How to Select a Hiking Trail: The Complete Guide for Beginners

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, over half of Americans discovered the joys of outdoor activities in 2020. Of these, 57.8 million people took part in hiking.

Are you eager to join the ranks of these adventurers? There are hiking trails to suit every level of outdoor enthusiast, but you’ll get the most enjoyment from your outing if you don’t go too big, too soon.

Rather, follow these tips on how to select a hiking trail that suits your aims and abilities.

Consider Location Carefully

Hiking is an excellent way to immerse yourself in new environments and discover some of the country’s most beautiful scenery. Yet, it’s always best to stick close to home if you’re heading out for the first time.

When you choose a nearby location, you’re already familiar with local weather patterns and any wildlife you might encounter along the way. It’s also best to choose a popular trail, so you’re likely to bump into other people as you go along, or at least go hiking with friends.

Anything can happen while you’re out on a hike, and even something small like a twisted ankle can turn into a disaster if you’re alone in the wilderness. For starters, you should aim to stick with the crowds, so help is at hand if you need it.

How Far Do You Want to Travel?

Beginner hikers should stick to a maximum of two to three miles long for their first time.

Choose an out-and-back trail for these inaugural efforts, but make sure you’re looking at the total hiking trail length when choosing one. You don’t want to discover that the trail is twice as long as anticipated when you get halfway through it.

As you get fitter and more experienced, you can opt for longer hikes and overnight or multi-day hikes.

Study the Difficulty Level of Different Hikes

Take a look at this snapshot of the Colorado 14ers ranked by difficulty, and you’ll soon discover that distance and difficulty are two vastly different things.

A lengthy hike across flat terrain is nowhere near as taxing as a short, steep climb. Research every hike before you attempt it.

You can do this by looking up reviews, reading hiking websites, or speaking to seasoned hikers about their experiences. The more information you have, the better choices you can make.

Some trails have clear markers along the way, while others aren’t as accommodating. Be sure to choose one that offers clear direction. It’s no fun getting lost while out hiking.

If you choose a hike that’s too difficult for your fitness levels or expertise, you’ll only end up tired, sore, and disillusioned along the way.

Select a Hiking Trail For Your Fitness Levels

There’s more to hiking than walking along admiring the views. Even easy hikes will have more challenging spots and may involve some scrambling and climbing sessions.

These pace and terrain changes mean you’ll tire more easily than when walking on a smooth surface, like a road.

If you’re fit enough to walk or run five miles comfortably, consider an easy seven-mile hike to challenge yourself. If you’re traversing more challenging terrain, rather opt for a hike of five miles or fewer.

Weight training, yoga, and other exercises that don’t enhance your endurance won’t prepare you adequately for the rigors of walking for hours.

The best way to prepare for hiking is by walking or running. Flexibility and strength will come in handy along the way, but alone they aren’t enough to help you stick out a tough hike until the end.

How High Can You Go?

hiking trail elevation gain refers to how far you’ll travel upwards during a hike. It’s not the same as elevation above sea level.

For instance, you could climb 500 feet, then descend 200 feet, and then climb another 400 feet for a total elevation gain of 900 feet, and an elevation loss of 200 feet.

Beginner hikers should avoid an elevation gain of over 500 feet unless they’re extremely fit. Even 500 ft proves quite challenging if you start at a high altitude.

The higher you go, the more air pressure decreases, and oxygen levels start to decline.

For every 1000 feet of elevation, the available oxygen declines by about 3%. That means you’ll feel tired sooner.

Elevation gain can also give you an idea of how steep the terrain is. A short hike with a large elevation gain is a steeper challenge than a short hike with a low elevation gain.

Terrain and Timing

Study the lie of the land before you head out hiking. Some hikes may include a necessity for wading, climbing, or bouldering.

When you know what to expect, it’s easier to prepare yourself mentally for these challenges and adjust your hiking gear checklist accordingly.

If you suffer from vertigo, you might feel uncomfortable taking on a hike with steep dropoffs to the side. If you’re hiking with children, some terrain might prove inaccessible for little people

The time of year you decide to go hiking affects more than the weather conditions for hiking. Some trails close during the off-season or prove inaccessible when it snows.

Seasonal rivers can provide unexpected difficulties along the way, too. Always speak to the custodian of the trail about current conditions before you go hiking.

They can advise you about potential detours in case of difficulties or warn you about slippery patches, muddy spots, and freshly-sprung watercourses you may encounter.

Take It Easy

Rather select a hiking trail that’s too easy than risking your safety on one that’s too advanced for your skills and fitness levels. Overconfidence can quickly spell disaster when you’re surrounded by wilderness.

Would you like some more common-sense tips and information? Browse our blog for all the best travel advice.


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