Hölzchen und Stöckchen

Tips for your successful crossing of the Alps

For many, it is a long-nourished dream to once cross the Alps. THE classic way is the E5 from Oberstdorf to Merano. It is one on the oldest European long-distance trails. Passing paths and passes that traditionally were used to traverse the mountains between Germany, Austria and Italy.

(*Diesen Artikel gibt’s auch auf Deutsch.)

Organized or individually?

That’s a matter of preference and experience: In principle, crossing the Alps on the E5 can be done individually. If you bring the appropriate experience. If you are untrained and inexpert it is recommandable to go with an organized group. Also, if you are experienced but simply don’t want to go through the hazzle of organizing the trip yourself, you might be happy about the numerous offers of Alpine Schools and tour operators.

When is the best time for crossing the Alps?

From the middle of June to the middle of September. This is when you will find the best conditions on the path: Most of the snowpack of the last winter has gone; chances for new snow are quite little. Keep in mind: You are moving through alpine terrain. Be always prepared for weather deteriorations as well as an onset of winter.

You would like to do your tour indivdually?: If possible, NEVER – NUNCA – NIE start hiking around the weekend in Oberstdorf. With this I mean the period from Friday up to and including(!) Monday. These are the days when the organized groups of Alpine Schools and tour operators start their trips. Many hikers on the paths, long waiting queues in front of the showers, crowded rooms. – Just a few arguments for you to consider a start in Oberstdorf rather on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday instead.

What backpack will I need?

A volume of 30l will be best, maximum 40l. With this, you should manage without problems on your multiple day hike. The smaller, the better. – Your back and your knees will appreciate it.

If you have the chance: Buy your backpack in a specialized outdoor shop. Seek professional advice, try on different backpacks (with sufficiant loading). There are huge differences and each of you will find an own favorite. For (shorter) women, the German manufacturer Deuter has a big range of special women’s models. You can recognize them by the name addition „SL“. They especially have a shorter and smaller back. Furthermore, the hip fins as well as the shoulder straps are adjusted to the female anatomy. Unfortunately, many other manufacturers still have none to only a few special women’s models.

Don’t forget the raincover. (Check: It might be included in a separate bottom pocket of your backpack.)

I have not been yet to a hut of the Alpine Club. – What should I do at arrival?

Depending on the time of the day, there will be more or less hikers at the cabin. Probably you will arrive with other hikers or with other groups in the afternoon. Simply put your backpack aside and enjoy your arrival. After that, a common procedure is: Take off your hiking boots and put them on one of the shoe racks. Maybe you have wet clothes? In many cabins you will find a drying room. Put on your slippers. Get in touch with the cabin team. Bring your membership card – if you have one – of your Alpine Club. You will be told were you can sleep. Get your backpack and bring it to your room/dorm. It’s advisable to set up everything (take out your backpack, place the blankets) and also to refresh a bit. Thereafter, enjoy a beer or a juice, and take in the view from the panorama terrace …

Do I really need trekking poles?

To clear up with one prejudice: Trekking poles are not a matter of age. On your hike towards Southern Tyrolia, you will decent to a number of valleys in a row. Your knees will appreciate if you use sticks. By the way: Try a bit of alternations along your journey. To train your sure-footedness as well as your sense of balance, walk every so often and as much as you like without sticks. Especially uphill or on flat areas.

Will I need a thin sleeping bag?

Yes, this is obligatory in the huts of the Alpine Club. In most cabins, you can even buy a thin cotton sleeping bag, in case you have forgotten yours at home. Of course it is better to buy one beforehand. Instead of the common cotton liner, I’d recommend a silk liner. It is much smaller and lighter than its cotton cousin.

In case you wonder: Yes, even in the smaller rooms where you will find „real“ beds with bed linen, you still have to use your sleeping bag. If you doubt it: Simply think if here, far up in the mountains – with often little water, and little energy – it will be possible to change the bed linens every morning.

Backpack, trekking poles, outdoor clothes – This sounds expensive. Do I  need to buy all of this?

Compared to other spare-time activities, one would think of hiking as being rather inexpensive. After all, you simply need to „start walking“. Nevertheless, the outdoor market continues to boom and there does not seem an end. Each year, the products become more elaborated, and more adjusted to an even more specialized niche. A growing number of manufacturers are whispering to us what we will DE-FI-NI-TELY need on our next trip.

As just an occasional hiker, you won’t need everything at once. Still, some parts of the equipment are rather essential, such as a rain jacket.

If you don’t feel like plundering your account immediately, be creative: Maybe one of your friends can lend you some equipment (such as trekking poles or rain trousers). Alternatively, there might be an Alpine Club around where you live and where you can rent anything from a backpack to carabiners. Try the internet, too. In Munich (and I am sure in other cities, too), you find an Alpine flea market twice a year. Many of the things for sale are surprisingly new, only little used, in perfect conditions and sold for little money. Or maybe you like last year’s model at the outdoor shop. In case you plan long beforehand: At the end of the summer season, you will find he biggest selection of reduced hiking gear.

Speaking about the physical side. Will I be able to complete the hike? How much preparation time will it take? 

