Mountain huts are a completely unique experience. Usually they are simply a necessity – if you want to hike, climb or ski in remote areas there might not be any other kind of accommodation available, but you don’t want to miss out on these incredible locations. They’re not to everyone’s taste, but they do have their benefits – you just need to know what to expect and have a few tricks up your sleeve to make them more enjoyable!
What is a mountain hut and what should you expect?
Well it’s a hut on a mountain! They range hugely depending on where you are in the world, how old they are and how high they are… some are extremely basic whereas some are a little more luxurious. For example, my experience of mountain huts in Corsica on the GR20 was pretty grim: sweaty and overcrowded bunk room, long drop hole in the ground toilets and guaranteed bed bugs.
In the Alps they are much more pleasant, although the altitude often means a lack of running water (I’ve heard of, but not experienced, toilets where you have to use a stick to poke your poo down the hole). At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen mountain huts with beautifully smelling toilets where hand cream is provided, along with yoga rooms and Champagne menus.
But wherever you are, mountain huts pretty much always consist of dormitory style rooms with bunk beds or sleeping platforms, a cosy communal eating area, fantastic views, cold beer and a friendly atmosphere.
To demonstrate, here a few examples of mountain huts I’ve stayed at recently on the Spaghetti Tour in the Italian and Swiss Alps:
The Gandegg Hut (3029m)
Pro’s: sit down toilet, comfortable mattress, small (36 occupants), super comfy outdoor seating for enjoying the views
Cons: outdoor toilet, sleeping platform (when full this means sleeping VERY close to you room mates)
Rifugio d’Ayas (3440m)
Pro’s: the friendliest atmosphere, clean and spacious dormitories, good looking staff (if you smile really nicely at Ken he might let you use the staff bathroom with a sparkling clean sit down toilet instead of queuing for the smelly squat loos)
Cons: very, very busy
Refugio Gabiet (2537m)
Pro’s: SHOWERS!! Really nice toilets, small dorms (ours slept 4 but there were only 3 of us in there), the best food of the trip, cute dogs to play with
Cons: accessible from a town by ski lift meaning that it didn’t feel as remote as other huts
Gnifetti Hut (3647m)
Pro’s: more food than you could ever eat including a whole roast chicken for the table, stunning views, excellent wine and beer, some fun ladder & rope climbing to get in and out of the hut
Cons: lots of stairs, super high bunk beds (3 bunks high and I kept hitting my head on the ceiling), breezy long drop toilets
Monte Rosa Hut (2883m)
Pro’s: designed to be self-sufficient with solar power etc, modern, comfortable, has hammocks outside, great toilets, showers (although they cost 5 Swiss Francs and only run for a couple of minutes)
Con’s: extremely expensive (2 lunch dishes, a large glass of wine, a beer and a litre of water cost me 75 Swiss Francs), missing the rustic mountain hut vibes
How to survive the mountain hut
So you want to go hiking/climbing/skiing and you love the idea of being totally remote and away from the stresses of everyday life. You have a trip in mind, but you’ve found out that the only accommodation is the dreaded mountain hut. It’s kind of putting you off. Well fear not! Follow my survival guide and fall in love (kind of) with the mountain hut.
Change your mindset
If you think of the mountain hut as a shit hotel where you have to (try to) sleep on the floor in unwashed sheets with a load of strangers, queue for a smelly toilet and eat what you’re given then obviously you’re going to hate it.
But a mountain hut is not a hotel, and if you want to survive you need to change your mindset and accept the mountain hut for what it is. Here’s how I like to think of the mountain hut:
- A place to enjoy a refreshing beer after a long day with the most incredible views in the world.
- A place to share stories and experiences with likeminded people who have a common goal.
- A place to rest and set you up for another day of exploring places that just wouldn’t be possible to see without staying in a mountain hut.
- A place to have your belly filled to the brim with (guilt free) carbs.
- A place to totally switch off – there’s no Netflix, passing cars or sirens and although a lot of huts have WiFi, it’s totally believable to tell people you’re uncontactable if you don’t want to hear from them!
Follow the rules
There are a few rules common to all mountain huts, and following these will not only avoid a telling off from the hut guardian but will also make your experience more enjoyable. The rules generally go like this:
- Boots must be removed on entrance to the hut and stored there as they are strictly forbidden in the sleeping areas. You will however be provided with a pair of sexy hut slippers, usually Crocs. TIP: tie your boots together and place them on the highest shelf you can in the boot room. There’s less chance of them being accidentally stolen up there and it avoids snow dripping from higher boots into yours.
