I am considering a late October trek through the boundary area between Ticino (Switzerland) and Verbano Cusio Ossola (Italy), including the Valle Cravariola. This takes be along several bivouacs and rifugi on both sides of the border. Because camping may be difficult and of unclear legality (although I suspect bans would not be enforced much in this time and place), I am considering to sleep in mountain huts, passing along such huts or bivouacs as Campolatte, Sironi, Bonasson in Italy (operated by the Clup Alpino Italiano (CAI)) and Grossalp in Switzerland (operated by the Unione Ticinese Operai Escursionisti (UTOE)). The Grossalp hut is open year-round, but how is it for the Italian huts? I do not expect any huts to be staffed in late October, but is there still an open part where I can sleep? If yes, do I need a key (Wikipedia mentions the Alpenvereinsschlüssel)?
I seem to remember being told that Italian huts will have an emergency shelter room as well.
In any case, this emergency shelter may not be meant for people who stay there over night during a planned trip: it is meant for proper emergencies.
I've seen signs saying "to stay while not staffed, please contact (phone number of someone from the local CAI section)". So for planning a tour, I'd email or call the respective section of the CAI about the possibility to stay in/at/near the hut for one night.
One slightly off-topic info: I had the impression that in the Italian alps huts that do not belong to the Alpine Club and in consequence are not bound by the Alpine Club prices (= also: need to operate economically on their own) are more frequent than in other parts of the Alps (Austria, Germany, Slovenia).
All over the Alps the huts and bivouacs can be divided into:
- available to anyone when unstaffed (some require key and registration, some not)
- available only in emergency when unstaffed
- open all year round
You have to check each one individually.
For huts on the Swiss side, Swiss Alpine Club website provides all the information: https://www.sac-cas.ch/en/huts-and-tours/sac-route-portal/