With summer approaching, many of you are probably starting to make plans for potential vacations. How about a hike?
While many people opt for relaxing beaches or exciting cityscapes, others want an experience that will combine relaxation, beautiful scenery, and a bit of a challenge.
If you’re looking for a great vacation activity that includes the great outdoors, hiking may be just what you’re looking for.
The idea of a hike, however, might seem overwhelming for some, and impossible for others. They might say to themselves, “where do I begin?”
With so many different hikes to choose from, especially just in the USA alone, it can feel daunting to choose the one that’s right for you and your skill level.
Choosing the right hiking trail can be a challenge, however, since there is a multitude of options ranging from beginner day hikes to week-long backpacking adventures.
There are so many things that go into choosing the right hike- the distance, the geographical location, the scenery, the difficulty level, terrain, the list goes on and on.
You want to ensure that you’re challenging yourself a little bit, but not too much since you’re still supposed to be on vacation! Not only that, but if you’re bringing the family along, it can definitely change up the dynamics.
Here are some tips to help you sort through the stats indicated on most trail finder apps and websites and choose the right hiking trip for you and anyone with you.
4 Ways to Make Sure You’re Choosing the Right Hike
Understand the Stats
If you’re a beginning hiker, the plethora of stats available on trail-finding websites may be overwhelming and confusing.
Here are some of the stats that you’ll see and how they might factor into your decision on what trail to choose.
Distance is one of the most important factors to consider. Make sure to check whether you’re looking at the full roundtrip distance – these are often referred to as out-and-back trails or distances.
Less experienced hikers will want a shorter route of 2-3 miles, while more experienced hikers will appreciate a 6-8 mile range.
An all-day hike will generally be in the 10-12 mile range depending on the elevation and difficulty of the trail – anything longer, and you’ll be looking at a backpacking or camping trail.
Elevation gain indicates the total elevation you’ll climb over the course of the hike. For rookie hikers, look for trails that have less than 500 feet of elevation gain – this may not sound like a lot, but especially for shorter hikes, a small amount of elevation gain can quickly make for a steep and strenuous trail.
Finally, look at the terrain and any potential weather or seasonal hazards. Many trail-finding sites will have comment sections, and these are a great resource if the information in the entry is sparse.
Potential terrain hazards include streams, drop-offs on the side of the trail, and rocky sections of the trail. Seasonal hazards can include seasonal rivers, snowmaking the trail difficult to see or hike through, and muddy trails due to spring rain.
Decide on the Challenge for You (And Those With You)
After understanding the stats, it’s time to decide what kind of challenge you and those who are going with you are up for.
Generally speaking, it’s better to be safe than sorry, starting with beginner-level trails and then gradually building up your strength and stamina.
Even if you’re a more experienced hiker, make sure to keep the experience and fitness level of everyone in your group in mind.
Children, older friends, and friends with issues such as joint pain will need special consideration, and you should look for trails that will take these factors into account. If you’re planning on hiking with your dog, consider how active and well-behaved your pet is likely to be.
The last thing you want is to be stuck hours from your car in an uncomfortable or even dangerous situation. Make sure to do whatever research you can about the trail and download maps and trail guides in case of poor or no phone signal.
Before you go on your hike, if possible, stop by the information stand at the state park! There, you will be able to find physical maps and locations of trail markers. This is helpful to keep you from getting lost while you’re out there.
Make sure you bring along plenty of water and any food you think you may need for the length of hike you’re going on. Staying hydrated is important in general, but especially if you’re out on a hike. We’ve all seen survival shows where people start to panic because they’re out of the water!
If there’s a chance of being out after dark, bring along a flashlight or headlamp so you can easily read trail markers, and always bring along a small first aid kit.
Finally, check the weather conditions before you head out – you don’t want to be caught in the rain without a raincoat or poncho.
Consider a Guided Hike
If it’s your first time hiking and you aren’t confident in your ability to handle unexpected situations that may arise, consider taking a guided hike to build up your confidence and ability.
There are a plethora of guided hikes available, such as these hiking tours in Phoenix, AZ.
Since hiking guides will be trained in first aid and other emergency situations, you won’t have to worry about that possibility, and many guides will be well-versed in interesting natural features and wildlife in the area.
This is a great option for beginners who want to ease into hiking instead of going all out and dealing with everything themselves. This is a great way to just test the waters!
This guide is helpful for hikers who frequently set out on expeditions as well as novices who have maybe only been on a handful in their lifetime. These basic tips are relevant no matter the experience level!
By understanding the basic information about the hike you’re choosing, you’re ensuring that you are not going into it blindly. This is not only the safer method but also enhances your enjoyment! You can make sure you’re not choosing a hike that’s too difficult or too boring.
Remember to communicate with others if you’re going with friends or family! Just because you’re ready for a 10-mile hike, it doesn’t mean that your in-laws will be. This is often easy to overlook, but setting a goal and an intention before your hike is super important.
As always, be prepared with plenty of healthy snacks and water. Stay hydrated and pay attention to trail markers and your surroundings. It’s always a good idea to bring a few safety tools with you like bandaids, flashlights, and pocket knives just in case.
If you still aren’t sure about embarking on a hike by yourself, you can always choose to go on a guided hike with an experienced guide. This is an option that is often forgotten about but can be beneficial if you’re new to hiking or new to the area in general.
Finally, if you’re looking for safety essentials to bring with you while you’re hiking, we’ve got a guide for that too!