An Introduction to C.A.I. Italy’s Mountaineering Association

C.A.I. The Italian Alpine Club – Taking Care of Italy’s Trails and More

C.A.I. Club Alpino Italiano” is Italy’s principle Mountaineering Association. “CAI” rhymes with ‘sky’ and here we present a brief overview of what C.A.I. is all about.

About C.A.I.

The main Italian association responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the majority of Italy’s network of trails is the highly respected Italian Alpine Club – C.A.I.(Club Alpino Italiano). C.A.I.’s charter sets out to promote mountaineeringhiking and caving activities in all its forms throughout Italy.

Quintino Sella, C.A.I.'s founder
Quintino Sella, C.A.I.’s founder

Italian Alpine Club – How It Started

C.A.I.’s origins date back to the nineteenth century when ‘climbing mountains’ was a pastime enjoyed by a select few…

It was on August the 12th 1863, during the first all-Italian ascent of the tallest mountain in the Cottian Alps in Piedmont: the imposing 3,841 meter Monviso, that the idea of forming an association of like minded individuals came to an intrepid group of Alpinists: Quintino Sella, Giovanni Baracco and brothers Paolo and Giacinto Ballada de Saint Robert.

Keen to set up a group similar to the English Alpine Club (established in 1857), their idea soon blossomed into reality.

Present Day C.A.I.

Today the Club Alpino Italiano has members worldwide. In Italy alone there are over 450 local sections that are responsible not only for the maintenance and signage of much of Italy’s network of trails, but also for coordinating a diverse range of mountain and outdoor activities in the Italian Alps and ApenninesC.A.I. also carries out scientific research and operates specialized mountain rescue services.

Many local CAI branches will have their own specific, independent projects according to the needs and requirements of the local community, for example the CAI section in Parma has its own choir, has photographic exhibitions, and promotes a film festivals.

On the official website, you can read the details (in Italian) on how to become a C.A.I. member.

Maintaining the Trails

These are the people responsible for the maintenance and waymarkings of roughly 60,000 km of Italian Trails, which is a huge task if you consider the diversity in types of trails! From simple dirt roads with no elevation, to extremely technical paths and Via Ferrata – and then add just about everything in between!

Training and Studies

Education also plays a major part in C.A.I.’s structured activities, with ongoing training in specific matters relating to mountaineering, a variety of winter and summer sports, trail maintenance and whatever subjects local sections concentrate upon – both for the general public and also for instructors and guides.

Activities and Things To Do

Local branches organise activities such as day hikes, walks and various multi day activities, open both to members and non members alike. Most subsections will have a Calendar of events, with activities graded towards: families, beginners, a more experienced hiker, and also to extreme multi-day expeditions. Often C.A.I. will be the local referral point for all things ‘mountain related’ in a specific community.

If you are coming to Italy and interested in mountains it makes sense to check out the local C.A.I. branch at your destination and see if there are any activities going on. Information may only be in Italian, but with online translation, and an inquiry email, you should be able to get information should you need it.

Rifugio Vandelli

C.A.I Italy’s Mountain Huts and Refuges

Along many of Italy’s trails you’ll find strategically positioned mountain huts, known as “Rifugi”. Many are operated by the Club Alpino Italiano. Services can vary from fully staffed, offering fully fledged restaurants, private rooms and dormitories, and items such as maps and souvenirs on sale, to unstaffed basic emergency shelter. In between there’s a huge variety. If you want to stay in a mountain hut, it’s best to book ahead as they tend to fill up quickly in the summer.
You can consult the C.A.I.s online database of mountain Rifugi and bivouacs on the official Cai Website.

C.A.I. Mapping, Grading and Classifications

Mapping the network of Trails, signage and waymarking are all part of the Italian Alpine Club’s activities and it goes without saying that the Alpine Club has a standard procedure and method for how trails are waymarked, along with grading the types of different trails according to their difficulty.

C.A.I. Store & Publications

The Italian Alpine Club also operates as a stand-alone Publishing Company, (as well as in partnership with other Publishers) publishing a variety of books, magazines, area guidebooks and manuals. These are available online at the C.A.I. Store – and in local bookshops and sometimes ‘edicola’ (newsagent kiosks) along with a various other C.A.I. branded items, from clothes to mountain accessories.

Alpine Rescue Service CNAS

The Alpine Rescue Service – CNAS Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico, was set up in 1954. More than 7000 specialist trained Mountain rescuers are involved with issues regarding prevention, safety and rescue missions. They are mainly operative throughout the Alps and Apennines.

Official C.A.I. Website:


by Maria E. Bellini
This article first appeared on, a personal project that was live for 3 years – 2016-19. 


Maria E. BelliniMaria Elisabetta Bellini, born in the U.K, she came to running whilst living in Italy, where she still lives and trains. Never ceasing to marvel at what’s at the summit of a hill, or around the bend along the trail, she loves using trail running as a means to explore nature, contemplation and Italy.