Volksmarch Walks for Fun, Fitness, and Friendship

Non-competitive Walks Open for All to Enjoy

Volksmarch Starting Point with IVV Flag
Wendy Bumgardner ©

A volksmarch is a non-competitive walk hosted by a walking club but open to the public to come and enjoy. The purpose of the walk is to promote health, fun, and friendship rather than to support a charity. The clubs who host these events are allied with other clubs around the world through the International Volkssportverband (IVV) (International Federation of Popular Sports). They promote walking worldwide.

Origin of Volksmarch Walks

Volksmarching got its name from its origins in Europe, specifically in the Bavarian region of southern Germany. Volks can be translated from the German volk for "people" and march from marsch for walking or marching. It means "people's march" or "people's walk." Much like the Volkswagen is the people's car, volksmarches are walks for everyone.

Volksmarch walks have been organized in Europe since the early 1970s with the intent of being non-competitive and welcoming people of all ability levels. They are specifically untimed events, with awards or mementos given to everyone who participates. Nobody receives an award for crossing the finish line first. They were developed because the organizers thought sports had become so competitive that people were discouraged from getting physical activity.

Outside of Germany, clubs may use different words for volksmarch as the German term can be confusing.

 Synonyms for volksmarch include volkswalk, volksmarsch, volkssport walk, fun walk, traditional walk, year-round walk, IVV walk, and AVA walk.

Volksmarching Organizations

The term volksmarch is not trademarked, but it commonly used only for walks sanctioned by a walking club that is allied with the International Volkssportverband (IVV) (International Federation of Popular Sports) and which provides a credit stamp in IVV Individual Achievement Award books at the finish of the walk.

There are thousands of volkssport clubs around the world allied with the IVV. The clubs exist to host walking events that are open to the public to encourage healthy, fun physical activity. Clubs are under the umbrella of a national organization or are direct members of the IVV. In the USA, the parent organization is the American Volkssport Association, a non-profit organization. In Canada the parent organization is the Canadian Volkssport Federation, and in Britain it is the British Walking Association.

Kinds of Volksmarches

At a traditional volksmarch walk, the club maps out a route of a minimum of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). They mark the trail with ribbons or arrows for a specific day or weekend, or they may provide a map. Walkers are invited to join in at any time during a long start window (often four hours) so they can enjoy the trail at their convenience. Checkpoints and refreshments are usually provided every 3 miles along the way. A shorter route of 5 kilometers (3 miles) may also be provided.

A guided volksmarch walk is a group walk where the group all starts at the same time. The trail might not be marked and the walkers must stay with the group. Sometimes a map will be provided for those who want to separate from the group.

A year-round volksmarch or seasonal volksmarch is an unstaffed walk, open for months or for the entire year. Walkers pick up a map at a designated starting point and use it to guide themselves around the route. An online system of registering and delivering the maps and volkssport credit is being developed and may be available for some of these routes.

Where They Walk

Volksmarch walks are usually held outdoors. They include routes in parks, countryside, towns, historic areas, cities, and natural areas. The walking surface may be sidewalks, asphalt paths, or natural trails, and often walks have a combination of surfaces.

Walks are rated for difficulty. Often the scale is 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest, often flat and paved, and 5 being a mountainous walk on rough trails. Different national associations have specific grading systems that include letters for the type of trail surface.

What makes a volksmarch different from routes of fun runs is that they are designed by walkers to be enjoyed and savored. They typically include local parks, historic points of interest, and scenic areas. You are usually free to stop and enjoy the sights and amenities rather than feeling you need to get to the finish line.

Finding a Volksmarch

Calendars of volksmarch events and locations of year-round walks can be found on the web sites of the national volkssport organizations. You can find links for around the world at the IVV website.

You can register for most volksmarch walks at the starting point when you are ready to start the event. A small fee may be required, usually the equivalent of $3. You are often welcomed to join the local club and to buy IVV Individual Achievement Award Record Books to track your walks. These are optional but are a fun way to earn awards based on the number of volksmarch walks you enjoy.