Ready for a next-level picnic? Try a Swiss Alps fondue backpack

Fondue backpack? In the Swiss Alps, anything is possible.
fondue picnic in Switzerland
(Photo: Christine Sarkis)

The first time I saw a note about “rucksack fondue” on a recent trip to the Jungfrau region of the Alps in Switzerland, I thought it was just the Swiss sense of humor in full force. I read the description out loud to my husband and kids, and we all laughed, agreeing that fondue backpack belonged in a category of wacky ideas alongside pudding hats and jerky skis.

The next day, we were out hiking with my aunt and uncle, and they mentioned seeing a flyer for a fondue backpack picnic. My uncle seemed earnest as he was telling us about it, and I pitied his gullibility until I realized: It. Was. For. Real.

family hiking in the Jungfrau region of the Alps in Switzerland
Hiking from Kleine Sheidegg to Wengen (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

Why would something like this exist, I wondered, impressed but confused. As a practiced catastrophist, I easily imagined my way through molten cheese burns, backpack fires, and iron-pot injuries. Yet at the same time, I knew this was my destiny. Because there’s no denying a fondue backpack once it turns out to not be a joke.

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We signed up and paid for our backpack in the visitors’ center in the small town of Wengen, and the next morning I picked up the backpack bright and early. The patient woman at the desk answered my questions: Yes, it’s not only not a joke but is actually pretty popular, they’ve been offering it for at least five years, and she didn’t know of any other fondue backpacks.

She gave me a quick tour of the pack, which included fuel, a pot, and a burner; so much cheese (we ordered for three and it was easily enough for our group of six); spices to jeuje it up on the go, and “fondue bread,” a loaf that was flat like focaccia but lightly perforated into fork-sized pieces.

Fondue picnics aren’t a particularly authentic experience—fondue makes a lot more sense hunkered down around a table next to a roaring fire—but enjoying melted cheese al fresco does have historic roots. Raclette, cheese melted right off the wheel and poured over potatoes, was long a staple of Alpine herders who needed long-lasting and locally abundant foods as they grazed their herds high in the mountains.

Closing up the backpack, I left a cash deposit and then hauled the pack onto my back—it was comfortably padded and had a waist harness for better weight balance, but it definitely felt like it held an iron pot and everything I’d need to make fondue on the go.

View of Wengen in Switzerland
View of Wengen from the Wengen to Männlichen gondola (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

If you haven’t visited the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps, here’s a quick primer: It’s almost painfully gorgeous, a mix of wildly vertical snow-capped peaks, jagged blue glaciers, and massive waterfalls skirted by rolling green hills blanketed in millions of wildflowers. Imagine the beauty centers of your brain constantly but pleasantly short-circuiting—that’s what it feels like to be here.

Now that we had the backpack, we needed a picnic destination. We’d already visited the thundering waterfall cave of Trummelbach, checked out the bustling main drag in Lauterbrunnen, taken the train up to Jungfraujoch, hiked through wildflower meadows and along rocky streams near Kleine Sheidegg, and taken the accidental thrill ride tram to Murren. We wanted new sights, so we set out toward Grindelwald, first taking the Wengen-Mannlichen gondola up, past mountain goats and avalanche fencing, and then back down a long valley via another gondola into Grindelwald.

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We thought we’d go check out Grindelwald First, an adventure park where you take a gondola up a mountain and then have the option to zipline, mountain trike, and trottibike (a scooter with brakes) back down. Quickly realizing that a fondue backpack is not compatible with downhill sports, we hiked until we found our spot: a picnic table at the edge of a rolling field of wildflowers framed by a dramatic view of the east face of Eiger, one of three massive mountains in this area.

As instructed, we unpacked the whole backpack so we knew what we were working with. We carefully laid out the camp stove (with extra fuel), iron fondue pot, lighters, fondue forks, small paper plates and napkins, fondue bread, spices, a container labeled “fondue,” and things to help with cleanup like aluminum foil and plastic bags.

As we dumped the sludge of cheese bits and fondue liquids into the pot, it wobbled on its tiny burner. No one said it out loud, but as we worked to balance the heavy pot on the little flame, I think we were all wondering if this was a joke after all, one that depended on unsuspecting fondue backpackers having little knowledge of Swiss culture or fondue mechanics. But then we found the just-right spot for the pot and watched as the cheese bits started to bubble, and after a few minutes turn to a ropy melty mass of aromatic bubbling cheese.

family around a picnic table eating fondue in Switzerland
Action shot of the fondue picnic (Photo: John Torcassi)

I don’t eat fondue often, but when I do, I go all in. As the mountain held up the sky in front of us, we dipped and twirled piece after piece of bread until the cheese sweats kicked in and we collapsed into the wildflowers and agreed that fondue should always be a picnic and all picnics should be this good.

And once the mild cheese hallucinations had passed, we packed up our gear and began the long hike—a perfect antidote to that much fondue—past cows languidly ringing their bells as they grazed, alongside wooden huts and waterfalls, back to the gondola and over the mountain.

Not a joke, not a unicorn, the fondue backpack is real.

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Christine Sarkis
A traveling parent and longtime travel writer and editor, Christine Sarkis is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of FamilyVacationist. She is the former Executive Editor for TripAdvisor travel magazine SmarterTravel.com, she has spent nearly two decades finding and sharing the best places to go with an audience of enthusiastic travelers. Her stories have appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her expert advice has been quoted in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, Here & Now, Life Kit, and California Now. Her stories have been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008, and she is working on a travel memoir. Christine and her husband first met in Paris, and travel remains a big part of their shared experience. With their two kids in tow, they have piloted a barge down canals in France, befriended llamas in Peru, tended olive trees in Italy, and gone snorkeling with sea turtles in Hawaii. The family lives in California and loves traveling around the state. Their California favorites include Yosemite National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, and the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.