This depends a lot on your general fitness.

In principle, anyone that is healthy and that gets a regular physical exercise, should be able to cross the Alps on the E5. It is not a difficult tour – neither will you have to rock climb, nor will you have to cross  a glacier. Still, it’s not a Sunday afternoon stroll.

If your normal daily routine takes place between the car, moving stairways and your couch, then crossing the Alps will probably become quite demanding and you will need some good preperation. Also, if you live a long way off any mountains, you might want to start early getting in shape. Two things are essential:

You can constantly train your endurance on long walks or hikes. If you don’t have mountains around: Climb any staircase you can find. Also, get used to shouldering a bit of weight. Every so often, walk with a full backpack. When hiking the E5, you will carry about 8 kg/18 lbs.

If hiking the E5 is one of your New Year’s resolutions, then you have enough time until the summer to get fit.

A few photos of the Crossing of the Alps

  1. Hi!
    Thank you for info about crossing the alps! I will do the hike starting in the middle of june! But for the ultimate nature experince (plus that I am doing the hike for alone time) I would like to bring my tent and sleep abit away from the huts. Though, I wonder how it is with fresh water … do you buy it from the huts? Is there tub water? Can I still fill my bottles even though I’m not staying there? Thank you so much for answering!

    • Hi Linn,
      oh cool! It’s really a very nice and varied hike.
      Yeah, I understand your idea about the ultimate nature experience. 😉 The huts can be quite crowded (though you will start quite early in the season and it should not be that much of an issue) … The disadvantage in hiking in the Alps is that – officially – planned camping/bivaoucing is not allowed in Germany, Austria and Italy. So, there is nothing like the Everyman’s Right/allemanmsretten in northern Europe. You will find some (very few) people camping here or there; just be aware of the fact that this can be really costy – especially in Tyrol (Austria). A pos­si­ble excep­tion is stay­ing on pri­vate ground. You will need an exp­li­cit per­mit of the lan­dow­ner, though. This means you could ask at the hut to stay around there. (There is a bit about the camping/hut topic in this interview, too: http://www.kulturnatur.de/2014/01/09/gipfeltreffen-summit-meeting-with-marika-andersson/)
      Concerning the water: Depending on the hut, the tub water might be from a (safe) source/an own well or is collected rain water. (If I remember correctly, along the E5 it’s quite easy getting safe tub water in the bathrooms.) You can fill your bottles. In case there is an issue with the water, there will be a sign saying that is no drinking water („Kein Trinkwasser“). If you are unsure, simply ask the cabin staff.
      By the way: If you understand (a bit of) German, you might also want to get the little guide: „Fernwanderweg E5“, published at the Bergverlag Rother. It’s really handy and give tons of helpful details & information – https://www.rother.de/rother%20wanderf%FChrer-e5%20konstanz%20-%20verona-4357.htm. If you start in Oberstdorf, you will most probably be able to get it in any book shop there.
      Wish you a wonderful time on the E5. – Would be great to hear a bit about your experiences afterwards! Greetings from Munich, Nadine

  2. wesley

    hello, I am planning to make this trip in the middle of July but i am having a little trouble finding information on the huts. I plan on doing the hike in 6 days time so I was wondering if you had or knew where to find a list of the huts along the way. Also do you have to reserve or is it first come first serve? Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Wesley, do you speak some German? I would really recommend you to buy the little tour guide from Rother: https://www.rother.de/rother%20wanderf%FChrer-e5%20konstanz%20-%20verona-4357.htm. – Even if you should not speak German, you will get a lot out of the info boxes in the book that provide all necessary details on the accommodation etc.
      Going to Meran, many people decide to leave the actual E5 and go via the Similaun Pass. This way you would pass the following huts: (Oberstdorf) – Kemptner Hütte – Memminger Hütte – Zams/Skihütte Zams – Braunschweiger Hütte – Martin Busch Hütte – (Merano). Except for the accommodation in the village of Zams, it’s all huts from the Alpine Club. I remember we only pre-arranged the first two huts. It’s where it’s most likely to be really crowded. From then on, it somehow get’s a bit better, as some of the groups take private accommodations instead. Search here for details on the huts, too: https://www.alpenverein.de/DAV-Services/Huettensuche/#zc=8,11.26446,47.29948 – simply put in the name of the hut in the upper middle search field.
      My recommendation: Become a member of an Alpine Club! (Also for insurance reasons.) If you are a member of the German Alpine Association (DAV) or of one of the clubs mentioned here: http://www.alpenverein.de/huetten-wege-touren/huetten/huetten-in-den-alpen/huettenbesuch-das-gegenrecht-preiswert-unterwegs-auf-huetten-in-europa_aid_10630.html, you don’t have to worry too much about the accommodation as there are „emergency beds“ in the huts. So the worst thing that can happen is that you have to sleep on a mattress somewhere in the hallway or similar. But if you want to make sure you get a „normal“ bed/mattress, contact the huts and reserve it in advance. Reservation is possible, but there should/will always be a number of beds/mattresses left that are given only on a first-come-first-served base.
      Wish you a great tour! Nadine

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