Who Are We ?
In 1984 a small walking holiday company was created, based in the beautiful Val d’Azun in the heart of the French Pyrenees. This company, named « La Balaguère » after the warm breeze that blows upwards from the Sahara to the Pyrenees, offered guided walking trips led by a small group of friends with a huge passion for the mountains.
Little by little La Balaguère expanded and more than 35 years later we help over 13,000 people every year enjoy walking and cycling holidays in the Pyrenees and further afield, to the most unspoilt areas of the world.
In 2018 we launched a new and exciting project. Purely Pyrenees is the English language branch of our business, offering self-guided and guided trips, walking and cycling from Spring to Autumn and snowshoeing in the Winter. Using our decades of experience we created a new range of holidays designed for English speakers who come, maybe for the first time, to experience the best the Pyrenees has to offer. Our focus is always to provide highlights, iconic places to visit, wonderful itineraries, authentic hotels and, of course, tremendous cuisine.
Purely Pyrenees and La Balaguère are now owned by the UCPA (Union des Centres Sportifs de Plein Air) which is a non-profit organisation in France that specialises in making outdoor sports holidays available for all. We are still based where we have always been, in the Pyrenean village of Arrens-Marsous.
We are very proud of our Pyrenean chain and of the knowledge that we have of it, amassed over years of providing guided and self-guided holidays. You can be sure that if you travel with us we will do everything we can to make sure you have a wonderful trip.
In winter, the clothes that you chose for hiking are very important. Here are some tips to equip yourself properly on a walk, and to not forget the spares that you need in your luggage. It is important to distinguish between trips where you stay in the same accommodation every night, where you move every night, or where you stay in a mountain refuge.
Your trousers must be water-repellent, that is to say that water or snow has more difficulty penetrating the fabric. Be careful though, this does not mean waterproof. The best option is to have waterproof over-trousers that give full protection. In case of rain or heavy snowfall trousers that are made of water repellent fabric are not so effective.
There is no need to buy winter trousers, you can use summer trousers under which you can add a pair of tights or leggings. Never wear ski clothing to go hiking, as soon as you start walking you will be far too hot and it is really not comfortable to walk in.
For the upper body, wear a breathable long-sleeved T-shirt with collar, a small sweater or a thin breathable fleece in case of cold, and obviously a good waterproof jacket.
Keep to the "3 layer" principal: a T-shirt, a sweater or fleece and a rain jacket, no more.
For the head and the hands it is necessary to have a hat or a neckerchief that can be used as a hat if it is really cold and windy. Have a pair of gloves, preferably waterproof and not fleece, in damp conditions they soon become soaked with moisture.
For your feet it is essential to have a good, solid, waterproof, broken in pair of boots or shoes. Beware of "moon-boots" or leisure shoes not suitable for hiking and even less suitable for snowshoeing.
It is rarely possible to dry your things in the evening and you must be well protected during the day, as the days go by your body is less resistant with the accumulated fatigue.
First, the things I refer to as "bag bottom". That is to say the equipment that is always in the bag in case you need it:
Sunglasses minimum protection index 3. The reflection of the sun on the snow is very strong therefore harmful to the eyes, this is amplified in case of fog.
A cap is also useful to protect the face from the sun and sunburn
Rain jacket with over- trousers
Hat and gloves
A small survival blanket, it can have many uses
Water, at least a litre for the day
A hot drink thermos if you wish
Your personal first aid kit
A protective cover for the backpack.
A head torch or a small flashlight.
It may seem like a long list if you are only walking for the day, but imagine a simple scenario: in the late afternoon a fellow walker sprains an ankle, nothing serious, even if you do not need to trigger the rescue services and the injured person can continue with help, the pace of the group is considerably slowed, and in the middle of winter at 17:30 it is already dark. Your head torch, which weighs nothing and takes up very little space, is going to be handy and possibly prevent other incidents. Whilst this does not happen often, and your guide has his with him, one lamp for 10 or 12 people is not an ideal scenario.
Sometimes the heating is not warm enough for those who feel the cold! In a refuge I would advise the usual sheet sleeping bag so you are not in direct contact with the blankets belonging to the refuge. Depending on the type of accommodation a sleeping bag may be needed.
Sleeping in a tent in winter is quite rare, but it can happen, or even in an igloo !
In this case you need a very good duvet or sleeping bag, suitable for temperatures down to
-5 ° C, plus an insulating mattress, a waterproof cover if you are in an igloo, and warm clothing for the night. Remember a hat that will limit considerably the loss of heat from the body, a large amount of which escapes via the head.
There is a difference between your personal first aid kit and the kit that a guide will have with him. You need to have your own kit to be able to deal with everyday problems. Each participant should be equipped with what he may need, painkillers, bandages and items for specific medical treatments.
If you are following a specific medical treatment that requires you to have a special medication with you, let your guide know and tell them what to do in case of problems, and where you keep your medication. Be careful if you are going on a trip abroad during which access to care is limited or impossible. Talk to your doctor before you leave. He will advise you on specific medicines.
No need to buy energy bars at a crazy price. Dried fruits are excellent and less expensive: apricots, prunes, grapes, mixtures, figs, each to their own!
Do not hesitate to bring a specialty from your area to share with your group. This also helps break the ice on the first day much more quickly. Your guide will also try and help you discover as much local food as possible.
A walking trip is a great way to meet new and interesting people as well as new and interesting landscapes. Soak up as much of it as you can.
Your personal equipment
It is not always absolutely necessary to buy the best-branded products. It all depends on the trip you choose and the amount of experience you have.
For those who travel on foot occasionally or those who are on a budget, you can now buy some very good equipment in sporting goods superstores. Clothing made of lightweight and modern fabrics is now much more affordable than it used to be. Generally speaking it is still the case that if you pay less your product will be less effective in terms of performance or longevity, but you can still find items that have a good price / quality ratio.
Chose your equipment based on the amount of time and in what conditions you will be walking, and of course, according to your budget.
For many winter walking trips your guide will prepare your picnic lunch that is then shared between the group to carry.
Finally, have a great winter walking holiday! Enjoy the company of others, enjoy the walking, remember that you are on holiday so have a good time. Let yourself go, forget your daily worries and get closer to others!