It occurred to me while on our latest Hütte overnight stay, that while I’ve written about some of our previous tours, I’ve never really written about the Hütten themselves.
In case you’re not familiar, the word Hütte translates into hut, cabin, lodge, barracks, hovel, and on and on and on. Leo.org gives me 23 different choices. Growing up in Wisconsin, I knew tons of people who had “cabins up north,” and so cabin has always struck me as the wrong word for a Hütte, at least the ones in the mountains. I usually go with ‘lodge’ or ‘shelter’ since those seem more appropriate for a large wooden or stone structure that can accommodate anything from a few people up to 200 or so.
Hiking to and staying the night in a Hütte is one of my very favorite ways to spend a weekend this time of year, but I wouldn’t say it’s an experience for everyone. It is however, often the only way to get views like this.
So, think you want to stay in a Hütte? Read on and let’s see…
If you’re heading out on a hiking tour and plan on staying in a Hütte, there are a few extra things you should plan on bringing. As much as I am a fan of carrying as little as possible up mountains, these are fairly important to your overnight stay.
Pack it up!
- Hausschuhe: They can be slippers, they can be flip flops, they can be the omnipresent Birkenstocks or even slipper socks, just don’t leave them behind. The reason for this is pretty clear… you just hiked up a mountain and presumably your hiking boots are dirty, have cow doody on them, or are just plain stinky. They spend the night in the drying room, or on special shelving near the entrance. They do not go upstairs, or usually anywhere else in the building besides the dining area (for the day trippers). You can barefoot it, but you’ll get some funny looks.
- A sleeping sack: a sleeping bag is also okay, but most people bring a sleep sack, which is a sleeping bag in sheet form. The Hütte provides pillows and big thick blankets for everyone, but laundry is not a daily affair. Water usage is limited in ze mountains, kids. More on that later. You may also want to bring a pillow case, or get a sleep sack like mine (which I bought ages ago at REI in the States for hostels), which comes with a pillow pouch.
- Ear plugs: I don’t bother with these, but if you’re a light sleeper, it’s a good idea. People get up early, they use the restroom in the night, and the buildings themselves tend to get pretty creaky when people are moving around. You’ll likely be sleeping communally, (again more on that later), so it’s not a bad idea if you wake easily.
- Flashlight: the one on your phone will do, at least until the battery runs out, but it can be a good idea to have an extra on hand. At least at one Hütte we’ve visited, the bathrooms were outside, or you may end up sleeping in an emergency shelter that’s up or down a rocky path from the main building. Add a little sense of adventure to the late night restroom trips!
- Power bank for your phone: Snapped too many pics or used that GPS too many times and killed your battery? There may be an outlet somewhere in the common areas, but I wouldn’t bank (haha) on it. In fact, this was one of my favorite pictures I took at the Tegernseer Hütte. How many times do you think they were asked about outlets before they did this?
On our most recent trip, I spotted a few phones laying on a table in the empty and dark back dining area while we ate breakfast in the morning. When I poked my head into the room, I saw a whole power strip, but that was the first time I’ve seen such a thing. You could always take the chance to unplug a bit, but without pictures for the Instagram, did your trip even happen?
Now that you’ve got your extras packed (I trust you can figure out what clothes, toiletries, and outdoors gear you need on your own but please don’t forget the deo and maybe like a change of shirt? Please and thank you!), let’s talk about other things you ought to know.
We struggle with this one a lot, but you really do want to call and reserve a place. Some of the Hütten are now available to reserve online, or via the Alpenverein (Alpine club) app, but it’s nowhere near all of them. They fill up in summer, and on the weekends you may well find yourself sleeping in the emergency shelter which doubles as overflow. We did that at the Kemptner Hütte (picture below) and that house holds something like 200 people. AND we wound up there in the first place because we called at least a dozen other shelters, all of which were full. My biggest problem with this is pretty obvious… if the weather looks like crap, I don’t want to go hiking. It is possible to cancel the reservation if you make it far in advance, but there may be a charge for that as well. If you don’t want to waste money, get a decent rain jacket and watch your step.
If you’re a member of the Alpenverein and show up without a reservation, they must find you a place, which sounds great. But according to BV, this could also mean sleeping on benches in the dining area. He knows this because it happened a couple of times when he was younger. Thankfully we’ve avoided this thus far, because I’m not too into the idea of being awoken when they start setting up breakfast at 5am. So call… especially if you’re picky about the next point.
EDIT: Though he still maintains that this was true in the past, according to the Alpenverein, the huts are under no obligation to shelter you if they are full. I repeat, CALL.
Depending on the size of the house, they’ll have an assortment of rooms available. The smallest ones that we’ve stayed in have slept four people, and the biggest more than twenty. If you prefer a smaller room, or have a group that wants to have a room to themselves, call and call early. But as mentioned, these places regularly fill up in the high season, so the likelihood of you sleeping in a 20-person Matratzenlager next to someone snoring or smelling less than fresh is pretty high. You have a little bit of space (we try to snag a spot next to a wall or dividing pole, and BV sleeps on the outside), but it’s not much.
Bathrooms vary, and often men’s rooms outnumber women’s rooms. There’s usually at least one separate washroom, and those can be co-ed. Showers are a rarity, and remember that water conservation thing I mentioned? That means that the showers that DO exist are usually coin-operated. And usually have cold water. And the water comes out for a minute or so per coin. My advice? Wash up as best you can in the sinks, but make sure you don’t leave the water running too long or risk some major side-eye. Also check for kein Trinkwasser signs before drinking or filling up your water bottle. Often the water in the washrooms shouldn’t be drunk, and you’re better off taking your water bottle to the staff to have it filled.
