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One with nature: Naked hiking in Switzerland

Naked here, naked there: While nudity is somewhat acceptable in Switzerland and actually encouraged when it comes to saunas, naked hiking remains taboo — but not illegal. 

 

Hardcore naked hikers claim that going barefoot is the ultimate way to connect with nature.

 

Anyone researching naked hiking will undoubtedly stumble upon Switzerland’s Appennzell scandal: After a naked hiker walked past a communal picnic area and a Christian elderly care home, eyewitnesses called the police. The ‘boots-only-hiker’ was fined 100 Swiss francs, but the Swiss canton didn’t stop there. Fearing that Appenzell would become a hotspot for naked hikers – a not completely unfounded fear since the media attention did attract more nudists to their trails – the court decided to completely ban naked hiking in the canton of Appenzell.

 

But as no other Swiss cantons have outlawed the sport, naked hiking remains completely legal in the rest of the country. So, where are the bare hikers now?

 

The naked truth

Naked hiking “is not very well perceived in Switzerland, so we remain cautious about it,” said Andrée de Siebenthal, the secretary of the Swiss Naturalist society (SNU-UNS) when contacted for an interview. She added that members of the group would not comment on the sport, although there are no actual laws in Switzerland against nudity in public places. In fact, there are a number of officially marked nude beaches in the country. It’s not uncommon to see people sunbathing topless in parks, around lakes or going fully nude on balconies during the summer months. It is common enough that some lakeside restaurants have had to post signs on whether entering topless is allowed or not. Moreover, nudity is actually expected when it comes to Swiss sauna culture. It’s one of the only places in Switzerland where you’ll receive a disdainful look if you try to enter with clothing on.

 

Traditional Swiss saunas actually frown on entering in clothing or bathing suits.

 

Naturalist culture in Europe was born in Germany in the 19th century with the ‘Freikörperkultur’ (FKK) movement, which translates to “free body culture.” The members of FKK believe that being naked is the only way to truly connect with nature. Naturalism is found all over Europe, but it is most popular in Germany and Scandinavia.

 

Switzerland’s first FKK-club was founded in 1927, around the same time that nude sporting events became popular. FKK clubs started hosting nude volleyball, football and badminton games. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that naked hiking became trendy. But there’s one big difference between naked volleyball and naked hiking: FKK members have to leave their designated nude areas for public trails.

 

Why would anyone want to hike naked?

First of all, to feel nature more intensely: The wind on your skin, the heat of the sun, the earth beneath your feet and even the rain coursing down your body, according to the naturalists.

 

Bathing your entire body in the sun in the warmer months will give you a healthy dose of vitamin D which strengthens one’s immune system, bones and muscles. High Vitamin D consumption will also protect you from getting respiratory viruses. Hiking nude in the winter months has health benefits as well, according to experts. When your body is stressed by uninterrupted exposure to the cold, you learn to breathe through it and your stress hormones are tempered, resulting in an immunity boost.

 

Naked hiking can also be good for one’s self-esteem. A study in the Journal of Happiness found that spending time in the nude can boost one’s confidence and contentment.

 

Naturalists are drawn to Switzerland because “wild camping” or pitching a tent outside of a designated campground is allowed above the tree line throughout the country.

 

Time to strip down and hit the trail

You won’t need anything apart from socks and shoes. Hardcore nude hikers even forgo those. However, hiking with no shoes on requires some training. Your feet will definitely hurt at first, so it’s recommended to first build up callouses on short walks. Speaking of pain: You should test your backpack on your naked skin before heading out to make sure it doesn’t chafe too much, according to nudists.

 

Although you could technically just leave your house naked, most hikers do wear clothes on their way to the trail. Having clothes with you is useful for when you want to take a break at a Swiss ‘Bergrestaurant’ – a mountain restaurant. The most important hiking essential: sunscreen.

 

It’s important to note, however, that naked hiking as well as the whole free-body-culture has nothing to do with eroticism. Whoever wants to embark on a naked hiking adventure – especially if it’s with a group of people – should know that and avoid any kind of staring or sexually provoking behavior.

 

There are naked hiking groups in Switzerland, though they are difficult to find. One site which connects hikers with each other is Meetup.com.

No official trails

Having been on many hikes myself without ever having encountered a naked hiker, I would argue that the hype from ten years ago has dwindled in the Alpine nation. Germany has two official naked hiking trails, while Switzerland has none. That said, the canton of St. Gallen approved the creation of a naked trail in 2015 but it has not come to fruition, yet.

 

While there was hype ten years ago, naked hiking has become a very niche sport. Swiss naked hikers definitely exist, but prefer to stay private and off the beaten trails. Even though Switzerland is more accepting of nudity than much of the world, it seems like they draw the line at their beloved (unofficial) national sport: Hiking.

 

 

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