Table of Contents
The navigation should be separated into 2 parts- 1. Navigation in the mountains. 2. Navigation in the flat parts and through villages/towns.
In the mountains there really isn’t any special difficulty navigating. The path markings in all 3 countries (red/white stripes) are very good. In addition there are path signposts indicating where the path is headed to and provide an estimated walking time.
I believe that on the entire trail we only ever opened our maps twice to verify our direction (Obviously, back home, before we set off, we reviewed the entire trail on the maps). All in all the navigation in the mountains paths is not too hard, it can get more difficult during bad weather but we didn’t encounter great difficulties even on the worst days (weather wise).
On the other hand, the navigation in the flat parts of the trail (from Munich until the rise to the Tutzinger Hut, from Belluno to Venice) and the walking in the villages/towns is a different story. In those parts there isn’t any organized markings. For example, in the part from Munich you rely on the fact that you are supposed to walk along the Isar River and mostly on biking routes. It sounds funny, but we think that there is much greater chance getting lost in those parts rather than the mountain parts. We advise the use of GPS during those parts
We used 3 sources for navigation: 1. Maps (covered the mountains parts, days 3 to 22). 2. German guide book (We don’t understand German but the little maps and graphs are useful, and we also got GPS files with it). 3. GPS (on a smartphone).
Speaking of GPS… As mentioned above we didn’t take a dedicated GPS device, just a smartphone (HTC One m8). What we did was installing the free navigation app Oruxmaps, downloaded free maps for offline use (because we can’t rely on data connection) and we loaded the GPS files of the route, those came with the German book we bought.
We also had a second set of GPS files of the routes, a free set provided by the site Fernwege. But we quickly realized those files are no longer very accurate (simply because they were recorded more than 10 years ago, since then some paths were changed). The files we got with the book were far more accurate.
It is important to highlight that GPS alone is not a reliable navigation tool. You cant trust having signal 100% of the time, it depends on the geographic layout you are walking in and in the weather conditions. It is important to have the maps as a backup. It is also wise to always know which paths numbers you are going to walk on and places you will pass by every day. No reason to find out only on the hike itself.
As mentioned before, the signposts on the paths provide walking times. I would not recommend trusting those estimated times too much.
Besides the time on the signposts, every day has an estimated walking times (noted in the “Days Guide”), those times (and the times on the signposts) are net times (do not include rests, eating stops etc). The times are calculated based on the alpine clubs formula (which you can look for online).
While hiking, we found out that when climbing we walk faster than the estimated time, on descents we were slower and on flats we kept with the times. So you can understand that it is all very personal, after a few days you will figure out how to treat those estimated times.
All in all the times are useful to plan where to stop for lunch, how long will it take to reach the next hut (especially good to know when rain is supposed to start at certain hour) and other stuff like that.
Food and water
We reached an important point! Here you have a few options how to handle food supply, it is really up to you.
What we did was this::
Trail Mix – We brought a large amount of nuts, cashew, dried fruits, seeds, and more. The mix is not a meal by itself, the idea is to eat a little of it every 30-60min to keep the body energized. I advise putting most of the amount in a sealed bag in your backpack and have just a small daily amount available to you while walking (if it is not available enough you won’t eat it! “Lazy effect”). Once we ran out of the mix we bought more in the towns.
Breakfast – We always ate at the hut. When we had to spend a night at a hotel we made sure to choose one with breakfast included. The breakfast usually includes bread (sometimes dense bread), cheese, butter, a few kinds of salamis and jam.
Lunch – Every day something else: 1. some days we carried dried meat with us and ate that. 2. Other times we made a sandwich in the hut/hotel in the morning. 3. Sometimes we just stopped in a hut or a village we passed by and got something to eat there. 4. And there were even times when we just skipped it, eating more of the mix.
Evening dinner – We ordered at the huts or villages/towns we stayed in.
Now, that’s just what we have done. You can obviously be more self-reliant when it comes to food. For example only eat breakfast in the huts and make everything else by yourself with a stove. Or making everything by yourself. It is logistically possible because we pass in a village/town every few days (so you can resupply), it also makes the trip much cheaper, but it means you will carry much more weight. So make your own decision.