- Trekking poles, ice axes, crampons and skis must also be left at the entrance to the hut. This avoids the temptation to use them on anyone snoring or farting in your dormitory. Try to bundle with the rest of your group to avoid more accidental stealing.
- Sleeping bag liners are compulsory as blankets and pillows are provided but not often washed. This is the bit I struggle the most with so there’s some tips below on how I avoid being freaked out by this.
Know your routine
Routine is everything and will make your stay so much more enjoyable! Here’s what I recommend:
- As soon as you arrive make sure to check in and go and find your dorm (obviously after taking off your boots etc). You want to do this first so that you can secure the best bed and get a good nights’ sleep. If you know you’ll be getting up in the night for a wee choose a bed by the door, or if you want to sleep undisturbed choose a bed furthest from the door and in a corner. If you can get a bed by the window then all the better (dorms get pretty hot and smelly), and personally if it’s bunk beds I like the top bunk as I feel less claustrophobic up there.
- When you’ve chosen your bed, lay out your sleeping bag liner and a couple of other items to show everyone else that the bed has been taken.
- Get organised for tomorrow. Anything that you won’t need the next day place at the bottom of your bag, make sure your snacks are in an easy access pouch, and any dirty clothes that you won’t be wearing again can be put into a bag within your bag to stop everything else getting smelly. Leave anything you’ll need in the morning on top of your bag, hanging up any sweaty clothes inside out on hooks or window sills to air out overnight. It feels like a pain when all you want is to enjoy a drink in the sun, but you’ll be able to fully relax knowing that you won’t be the annoying room mate rusting in their bag when others have gone to bed or first thing in the morning when others are still asleep!
- This is a personal one, but I try to go to the toilet at this point. I’m a fussy poo-er and in the morning when the toilets smell and there’s a long queue of people all waiting to do the same thing… I just can’t! So get it out of the way whilst it’s quiet, not as smelly and there’s no rush! On that note, don’t forget hand sanitiser.
- Have a beer! With the hard work out of the way, it’s time to relax and admire the views with a beer. This is the perfect time to get to know your hut buddies too, I’m sure great friendships are formed in mountain huts! Just remember to drink water too, especially at altitude!
Drink plenty of water (at the right time)
You’ll have been out being active all day and you’re probably at altitude so you really need to rehydrate and drink as much water as you can! However, the toilets probably aren’t great and you don’t want to be donning a head torch and coat in the middle of the night if they’re outside. Even worse if you’re on the top bunk… falling off a ladder and waking everyone up because you need a wee isn’t ideal. I tend to drink a few litres between arriving and dinner, and then when I’ve finished eating I’ll stop drinking other than a few sips when needed.
Ensure a good nights’ sleep
The reason you’re in a mountain hut is to get some rest, but it’s not easy! You’re in a stuffy room with a load of strangers in a weird bed and often at altitude. If I don’t get a good nights’ sleep, I’ll be an absolute bitch the next day which isn’t fun for anyone. Here’s what I do to make sure I’m the positive, friendly version of Nell the next morning!
- Make the bed hygienic. I’ve mentioned that sheets aren’t washed and therefore sleeping bag liners are compulsory. This isn’t enough for me… I don’t want to use the duvet even with a sleeping bag liner and no way am I putting my head on that pillow. So I wrap the pillow in my coat (which is stuffed with down so super cosy) and I sleep in a fleece and thick socks to avoid the need to use the duvet.
- Wear earplugs. Other than a sleeping bag liner, earplugs are THE most essential piece of equipment for surviving a mountain hut! People will be snoring and farting, some people will be getting ready to set off early in the morning when you’re still trying to sleep, and people will be generally annoying. I find that earplugs often fall out so I have a headband that I wear over my ears to secure them and block out even more sound.
- Get ‘ready for bed’. I try my best to keep the same bedtime routine that I have at home. This means brushing my teeth, cleansing (although it will be with baby wipes rather than my lovely Rituals cleanser) and moisturising (an item that I will not travel without!). I like to read a book in bed before drifting off to sleep, so I’ll always have my Kindle with me as it’s lighter than books and has an adjustable back light if lights have been switched out.
I’d love to hear your experiences of mountain huts and any tips and tricks you have so please do leave me a comment or get in touch!