Finding the Best Hike for Your Skill Level March 12 2013

Hiking is a one size fits all outdoor activity. Beginners, experienced outdoor lovers, the young, the old, families, singles: it doesn’t matter. Everyone can hike. But, while anyone can hit the trails, not every trail is for everyone. Learning to find the best hiking trails for your needs will make hiking more enjoyable and safe.

Start with a Plan

The right hike depends on the right plan. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

·      Skill Level- There are hiking trails for every skill level. You’ll find fully paved and clearly marked trails, smooth dirt paths and (for the experienced hiker) rugged trails with water crossings and rocks to climb. Start small and build up. While a difficult trail can be exhilarating to someone with experience, it is miserable and potentially dangerous if you aren’t ready for it.

·      Other Hikers in Your Group- If you’re hiking with others it is important to consider the abilities of every hiker in your group. It is generally best to choose a hike with the skills of the least experienced hiker in mind. This is especially important when hiking with children; no one wants to lug a tired toddler a couple miles back to the car.

·      Time- Aim to return to your vehicle well before sunset so you won’t be stuck in the dark should something unexpected happen. If you’re hiking a new trail, factor in the additional time needed for finding trail markers and dealing with unplanned obstacles.

Utilize Maps

A good hiking map is essential for a successful hike. Often several hikes start in the same location and may follow a similar route for a period of time. Without a map, staying on your course can be difficult and you may find yourself on a 10-mile expert hike when you meant to do a one mile loop. While many hiking areas will have a posted hiking map at their trailhead, I recommend planning ahead and taking a printed map or written directions along with you. Maps can also help you to find a new course if you need to shorten a hike midway.

Maps can be printed online, requested in advance from the Bureau of Land Management or State and National Parks Services or found at rangers’ stations and visitors’ centers.

Understand the Different Types of Hikes Available

To help you understand the terminology on your hiking map, here are some common hiking trail terms:

·      Loop- As the name implies a loop trail is a circle with the same start and end point. This type of trail can be great for beginners and families, especially if you choose a shorter trail. You know exactly how far you’ll need to hike and you won’t see the same scenery twice.

·      Out and Back- Out and back trails take you out to a certain point and back. Usually the distance listed is a there and back distance, but often you’ll hike the trail twice (once getting there and once coming back).

·      Point-to-Point- Point-to-point trails can be a lot of fun, but you generally need someone to drop you off and pick you up if you’re going to tackle one of these trails. You’ll hike from your starting point to an entirely different end point, potentially miles away. Some areas offer bus services that can help you make your way back after a hike, but always check before you head out to make sure the service is running and to confirm times.

·      Day Trails- If you want a short hike (one that can be completed in a day) you’ll want a day trail. These trails are shorter and can be completed anywhere from an hour to an afternoon. You’ll need to bring water and snacks, but you can leave your camping gear at home.

·      Long Distance (or backpacking) Trails- If you are planning on hiking a great distance, a backpacking trail might be just what you’re looking for. These trails allow camping along the way so you can hike, sleep and hike some more. Generally the camping is primitive camping, so you’ll bring everything you need including a tent, water (or a filtration device) and food.

Today is a great day for a hike. So put on your hiking boots, grab your map and hit the trail.