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Hiking - why and how?

How do you go on a hike and how do you prepare for it? Here you get all the important and useful information you need.

Why hike?

Switzerland is more than just a prosperous headquarters for international companies and organizations. You can work here, but you can also relax here very well. In addition to numerous villages and cities of various sizes, there are countless beautiful natural landscapes. Many of them are close to metropolitan areas. You do not need to travel from Geneva, Zurich or Basel to Zermatt or St. Moritz to see isolated mountain worlds, waterfalls and grazing cows. A trip to Versoix, Frenkental or Sihl is usually enough.
Hiking is the most popular hobby of the Swiss. Almost everyone who grew up in Switzerland goes on a hike at least once a year, many of them - more often. Hiking is a kind of Swiss national sport. It is the best way to discover the country and perhaps also a very typical Swiss activity: slow, quiet, simple and modest. It is also extremely relaxing and enriching at the same time.
Experience it yourself. We provide you with all the information you need so that you can start right away.

How does it work?

A hike is quite simply a trip on foot. You first get to a starting point, by bike, car or public transport, begin walking from there, take breaks along the way, enjoy the beautiful scenery, visit sights (such as churches, castles, parks or museums) and finally return home. As a rule, one does not stay too long in cities or villages, but seeks out free nature: rivers, lakes, forests, and mountains.
Switzerland enjoys a very well developed network of public transport. It's not just a quick way to get around. It is also perfect for hiking. By train, bus, boat or cable car you can reach almost any place that is suitable for a hike. Compared to traveling by car, public transport has a great advantage: you do not have to return to the starting point, but can finish the hike in a completely different place.
Sometimes hikes take more than a day. For example, if you are in the mountains, it may be easier to stay in a hotel or a mountain hut and continue the tour the following day. In this way you can spend a weekend or even a whole week hiking.

What will you need?

Not too much, but a little equipment will help.
The most important thing is: good shoes. You do not necessarily have to buy expensive high mountain trekking shoes. For starters, regular street walking or lightweight sports shoes will suffice. What you should definitely try is getting shoes with a well-formed outsole, so that you don’t slip on gravel or wet grass. Leather soles are therefore unsuitable, as are flip flops, crocs and rubber boots.
A few more things. Wear light, comfortable clothing. Remember that weather in Switzerland can change within short periods of time. You may start in the morning with sun and heat, but it rains in the afternoon. Or you may start in icy, cold fog, but a few hours later it's sunny and hot. Always have a raincoat to protect you from rain and cold. Even a light screen can be useful.
Hiking makes you hungry and thirsty. If you fancy going to restaurants, you can easily combine it with a hike. Plenty of charming inns can be found not only in towns and villages, but also on hills and mountains. In almost every Swiss village you can find public fountains with fresh, cool water, from which you can drink without hesitation, as this is top drinking water quality (the very few exceptions will be marked with warning signs).
You do not need to take a lot of food or drinks on a hike. Nonetheless, we recommend that you pack snacks and enough liquids: cereal bars, crackers, dried fruit, fresh fruit, such as bananas or apples, water in summer and warm tea in winter. Many hikers do without eating at restaurants by packing a picnic instead. This way you can spend the entire hike outdoors enjoying the nature. Traditionally, at lunchtime, sausages would be roasted over an open fire. These days sandwiches and finger food are more commonplace.
Ideally, you would take all of these things in a backpack, which you can find it in supermarkets or sports shops. There are countless different backpacks in all sizes, colors and shapes. For a regular hike, a model with a volume of about 20 to 25 liters is sufficient.

When and how long does it take?

You can go hiking all year round and in any weather. However, the preferred season for most Swiss is summer and autumn, when higher areas are snow free and providing for nice escapes from the summer heat in the lowlands. Even in spring, a hike is a great experience. Winter is suitable for hiking, too: there are many special winter hiking trails, carefully prepared by snow groomers. Winter hikes also allow people who are not into skiing to enjoy the snowy mountains and the sun above the sea of fog.
So how long does a hike take? There are two different aspects here: the duration of the hike and walking time. Allow sufficient time for arrivals and departures, interim stops and lunchtime break. You will want to avoid having to run to the last bus or train while on a hike. For the same reason, it makes sense to leave quite early in the morning. The longer a hike takes, the earlier in the day you should start.
As far as walking time is concerned, you will be able to walk a little more than four kilometers per hour. This is an average value that applies to regular hikers. Children and seniors may need a little longer, while those who are well-trained may be faster. 4.2 km per hour usually applies to even paths. The steeper the path, the more time you will need to complete a certain distance.
On our website we provide you with the distance of the route, the average duration and the cumulative ascents and descents for each route. Start with an easy hike by choosing a short distance without big differences in altitude. Ideal for beginners are tours of about two hours and with a maximum of 200 m ascent. They give you a good idea of what it's all about, but they're not so exhausting in that you won’t get sore muscles or aching feet afterwards.

