> trip reports that said one couldn't do the trail without a guide
ROTFLMAO! Written by a tour company no doubt!
I would agree that novices might need their hands held. But that would apply ANYwhere. If you have been walking a bit you will be fine.
I used the Cicerone guide book and a couple of 1:50k maps. We mainly used the guide book, and the maps are (really) optional. I find it hard to go without maps ...
GPS???? You jest!
Gear list: see
Different walk, but very similar gear.
Tent: this IS optional. You could leave behind the tent, sleeping bags and mats if you want. You could leave behind all cooking gear too. Most Europeans do the trip carrying a day pack with a towel and a change of clothing. Seriously. We did consider doing that for the Haute route, but in the end we took our camping gear so we could camp in high places, and make tea and coffee during the day at scenic spots.
One change we made this year: we swapped our heavy 2" thick Therm-a-Rest Deluxe LEs out for lighter Therm-a-Rest Prolites. We did carry some 5 mm CCF as well.
Trekking Poles: some people carry them, but we found they mainly got in the way.
Alpine clothing: yes, I do advise having enough clothing to be able to handle a storm. It can happen. In fact, the first day/night on the Haute Route saw a bad snow storm catch us at the col at 2,000 m. Some creeks flooded and we were not able to take the route we wanted, so we had to retreat down to Le Peuty (spelling?) - which we reached at 8 pm. It upset quite a few trips infact. Ah well...
You may see that most Europeans always carry a good jacket - even if that is all they have.
Shoes - New Balance 875s - very light. They went well. See
With Darn Tough Vermont boot socks - wonderful.