Safety in the Swiss Alps
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
We were saddened to read the recent article from Swiss Info that highlighted mountain accidents, of which a young mother and her child were involved. After years of hiking with our family, we wanted to provide a few tips to help you and your family hike carefully in the Swiss Alps. Before we disclose our tips, we first must state the following, which we outline in our books. The excerpt below is directly from our book.
Hiking has inherent risks that must be assumed by all participants. Each individual is responsible for his or her own safety, and the safety of their children while on trails, near bodies of water and whenever in nature. Be responsible and safe.
As children learn to hike more independently, it is important that they are educated on the importance of staying on the trail, never running on mountain paths and know how to read a trail marker, as well as learn how to prevent falls and signal for help. Children should always stay within sight of adults or the trail leader whenever hiking. When crossing over dangerous or risky areas with children, either harness the child, and keep the child on the inside of the trail. Children should learn to carry their own backpack with water, snacks, a light jacket, a small first-aid kit and a whistle for safety purposes. If a child becomes lost on a trail, he or she should stay where they are and use the whistle to signal for help. By educating children on safety prior to starting out on your journey, you provide them with the knowledge and skills they require to hike with confidence.
Whenever hiking on unfamiliar trails, especially at higher elevations, it is advised to pack a harness or a rope for your child. Despite the looks you encounter; it is better to be safe than regretful. Know how to safely use a rope prior to starting your journey.
We assume no responsibility for individuals who read this website or our books and participate in the hikes outlined.
Trust Your Gut
If you are uncertain about a particular trail or feel that they trail you have started is far too risky for your and/or your family, turn back. Always trust your gut and know your comfort zone when it comes to adventuring in the Swiss Alps. Every individual and family has their own set of skills and abilities. Know where you stand and do not push your limits. Never allow others to coax you into an adventure that is beyond your comfort. Please know, despite the recommendations in our books or online, we can never determine your area of comfort. The rating systems used in our books is based on our experience as a family only and should be used as a resource, but is not absolute! You know your family best!
Survey the Landscape
Whenever you are hiking in the mountains take the time to survey the landscape. By that we mean, look around, listen and engage your senses so that you can determine if there are any potential dangers in the vicinity. Look up at the mountain ranges, down the trails and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Reading Swiss Trail Markers
Know how to read a trail marker. If you are not sure what the trail markers in Switzerland indicated with the three color coding system (yellow, white-red-white and white-blue-white) either pick up a copy of one of our books or visit Schweizer Wanderwege. By educating yourself on the Swiss trail system, you will be better equipped to safely navigate the trails.
Tip: If you cannot read German, translate the Schweizer Wanderwege page or ask someone at your hotel, the Tourist Office, or a lift operator for help! A simple, but not exhaustive guide is provided below.
Yellow trails are the safest trails for families, however, these do not come without risk!
White-Red-White trails are mountain trails. These trails may be steep, narrow in some areas, and may include sharp drops or edges! If you are hiking on these trails, you should be comfortable with your hiking abilities and aware of potential rock and snowfalls. Use extreme caution with children on these trails! We always recommend packing a harness for safety!
White-Blue-White trails are Alpine trails, and we DO NOT recommend these trails for families! These trails require a high level of hiking experience and mountaineering skills. Do NOT attempt these trails with children! The risk is far too great and you put your family at great risk!
Always check the latest forecast (regardless of the time of year) for the area you plan to hike. Be aware of potential storms, flash floods, poor weather and avalanches in the winter. The best resource for checking weather is MeteoSchweiz. There is an app (iOS or Android) with up-to-date information including satellite weather patterns up to 18 hours in advance. The website includes danger warnings for wind, rain, lightning, snow, ice and more. Never attempt to hike in poor weather conditions!
For excellent maps of Switzerland, we highly recommend the swisstopo app. This free app provides detailed maps of all locations in Switzerland. This app allows users to record routes for hiking, cycling, and snow sports, plus more. The app provides aerial images, outlines hiking trails, including mountain and alpine routes. This app is so helpful it was voted, "Best of Swiss Apps 2021." Download it immediately!
Wearing proper hiking clothes in the Alps is essential. Sandals and sneakers are not appropriate hiking shoes. There is NO substitute for good quality hiking boots (spikes in winter) with adequate tread. Do not put yourself and others in risk by not wearing appropriate shoes! The same goes for your children!
Tip: Flip over your hiking boots on occasion to inspect the tread on your shoes. If the tread is worn, or no longer exists, it is time for new hiking boots! Do the same with your children's boots! Never skimp on hiking boots, as they are essential when hiking in the Alps!
Never start a hike without a backpack that is equipped for your time on the trail! Bring enough water to sustain you throughout your journey and never rely on water being available on the trail. Pack a first-aid kit, snacks, a map, cell phone (though reception may not always be available), a whistle to signal for help and your wallet. Do not forget to pack a rain jacket and layers in the event the weather turns cold.
Wear hiking pants and quick dry clothing is advisable. Always wear a sun hat and sunglasses, as the sun is extremely intense in the Alps! Make sure your children have hats and glasses too!
We also recommend carrying a multi-purpose tool or Swiss Army Knife with you at all times!
If you are not currently a patron of Rega, the Swiss Air rescue service, please become one today. By paying a small fee each year, you are able to call in the event you are in distress. The Rega emergency number is 1414.
Switzerland does a remarkable job of designating and maintaining over 65,000 kilometers of trails. Please stay on the trails when hiking! By leaving the designated trails, you not only risk becoming lost or injured, but you may put others at risk too!
Plan your hike or journey before starting out and let others know where you will be. If you are unsure of a hiking route or path, ask locals, hotel staff tourist offices or lift operators.
While some trails in Switzerland are stroller-friendly, many are not! On certain trails, pushing a child in a stroller may be dangerous. Opt to carry your child in a carrier for optimal safety and know the trail before you head out with your little one.
We have witnessed individuals taking ridiculous risks in the Alps for a photo. Our advice, skip the photo and don’t put yourself in harm’s way. Sure, you might get plenty of likes on Instagram, but perching yourself in a precarious pose in a dangerous locations is never worth the risk! There are many deaths each year related to photos and social media. If you want to look around and take a photo, stop moving so that you don't trip / fall.
Hiking is the Swiss Alps can be both beautiful and memorable for families of all ages, however, it doesn’t come without risk. Be aware, educate yourself and have fun!
Please know we will create a winter safety post in the next couple of months. Hiking, snowshoeing and enjoying the winter months in the Alps offer fabulous outdoor recreation, however, those activities, especially in winter require additional knowledge and safety. Look for that post soon.
Tip: For a comprehensive overview on hiking in Switzerland, especially with children, please consider our books. We take this topic very seriously and put a great deal of effort into providing our readers with the tools and resources they need to hike as safe as possible in the Swiss Alps!