Enough with food, what about water? Most days don’t lack places where you can refill water in, but on most days you don’t really have to refill anyway. You fill in 1.5-3 liters of water every morning (depending on the day’s length) and it’s enough. Worst case scenario, there are filling points you can use almost every day (maybe every day, we didn’t even bother with it because we always had enough). You can fill your water every morning in the huts, but you should know that there are 1-2 huts (in Italy) where the tap water are not drinkable, in those cases you will have to buy water. Don’t risk it! You don’t want to get diarrhea in middle of the trip. In the above-mentioned huts, there will be signs indicating the water is not safe to drink, and you can also ask the hut staff.
Dividing the first day
The first day of the trail: Munich – Wolfratshausen is a very long day (32 KM). Don’t let the fact that the entire day is flat decisive you, it is not a simple day. The first and the second day (which is a bit shorter) are both pretty boring view-wise and often require walking on asphalt roads.
We highly recommend dividing the first day into 2 days. The first day is quite hard considering it’s the first day of the trail, a day most people will regard as “warm up”. You can achive this division by making a stop at the town Grünwald.
Obviously it is possible to do all the way to Wolfratshausen in one day, it is also what we have done. But from our experience it just makes for a frustrating first day. It should be noted that some people start the trail from Bad Tulz (the point where the second day ends and third day begins). The reason for that is that the third day is where the mountain stages begin, so it’s another option you can consider.
Belluno to Venice
The last part of the trip, after the crossing of the Alps, which starts at the town of Belluno is made of 5 days of a lot of flat walk.
Our original plan was to walk this part as well, but during the hike other hikers told us they are only hiking to Belluno and then either return home to Germany or take the train to Venice. Simply because those last 5 days are very boring (especially compared with the Alps). Those days include a lot of hiking along car roads and inside villages. Ultimately they might leave you with a bad taste in your month.
After receiving those feedbacks we decided not to walk this part except for the very last day, the day in which you reach the sea and walk to Venice.
It’s up to you to make up your mind. Do you wish to walk 5 days with little views and “nature feel” in order to complete the entire trail? Or are you satisfied with “only” crossing the Alps, and reaching Venice in another way?
Weather and rain gear
Important thing to realize about the Alps – the weather can be very inconstant. You can wake up to a sunny day without any clouds and have rain pouring at you 3 hours later. You can rely on the weather forecast, but don’t trust them 100%.
We used the YR site which gathers many forecasts in the same place. You can give it a name of a place (even a mountain pass) to find the forecast for it, many times in hour-to-hour resolution. We felt that the forecasts in YR were on the harsh side, meaning that many times it was more pessimistic then reality.
When viewing the forecast you should take note of the number of millimeters (mm) of rain. If it shows just 3-4 mm in the span of a few hours that’s fine, but more than that means walking in constant rain. Fun.
Time to talk a bit about rain gear, you will most likely have rainy days on the trail (we had 2 days with constant rain all day), that’s where your rain gear comes into play:
Backpack rain cover – there is not much to say here, you get one with your backpack or buy one for it.
Rain coat – your coat must be waterproof, you should take note that not all waterproofed coats are the same. I walked with Columbia coat while Yishai had The North Face coat, both of them were branded “waterproof” but mine gave in to rain (got soaked and let it in) after 3-4 hours while his lasted for 6+. Not trying to promote one way or the other, but you should check how waterproof your waterproof coat really is.
Rain pants – depending on where you live, you might not even know what that is (in Israel I don’t know of any shop selling them, we don’t get much rain :) ). Rain pants are pants you wear over your normal hiking pants, most of them will come with zippers on the sides to make it possible wearing them without taking shoes off. Take note that we are talking about waterproof pants, not “water repellent”.
Shoes – most hiking boots will come with some kind of water protection, it might be a gore-tex membrane, or some other thing. Make sure your shoes have water protection, and if its been awhile since you last took care of them, apply some water protection product on them (there’s many on the market).
Buying equipment in Munich – you can find The North Face and Jack Wolfskin shops in the center of Munich, so if you are missing anything you can get it there before you set out (I got my rain pants and a fleece jacket in there), obviously don’t buy shoes there, it should go without saying that shoes have to be broken in well before the trip.
