Updated: Feb 23
So, you have found your way here to my page about planning your dream trail running trips in the Swiss Alps. Maybe, you just want to enjoy running without much effort on the beautiful trails of Switzerland. There are many trails already planned for you. (See my tour page.) Or, you are a vertical mountain junkie and want to stand on top of the countless high peaks in the Swiss Alps. Maybe you are even looking for more challenging and technical terrain, crossing glaciers or combining running with a little climbing or traversing spectacular mountain ridges.
Most trail running in the mountains requires some planning. But on longer tours, when you venture into the high mountains, good planning and preparation is an absolute must and could be the difference between an exhilarating amazing experience or putting yourself in a risky and dangerous situation.
The Swiss Hiking network explained
If you are, or have been trail running or hiking in Switzerland, you already have an idea of the immense network available for your use. In fact, 65000km of it! Much of it, sign posted and marked along the route you are taking.
Swisstopo and the Swiss Hiking Federation depict the principal network using yellow for hiking trails, red for mountain hiking trails and blue for Alpine hiking trails, which corresponds with the colours on the signposts and markings. Green is reserved for the 'Hiking in Switzerland' route offering. This is a numbered system for trails from local featured circuits to national long distance trails. An example would be the 'Via Alpina' which is marked no1.
Hiking trails are marked yellow. These often are on wide paths and tracks. You find them also in towns and villages. But they can also be narrow and uneven. Steep passages are often constructed and maintained with steps and more exposed sections secured with railings. Apart from the usual attention and caution, hiking trails do not make any special demands on the trail runner or hiker.
Mountain hiking trails are marked in white-red-white. These trails open up partly impassable terrain and are mostly steep, narrow and sometimes exposed. Particularly difficult passages are secured with ropes or chains. Users must be sure-footed, have a head for heights and be in good physical condition as well as know the dangers in the mountains (falling rocks, risk of slipping and falling, sudden weather changes). I love being on these trails, because often these are very runnable and will get you to the most beautiful places.
Alpine hiking trails are marked in white-blue-white and lead partly over snow fields, glaciers or scree slopes and through rocks with short climbing spots; at times, you can not rely on a recognisable path or trail. Users must be sure-footed, have a head for heights and be in very good physical condition, as well as be very familiar with the dangers in the mountains. In addition to equipment for mountain trails, compass, rope, ice axe and crampons may be necessary. For vertigo free and sure footed trail runners, the alpine hiking trails will add an other exciting dimension to your runs.
Here you are doing basic planning. Thinking about what it is you want to achieve?
For some runners, a flowing trail not too far from a village or civilization is a challenge enough. Still others have a goal running to the top of a high peak with loads of vertical. Some might want to combine running with easy technical climbing. Still others may want to push things further and explore technical and committing ridge traverses in an alpine environment.
Think about what you are happy to do. How confident are you to run in the mountains? Are you already experienced?
Make sure, you have some kind of insurance to be recovered from the mountain if the worst should happen and you are unable to carry on. ITRA
has a good insurance specifically for trail runners and would be a good choice.
Apps and Maps
A map is without a doubt the most important tool you'll need to run in the Swiss Alps. Actually anywhere off the beaten track
A map is critical for your planning and your safety in the mountains. With it, you plan your route, changing plans, decide the itinerary, getting ideas where to run, navigating and more.
The Swiss maps are probably the best in the world!
And the good news, most of the time, you will not need to carry a traditional bulky map with you. An exception would be in high mountain areas, and perhaps crossing over glaciers.
For the Swiss Alps, there are really only two great mapping apps for your mobile phone and your browser to consider. Both are available free with limited functions. But for our needs the full paid up version is essential as you will need to download your planned routes offline. A full set of tools will let you quickly plan your tour with all the information you will ever need.
The one I use for all my tour planning and when I am out in the mountains. I also use it in my Tours section to show the route on map.
I consider it the best mapping app for trail running and hiking in Switzerland. It uses of course Swiss Topo, the mandatory mapping system for Switzerland.
It is easy to use and has an extensive tool kit for your use.
You can plan and draw your tour quickly. Save the route and you will be able to go back to it anytime.
If you should loose your way, as happened to me more than once before, it will tell you where you are in relation to your planned route, even if you have no mobile signal.
Once, you have drawn your chosen route and saved it, you will see at a glance;
average hiking time
total distance in km and meters
Vertical meters +/-
fast locating position
maps for MTB, XC skiing, cycling and even canou
Many overlays available, like public transport, mountain huts and more. Limited weather forecast.
Swiss topo is the official mapping app for Switzerland. It is very detailed and will also let you download drawn maps. It is especially useful for high alpine ventures, like climbing and glacier traversing. On the website, you can also order hard copy maps for the whole of Switzerland in many formats. If you are interested in topography the website will be an Aladdin's cave for you.
However, I consider it from the trail runners perspective not as good or as easy to use as Swiss Mobility.
One big advantage, from the 1. March 2021 the app will be free to use including downloading maps for offline use.
Fatmap is the more fun app to use. It is also using Swiss Topo but with the big difference that you can use it worldwide whilst Switzerland Mobility is restricted to Switzerland only.
