So you want to start hiking? I would be lying if I said success on the trail isn’t related to the hike you choose. It might seem obvious to choose a hike that coincides with your fitness ability but there are several important factors that will determine your success. Here are tips to consider for how to choose the perfect hike:
#1) Distance and Elevation
When researching hikes, do not be fooled by the distance. Elevation plays an equally important role in determining if the hike is right for you. For instance, if a 6km hike with zero elevation takes you an hour, a 6 km hike with 600 m of elevation is going to take you a lot longer!
#2) Terrain and Conditions
Terrain, conditions, and time of year all play an extremely important role in picking the right hike. A trail in early spring will look very different from the same trail in mid summer. Depending on the time of year, you will have to factor extra time for icy, muddy, and wet conditions. Apps such as All Trails are great for getting live updates and reports from fellow users on trail conditions. I wouldn’t rely on these apps as your main source of navigation but they are certainly helpful for conditions and difficulty. Consider if the trail is well groomed, and easy to navigate.
Fitness is an obvious factor but one that many often overestimate when choosing their hikes. If you’re coming from sea level and hiking in the Rockies, the trail may feel like a big undertaking due to the altitude that you are not yet used to. If this is the case, start with shorter and less steep hikes to build up tolerance. Additionally, you might be able to run 5-10km in the city every day, but a strenuous 10 km hike with a pack may be incredibly challenging. As a beginner, it’s best not to take your chances. Start small and take mental or physical notes of your experience. How tired did you feel? How out of breath were you? How much were you exerting yourself?
With each smaller hike, you can begin to gauge your hiking ability without risking a trail fail.
#4) Traffic + Accessibility
How busy and accessible is the trail? If you’re just starting out, choosing a hike that sees a lot of traffic may be the best option. Busier trails reduce your risk of having a bad wildlife encounter and ultimately gives peace of mind on the trail as you have access to more help if you should need it (although it’s important to be as self reliant as possible). Consider if the hike is easily accessible if there was an emergency. Is there cell coverage in the area in the event of an emergency? What kind of vehicle is needed to reach the trailhead (4×4, bike, etc).
Closing Thoughts on How to Choose the Perfect Hike
I sincerely believe that hiking is good for your soul and that everyone should take a hike at least once in a while! Everyone starts somewhere and if you’re just starting out, it’s important to hike your own hike! Begin slow, gauge your ability, and continue challenging yourself as you gain more experience (cautiously of course).
Please leave any comments or questions about choosing the right hike!