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Photographers guide to "Leave no Trace" and sustainable travel in Switzerland

Updated: May 30

Switzerland, known for its breathtaking landscapes and commitment to sustainability, offers a unique travel experience for those looking to explore while minimizing their impact on the environment. Let's take a look on ways you can minimize your impact and "leave no trace" while taking photos and enjoying Swiss landscapes! Make your trip Swistainable!

Embracing sustainable travel and photography

Switzerland's pristine environment calls for responsible tourism. As tourists and photographers, we love the outdoors and nature. But do we do our best to preserve it and make as little impact as possible? Probably we are not able to stop glaciers from melting, but we can minimise small damages that ultimately accumulate. That's why the 6 principles from the "Leave No Trace" movement are so crucial and applicable to Switzerland.


Principle 1: Plan Ahead and Prepare

When outdoor enthusiasts plan and prepare in advance, they can achieve their trip goals safely and enjoyably while minimizing environmental impact. Inadequate planning often leads to a less enjoyable experience and harm to natural and cultural resources.

Essential Tips:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the regulations and specific concerns of the area you plan to visit.

  2. Stay longer in one place (especially since local municipalities often have additional benefits like free travel cards: Saas Fee, Ticino, St. Moritz)

  3. Be prepared for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies:

    1. Check the weather at Meteo Blue or in the MeteoSwiss App (Android, iOS)

  4. Schedule your trip to avoid peak times - check official holidays in Switzerland, so you avoid crowds: link here.

  5. Travel in small groups; divide larger parties into smaller ones.

  6. Repackage food to reduce waste.

  7. Use a map and compass instead of relying on rock cairns, flagging, or markers: rely on maps like SchweizMobility or SwissTopo

  8. Check the area you are visiting ahead - Switzerland has many designated wildlife areas and reserves. Also, there are multiple no-drone zones where using your favourite toy is forbidden (reserves, designed areas and airport zones).


Principle 2: Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces

The goal of outdoor travel is to move through natural areas without damaging the land, foliage, or waterways. Understanding environmental impact is key. Travel damage occurs when vegetation or organisms are trampled beyond recovery. Camping choices can lead to soil erosion and unwanted trails. Practising responsible travel and camping on durable surfaces helps minimize impact.

Essential Tips:

  1. Use durable surfaces like trails, campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow.

  2. Use existing trails and campsites (list of camping in Switzerland). There are also multiple farm stays and mountain lodges.

  3. Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.

  4. Keep campsites small and focus activity in areas without vegetation.

  5. Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.

  6. Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

Travel on Trails

Swiss authorities create trails to concentrate foot and stock traffic. While trails do impact the land, they prevent multiple routes from scarring the landscape. When taking breaks, give space to other hikers or stock. Follow off-trail travel principles if moving off the trail for breaks.

Travel off-Trail

Off-trail travel includes venturing into remote areas, seeking bathroom privacy, or exploring around campsites. Two factors influence its environmental impact: surface and vegetation durability, and travel frequency or group size. Durability refers to how well surfaces or vegetation can withstand wear. Frequent use and larger groups increase the risk of trampling large areas or repeatedly damaging small areas.

Key regulations in Switzerland for wild camping

Wild camping is prohibited in most places. The exception is the mountains, above the tree line. However, caution is still necessary – each municipality has its own rules and regulations, which can be found on this website (DE). Detailed guidelines for camping can be found on the Swiss Alpine Club website.


Principle 3: Dispose of Waste Properly

Human waste in outdoor spaces can have severe impacts if not disposed of properly. It's essential to anticipate waste types and know proper disposal techniques. Leave No Trace urges outdoor enthusiasts to minimize their impact on people, water, and wildlife.

Key Points:

  1. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Do not burn trash.

  2. Bury toilet paper in catholes or pack it out with hygiene products.

  3. Wash yourself or dishes 200 feet from streams or lakes using biodegradable soap, and scatter strained dishwater.


Pro Natura Aletsch -

Principle 4: Leave What You Find

Items in nature play important roles in ecosystems and landscapes. Preserve these by leaving rocks, plants, artefacts, and other objects undisturbed to allow others a sense of discovery.

