- Paper Maps
- Digital Maps
- Where to Buy Maps
The most commonly used maps are either the 1:25,000 series or the 1:50,000 series published by the Swiss Federal Topographic Office (SwissTopo) and available online on their site. While most Swiss hiking books recommend the 1:25,000 maps, I find that they probably have more detail than is really needed while navigating well marked trails. Kev Reynolds, in his classic Chamonix-Zermatt — The Walker's Haute Route makes the same point.
There are four versions of the 1:50,000 maps. I use their hiking maps, produced in conjunction with the Swiss Hiking Federation. These maps show all the major trails very clearly in red. Five maps are needed: 273 T (Montana), 274 T (Visp), 282 T (Martigny), 283 T (Arolla) and 284 T (Mischabel). Kev Reynolds warns that the 1999 version of 284 T does not show the Europahütte; the 2004 version does.
A recently (2006) introduced series, the 1:50,000 composite hiking maps, covers the haute route in two maps: 5027 T, Grand St-Bernard, Combins, Arolla and 5028 T, Monte Rosa, Matterhorn. While they do highlight the major hiking trails, I find them slightly unwieldy on the trail. I use these at home for planning, and carry the smaller maps on the trail (an expensive solution!).
The standard maps are identical to the hiking maps, but without the clear red lines to mark the major trails. All trails here are shown equally, which makes it harder to distinguish the major trails (used by the Haute Route) from the minor ones. Furthermore the faint dashed lines are far less easy to see than the bold continuous red lines on the hiking maps. The names and numbers of these maps are identical to those of the hiking maps, but without the "T".
The composite maps (5003, Mont Blanc-Grand Combin and 5006, Matterhorn-Mischabel) are the cheapest option, and are recommended by Kev Reynolds in his book. I find them a bit too large and unwieldy to use on the trail, and the trails are marked in the same way as the standard maps.
I have found the 1:100,000 composite map of the Valais (map 105) very useful for looking at the Valais as a whole and viewing the "big picture". It does not (in my opinion) have enough detail for use while hiking.
As an alternative to the "official" maps you may want to consider the Kümmerly+Frey Excursion maps of the Valais. You will need three maps from that series: 22 - Grand-St-Bernard / Dents du Midi / Les Diablerets; 23 - Val d'Anniviers / Val d'Hérens / Montana and 24 - Zermatt / Saas Fee. All three are 1:60,000 and feature, to quote their site: "useful additional information: accommodation, restaurants, bus-routes with stops, sports, leisure..." I have not used them hence cannot comment on them.
The online product has detailed information on the Swiss Hiking Federation trails, and it is easy to combine several trails into an itinerary. For such an itinerary it is possible to draw a profile, with the distance, elevation gain, estimated walking time (in both directions) and maximum and minimal elevations. This is very useful when planning routes that are not described in full detail in the guidebooks. The itineraries can also be exported to a compatible GPS receiver (either as tracks or as routes), as well as in a variety of file formats (a proprietary SwissTopo XML-based format, the standard GPS interchange format, GPX, and the Google Earth format, KMZ).
This product has excellent functionality, but is frustrating to learn (though easy to use once you get the hang of how it works). It was released in the summer of 2011 and, as of September of that year, still has a few bugs. With luck they willl be solved in future updates.
You can load waypoints, routes and tracks to a GPS receiver from the SwissTopo maps, but the maps themselves cannot be loaded onto the receiver. For Garmin receivers you can get maps from the Swiss Garmin site, which unlike the SwissTopo site is only available in French or German. For the Haute Route you only need the western disk (CHF 219), the two disk set covering the entire country costs CHF 398. This product is fully compatible with other products in Garmin's MapSource series.
I loaded the whole western set of maps on my Garmin GPSMap 60CSX before leaving the States, and was amazed at the accuracy of the trail data on the maps. Almost every time I checked the receiver the location circle was centered right over the dotted line! I can only conclude that the Swiss maps use GPS-based data for their hiking trails, an immense improvement over the situation in the States.
A free Garmin compatible map is available as part of the Open Street Map (OSM) project. The coverage of trails is incomplete but growing, and you may well decide that it is worth the savings. Installation instructions are in German only, but can be translated using Gogle Translate.
|Option||Unit Cost||Total Cost|
|1:50,000 standard||CHF 13.50 per sheet||CHF 66.50 for five sheets|
|1:50,000 hiking||CHF 22.50 per sheet||CHF 112.50 for five sheets|
|1:50,000 composite||CHF 24.50 per sheet||CHF 49.00 for two sheets|
|1:50,000 composite hiking||CHF 32.50 per sheet||CHF 65.00 for two sheets|
|1:25,000 standard||CHF 13.50 per sheet||CHF 135.00 for ten sheets|
|Kümmerly+Frey Excursion maps||CHF 26.80 per sheet||CHF 80.4 for three sheets|
|Swiss Map Online||CHF 49.00 first year, then CHF 29.00 each year||Covers whole country|
|Garmin Swiss TOPO West||CHF 219.00 for western Switzerland||Includes Valais|
I bought most of my maps either in Switzerland, on my 2005 trip, or from the SwissTopo Shop site, which is reasonably easy to use. For those more comfortable buying in the US there is Omnimap.com, which seems to have an exhaustive selection at comparable prices. In the UK I visited the web site of Stanford's Books and maps; they seem to have a good collection that is well organized.
While Google Maps is not really designed for outdoor pursuits I have found it useful in indicating the general area where a stage of the Haute Route takes place, and have embedded maps from it on most pages which describe routes.