Question: Pants or Shorts on the Trail?

Long pants or shorts


A common question by Alpenwild guests is whether or not to wear shorts on the trail in the Alps. Although it is a matter of personal preference, Alpenwild recommends wearing long pants. In sturdy hiking pants, you will never feel under-dressed on the trail.

Swiss Tradition

If your goal is to “fit in” with the locals, then you should plan to wear long pants. You may have a mistaken notion that the Swiss wear lederhosen—short pants made of goat skin. That’s actually traditional clothing from Bavaria and Tyrol. You will see a few hikers in shorts, but most Swiss hikers wear hiking pants in the latest high-tech fabrics, usually in earth tones.

Alpine Sunshine

On Alpenwild Treks, much of the hiking in the afternoon is above treeline (which is at a lower elevation than in the US—about 6500 feet). This means you may be hiking without shade for extended periods of time. Without the trees, views are amazing—especially from the summit achieved each day. But that also means more exposure to Alpine sunshine which could cause a sunburn on the back of uncovered legs.

Bug Bites

Happily, there are very few stinging insects in Switzerland. So you can safely leave your insect repellent at home (unless you have a tendency toward allergic reaction to insect bites.) Most of the Alpenwild trip leaders report very few insect bites among clients, but an occasional mosquito does appear in areas with moist and marshy soil.

Itchy Plants

Good news—no poison ivy and no poison oak in Switzerland. However, along many popular trails you’ll find thick layers of Stinging Nettles.  If you haven’t brushed up against that pesky weed before, you may not be aware of how problematic it can be. A rash and itchiness from Stinging Nettles can last 24 hours and may include large welts. Best treatment is after a run-in with this prickly plant, to wash the affected area with soap and water to get the plants irritating fluid off your skin.

Stinging Nettles
A meeting with a Stinging Nettle can result in a 24-hour rash and large welts. Wearing pants will help you avoid such an encounter.

Pants or Shorts?

If you’re worried about getting overheated on the trail—especially on a challenging alpine trek—you can always choose “convertible” hiking pants that allow for the bottoms to be zipped off when necessary. Plan ahead for comfort and protection. Good hiking pants are an essential part of your gear.

Elain Witt

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