Note: I am a major “I must shower every day or I’ll die” person (having curly hair that looks insane in the morning is a big part of this), and this is probably the “worst” part of the Hütte experience for me. But I deal, because I love it. Bring a change of shirt, and don’t worry too much about smelling funky. Pretty much everyone is in the same boat. Camaraderie!
I know that the communal sleeping aspect doesn’t sound great. Who wants to be woken up by people banging in and out late at night? The good news is that is pretty rare, minus bathroom-goers or sleepwalkers. Hüttenrühe, or ‘shelter quiet’ is the order of the day, usually after 10pm. I’ve seen a few groups stay up until 11ish, but it’s been rare. Ten is usually when the shelter staff pack up the kitchen, stop pouring beers, and hit the sack. Early to bed, early to rise is the standard in the mountains. Not great for night owls, but if you’ve got a 10-hour hike ahead of you in the morning, it makes a lot more sense.
Ze Food und ze Drink
The staff had better hit the sack early because they’ve gotta get up early to set up breakfast. That normally goes from 5/6am until 8/9am, and yes, we have slept through it at least once. You can still get food after that, but it’ll be cake or something off of the normal menu, as the first day hikers arrive far earlier than you’d think.
Dinner also wraps up pretty early, typically you can only get hot food until 7pm, or possibly even 6. Brotzeit is available afterwards, but you really don’t want to miss out on some dumplings, sausages, or whatever else they may have.
To that point, meal choices are limited. Supplies mostly reach these places via a Seilbahn, or cable car, but most of them are only for cargo (and the occasional shelter staff member, which seems like both an awesome and a terrible idea). The food that I’ve had has always been very good, hearty, and exactly what I wanted after several hours of physical activity, but if you’re expecting several pages of menu or white tablecloths, you’re be disappointed. It’s simple, usually involves a lot of local products, and will be served up with a frosty beer (kegs ride the Seilbahn because priorities).
Most of the time it’s a self-service situation to order and get drinks, but they’ll usually bring your food out to you whenever it’s done.
Cash is still king here in Germany, but even at the Hütten in Austria or Italy, cash is… yeah it’s still king. Due to the remote locations, they may not even have a connection that can run a card machine, so hit that ATM in the village before you leave.
I was quite impressed on our most recent trip to the Lenggrieser Hütte. They took cards, but they also had a tab system, which I haven’t seen yet. We received a plastic card when we arrived, and all of our food and drinks were tracked on that, plus our room for the night. Then we just paid the total when we left… easy peasy. That Hütte is relatively low though, at just 1200 meters, and is reachable via a gravel road, so that probably has something to do with their “advanced” level of connectivity.
For reference, prices vary quite a bit from shelter to shelter but on this most recent trip we paid about €105 for the night. That included:
- 2 people in an 8-person room (which we had to ourselves as a group cancelled, whoop whoop)
- dinner (the spinach dumplings and venison sausages pictured above)
- breakfast (buffet-style, tea/coffee/juice, etc)
- 8 beers
- a snazzy Lenggrieser Hütte sweatband
As Alpenverein members we get a discount on the room prices, and often on certain menu items as well. If you go just a few times per year, it’s worth a membership… plus then they have to find space for you, as mentioned. 😉
The du/Sie issue tends to hold up a lot of non-German speakers when they come here, and I’m happy to report that in Hütte culture, you can relax. Du is perfectly acceptable with everyone (hopefully), and so is Servus as a greeting. That also goes for on the trail as well. You hear a bit of everything, but Servus is standard.
I know it doesn’t look like it from the pictures above, but the common areas are full in the evenings. And since you’re on a first-name basis with everyone (or close enough with Du) feel free to chat if that’s your thing. People are always gabbing about their tours, the conditions, and pretty much everything else. There is always at least one shelf of books to peruse, maps, lots of games and decks of cards. Everyone gets cozy in the dining area in the evening, drying wet stuff around the big ovens, sipping beer or Schnapps, and patting the house Hund as he passes through.
The house dog can often be seen hanging about the kitchen or sniffing after the visiting dogs. At lower shelters cats lurk around outside, or there will be a few chickens scratching about on occasion. Or goats, or cows. Bottom line: there are lots of furry things nearby, both foreign and domestic.
Reading this back, I think it’s easy to see why I mentioned up top that I don’t know if staying at a Hütte is for everyone. Leaving aside the fact that you have to walk uphill for at least an hour or two at a minimum, if you’re squidgy about germs, sleeping next to strangers, or picky about food, it’s probably not for you. And that’s okay! There are plenty of lovely hotels and guesthouses in the valleys with fresh sheets and private bathrooms. You could even do a day tour to a shelter, get some lunch, and go back down. People do it all the time.
Given my love for showering, I really wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it when BV first mentioned we give it a try. But that first tour up to the Blaueishütte had me hooked. The feeling of coziness, the good kind of exhaustion from an active day outside, and the first sip of cold beer when you get there by yourself and not with a cable car? So much better. I love tucking in next to the oven in the evening, flipping through the books of pictures from mountaineers past, playing a game of cards and tucking in early. It is intensely satisfying, not to mention an experience you definitely don’t get on the usual German tour. That’s the beauty of living here… we just have to decide which Hütte we want to hike to next.
So, did I convince you or scare you away? If you’ve already stayed in a shelter, where should we go? And did I forget anything important?