manager know when you arrive.
  • In the morning (always early…), expect a simple breakfast that will usually include a variety of the following: bread, butter, jam, honey, cheese, juice, and tea or coffee (the hut manager will ask the night before which hot drink you prefer).

What types of dinners should you expect in a mountain hut?

While many hut kitchens, especially those at lower altitudes, appear equipped like your regular downtown restaurant, keeping a mountain hut well stocked with food does have its constraints. Due to the harsh environment and often remote locations, huts have to hire helicopters to transport supplies once or twice per summer. Most hut managers love to cook and overcome the limited ingredients they have to work with. In addition to tasting good, the purpose of a typical dinner is not only to replenish your tired body after a hard day’s hike, but to get it ready and fueled for the next. Meals usually include soup to start with, a meat and carbohydrate (pasta, rice, polenta…) for the main dish, cheese, and dessert. If in the mood, you can pay extra for a beer or wine with your meal.