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Ask Me: Can I Backpack With a Tent in the Alps?

Ask Me: Can I Backpack With a Tent in the Alps?

Dear Michael,

I am 22 and am looking to do some backpacking with a friend in Austria’s Alps this summer, specifically the Grossglockner and Schober Groups out of Zell am See.

You wrote an article in 2009 for Backpacker Magazine on backpacking Austria’s Alps and so I hope you can help me with a question on the subject: What is the tent environment like in the Alps?

I have done much backpacking in the Sierra Mountains, where I can set up my tent wherever I want as long as it’s not intruding anyone or any animals. Is it frowned upon to do this in the Alps? I have never backpacked there and this is why I am asking you.

I hope to hear back from you soon.

Sincerely,

Jake
Los Angeles

Hi Jake,

Thanks for writing. Yes, I did write that article. I haven’t hiked in the specific area you mention, so I suggest you find a good guidebook, and I think the best guidebooks for the Alps (and much of Europe) are published by Cicerone Press in the U.K.

In general, though, you’ll find very limited tenting options in the Alps. The vast majority of trekkers do not tent; they stay in huts. I believe the ethic is that tenting is permitted in some areas, as long as you stay out of sight and away from trails, huts, lakes, private property, and the like. Because almost no one tents out there, you won’t find established campsites as you do in U.S. national parks and forests; and compounding this is the fact that much of the terrain is steep, rocky, and exposed to weather.

If you’re good at stealth camping, set up late in the day, and can deal well with very small, rough tent spots, you might get away with it. If you don’t have much experience with that sort of thing, I suggest you seriously consider staying in huts. They’re really a great part of the experience, anyway, and it makes your pack much lighter, which is part of the fun of trekking in the Alps.

Good luck.

Best,
Michael

Hi Michael,

Thank you for responding to my inquiry and for doing so as quickly as you did. I appreciate it very much.

What you say makes sense to me now and I will hold onto the information you have given me, as I know it will be useful. I am sure from experience that I would have luck in stealth camping, but you do make a compelling argument for a light pack and the hut experience. I have a guidebook about ten routes in the Austrian Alps but I will also look into those guidebooks you mentioned.

Best,
Jake

[In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at mlanza@thebigoutside.com or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission.]

About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor and primary gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    In most of the Swiss Alps, it’s illegal to camp. But I have done it. Go high enough, try to stay away from trails. Some areas are more policed than others, so just watch out. But like I said, I have done it and will do it again. It’s worth it. You can sleep next to glaciers, waterfalls, lakes, in places with huge views. Best months are July thru September if you go at altitude. Then it gets cold. And anything lower than 7,000 feet is pretty populated.

    Reply
    • MichaelALanza

      All true, Peter. Of course, it’s worth considering that the reasons for camping being illegal in much of the Swiss Alps include potential long-term impact to areas (which means zero-impact practices are essential if you are camping), and simply respect for land management and rules that enable us all to enjoy these places. Plus, a group can leave significantly more impact than one person, especially if the campers are not skilled at leaving no visible signs of their presence after departing.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Hi, just googled “can i tent camp in the alps” and landed here. Isnt it a bit of a shame that one should be confined to huts in the alps? I hate even sharing campsites with others in the backcountry, much less a hut! Is it really unheard of to pitch a tent? Can you get in trouble? Are the alps really so well traveled? Gosh, I think I am suffering from pre-culture shock, soon I will move from South America to Germany, and am investigating back country trips there. Seems like there is no “back” country…. any advice would be welcome! I guess winter camping is the best way to go there… ?

    Reply
    • MichaelALanza

      Hi Max, glad you found The Big Outside. As I wrote in this post, trekkers in the Alps are not confined to huts, it’s simply that few trekkers there tent camp (compared to the numbers staying in huts) because tent camping presents the challenges I described above. That doesn’t rule out tent camping; as I wrote above, I think you just have to get away from trails and you’ll find solitude. As with most well-known mountain ranges anywhere in the world, there are parts of the Alps that see many hikers, and there are parts where you will encounter far fewer people. It’s a beautiful mountain range, you’ll love it. Good luck.

      Reply

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