It has amazing features with 3D imagery and overlays for several winter and summer activities.
What's more, it is using topo overlays for several western countries. There are also user generated tours as well as reports, videos and much more for many mountain activities.
This is the app, that makes the planning of your trail running tour come to life, even before you hit the trails.
Other essential Apps
The Swiss Federal Railways App is the app to have if you need to know departure times from almost every hamlet in Switzerland. From local bus and train timetables to national intercity travel you will find a very accurate and easy to use timetable. Even disruptions are very quickly online with alternative routes listed.
Additionally, you can buy all tickets online.
I use this app all the time when I plan a tour and need to return to the starting point or home.
Meteo Swiss is the national official weather forecast platform. This comprehensive app offers tons of information with local and national weather forecasts, weather warnings and much more.
Meteo blue is another good App. It is very easy to use with clearly presented information. It has so called 'meteograms', graphs which show all information in a very presentable form. On top of of that, Meteo blue offers satellite and radar images and simulations.
The right gear you wear and the equipment you carry is really most important for activities in the mountains. If you venture on a longer run in the right choice of gear is essential!
If I undertake anything longer than a 10km tour, I will carry a running vest or pack. Even for shorter distances, at higher altitude and difficult trails I always carry a running vest on me
Shoes; These days, most running shoe brands sell a range of trail shoes. Of course, choosing your shoes is very individual and personal. For the purpose of running in the mountains, your chosen model should have a stable platform, possibly a rock plate, a sole that will grip on rock as well as on muddy surfaces and a reinforced toe box. Because you are going to hit stones and rocks! Take my word for it! Your feet should feel comfortable and your shoes should be responsive to uneven terrain. You will want to feel like a mountain goat and not like a steam train jugging up and down mountains.
I almost always wear my shoes between a half and a full size bigger than actually required. My toes are thanking me for it after every long run, especially on hot long days on the trails and on long steep downhills.
And on top of all that, it should also be a shoe that is very tough and well made. Weak shoes will not survive for long the battering from the rugged Swiss Alps trails.
Running backpacks and vests: Some kind of a running backpack or a vest are obligatory on all but the shortest outings in the mountains. Like shoes, the choice is huge.
In most of the common models, soft flasks are used for the drinking system, which are sometimes included in the standard package. The Flasks are mounted on the shoulder straps at chest height and allow easy and regular drinking. Filling up is also very easy. The other drinking system is the so called 'bladder'. The only advantage of the bladder is, that water up to 2l can be carried. However, in the Swiss Alps, there is usually abandoned water available. No need of carrying too much water. Fill up at fountains or streams at higher altitude are normally a safe source when added with a purification tablet. The front pockets can also be used to store the most important other material and snacks and are accessible without having to take off the vest! By the way: there are also special running vests for women.
Here is a typical packing list what I would carry with me:
Rain jacket, or a wind proof jacket for shorter tours when I know the weather is going to be stable
T-shirt or long sleeved shirt. On colder days, thermals and a change of clothes if you finish somewhere else than your home or hotel or car.
Drink !Normally one or two soft flasks and normally no more than 1 litre total. In Switzerland, there is usually an abundance of water refill opportunities. Exceptions would be for instance the Hardergrat/Brienzergrat tour, where there is no water available on the way.
Food, snacks, emergency rations. Again, normally no need to take too much. In Switzerland, you almost always find a mountain hut or an inn. Often with delicious food to be had. And while you are eating your lunch, enjoy the vista and soak up the beauty of the Swiss alps.
small first aid kit.
The mobile phone with your downloaded maps and emergency numbers plus all other needed Apps. Make sure the charge will last for the whole of your outing. Consider a power bank as a back up.
Cash/ Credit card /ID; make sure you always have cash with you as many mountain huts and small inns will not take cards for payment.
Poles; these are an individual choice. I personally always have them with me on any longer tours with serious elevation involved.
Sun protection/sun glasses.
The aim is obviously to be as light as possible. After all, you are planning a trail run or a long tour and not a cumbersome hike or trek.
But if you are going in the mountains some equipment is mandatory to get you up and down in safety. Finding the balance between too light (risky option) or too heavy (slow option) can be tricky. If in doubt, the slightly heavier option will always be preferable. Safety in the mountains is paramount. Slightly slower is a little sacrifice against safety.
Once you have decided where you want to go, it is time to get familiar with the route. Study the type of terrain, so you know exactly what to expect. . Use the the map apps (Switzerland Mobility and FATmap) Check out short cuts and return options, if you should need to abandon for some reason. The weather forecast is absolutely crucial for your safety. Some of the tours and routes are dangerous if done done in wet and bad weather conditions. If you ever got caught out in a thunderstorm in the mountains, you will know that it can be a very scary and dangerous experience. In fog and snow, navigating can be very difficult and again, could get you in a potentially unsafe position.
For weather forecasts see in Apps and Maps section.
The weather changes rapidly in the mountains. Quite often, a final decision can only be made on the night before your planned tour. I advise to use at least two local weather forecasts before making the final decision.
And now go out there and do it!