Alpine huts explained

Posted by BMC on 27/05/2000
Do I need to book ahead? Should I leave my boots outside? Do I need to bring my own food? We have the answers to these questions and many more.

An extensive network of huts exists in the alps, often spectacularly sited to avoid stonefall and avalanche. But for the British using an alpine hut for the first time can be extremely confusing! Read for all to be explained.

Accommodation
The style of huts varies from simple shelters to multiple storied buildings with private rooms. The majority are characterised by bunk beds or one very large bed. Guests being provided with a blankets and a pillow. The use of sheet sleeping bags is on the increase to ease the laundry burden. Most huts have basic appointments such as dining room, wash room, drying facilities, etc.

Booking
It is probably wise to try and pre book huts, especially if going to a popular region or during a busy period. It is best to either phone the guardian direct or contact the nearest tourist information office in the valley. How far you do this in advance is up to you and will depend on the reliability of weather conditions. It is worth bearing in mind that some people book the Gouter Hut on Mont Blanc up to a year in advance, generally speaking for very busy huts a month in advance would suffice. If large scale hut touring is planned a more organised approach may be necessary. Huts tend to be open from early July to the middle of September though this figure changes according to country and the current seasonal conditions.

Costs
Average costs for a night without food are around £10, though this can vary widely. Membership of other Alpine Clubs gains reciprocal rights to the huts and a discount from 20 to 50%. BMC members can gain the same discount by purchasing a Reciprocal Rights Card (RRC) from the BMC for £40.00. Membership is definitely advisable especially if staying in 4 huts or more. The RRC gives discounts to huts under the control of the Alpine Clubs of France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Holland, South Tyrol, Austria and Spain. With membership a hut is obliged to provide you with space even if the hut is full, i.e. the floor. Family membership is particularly encouraged. Under 18's get the same discount automatically with proof of age. Some accept visa cards, others don't, check before you visit. Generally speaking it is advisable to contact hut guardians to assess the need for pre booking, food availability, etc before arriving. Phone guardian direct or tourist info in the nearest valley.

Food
Most hut wardens supply several food options. Custom varies, in France it is common to take your own food and cook it yourself in or outside the hut. Most wardens prefer gas stoves inside the hut. In Switzerland most guardians require that you give your food to them, they will then prepare it. Most huts offer meals, these are usually good if expensive. Buying hot water in the morning can save precious sleeping time and reduce the need to carry stoves and fuel.

Bivouacs
Wild camping is officially frowned upon. Bivvy's however do traditionally exist in certain areas from sunset to sunrise. Bivving is worth considering especially if the huts on route are overcrowded or very expensive. However it is unwise to bivvy too close to huts and definitely taboo to use the hut facilities whilst bivvying nearby. Drawbacks mean the weight of extra equipment needed, positives include solitude and more flexibility.

Hut etiquette & tips
- Most huts provide bedding, check before carrying your sleeping bag up.
- Wardens vary in their character, smiling goes along way to help.
- On arrival check in, beds will then be allocated, the warden may check what time you wish to get up.
- Settle the bill before you sleep, saving time in the morning.
- Most huts do not allow outdoor boots inside, some prefer rucksacks outside the dorms. Pick up the right gear, mistakes are easily made at 2.30a.m.
- Some huts are perched on pinnacles try to recce the route immediately outside the hut in the light, this could prevent mistakes early in the morning whilst still dark.


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