You’ve always wanted to experience the beauty of the outdoors and see nature in all its splendor. You’ve broken your hiking boots in, found a great insulated water bottle, and bought some cool new gear for your trip. Now what? How do you know which trail is the right one for you? There are many factors that go into choosing the right trail, especially if you are a hiking beginner. Read through this beginner hiking guide, even if you are an experienced hiker, as it’s still important to know the route and difficulty level before you get started.
Do Some Online Trail Research
As any beginner hiking guide will tell you, research the trail. Many trails have online resources where you can find ratings and reviews of previous hikers’ experiences. This is a helpful place to start when looking for a good trail. Many well-known trails even have their own websites where hikers can find safety information, trail rules, and different routes. Always research the length of the trail to determine how much gear and water you will need, as well as how early you will need to start in order to finish before sunset. For a longer all-day hike, review our hiking backpack guide to learn about what size and features are right for you.
Find a Level That Suits Your Experience
Just because you want a challenge, doesn’t mean you should jump straight into an expert level trail. Hiking is challenging all on its own. If you are a new hiker in search of some adventure, try starting with a beginner’s hike. If you consider yourself athletic, but don’t hike trails often, an intermediate hike might be for you. Only try difficult or expert levels if you are an experienced hiker or have trained for the hike and know what to expect. A difficulty level that is too hard could lead to injuries or accidents.
Consider Distance and Elevation
Preparing for an all-day hiking adventure is exciting. With the proper gear and right knowledge, you can truly have a hiking experience to remember. However, just because a hike looks easy from the trailhead doesn’t mean elevation gain and long distances won’t tire your body out quicker. Elevation is a huge factor in a hike because it thins the air, making it harder to breathe. Traveling many miles can be strenuous on the body when you aren’t prepared with enough water or the right hiking shoes or boots. Plan for these things before the hike.
Determine Your Trail Class Level
Next on this beginner hiking guide is to determine your trail class level. If the trail you are embarking on uses this kind of scale to measure its difficulty, be sure you know which class you feel comfortable with and that it aligns with the hike you are preparing for. You want the hike to be in your comfort zone. For example, a class 1 trail is minimal distance and elevation with little to no rough terrain to slow you down, while a class 5 (the highest level of difficulty), is actually considered a climb instead of a hike. Hiking a class 4 trail when you’re only at a beginner level can be dangerous. The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service has its own classification system. Do not confuse the two trail class systems!
A Class I Trail has very little elevation gains and comparatively smooth terrain with little to no obstacles. This is a low-risk trail with clear paths and marks and can take as little as a few hours or half-day to complete. A Class 1 is a perfect trail for beginners.
This trail is slightly more difficult than a Class 1 trail with the possibility for more elevation gain and rougher terrain. A Class 2 trail has a moderate level of difficulty due to more obstacles and sometimes further distances. For these types of trails, hiking boots or shoes are recommended, but no technical gear is required.
Class 3 trails include rough terrain and many obstacles such as large rocks that you might have to physically climb at times and steep slopes. There is typically much more elevation gain with a Class 3 trail, sometimes up to 14,000 feet. A Class 3 will most likely be an all-day adventure to complete. This class is recommended for experienced and advanced hikers.
This trail is for the thrill-seekers who feel like they need more of a challenge. A Class 4 includes all of the challenges of a Class 3 hike, but with more technical climbing on extremely difficult terrain. This hike might require camping overnight to complete the trail. These trails might require ropes and harnesses at some points during the climb.
This is the hardest level of climbing because it requires gear such as ropes, harnesses, climbing shoes, and helmets. This strenuous climb could require overnight or multi-day camping to complete. This trail is best for advanced or professional climbers.
By choosing the perfect trail, you’ll not only be seeing nature in all its natural glory, but you’ll have a great time doing so. Preparing ahead of time will truly make the difference between a great hiking experience and a horrible one. If hiking isn’t your thing, maybe you can find your thrill on a bike ride or a visit to your nearest mountain resort. But, if you decide to tackle the trails, remember that you can find much of your hiking needs at your local Sun & Ski Sports.