How to backpack in the Dolomites

To do backpacking in the Dolomites means almost the same as traveling on a budget or low-cost traveling. The main difference from the last two ways is a backpack behind your shoulders, where you carry all of your belongings and things.

In this article, I will tell you about 10 ways not spend a lot of money in the Italian Alps, so you can do backpacking right. Each of these ways I also passed by myself.

Ivan Kuznetsov
Local in the Dolomites and Karelia

Stay at B&Bs and Family Hotels
Eat at Pizzerias and Supermarkets
Meet and Drink With Locals
Do Free Outdoor Activities and Sports
Sleep at Bivouacs While Hiking
Cook on Gas Stove in a Hike
Go to Excursion With Local Guide
Consider Volunteering, etc.
Bring Home Emotions, Not Souvenirs
Travel to the Dolomites Again

1. Stay at B&B and Family Hotels

Most likely, you will not go hiking directly from the airports of Venice or Verona. Before and after the hike you need somewhere to spend the night. (Or do not go hiking at all.) Then the question of finding a place to spend the night in cities and villages is even more important for you if you’re going to do backpacking in the Dolomites.

In short, it is expensive in hotels. Night costs from 50 euros on average per room with breakfast. Hotels with spa, private cottages, or villas are even more expensive. To avoid spending a lot of money on accommodation, rent rooms in B&Bs and family hotels. A room in B&B costs 25-50 euros per person with breakfast. Family hotels in Italy are called “albergo”. Living in albergo is a little more expensive, than in B&B, but still cheaper than in a regular hotel: from 35 to 40-50 euros per night at most.

Another excellent inexpensive option is rooms and apartments on Airbnb, Vrbo, and other similar services. I have several times rented a room in an apartment with a kitchen for only 15-20 euros per night.

Finally, there are camping sites in the Dolomites, which are also good for any kind of backpackers. The place for a tent will cost about 10—15 euros. Read further about the accommodation during the hike.

2. Eat at Pizzerias and Supermarkets

The situation with food is similar. It is more expensive to eat in restaurants, cheaper — in pizzerias and supermarkets.

The lunch of two dishes in the restaurant will cost you 15-25 euros. Of course, in a non-tourist restaurant, it will be amazingly delicious food, but it has its cost. Count for yourself: 7 lunches in 7 days in the Dolomites — 140 euros. And these are just lunches. That is, in a week you will spend a monthly budget on food.

To save money, buy food at supermarkets, small grocery stores, and local markets. Fruits and vegetables in Italy as a whole cost several euros per kilogram, depending on the type of product and season. So another tip here is to eat seasonal foods. And it is also another advice on how to travel ecologically.

The most inexpensive and proven option to have a tasty and inexpensive dinner is the pizzeria. An ordinary pizza costs from 4.5 to 10 euros, on average — 6-8 euros. There are pizzerias in almost all Italian towns and villages.

Choose family pizzerias in the Dolomites. It is more likely that you will be fed deliciously and cheaply © participant of creative hiking in Pale di San Martino in 2018
Choose family pizzerias in the Dolomites. It is more likely that you will be fed deliciously and cheaply © Ivan Kuznetsov

3. Meet and Drink With Locals

I won’t hide this advice either: if you get to know the locals, you may be invited to visit their house for dinner. This rule almost always works in bars. Italians are very hospitable and always serve wine and beer to new and old friends. And then you do the same.

Or, if breakfast is included in the B&B price, it will be a great breakfast of all products that the owners of your temporary accommodation will find in the fridge or specially prepared for you. If, of course, you make friends with them.

Of course, it is not for this reason that you should get to know and communicate with locals in the first place. This will greatly diversify your journey, help you find new friends, and get valuable information from them. I know, I have already mentioned it above, but I repeat it here again.

As a result, drinking and eating together with the locals is beneficial for backpacking in the Dolomites. Do not forget to give something in return: emotions, stories, advice…

4. Do Free Outdoor Activities and Sports

In the Dolomites you will never get bored — here you can practice a huge variety of sports and outdoor activities. This is why people come here. The undoubted advantage of sports and outdoor activities is that they are almost free activities.

Free sport number one — hiking and running along mountain trails. There is no need to pay any money for it at all.

It’s also great to ride a bike. For example, in Lamon you can rent a bike for only 20 euros for the whole day. In the mountains, you can come with your bike, ask for it from new friends, or cheaply buy it on — and then try to sell there quickly.

Other free and budget types of an active recreation good for backpacking in the Dolomites are climbing and via ferrata. And the expensive sport is only maybe the one — skiing.

In my opinion, the Dolomites is just the best place in the world for cycling and mountain biking with its endless mountain roads and beautiful views © Tatiana Kuznetsova

5. Sleep at Bivouacs While Hiking

There are three main types of accommodation in the Dolomites while hiking in the mountains: mountain hut (rifugios), in free alpine hut bivacco (bivouac), or a tent (free wind camping). Okay, we don’t take the tent this time; you have to carry it.

Refugio costs from 25 euros per night for a place in a common room for 6-10 people to 50-60 euros for the same room with dinner and breakfast. Multiply it by 5 days of hike and you get the amount of 300 euros. You can save some money by becoming a member of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI).

