Green instead of yellow hiking trail markers?
The Swiss Hiking Trail Federation celebrates a special anniversary: 90 years ago, Johann Jakob Ess laid the foundation for Switzerland’s undiminished enthusiasm for hiking. Since 2017, Swiss Post and the Swiss Hiking Trail Federation have been jointly committed to maintaining the trail network. We’re celebrating this anniversary with 10 facts about hiking.
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1. The no. 1 leisure activity
58 percent of the resident Swiss population aged over 15 hike regularly – that’s about four million people. The Swiss public hike 20,000 times around the world each year. That’s not surprising: the unique Swiss trail network covering 65,000 kilometres provides something for everyone – from local recreational areas to Alpine peaks.
2. Yellow was chosen in the early days
In 1933, the former teacher Johann Jakob Ess and the secretary of the Pro Juventute foundation, who was also secretary of the Federation of Swiss Youth Hostels, founded the Zurich Association for Hiking Trails. Its national counterpart was established a year later. What was the purpose of the association? To promote hiking and to establish standard hiking trail markers. On the foundation day itself, they decided on a standard type of trail marker for all of Switzerland: yellow signs with black writing.
3. Ess actually wanted green
Johann Jakob Ess’s son Hans Ess, who died in 2021 at the age of 98, explained in an interview with the hiking magazine WANDERN.CH that his father would actually have preferred green trail markers. A signwriter produced samples of the trail markers in various colours, but they soon realized that green markers were difficult to see against the trees. His father didn’t want orange or red, as he was slightly colour blind, and the bright colours made his eyes sore. So they opted for yellow. To avoid getting mixed up with Swiss Post, they chose a slightly different shade of yellow, which was a bit “dirtier”, as the founder Ess described it.
4. All trail markers had to be removed
More and more hiking clubs were formed during the 1930s. They planned routes and took care of the signage. But then everything came to an abrupt halt: the Second World War broke out. They didn’t want to leave signposts up for any enemies marching in. The Swiss Armed Forces had all trail markers removed again. “Those signs disappeared into cellars, fire stations and goodness knows where else,” explains Jakob Ess’s second son, Peter Ess, in the previously mentioned interview. Not all trail markers were found and put back in place after the war – many had vanished.
5. Markers are maintained on a voluntary basis
There are around 50,000 trail marker locations in Switzerland today. They provide hikers with information about direction, destinations, hike times and trail categories. At most of these locations, there are several trail markers (which are the yellow signs), most of which are put up, checked and maintained by volunteers from the cantonal hiking organizations.
6. Quarter of a million intermediate markers
There are intermediate markers on all hiking trails. It’s estimated there are 250,000 in total. These also indicate the difficulty level: yellow rhombuses signpost hiking trails – they are often put on wide paths, but sometimes on narrow and uneven ones, too. In contrast, white/red/white markings are used to signpost mountain hiking trails. These sometimes pass over rough terrain and are often steep, narrow and partially exposed. Alpine hiking trails are marked white-blue-white. They can cross snow fields, glaciers, scree and rocky terrain, with short climbing sections that sometimes have no trail.
7. Over 2,000 volunteers
Over 2,000 volunteers are committed to regularly carrying out tasks to ensure attractive and safe hiking trails with standard markings. The volunteers maintain the signage on all trail sections. They also enthusiastically carry out route checks and basic maintenance work, such as cutting back foliage. Alongside the Swiss Hiking Trail Federation, Swiss Post also organizes several volunteering initiatives every year. Swiss Post employees volunteer for a day to carry out maintenance work on hiking trails in easy terrain.
8. Complex formula
How long does a hike take? In the 1980s, Stephan Weber, the son of an employee at the Federal Office of Topography and a member of the Technical Commission on Swiss Hiking Trails, produced a complex mathematical formula. Spoiler alert: it’s full of square, round and curly brackets, asterisks, circumflexes and plus signs. This formula has been used Switzerland-wide since 2006 as a standard method for calculating hike times. It takes account of factors such as route length and ascents. But it doesn’t include the condition of the trails, individual requirements such as personal physical condition and rests. Today, a piece of software carries out the complex calculation of hike times – but it’s still based on Weber’s formula.
9. One of 228 living traditions
The Federal Office of Cultural Affairs (FOC) has been keeping a list of “living traditions” since 2012. Living traditions make up Switzerland’s intangible cultural heritage. These are traditions and customs passed on through the generations, creating a sense of identity and continuity. In August 2023, the FOC updated the list for the second time, adding 29 new entries, one of which was hiking. The list now has 228 entries in total. It’s published online on the FOC’s website.
10. Pink winter coat
Over 80 percent of all the almost four million Swiss hikers aren’t put off by the cold weather and continue using the Swiss network of hiking trails in winter. Did you know that winter hiking and snowshoe trails are marked in pink? The signs are put up each year especially for the winter months. The difficulty level of snowshoe routes is categorized as blue, red and black.
Do you need inspiration for your next hike?
Then take a look at our website. The hikes are specially aimed at families. Enjoy unforgettable adventures with your loved ones – even in winter! Many of our hikes can be reached conveniently by the eco-friendly Postbus.