A New Travel Trend: Hut to Hut Hiking

Published on Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hut To Hut Hiking is popular in Switzerland.Inspired by books like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, and the movies based on these books starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Redford, and Nick Nolte, your clients may be asking about vacations where hiking is a part of the experience.

It’s clear that more Americans are hitting the trail than ever before, so here’s a primer in what you might be able to share with them when those questions arise.

Hut-to-Hut Hiking

Hiking, in places like Switzerland, Germany and Austria, is as much of a national pastime as channel surfing and video games are in the U.S. These people get out and move.

The Swiss believe that hiking is fundamental to a long life, so even young children participate in what many would consider strenuous day hikes. Such exercise while interacting with nature is believed to keep the mind, body and spirit in prime condition.

The little country has more than 10,000 miles of hiking trails and of course, the scenery cannot be topped. Hut-to-Hut hiking is a wonderful way to explore the ruggedness of the Swiss Alps, but still sleep in the comfort of a bed, have a flush toilet and enjoy a hot meal.

Spaced every couple of miles along the trail, huts are often large restaurants with a dormitory-style sleeping room on the second floor. Yes, your clients will be sharing sleeping quarters and restrooms with a dozen or more complete strangers.

If that creeps them out, remind them that they’ll have the opportunity to have conversations with a different group of complete strangers from around the world every day and night. Suggest they watch the 2011 movie “The Way,” starring Martin Sheen and his walk along Spain’s Camino Trail and they’ll see the power of a great hike.

Hut-to-Hut Hiking How To

There are two ways to approach Hut-to-Hut hiking: On your own or with a guide. Every Swiss village worth its chalet has at least one outfitter and numerous trail guides for hire. If your clients are inexperienced or at all uncertain, hire a guide for just a day or two. Or consider a short hike of just a couple of days.

Hut-to-Hut hiking is a wonderful way to explore the ruggedness of the Swiss Alps, but still sleep in the comfort of a bed, have a flush toilet and enjoy a hot meal.

Either way, schedule their trip so that they arrive in the starting village a day or two early. They’ll want to talk with other hikers who have just come through the trail to learn the latest conditions. While guidebooks and internet sites may list the availability of food or particular landmarks, it’s always best to have recent first-hand knowledge.

Conditions can be unpredictable, even at the best of times. Two travelers, whose names shall be spared, were avid hikers from Rocky Mountain country and wanted to take their experience to the next level, literally. They spent nearly two weeks on The Haute Route between the Matterhorn in Zermatt and Chamonix France. While they are experienced hikers and competent at reading trail maps, they got a little lost and disoriented when hiking past a series of glacial lakes.

The map identified three lakes, but they encountered four before finding the necessary turn. As it turns out, since the map was printed, one of the glaciers had receded enough to form another lake, and thus the source of their problem.

A nice advantage of hut-to-hut hiking over other long-distance trail hikes is the amount of equipment you have to carry on your back. With a place to eat two meals of the day and sleep each night, there’s no need to carry a tent, a sleeping bag or food and cooking utensils. You’ll simply need a couple of changes of clothes, rain gear, water and food for the day. Of course your camera and personal items are included. If you pack more than 25 pounds, you’re probably overloaded.

Planning A Hiking Trip For Your Clients

Summer in Switzerland is a glorious time and thus the trails are extremely busy and the huts fill rather quickly. The Berner Oberland region is one of the more popular areas for hiking in the country, so your clients will want to begin working with you sooner rather than later to ensure hut reservations on these trails.

But here’s the problem – how do you know how long it will take to get from one point to the next? In North America, hiking trails often list the distance from one point to the next. However, in Europe, estimated hiking times between points are the norm. Obviously, if you are an individual who enjoys a slower pace or is simply a slower hiker, these hiking times may prove troublesome.

Research to the best of your ability and always err on the side of a shorter hiking day. Arriving at the hut earlier in the day allows them to claim the best bunk in the dorm and to explore the village or any other sites around.

With a place to eat two meals of the day and sleep each night, there’s no need to carry a tent, a sleeping bag or food and cooking utensils.

Of course, before starting out on any endeavor like this, make sure their travel insurance is in good order. A little slip on the trail could result in a sprained ankle or more serious injury that might result in significant medical bills.

The Swiss Alpine Club, which operates a network of these huts, is a good place to begin planning a trip. The Tourism Office of Switzerland also offers detailed advice and support on planning a hut-to-hut hiking trip in the country.

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