I remember the first time I attempted an actual hike. Growing up, I was always interesting in the outdoors and spent a lot of time exploring the very flat woodsy Florida landscape. With mountainous terrain obviously being shortage, and a family that didn’t share the same passion for nature as I did, I did not get to spend much time in the mountains.
It wasn’t until college when I got to spend a week in Tennessee near Great Smoky Mountains National Park with great friends that I got to attempt a mountain trail. We didn’t do much research and we decided to wing our exploration, which is totally fine. But if we had known a little more about the trail we would have known that we would need crampons as we got higher in elevation to avoid slipping off the side of the mountain when there was no snow or ice on the ground from which we started.
So how do you choose a hike?
To answer this question you need to evaluate what you want to accomplish from a hike and in what physical condition you are in. Perhaps you want a physically demanding hike that ends in a scenic view, a waterfall, or a chance to view wildlife. Or maybe you want a little bit of everything. With a little research you can surely find exactly what you are interested in.
Hikes are generally classified as either frontcountry or backcountry. Hikes in the “frontcountry” are in more developed areas and are easily accessible by roads. Trails are more defined and mostly maintained. These trails are generally short day hikes like nature trails.
Backcountry hikes take you further into the wilderness and are generally encompassed of rougher terrain. Look for backcountry hikes to be longer in distance. Defined trails are usually marked with painted directional markers called blazes or stacks of rocks used as waypoints called cairns.
There are various shapes of trails that you have to take into account when planning distance.
Loops are a roundtrip circular trail shape. You will end at the same point that you began.
Out-and-back (or in-and-out) trails are a one way trail shape that ends in a point of interest such as a vista or a waterfall. On an out-and-back, you will turn around and go back the way you came.
Other trail shapes include a lollipop, which is a combination between a loop and an out-and-back, making the shape of a lollipop. There are also point-to-point hikes which are very long distance one-way hikes that you take a shuttle or arrange a ride at the end.
There is a ton of information out on the web that documents first hand accounts of hikers experiences. Mobile apps like AllTrails lets users review trails and record their routes for others to view. But possibly the most valuable resource on the day of a hike is to have a quick chat with a park ranger. Rangers can provide the most up to date information on trail conditions, expected weather conditions and any reports from the area. The best part is, rangers will recommend other hiking options if a trail isn’t feasible.
It is very important to respect nature when you are out on the trails. Staying on the designated trail and packing out anything you bring in ensures that you leave as minimal impact on the ecosystem as possible. Remember the rule of thumb is to “leave no trace.”
The equipment that you should carry with you all depends on the type of hike that you attempt. On a short nature hike, I will often carry just a bottle of water and a few other items in with me. On a backcountry backpack, my pack will be loaded with everything I need to survive my time in wilderness. Conditions can change rapidly out in nature so you should be prepared for whatever is thrown at you. With that being said, you can follow this generic pack list and adapt it to your specific needs.
I am right in my element when I am out on the trails and hiking is one of my favorite pastimes. I recommend that everyone attempt it at some point and I hope that these tips can get you on your way!