Updated: Jul 1, 2021
If you have never been to Switzerland, are planning to, are interested in hiking in the country, or have wondered what all the yellow signs and tags are, then keep reading. Switzerland is perhaps the best place on earth to hike. The trails are well marked, there are restaurants along the way, and water is never too far away. This makes minimalist hiking quite easy to the point of only carrying some cash for incidentals.
One of the easiest ways are the Fresh Air Kids Switzerland books. These guides break down the barriers and help you get started out of the gate (chapter 2), and if you are a parent, give you and entire chapter (chapter 4) for keeping you children entertained along the way. For more advanced hiking families, the Hikes to Huts book will be coming out in May 2020!!
If you don't plan ahead, you will perhaps remain lost. Below are some other options, which all require a lot more work on your part.
Option 1) Memorize the names of the last train stop and follow the yellow signs anywhere. Most of them have many options with the walking times listed as well as indicating train or tram stops. The intermediate signs will point you in a direction, you might feel lost, but you’re never far from water or a public transportation stop. Keep in mind the three types of Wanderweg (hiking trail) signage; yellow is normal walking trails, red and white blazed trails are mountain walking trails (where some can be daunting depending on your adventure/skill level), and the blue and white blazed trails which are, in our opinion, reserved for the skilled hiker/climber. For the blue and white, only a detailed map will show the difficulty level and may necessitate ropes in some cases.
Option 2) Buy an old map from a Brocki* for a couple of Francs. This is handy if you know how to use maps, and some of the old maps you find at a Brocki will make a great souvenir of your visit; if you're not that much of a minimalist. We have often found maps with reasonable detail for areas we have been or plan to go. A used map can be an asset if your GPS dies, your memory fails, or you just so happen to drift off the grid. If you’re too far off the grid, then any map you have in any case may not help. If you tend to drift, you’ll need to resort to your boy/girl scout instincts, ask for directions, or wish you bought the book in the first place. If you’re concerned that an old map in Switzerland might be outdated, consider that most of the trails have been around for a really long time, though some new buildings may exist.
*A Brocki is the Swiss-German word for Brockenhaus (in German) and is equivalent to a thrift store found in the US.
Option 3) Feeling cheap? Why not print out a map from online? Although this is possible if you like low quality or to cut and paste, it all depends on how much time you want to spend doing this versus other things. With the links below, you can find free access to some incredibly detailed maps, complete with hiking trails, elevations, points of interest, cliffs and scree delineated, peaks, towns, etc. Great for planning and while online, but perhaps not so practical if your hiking with patchy reception. It might be cheaper to just buy a map if you do not live in Switzerland; your data plan on your cell phone, with or without roaming, would outweigh the cost of paper. But if you’re choosing this option, you’re probably not bringing your phone on a hike.
(Note: you should compare the details of the photographed maps above, to the online data below. I used the same location to compare)
Option 4) Carrying a map is sooo last year! OK, maybe not, but whether you’re a techie, a geek, an iNerd, or an I-can’t-leave-home-without-it sort of person, then perhaps an App is more your style. These can be great! Some are free with canned routes while other are Lexus versions with in-app purchases that would prevent you from sending your kids to college (if college is not free in your country). All have their pluses and minuses, but perhaps the biggest down side is battery life! If you use your iDevice for everything from taking photos, bragging about where you are on Facebook, using GPS to track your route, or attempting to achieve KOM on Strava, then your battery will die in less then four hours. Make sure your excursion is shorter than this, or you can default to Option 1, or just play it safe and carry the map you passed up in Option 2 and 3. If you’re battery dies, the only souvenir you’ll have is the memory of looking lost to the farmer who you asked directions.