For someone new to hiking, it can be a bit daunting when you are trying to get out on the trail for the first time. There is a fair bit to think about before you set out.
The day hiking checklist is extensive when you’re new to it all. In this post I want to look one of the many items on that list that a new hiker needs to take into consideration. That is, how to you choose the right trail for a hike.
This of course gets easier and easier with experience but it always plays a part in your planning, even for the most experienced hikers, you always need to be aware and check on many things to confirm that a particular trail or route is right for you. OK, although we’re going to assume that the hiker who is the subject of this article is new to hiking and so needs to start from the basics when picking a route, the same things apply to experienced hikers too. Let’s kick on!
The trail you take on, will need to match up to your level of fitness and capability. If you never hike more than 3 miles in your normal run of things, setting out on a 10 mile hike is of course not a smart idea. Your body will not be able to jump to that kind of exertion.
Next up, in terms of fitness, take the activity itself into consideration. What I mean by that can be illustrated by a personal example. My ex girlfriend was a Pilates and Yoga teacher, so obviously pretty fit with good core strength. However, when she came out on hikes with me, she could often struggle at times and found the going, even on short hikes, tough.
Why would that be, she is very fit after all? Well, you need to factor in the activity. Being very fit from doing Pilates and Yoga, may not necessarily transfer over to hiking 10 miles. It’s a different kind of fitness. Another area I have seen this a lot in is people who are into strength training and weight lifting, as I am myself a bit. If you have good conditioning, it should be a good help to your hiking, but strength from doing weights does not necessarily transfer across.
We’re of course always looking at aerobic or anaerobic exercises which can deliver different things in terms of fitness. You’d be surprised how many people automatically assume their normal training transfers across to hiking. If you’re not used to hiking, your body needs to adjust, just like for any new activity. Some will do it faster than others of course, but most people have to go through some period of adaptation.
Bottom line, when you’re choosing your first trail for your initial hikes, choose something that is well within your comfort zone. It will give you a good feel for what you are capable of. It can be OK to push it a little bit, for example, say if you run 3 miles regularly, maybe try a 5 mile hike and see how you get on. That should be within your reach, but be sensible, only you know what works best for you 🙂
Ideally, on your first time out, when deciding where to go for a hike, pick an area you know or at least near to you. Why does that matter? Well, you already know the climate, the temperature at the time of year (Although bear in mind it will get cooler as you gain altitude), what wildlife you may have to consider and so on.
Now, in saying that, you will likely be going into a more wilderness type area and with that in mind, you should still check up these same items as you may well encounter a whole range of different things in a more wilderness area. For example, as already mentioned, the weather can change significantly as you hike up a mountain, there may be wildlife that you don’t normally encounter that you need to think about, etc..
When thinking about location when starting out hiking, it’s a good idea to pick a place that is popular i.e. so you will encounter other folks on the trail. As you’re just starting out, you never know what may happen and so you want to be as safe as possible in the location you choose. If, heaven forbid, something was to happen to you and you couldn’t get help, if there are people around, there is more chance of being found and getting help if you need it.
This kind of ties in with fitness, but assuming you go to a well established area for your initial hikes, there is a good chance there will be well established trails that are split out into levels of difficulty. An example is listed below:
Hiking on obvious trails that are easy to follow and are well maintained, minimal height gain and less distance
Longer distance with more ascent and potential off trail segments i.e. over tougher terrain
Longer trails with much more up and down with more height gain, potentially more off trail and challenging terrain to negotiate e.g. scree, rocky areas, etc.
Basic trail maps are also often available to buy in information stations so you can find your way around.
Of course, you may want a challenge but again, be sensible! Pick something that is well within your capability. It’s fine to push the boat out a bit and challenge yourself but just do it in a sensible manner.
If you’re unsure, start of on an easy level of difficulty and you can work up as you get used to the different challenges available. In fact, you may do a basic trail and find that you’re happy to stay at that level, no more difficulty required! That’s totally cool too.
Again, at the start, the best advice it to stick to well marked, even signposted, trails to be sure you don’t get lost. I do not recommend going off trail when you are only starting with hiking, you need to get some proper experience under your belt before even considering that.
By the way, just because trails are popular and well sign posted, it doesn’t mean they aren’t challenging. There are plenty of well marked popular trails all over the world that are challenging, even to experienced hikers!
I am not against this is you have followed all the items listed above. If you’re in a well established area with decent foot traffic, you are probably safe to go out alone as long as you take sensible precautions e.g. tell people where you are going and when you should be back, etc.
Ideally, going out with a few people is better. If something happens to one or more of you, there are others there ready to act to get help. I don’t mean to flog a dead horse but it can’t be emphasized enough … be sensible about what you decide to do always keeping your safety in mind and you will most likely be fine.
This is a HUGE topic and one you need to spend time learning more about as you get more and more into hiking. If you’re just starting out, and getting a flavor for the trail and sticking to well known trails, you don’t need to spend a fortune on gear at the start.
The overall point here is that if you’re choosing a hiking trail you should be sure you have appropriate gear with you for that trail. If you expect rain, have a good rain jacket and suitable hiking pants, if the sun will be strong, you need a good sun hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, etc. you get the idea, bring gear appropriate to the challenge of the trail and its location.
This should probably be first on the agenda but it really encompasses everything else that has already been listed, as at the end of the day, it’s all about staying safe! Whatever you do, don’t put yourself at risk and be sure you have a plan and know how to get help in an emergency.
Don’t take on more than you can chew and be sure to check out the basics like:
- Weather on the day
- The nature of the trail you are taking i.e. terrain, altitude gain, etc.
- What gear you should have
- You have a fully charged phone (There is hopefully reception)
- You let people know where you are going, what route you will take and when they should expect you back, etc.
- You have adequate food and water with you
- Any other safety concerns you should think about e.g. wildlife, access restrictions, etc.
There is a lot to consider when it comes to staying safe on the trail for sure, but a little thinking and planning in advance becomes second nature in no time!
I hope you found this short article on how to choose the right hiking trail useful. While it is aimed more at the beginner hiker, as mentioned at the start, it is always relevant to all hikers, on all trails!
Always think safety first and how you can maximize the enjoyment of your day without taking any unnecessary risks. I think it is fine to push the boat out a little but only within your capabilities, in a safe and sensible (there’s that word again) manner.
I lead groups in the mountains and one of the biggest causes of people getting into difficulty in the mountains that I have come across, is bad preparation and lack of knowledge. I would guess that 95% of this is easily preventable, and there is plenty of information to keep you safe, that is freely available before you ever set out.
Get online and do some research about all you need to prepare for, or even better speak with someone who has hiked the trail you want to hike, hiking clubs and associations are an excellent resource for this.
To conclude, whatever you do, choose your initial trails to hike on wisely and be sure to always stay safe. I hope you found this useful, please like and share it if you did!