Like many other things, you have to start at the bottom and work up. That is definitely the case for hiking, too! When you choose to start hiking, it’s very important to pick a trail that is safe and lines up with how experienced you are. I say this because a lot of people make the mistake of going on longer, strenuous hikes for their first hike, and they quickly realize that they aren’t ready for that yet. I know you might want to see that waterfall at the end, but can you make it up 1,300 feet of elevation before reaching it? To know what trails are best for you, here’s a list of things to consider:
Know Your Limit/Fitness Level
One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to picking a trail is that they don’t put into account how active (or inactive) they are beforehand. Oftentimes, people look at the name of a trail, possibly check the mileage, and go. Or, more commonly, people know there’s a waterfall at the end of the trail that they want to see, yet they don’t stop to assess if they are physically in shape enough to handle or complete the trail to it. Because of this, these hikers will become exhausted halfway through. Their bodies may start aching, while their legs are feeling like jello, and have to turn around. No one wants to go on a hike and end up feeling miserable. If you’re wanting to spend some time in the woods, it’s important that you go on a trail that is safe and enjoyable for you. So, when you’re choosing a trail, think over these questions about your fitness level: Are you mildly, moderately, or highly active? Are you used to climbing hills or only walking flat?
Consider the Terrain
For your safety, above all things, consider the types of terrain that you will encounter on your hike. Will you have to climb big rocks? Cross creeks? Use a log as a bridge? Or walk on slick mud? Are you willing to have to grab trees around you to help pull you up? All of these can be dangerous if you aren’t used to them or don’t have the right gear. People don’t usually realize that not all trails are going to be perfectly cleared and flat. You may have to climb over fallen trees, watch for roots or rocks sticking up, or cross a creek using a log. Most of the time, tennis shoes are not a good choice of shoe to wear. They don’t have much traction, and you’re way more likely to slide on leaves, mud, or rocks wearing them. When you’re looking through trail options, pick a trail that you know is the safest option for your athletic ability and shoes you’re using.
Who’s Going With You?
Based on personal experience, there’s trails that I won’t go on unless someone is going to be there with me. There’s a few reasons for this. First, I don’t want to get lost. If I know there’s a good chance for me to come across some confusing trail crossings and endings, I will choose to do something that’s more simple to navigate. It’s so easy to get off of a trail and get lost, so I do my best to avoid that. Second, some trails are more difficult, and I may need an extra hand to help cross those creeks or climb the rocks. So, if you’re going alone, you have to be more aware of what trail you’re going on and how physically demanding it is. However, if you have a friend, you have an extra person to help keep y’all on the trail and help you climb. Last of all, some trails or parks are just sketchy looking. It’s best to have someone there just to be safe.
What Are You Looking for in a Trail?
Lots of people have their own personal preference on what they look for in a trail. Are you wanting a waterfall? Lots of elevation? Flatter trails? Long or short distance? Busy or secluded? Think about what you want to see and how difficult you want it to be, then do research to find a trail that matches your wants. When choosing, keep in mind your fitness level. You wouldn’t want to choose a hard trail just because there’s a waterfall at the end.
Please, be aware that not all trails are loops. If you choose a 5-mile out-and-back trail, there’s a good chance that they’re only giving you the miles it takes to reach the end, not adding what it takes to turn around and go back. So, usually this means it’s actually a 10-mile trail. On an out-and-back, the distance it takes to get to there is the same distance it will take to get back to the car. When choosing a trail, check and see what kind of trail it is. Is it a one-way trail? Or is it a loop? This is important! You don’t want to hike 6 miles and then realize you have to turn around and hike 6 more to get to the car.
There’s a lot of determining factors when it comes to choosing a trail. They all have to do with your safety. Hiking can be dangerous, and it’s up to you to choose a trail that best fits you and your capability. Too many times, people have gotten hurt going on trails that are way harder than what they’re prepared for. Think about what you can do, what you want to see, and hike on!
What’s your favorite kind of trail?