Aside from rain, another element you will experience is cold. There will be some cold days out there on the mountains. We both took thermal shirt and leggings, fleece, wool hat, neck warmer and gloves.
One last important thing to note about weather, is to be prepared to having to change course because of it. We didn’t have to alter our course because of weather during our trip but we did hear testimonies from other hikers whose friends walked the path in the past and had to give up some of the “highlights” of the trail because of weather (ice, snow, avalanche risk etc.)
The dominating language in most of the trail is German. Even when we cross into Italy. In the start of Italy (south Tyrol) there are still German-speaking residents. Most people you will meet also speak English (at least in Germany and Austria).
A very useful tip is to download google translate to your phone. It is true that you will have no data connection on the trail, but you can download languages packs for offline use, so download the German and Italian packs and you are good to go!
FYI, the word for wheat beer is Weissbier. The Bavarian (and some Austrian) wheat beers are awesome!
A 28 days trail is long and many things can happen in this time. That is why you should reserve a few extra days for any scenarios that might unfold. (Aka don’t book a flight back home 29 days after you set out from Munich….)
There are various reasons for taking a rest day. The first one is physical, you might have a rough day/days and want a rest day for refreshment.
Second reason could be the weather. It is possible to have weather condition that will simply make it impossible to keep going (you can always verify this in the hut). That leaves you with 2 options: 1. Wait it and hope for better weather tomorrow. 2. Change course.
Third reason could be health. You might get a muscle or tendon that will require rest, or even a slight cold. I hope you won’t have something more serious then that but you should take into consideration that stuff like that happens, we saw 2 people who had to be rescued from the paths because of health condition (both were not on the Munich to Venice trail, some other trails).
If weather and body permits you can walk the entire trail without any rests. We met 3 people who did just that. But for the most of us I believe it is safer to plan a few rest days. I assume 5 days should do the trick.
We used 6 rest days. 2 days because of weather conditions. 1 for simply resting and another 3 because of an injury (one that required doctor check, it is quite rare, most people won’t have a case like this).
Membership in an alpine club
As mentioned in the “Huts” page. Membership in the alpine club entitle you with a great discount on sleeping prices. And also provides you with health and rescue insurance (at least in the Austrian club).
It doesn’t really matter which club (county) you join to, because the clubs share the discount with one another.
The simplest option for people outside of Europe is to sign up to the Britain branch of the Austrian Alpine Club. Because you can sign with them online and in English.
Membership costs around 40-50 euros for one year (Jan to Jan). They send the membership card to wherever you want for extra delivery fee. When you get your card, don’t forget to sign it and take it with you!
To sign up, use the branch website.
Choosing a sleeping place in towns
There are a few nights during the trail where you will sleep in villages/towns, that means hotels. (Mostly before you reach the Alps and after you cross them, but there are also some places in the middle). We used Hotels-Combined to find a place to sleep in. Sometimes we would search for a coffeehouse or some other place with Wi-Fi just to go online and look for hotel.
Schiara, yes or no?
At the very end of the crossing of the Alps (day 22) you climb to a mountain called the Schiara. The climbing itelf is nothing special but the descent on the south side of it is a via ferrata. You are invited to visit the link and learn about via ferrata. The gist of it: a via ferrata is a route with iron cable along it. You attach yourself to the cable (using harness), and you also wear a helmet. The idea is to make otherwise impossible (or very dangerous) routes safe to travel.
The via ferrata on the Schiara is ranked as medium. For people without past experience with via ferratas that means some risk. In addition, this specific route (called via ferrata Marmol) is normally done going up, not down. (It doesn’t mean it is forbidden doing it going down, it is just the more popular way). Going up is usually easier to do, because you always see where your next step is.
The equipment (harness and helmet) doesn’t need to be carried all the way from Munich, there are places to rent it in the huts before the Shiara.
People who don’t climb the Schiara have an alternate route to take. This route takes us from the hut to the valley. Taking this route also means skipping day 23 (because the only way to reach day 22 hut from the north is via the ferrata).
The decision whether or not to do the Schiara is personal. We decided not the do it because we both lacked experience on via ferratas, and this one is not an ideal one as a first one.
It should be noted that there are people who have done this ferrata as their first one, so this is definitely possible, even if not recommended.