Why use a paper map?
GPS devices and smartphone navigation apps are very handy tools. We use them ourselves and love it. But there are disadvantages too: with empty batteries they are useless, and they depend on the reception of satellite signals or phone networks. Unless your device has all maps stored on the device, you need an affordable data plan as well.
Paper maps always work. They are an ideal backup to technology, or even a perfect main navigation tool. And it's fun to unfold a map and start preparing for your hikes. Paper maps can easily be reused for 10 years before you need a new one.
Which map to buy?
We recommend the maps of the Swiss Federal Office of Topography. They offer various types of maps:
- Scale 1:25,000, 1:33,000 (waterproof) and 1:50,000. In our experience, the 1:50,000 maps are detailed enough to find your way, and cover a large area with lots of hiking trails. The maps in scale 1:25,000 are extremely detailed but cover a smaller area.
- All-purpose maps. They have a green (1:50,000) or brown (1:25,000) cover, and each one has a 3 or 4 digit product number and a name, e.g. "5001 Gotthard".
- Hiking maps. They have a yellow cover, and each one has a 3- or 4-digit product number plus the letter "T" and a name, e.g. "5001T Gotthard". These maps are basically the same as the all-purpose maps, but the signposted hiking trails are highlighted and they also show public transport stops.
We mostly use the 1:50,000 yellow hiking maps.
Where to buy maps?
Maps are for sale in book stores and kiosks at larger train stations. Note that there are hundreds of maps and most stores won't have all of them in stock. They usually only offer popular maps of the surrounding region. You can buy the maps online as well: you'll save on shopping time and can study them at home to prepare.