Mountain hut do’s and don’ts

In recent years I have slept in mountain huts all over the world many nights. From small, unmanned huts to mega huts that look like hotels, I’ve seen them all. The first time I spent a night in a mountain hut was on the W trek in Torres del Paine NP in Chilean Patagonia. I was amazed, everything was arranged in refugio Las Torres, there were showers and hot meals. It felt more like staying in a cozy youth hostel rather than in a mountain hut. A few years later I traveled to New Zealand where I hiked several multi-day treks. That was just a difference with Chile: I had to carry everything myself, from sleeping bag to cooking equipment and there were no showers. They were also a lot smaller and therefore cozier, so also a lot quieter at night. Spending the night in mountain huts in Austria is also very different, here you can usually buy beer and wine, but you often sleep with many people on one large mattress.
Over the past fifteen years, I have slept in mountain huts all over the world and have grown accustomed to spending the night here. However, it is definitely not a five star hotel and sometimes requires some adjustment. Sometimes you sleep with ten people on one large mattress, sometimes so close together that you feel the breath of the person next to you in your face. Or you use the same toilet with twenty people while there is no running water. Well, it’s nothing major really, but you better be prepared for it. So here is an overview of my do’s and don’ts for overnight stays in mountain huts. Enjoy reading!
(This article first appeared in April 2014 and was rewritten and fully updated in April 2020)

Furtschagelhaus in Austria
Furtschagelhaus in the Austrian Alps

First come, first serve

In most mountain huts you do not have a fixed bed. In other words, you are looking for a place when you arrive. That is why it can be worthwhile to arrive in time because the top beds are always the least wanted and those at the door especially. As soon as I get to the hut, anywhere in the world, the first thing I do is reserve a bed by rolling out my sleeping bag and / or sheet bag. Easy as that.

Bunkhouse with numbered beds in Chile
Bunkhouse with numbered beds in Chile

Take off your shoes

After a long day in the mountains, you have probably gathered a ton of mud, snow, scree and other dirt attached to your shoes. So do as your mother taught you: take off your shoes when entering! Usually you can leave them in a rack at the entrance. It’s wise to bring and wear hut shoes while inside (I love my Crocs of flipflops for this, they are light and comfortable).

Bring indoor shoes on your trek!

Respect the food that is given to you

In many locations, including New Zealand and Iceland, you do not get meals in the mountain hut and you take care of this yourself. In other huts, for example the mountain huts in Austria and Chile, you can buy meals or even stay overnight on a full board basis. When this is the case, the cabin usually does not offer the option of self-cooking. The food that is served is probably not always your favorite food and sometimes not at all tasty. However, you often have little choice and it is therefore eating what is served. Respect this and don’t complain about the food, this has sometimes come a long way and is usually prepared with love anyway! The alternative, of course, is that you go to sleep with a rumbling stomach …

Dinner in Cochamó, Chile
Dinner in Cochamó, Chile

Prepare to pay the highest prices

As mentioned and as I have also experienced, you often have to pay the top price for food and drinks when staying in mountain huts. It is usually brought in from far away and is sometimes even carried all the way up by people. In most cases, water is free, but hot water is not. After all, the fuel to heat it up must also come from somewhere. Be prepared for high prices, that saves a lot of annoyance on the spot.

The menu in one of the mountain huts in Austria
The menu in one of the mountain huts in Austria

Don’t steal from each other

I should not have to say this but I’ve heard stories where people were stolen from. Trekkers are (supposed to be) one big family and you should be able to leave your valuables unattended. Should, yes. It’s rude to steal but even worse when you steal from a trekker who is in need of every item he/she has carried up the mountain. Keeping an eye out on your stuff should not be necessary.

Be quiet when others are sleeping

When you are the last one coming into the bunkroom and everyone is asleep already, make sure you are as quiet as you can be without waking the others. Respect it when people are tired and go to bed early. Same goes for the early risers.

Use a headlight

When moving around the hut in the dark, or when reading at night, use a headlight. It will keep others asleep and save much needed electricity.

Using a headlight will make your life easier
Using a headlight will make your life easier

Respect the fact that people snore

In each hut you will for sure find someone that snores, possibly even in the bunk next to you. I agree that it can be pretty annoying when you are trying to sleep and your neighbor is chopping trees, but just imagine yourself in their place. Wouldn’t you feel bad if someone came over to you in the middle of the night, asking if you can be quiet? Snorers can’t do anything about it, so just use earplugs instead. You will get used to it, eventually! (Or, like I sometimes do, make sure you are fast asleep before everyone else).

Leave hot water for others

Some mountain huts have showers but usually the water needs to be heated by a fire. There for be as quick as you can with a shower so everyone else can enjoy a nice, clean body too. In many huts there’s not even warm water by the way, so I consider this a total luxury.

10. Clean up after yourself

For those huts that are self catered, clean up the mess you’ve made while cooking. Same goes for using the bathroom, nobody really wants to see your leftovers in the loo. Trust us…

Moturau Hut on the Kepler Track
Moturau Hut on the Kepler Track

And last but not least: socialize!

When I look back on my travels and all the nights in mountain huts I’ve had, these were sometimes the most memorable of my trip. You meet the nicest people with mostly the same interests and often have nice conversations, for example while cooking, drinking a beer or playing cards. If you’re not such a social person, staying in mountain huts might not be for you …

Mackenzie Hut, New Zealand
Mackenzie Hut in New Zealand

Conclusion and disclaimer

If you observe the above “rules” I am sure you will enjoy staying in mountain huts. It is often a unique experience, completely away from the rest of the world. A relaxed attitude towards others and a positive attitude will take you a long way and will undoubtedly ensure a wonderful holiday, even if someone is snoring next to you!
Would you like to spend the night in mountain huts? Or have you ever done that? Have I missed any tips?
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  • Margherita @The Crowded Planet

    Fantastic post guys. I am an avid trekker and I have stayed in mountain huts many times, I agree with you on all of these. So annoying to find people not respecting food or haggling for price up high, knowing the hassle that is involved in carrying the stuff up there. Thanks for sharing!
    PS. You guys should come to Italy for some trekking in the Alps!

    • anto

      Thanks Margherita! We know, we should make it over to Italy for some trekking. Martijn has climbed the Gran Paradiso but that’s pretty much all the hiking we’ve done there! Happy traveling and trekking!

  • SleeperMan

    I just love reading about things like this. I don’t think I’m going to find myself traveling, much less staying in a mountain hut, but I do like imagining that =) Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Victoria Philpott

    I’ve never actually stayed in a mountain hut. I want to do some more adventurous activities when we’re free again. I’ve heard about the bothys in Scotland and they sound pretty cool. I’d like to travel around them a bit – or Patagonia could be even better!

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