Hiking is a great way to stay in shape and it’s also easy on joints. But, if you decide to start hiking there is one crucial element to consider: your route. Choosing a path for your hike is important for your safety, well-being, and peace of mind. So what should you consider when choosing a hiking route?
Time – Ask yourself how much time you have for a hike: A few hours? A half-day? A whole day? How much time you have to complete a hike will ultimately determine what trail you choose. You don’t want to rush through a hike because you don’t have enough time. A large part of hiking is taking the time to enjoy the journey along the way!
Distance – Consider how long you are comfortable walking for. It’s best to hike a distance that’s a little shorter than a distance you can walk on a regular surface (i.e. sidewalks or a level surface). Once you’ve completed a few hikes you’ll have a better idea of how far you can go.
Fitness Level – Before you even start to look at different trails, take a moment to assess what your current fitness levels are. The last thing you want is to be suffering on the trail because it’s too tough. You also don’t want to be in a position where you’re too tired to finish out the trail as well. Overall, choosing a route outside of your fitness level is not fun. There’s no need to worry though, there are plenty of trails / hikes for all.
Terrain – One large factor to consider when choosing a trail is elevation. The amount of elevation gain and loss on a trail significantly plays into the level of difficulty. REI reveals that a decent point of reference is “if a trail gains 1,000 feet in one mile” it’s pretty steep. You should also add one hour to your excursion for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Weather – The weather plays a large factor in where and when you hike. Take into consideration what season you’re hiking in, during the spring months trails might be snowy, wet, or muddy. In the fall, the sun sets earlier so plan your trips accordingly. Before you hit the trail it’s also a good idea to check the weather. From this information, you’ll be able to determine what to wear and pack.
General Safety – There are multiple safety guidelines you should follow before and during your hike. As soon as your itinerary is set, tell someone who’s not going on the hike your route and when you’ll be back. You can also carry an emergency assistance tracker (like a SPOT tracker) in case something bad happens. Additionally, make sure you pack the 10 essentials (or systems) in your pack. According to Liftopia this includes:
- Navigation (map & compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)
You may not need all of these items depending on the time and distance of your hike.