Where and which way?

A clever system of hiking trails exists in Switzerland. Based on a network of signposted routes, it comprises thousands of trail intersections, giving you an almost infinite choice of routes.
At all major trail crossings, such as train stations, bus stops or town centers, you will find signposting boards on which various routes are indicated. The target points are listed according to the distance from top to bottom. For example: if you start in A and want to go to D via B and C, you will see B at the top, then C, and at the bottom D. The time it takes to reach the target points are also indicated.
If you add up the length of all hiking trails in Switzerland, the result is a total of around 65,000 kilometers. This network covers the country almost nationwide. Practically from every house in Switzerland, a hiking trail is reachable within a few hundred meters. Only high mountains do not have hiking trails, as they are dedicated to alpinists.
There are three types of hiking trails: easy, intermediate and demanding. Depending on the level of difficulty, the routes are marked with different colors:
  • Yellow: hiking trails. These are walking routes on even or moderately sloping paths that do not represent a high burden for the hikers.
  • White-red-white: mountain hiking trails. These are walking routes, which often open up to rough terrain and thus require higher endurance, steadiness of the foot and sometimes resistance to vertigo.
  • White-blue-white: alpine hiking trails. These are very demanding hiking routes that lead into the high mountains, partly through trackless terrain, over snowfields and glaciers, as well as through rocks with short climbing points. The walk requires solid hiking experience and/or the assistance of a mountain guide.

Does it get dangerous?

Hiking is good for your body and mind. But like any other activity, walking in the mountains can be dangerous. The biggest risk is the danger of falling, which certainly can happen not only in the mountains, except here it can have worse consequences. Hiking accidents happen all the time in Switzerland, some of them sorrowfully end badly. However, millions of people go hiking regularly and the risk of accident is low. Hiking is therefore considered one of the most harmless recreational activities.
There are just a few things to look out for. It starts with the planning of the hike. Choose a route that suits your options and limits, so it's not too long or doesn’t vary too much in altitude. Take into account the weather conditions and equip yourself accordingly (see above).
On the hike itself, you should pay attention not only to the beautiful landscape, but also to your surroundings and to yourself. In this way, you can recognize, among other things, any looming natural hazards, such as thunderstorms, floods, rockfalls. If you reach an obstacle or a difficult passage that seems insurmountable to you, and in any other case of doubt, you'll be better if you back off. If you are overly exhausted, it is always more reasonable to end the tour earlier.
On the question of wild animals: until recently, wolves and brown bears were extinct in Switzerland. For some years though, they appeared in the wild again. As a rule, they are very shy and therefore keep away from hikers. The only animals that can potentially be dangerous for hikers are either very large - cows, or very tiny - ticks.
Cows have a strong protective instinct towards their calves. If hikers get too close, they can become very aggressive. Unfortunately, some farmers do not uphold their responsibilities well and refrain from pulling a fence between the pasture and the trail. If you suspect that a mother cow is about to defend her calf, you would better retreat.
Ticks hang from twigs and grasses from spring to late autumn and drop when animals or humans pass by. They suck a little blood of their victim and can thus transmit diseases, such as meningitis or Lyme disease. As a hiker, you can protect yourself easily and well by wearing long pants and lightly spray them with an insect repellent spray.

What’s the benefit?

On a hike, you will train your heart, brain, arms, back, and certainly legs and feet. Studies have reported positive effects on the circulatory and immune systems, musculature and bone structure. Those who hike regularly have a lower pulse rate and blood pressure, an increased proportion of health-promoting HDL cholesterol, and reduced intraocular pressure. On a hike, blood circulation in the brain is improved, the mood brightens and psychosomatic symptoms retreat. Some experts refer to hiking as broadband therapeutic.
While hiking, the human brain switches to another operating mode. Urgent questions and complicated problems that seemed inextricable the day before suddenly show up in a completely different light, and the only solution is to pick them like ripe fruit. This feature can even be actively made use of: whenever a weighty decision is pending or a creative idea is required, some people do not bother with long brooding and weighing, but instead simply go on a hike. They surely know that the solutions will surface as a result.
Hiking is also very sociable. Conversations can be carried out in a refreshing informality. Surprisingly, this rarely results in banal babbling. On the contrary, sometimes profound discussions about truth and the meaning of the world may spur.
Whoever converses while hiking gets inevitably closer. Yet silence should never be seen as a problem. As opposed to other conversational situations, there is no place for embarrassment if nobody speaks for a while while hiking.
Novelist Elizabeth von Arnim put it in a nutshell: ‘Walking is the perfect way of getting around if you want to discover real life. It is the way to freedom.’