Key Points:

  1. Preserve cultural and historic artifacts by observing, not touching them.

  2. Leave natural objects as you find them.

  3. Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.


Principle 5: Minimize Campfire Impacts

Campfires have a rich history in cooking and warmth, and many campers consider them essential. However, overuse has degraded many natural areas, and human-caused wildfires threaten outdoor spaces. To minimize campfire impacts, follow these guidelines:

Key Points:

  1. Check if there is a designated fireplace in the area - a lot of them can be find here: map with 575 places - they are often supplied with wood.

  2. Campfires can harm the environment. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and a candle lantern for light.

  3. Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, pans, or mound fires.

  4. Keep fires small, using only ground sticks that can be broken by hand.

  5. Burn all wood and coals to ash, extinguish campfires completely, and scatter cool ashes

Principle 6: Respect Wildlife (and Swiss Livestock)

When in outdoor spaces, minimize your impact on wildlife to prevent negative interactions, aggressive behaviour, ecosystem decline, and the need to relocate or euthanize animals. Respecting wildlife can avoid these issues.

Key Points:

  • Observe wildlife from a distance; do not follow or approach.

  • Never feed animals to avoid harming their health and altering behaviours.

  • Control pets or leave them at home.

  • Avoid disturbing wildlife during sensitive times like mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

  • Cows and sheep are not wild but still do not come too close. Avoid large herds since they are often protected by guardian dogs that can be very loud and seem aggressive (see the map)


Principle 7: Be Considerate Of Others

A key part of outdoor ethics is maintaining courtesy toward others to enhance everyone's experience. Excessive noise, uncontrolled pets, and damaged surroundings detract from nature's appeal. Consideration ensures everyone can enjoy the outdoors.

Key Points:

  1. Say hello and thank you

  2. Respect others and their experience.

  3. Be courteous; yield to other trail users.

  4. Greet riders and ask where to move when encountering pack stock.

  5. Let nature's sounds prevail; avoid loud voices and noises.

  6. In Switzerland many MTB routes overlap with hiking trails, so respect others. Give way to bike riders when hiking and slow down when riding.


Sustainable Travel in Switzerland: A Personal Insight

Exploring the Swiss Alps and serene lakes has been a transformative experience. Embracing sustainable practices allowed me to enjoy the beauty of Switzerland and instilled a sense of responsibility towards preserving it for future generations.

How to do it yourself:

  1. Enjoy nature up close and at first-hand

  2. Experience the local culture in an authentic way

  3. Consume regional products

  4. Stay for longer and delve deeper

Switzerland makes a lot of effort to make your stay sustainable:

Mobility - Over 11,000 trains travel daily on SBB's 3,000 km network, carrying more than 1.1 million passengers. With one of the densest rail networks globally, even remote places are accessible by public transport.

Water - Switzerland holds 6% of Europe's freshwater reserves, earning it the title "water castle of Europe." Major rivers like the Rhone, Rhine, Ticino, and Inn originate here, and even in larger cities, the water is safe for bathing.

Nature - Conservation Twenty Swiss parks cover one-seventh of the country (5,839 km²). The Forest Act of 1876 ensures forest areas do not decrease, and now 31% of Switzerland is forested, with the trend rising.

Air - Switzerland has been a health resort for its air quality since 1853, with Davos' climate recognized for its therapeutic effects. Today, Switzerland boasts some of the lowest particulate matter levels in Europe.

Food - Swiss consumers lead the world in per capita organic product consumption. Swiss retailers have topped international sustainability rankings for years.

Recycling - Switzerland excels in recycling and waste management, with nearly 85% of PET bottles being recycled.

Overnight Stays - Many Swiss accommodations prioritize sustainability, focusing on energy efficiency and organic food to minimize their ecological footprint.

Society - Switzerland promotes regional culture and encourages dialogue between guests and locals. It addresses special needs like accessibility and fosters considerate behaviour among visitors.

If you want to make your stay as sustainable as possible, look for places with this logo:

Remember, sustainable travel is the key to protecting our planet and creating a positive impact wherever you go.

SwissPhotoSpots - Discover the beauty of Switzerland's landscapes and capture unforgettable moments through our books and guides.

If you want to support the Leave No Trace movement, start by taking their 101 Course.



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