Swapping my Sweaty Betty leggings and Barrecore grippy socks for hiking boots and shorts is not something I often do. In fact, it’s not something I’d ever done until a couple of weeks ago, when the lovely people at Decathlon invited me and the rest of their blogging community to visit their hiking brand, Quechua, in none other than the French Alps! Jumping at the chance to explore a new sport – exactly what Decathlon’s company ethos encourages – I prepared to hit the mountains.
After flying into Geneva, Switzerland, and driving across the border to France, we arrived at Sallanches, a small town at the foot of the mountains. We collected our brand new Quechua hiking boots, courtesy of Decathlon, and bedded down, excited for the following day’s adventures.
I’m sure I’m supposed to talk about the terrain (we followed good trails), the elevation (1,600m or so) and the nature (there were trees and wildflowers), but all I can remember is the view. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had views of the stunning Mont Blanc with only a few clouds passing by. A couple of years ago I fell in love with the rugged landscape of Iceland, that may have been over taken by these breathtaking mountain views.
Aside from the views, we were testing the MH500 Waterproof Mountain Hiking Boots from the Quechua range and I was impressed with the comfort and quality. After a 5 hour hike, I had no blisters and no pain in the balls of my feet. My silly, weak ankles felt completely supported throughout and we even tested how waterproof the boots were by standing in a mountain stream – no wet feet reported, a success!
I was also wearing Quechua MH100 shorts and using the NH100 20L backpack. For me, being a total hiking newbie, they worked a treat. The shorts we comfortable, a decent length that I didn’t feel self-conscious (I’m not used to traipsing around with my legs out), and lightweight enough to keep me cool in the glorious sun. The bag I’m super impressed with, for £6.99 it has plenty of room for all the essentials, complete with front clips, which I’ve never really known what people use them for, until out hiking when I realised that the last thing you want is for you bag to be sliding around your shoulders.
After a 4km hike up to 1,690m, we stopped for a well deserved lunch of french bread (obviously), cheese, ham, avocado, fruit, and a flask of coffee that our genius local guide Thibaut brought along with him. For me, the descent was the hardest part, not a surprise just 5 months after knee surgery. I spent less time gazing at the beautiful scenery, and more time negotiating the tree roots underfoot. Our host from Decathlon, Anthony, kindly lent me a hiking pole, stayed at my pace, and I made it down, albeit a few minutes behind the rest of the crew. Hot, sweaty, happy and very proud of myself.
A Tour of the Mountain Store
Despite my raving about the mountains, the main purpose of our trip to Sallanches was to visit Decathlon’s Mountain Store. Far from just being a shop to pick up your hiking and skiing gear, the Mountain Store is a cafe, restaurant, tourist information spot, ski pass collection point, and local meeting place before ascending into the clouds. Aside from that, behind the scenes, you’ll find a wealth of offices where everything you’d possibly need for negotiating the mountains is created; from idea and concept, to design and prototype creation.
Each department has a dedicated team who work together like a small start-up company within the larger Decathlon world. The working environment is geared towards group productivity, with large co-working tables and relaxing breakout areas. What impressed me the most was the attention to detail in what they produce, which I think might surprise some people. Each product has a prototype made using industrial equipment right there in the vast mountain store, hidden from customer view. Products are then subject vigorous tests using specialised stress testing equipment, before being given to experts to field test out in the mountains. Any issues can be troubleshot and altered before being sent for mass production. Our main focus was the Decathlon’s Quechua brand of course, but we also got a peek at some of the Wed’Ze winter sport equipment too.
Not completely satisfied with making sport accessible for all, Decathlon and the Mountain Store are also making their way in terms of sustainability. Rain water is collected and processed, the roof is adorned with solar panels and they’re dedicated to giving back to the environment and protecting the beautiful mountains that surround them.
I had an absolute blast with the Decathlon team, and a marvellous group of bloggers. If you’re not tired of mountain spam on my instagram feed, here are a few more photos to whet your appetite. Big thanks for Decathlon for the invite and their wonderful hospitality.