If you travel in the Dolomites on budget, choose bivaccos. Bivaccos are much less, but you do not have to pay for it, it is always open. If you plan a route, then for 3 or even 5 days of travel you will spend no money on accommodation. Or you can sleep a couple of nights in bivaccos, and a couple of nights — in rifugios.

I spent the two nights in two bivaccos, and it was the two best nights in the mountains of my life: the starry sky, alone with nature.

6. Cook on Gas Stove in a Hike

During the hike, you can eat in rifugio, but the cost of dinner is high. In bivaccos, all food and water must be carried with you. Yes, it is hard, but it is much more economical.

However, there is no need to eat sandwiches by drinking them with cold water. A portable gas stove will help you, if you do backpacking in the Dolomites. You can always and everywhere cook a hot breakfast, lunch, and dinner on it — you only need water. The portable stove like Primus is also the only way to cook hot meals in the Dolomites because it is illegal to make fires here.

It is hard to find water in the mountains, so it must be stored for the whole hike. However, usually once or twice a day, you can always refill the water supply.

Another important tip: gas for the burner is better to buy before hiking in town. This is not the most common product even in specialized stores. Gas is rarely sold in supermarkets.

The portable gas stove is one of the best things in my life I have bought under 20 euros © Ivan Kuznetsov

7. Go to Excursion With Local Guide

We return to the very first point about independent travel and travel with a travel company. The second one does not always mean expensive if you choose a local guide rather than a company.

There are many advantages of going to an excursion with a local guide: one — it will be cheaper, two — the tour will be not a standard, but for you, or in a small group of the same travelers, three — the local guide knows the region well, four — the guide will share not only knowledge about the region, but a wealth of personal experience, which you can not buy for money even in a travel company, five — the guide will introduce to his friends — it is also can not be bought.

In total: you will not feel like a tourist for a minute for a good price.

The first time I went on a tour with a local guide was in the mountains, but I still have great impressions, although all my life I considered myself a completely independent traveler who likes to travel alone.

8. Consider Volunteering and Similar Activities

Volunteering is a great opportunity to make a budget trip, get to know the country like a local, and get three times more impressions than any tourist trip can give.

You can become a volunteer for any term: from a week to a year or more. It can be a private personal invitation to a family through the Workaway website, a short-term or volunteer project in the database of the European Solidarity Corps, or even work for a non-profit organization such as the Legambiente. By the way, I tried all these options and that’s how I came to the Dolomites in 2013 — for a year at a time.

In normal volunteer projects, where there is no need to pay for participation, you will be accurately compensated for accommodation and meals, but to get to the place of the project must be at your own expense. Getting a visa and pocket expenses to remain on you too, though the projects may compensate you too.

Also study the page dedicated to volunteer activities on the site of the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park before you will backpacking in the Dolomites.

Form 2013 I do volunteering in the Dolomites helping local tourist center Pro Loco Lamon (on the photo) and local tourist association ATL © Ivan Kuznetsov
Form 2013 I do volunteering in the Dolomites helping local tourist center Pro Loco Lamon (on the photo) and local tourist association ATL © Ivan Kuznetsov

9. Bring Home Emotions, Not Souvenirs

From an amazing trip, it is great to bring a couple of amazing things that will remind you of the time you spent in the Dolomites. That’s why we almost always buy something in our travels — and it’s normal. But it is also an expense item, sometimes quite substantial.

My advice here is simple: if you travel to the Dolomites on budget, bring emotions, not souvenirs. Or something you don’t have to pay for.

However, in the Dolomites, you can always buy something interesting for a good memory at a low cost. For example, puzzles with an ants called “Le Formiche di Fabio Vettori” by the local artist with the same name from Trento. It costs from 20 to 50 euros. You will not find them anywhere else. Or buy Tabacco maps. You will need it anyway to plan and hike the route. It is even cheaper. One map costs only 8-9 euros. You can also hang them on a wall and mark on it the route you walked.

You can easily find inexpensive postcards, books, and posters in the Dolomites for sure.

10. Travel to the Dolomites Again

The right way to save money is to travel to the region for the second time. You no longer need to spend time on preparation, planning the route, and even asking the locals for advice, because you have already traveled to the Italian Alps and know how life is organized, how much different goods and services costs and how not to spend a lot of money while backpacking in the Dolomites.

All eight of my travels to the Dolomites before I moved here were on a budget. Only now I realized: I just do not know any other options to travel! I don’t know any other options to live differently.

I continue to help develop ecotourism in the region by volunteering, rent an apartment from locals, ride buses, spend the nights in bivaccos, cook food on a gas stove, learn Italian, get to know, and communicate with locals.

I even have one more favorite saying: “In the Dolomites, you want to pay extra for the quality of travel and impressions that you get here”. 🥾

This is the second part of an article about saving money while traveling in the Dolomites. Read part one. There will be more parts. Bookmark this page and return later.

Cover photo: Natalia, a backpacker from Moscow, in the mountains of Vette Feltrine in the Dolomites in May 2019 © Ivan Kuznetsov

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