Where boots are made for walking?

July 25, 2010, 13 Comments

It’s officially The Year of Hiking in Switzerland, so yesterday I took another step towards becoming ever more Swiss: I am now the proud owner of a proper pair of walking boots. You know, the ones with mega-long laces that have to be wound round little metal hooks so that your ankles are clamped in position. Those ones. Any Swiss person worth his (or her) salt has a pair because the Swiss like nothing better than a good walk. As I write this, Gregor is already halfway up a mountain somewhere in Valais, having got up at 5am (on a Sunday!) to catch a train with a friend and then hike for six hours. And that’s fairly typical summertime behaviour for many Swiss, for whom walking and hiking are something of a national obsession.  

As soon as they can toddle Swiss children are sporting mini-boots and trotting alongside their parents on a walk somewhere. Never too young to start or too old to stop. It’s not unusual to see a posse of seventysomethings out on a trail, with the only walking sticks in sight being the extendable, sporty types to help you up and down hills. At lower altitudes, the walking happens all year long, but higher up it has to wait for the spring. When the melting starts, the snow line slowly climbs up the slopes, and the hikers are not far behind. A sure sign that winter is over is when the sports shops change their displays, with boots going from giant ski ones to sturdy hiking numbers, and jackets shrinking from big and puffy to hi-tech lightweight.  

Yellow walking path signposts in Engelberg

Which way now?

You might think the best thing about walking in Switzerland is the scenery. For sure, that is spectacular, and you don’t have to be fitness freak to enjoy it. One of my favourites is the 90-minute walk from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg in the Bernese Oberland. It’s relatively flat and easy, which is just as well as you’re far more likely to be looking at the stunning views of the Grindelwald valley and the Eiger than at where you’re putting your feet. No, for me the best thing about Swiss walks is the signposting. The whole path network, which at over 60,000km is almost as extensive as the national road system,  is efficiently signposted.  

Every Wanderweg, or sentier if you’re walking in the French-speaking part (though they’re not nearly as keen on walking as the Swiss Germans), is dotted with the distinctive yellow signs. These are not just a lichen-covered wooden arrow saying ‘Public Footpath’, they are immaculate metal signs telling you how long a walk it is to various other points. The times given are alarmingly accurate, and the signs really do pop up everywhere – mountain tops, town centres, woody valleys and roads to nowhere – but I’ve never seen a dirty, rusty, graffitied or incomplete one. The Swiss tourist board website shows a poor man with a stack of signs on his back (rather like firewood) as he treks through the country planting them each spring. I’m not so sure they’re joking.  

Of course, I’ll never be truly Swiss when it comes to walking. I can wear my boots and say Grüezi to others on the paths, even take a Swiss Army Knife with me to cut my cheese and apple, but I’ll still be on a walk not a hike. For the Swiss, who are not exactly a nation of kagoule-wearing ramblers, the difference is rather like that between a traveller and a tourist. One is serious, the other not. If it takes less than three hours, involves negligible height differences (ie under 400m), doesn’t include at least one mountain view, and has any part that is asphalted, then sorry but it’s just a walk, even if you are a panting wreck by the end of it. In Switzerland, boots are made for hiking. I am, of course, a bit of a Nancy so mine were made for walking.  

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to Twitter  Like This!

13 Comments on "Where boots are made for walking?"

  1. Evamaria Sunday July 25th, 2010 at 09:19 PM · Reply

    Heh. This is SO true. Being Swiss, I naturally own a pair of proper hiking boots, although I must admit to consider myself a walker rather than a hiker, exactly following your definition of the terms… But I did hike up to the Hörnlihütte at the Matterhorn earlier this month, which made me feel like a proper Swiss! 🙂

    • Evamaria Sunday July 25th, 2010 at 09:20 PM · Reply

      *considering (sorry, hate typos!)

  2. Janie Monday July 26th, 2010 at 02:52 AM · Reply

    Question: What does being a bit Nancy mean? Although I might guess given the context that it means weak or puny or not rugged. Where did this come from? Is it British?

    • swisswatching Monday July 26th, 2010 at 07:07 AM · Reply

      It does indeed that, but also it’s an old-fashioned term for a gay man. All very British! And here of course I was referring not just to me but to Ms Sinatra’s boots, which were only ever made for walking.

  3. Anne Monday July 26th, 2010 at 11:56 PM · Reply

    This post reminded me so much of my childhood! I was one of those kids that were introduced to hiking at a very young age, going for all day hike was a normal thing by the age of 10. It was my grandparents who took me and my brother up to the mountains. Until a few years ago, I could still not catch up to my grandfather going uphill. He used to be one of those volunteers who made sure that the signs were always around and up to date, he still is very proud of his involvement. I’m not doing much hiking right now, being in a rather flat part of the US, but I sure enjoyed a trip to Colorado a few years back. Bought a pair of hiking boots and went on a 5 hour hike, it was wonderful!

  4. Carol Benedict Tuesday July 27th, 2010 at 02:20 PM · Reply

    I think the only hiking boots they sell where I live (Indiana, USA) are for people going somewhere else on vacation. We have plenty of walking shoes to choose from, but I don’t know anyone who uses boots for walking. Interesting post!

    • swisswatching Tuesday July 27th, 2010 at 02:34 PM · Reply

      thanks Carol. The interesting thing is then, when does a walk in Indiana become a hike? Is it to do altitude, though as the highest point is at 383m or 1257ft you’d never manage a hike if it were about that! So maybe it’s about length. Or neither and that’s why boots are for people going somehwere else.

  5. Elaine Wednesday March 21st, 2012 at 04:48 AM · Reply

    Is there a good reason to get a hiking boot over a hiking shoe for hiking on trails in Switzerland? Does the higher support help on the downhill?

    • diccon Wednesday March 21st, 2012 at 07:42 AM · Reply

      It’s certainly more comfortable in terms of support, especially if the path is quite rocky. Then your ankle is protected from turning quite so easily on uneven terrain. And of course if you happen to get caught in the rain, your feet stay much drier!

Trackbacks for this post

  1. Swiss Watching trivia, No 19: Walking « Swiss Watching
  2. Three easy walks in the Oberland « Swiss Watching
  3. Storybook Switzerland | Milchtoast
  4. Hiking - Switzerland's Real National Sport | Newly Swissed - Switzerland Expat Design Lifestyle Blog

Leave a Comment