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What to pack for a walking holiday

The Belle France checklist for a holiday in France

A walking holiday in France should be all about the anticipation, followed by the experience itself. The sense of mild adventure mixed with a quiet satisfaction that comes from walking from one hotel to another (OK, a modest distance in most cases but still worthy of a self congratulatory pat on the back). That and the intoxicating scenery of France’s most iconic landscapes.

At Belle France we want you to experience the best of these – from Brittany to Provence, from Alsace to the Vendée. But when assembling your luggage items we do suggest a little forward planning pays dividends, and makes the journey all the more enjoyable.  

Basic packing

First off, as with any travelling, think carefully about where you are going, the climate, the activities involved, the time of year and so on. You want to pack sensibly, not simply decant your entire wardrobe into a couple of suitcases.

Worst of all, you do not want piles of unused clothing or surplus kit to lug around with you. Admittedly, you are not carrying your suitcase with you between hotels (leave that to the taxi transfers) and on a typical Belle France holiday of maybe 5 or 7 nights, you are unlikely to need to think about laundry. This helps enormously.

Our walking holidays in France are generally easy going, relaxed itineraries, always ending with an excellent, well-earned dinner each day. So pack with a little forethought and reap the benefits.

We’ve put our heads together and, with over 30 years of experience, the Belle France team’s combined expertise has generated the following top tips to help you on your way. 

Walking boots are an essential. A good balance of comfort and practicability is the key.
Walking boots are an essential. A good balance of comfort and practicability is the key.

Walking boots

Sounds obvious, but nothing is more important to get right. After all, if you can’t walk on a walking holiday, you may as well stay at home.

Good boots will involve breathable materials and support the ankles, helpful on uneven ground, and ideally they will be well worn in – you can do this in the house to start with, gradually building up the wear-time. This will reduce the chance of blisters when hiking in France.

For certain, less challenging itineraries – flatter, even ground – boots may not even be required. You might find in, say, the Loire Valley or along the Canal du Midi walking shoes (sometimes called trail shoes, a little like reinforced trainers) are sufficient and more comfortable in warm weather.

Decent socks
A little sock science goes a long way. Invest in proper walking socks – merino wool is good for wicking away sweat and takes plenty of time before it gets whiffy. It is also good for blister prevention. Your feet will be doing the hard work so why not reward them!

Consider whether you'll need that extra layer of warmth or just a lighter weight, breathable jacket.
Consider whether you'll need that extra layer of warmth or just a lighter weight, breathable jacket.

Waterproof jacket

Rain or even a morning mist in most parts of France can call for a waterproof jacket, even in high summer. Avoid the cheaper pack-a-mac type and go for something that folds down well and which is breathable. If heading to higher altitude regions like the Alps or Massif Central, it is worth investing in a jacket that has a little extra warmth too. 

Warm fleece

The tried and tested advice about layering is valuable. Using a system of lighter base layers and heavier outer layers does the trick – you just remove a layer as the sun gets higher. That said, most Belle France itineraries will not be exposing you to real extremes of temperature.

A fleece should be sufficient to keep you warm on chilly mornings, and in the evening as the sun sets. Make sure it can be scrunched up in your day-sack when not being worn.

Jeans aren't good for long walks. Walking trousers are fast-drying, light, loose and are generally a good investment.
Jeans aren't good for long walks. Walking trousers are fast-drying, light, loose and are generally a good investment.

Lightweight trousers or shorts

It’s generally accepted that jeans and other heavier materials are not ideal for walking. They easily soak up any rain and can chafe. Walking trousers are far better, made of quick drying fabric that is light and loose, easily packed and usually with useful pockets for maps and other items. 

The same applies to shorts too. There’s even the option of the walking trousers with zip-off legs – versatile and actually well worth considering to give you all options.

Wicking t-shirts

For most Belle France walks lightweight t-shirts are ideal. It’s worth considering the extra cost of ‘technical’ man-made fabric which wicks away sweat and keeps you dry and cool. This will ensure greater comfort as you travel.

Although not essential, walking poles help when walking on slippery, steep or broken ground.
Although not essential, walking poles help when walking on slippery, steep or broken ground.

Walking poles

These are definitely not just a fashion accessory for the serious kit lover. They do help when walking on slippery, steep terrain or broken ground though are less essential when walking along straightforward paths or beside a river. Look for ones which are telescopic and which can be attached to your day sack when not being used.

Sensible headgear

In all weathers a hat is advisable, probably essential. Most importantly a sun hat can prevent sun burn and sun stroke, as well as shield your eyes from glare. Make sure your hat protects against UV rays.   

Rucksack

A small day sack is highly recommended. Big enough to hold a fleece, rain jacket, camera, water bottle and so on, but small enough to be light and not be cumbersome. Try a few for comfort and practicality before buying as the one you choose will be on your back each day during your holiday.

First aid kit

A small medical kit with plasters for blisters, antiseptic cream and so on is never a bad idea. Better to have basic essentials with you rather than having to find a pharmacy en route, or worse having to make matters worse by hobbling on.

It never hurts (pun intended) to carry a small travel first aid kit. You can pick them up online and in some pharmacies.
It never hurts (pun intended) to carry a small travel first aid kit. You can pick them up online and in some pharmacies.

Water bottle

On a walking holiday water is your friend. Keep yourself hydrated and keep an eye on the distance ahead to the next water stop (usually a village with a fountain, or a café). Our Belle France itineraries have plenty of time built in each day, so there’s always the chance to stop for a leisurely lunch if the opportunity arises. 

Evening wear

We deliberately and carefully choose hotels which are accustomed to welcoming walkers. Muddy boots by the front door are not unfamiliar from time to time! But they are rather lovely hotels, often with gorgeous, heritage-grade interiors and elegant dining rooms.

So do take something smarter to wear for dinner if you want to scrub up and differentiate day-time walking mode from evening elegance. Rest assured, ‘smart casual’ is all you need. 

What else…?

Everyone has their own personal requirements and ‘must haves’ on holiday. Make sure you’ll be happy to carry these with you without them impeding your enjoyment. No one wants to carry dead weight on their back!

Six of the Best of the Rest
These are our top recommendations for items we always pack for a walking holiday.

  • Sunglasses – who wants to squint all day long?
  • Camera/phone – for capturing the moment and the odd selfie.
  • Portable battery pack – useful to power your phone/camera
  • Sun cream – of course.
  • Map holder – probably a clear plastic pocket which is shower-proof and can be tucked in a pocket or hooked on to a day sack for convenience.
  • Insect repellent – just in case there’s a mozzie about.
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