How To Choose A Hiking Trail: 6 Factors To Consider

Rilor Staff
Update: November 24, 2021
Table of Contents

It is crucial that you know how to choose a hiking trail. As a hiker or outdoor enthusiast, you may need to assess which paths and routes are suitable for your skills and experience. 

Always remember that not all of us have the same pedigree when it comes to hiking. Others are already looking for a challenge, while others simply want to hike to have fun. If you want to introduce hiking to a friend or family member, you may also want to narrow down your choices for hiking trails. 

Here, I will try my best to give you some tested-and-proven recommendations so that you can step on the best trail possible on your next trip. Whether you are hiking alone or going out with a company, the guidelines below should help you out. 

How To Choose A Hiking Trail

For those who are new to hiking, picking a trail can be confusing, especially if you have many options to choose from.

It is always recommended that first-timers should only take trails that aren't too difficult. You should have a good "feel" about the hike. In this way, you'll get conditioned and optimistic for your next adventure. If your first hiking trip is bad, you wouldn't want to look forward to another one, right? 

Even if you are already a seasoned hiker, a refresher course is still not that bad? 

Elevation Of The Trail

When it comes to choosing hiking trails, you should check elevation gains first. The latter is the actual elevation of a given trail. Suppose you have climbed a 1000-foot trail then descended for at least 100 feet. After the descent, you hiked another 400 feet. In this particular example, the elevation gain would be around 1,400 feet. 

For beginners, the ideal hike should be on trails that have elevation gains that don't exceed 500 feet. If you are extremely fit and physically conditioned, you may add more elevation to your climb. Technically speaking, a 1000-foot elevation isn't that a big deal for experienced hikers. But for amateurs, it is quite exhausting.

Keep in mind that the elevation gain of short trails is more physically straining than in long trails. Specifically, if the trail is short and features excessive elevation gain, that simply means that it is a steep route. Hiking it would be extremely rigorous. Hence, they aren't suitable for amateurs. 

Trail Distance

Of course, you should never discount the distance of a hiking trail. Needless to say, some of these routes are short, while others will require several days before you can finish them. 

Out-and-back trails are suitable for hikers for any skill level. The term "out-and-back" means that the trail is a roundtrip. It will begin and end in a particular part of the route. An out-and-back trail can be composed of multiple trails that converge in a single path. With an out-and-back trail, the distance you need to cover is minimal, as you can just cover the same route you have taken if you are going to leave already. 

Some hikers opt not to take out-and-back trails, especially those who are looking for a challenge. Others also wanted to enter a particular route and exit on another destination as a way to test their endurance and enjoy the changing landscapes around them. 

For beginners, the ideal hiking distance should be around two to three miles (this is already a roundtrip in an out-and-back trail). This distance can be exhausting already, and you might need to have some preparation to ensure that you are physically fit to encompass the route. And, of course, having the correct hiking gear can really make the difference. 

You will understand your limits on your first trip. If you think you can do more, you should start increasing the distance in your succeeding hikes. Oppositely, if you feel exhausted, you might want to continue hiking the same distance until such time you have the endurance to scale longer trips.

Season And Weather

Of course, you should never forget to assess the weather when picking hiking trails. Some of these trails are very welcoming during the summer but unforgiving in the winter.

For starters, I suggest that you search for trails that are always accessible throughout the year. You wouldn't want to get caught off guard by the changing nature of some of these trails when there's a sudden rain or snow. 

Certain unexpected situations will require you to take a detour so that you can avoid floods and snow-covered terrains. These unpredictable changes in the weather would cause delays in your trip, which, in turn, could make things unfavorable on your part. 

Hiking during winter is a thing for many hikers. But if you are still new to hiking, I suggest that you set aside that endeavor. After all, hiking requires mastery and experience. And you can only attain these things if you have climbed many terrains already. 

Hence, I recommend that you schedule your trip during fine weather--probably during summer or spring. Also, pay attention to the weather forecast a week before your trip. We all know the drill already: Mother Nature can get whimsical. 

Type Of Terrain

When choosing a hiking trail, you should factor in not just the distance or elevation gain. You also need to understand the physical layout of the terrain. Specifically, you need to grasp the kind of environment that you'll encounter once you are on the route. 

After all, some of you aren't just comfortable with the idea of passing through rivers and streams. Meanwhile, some may also want to experience the thrill of climbing boulders or ascending on snowy paths. 

We all have our respective cups of tea when it comes to the challenges we want to take. Hence, you must know these details so that you can prepare yourself adequately. It will also help you decide the type of hiking equipment and gear that you should bring. 

Of course, some trails are technically unsurmountable for amateurs. Don't go to those routes where there are steep summits and ascents. Those who aren't comfortable with extreme heights are not compelled to steer their way on cliffs and canyons. 


Also, don't forget that some hiking trails are more well-marked than others. These navigational posts will prevent you from veering away from the path and losing your way (literally) in the process. 

If you are still not trained to do basic outdoor navigation, then I suggest that you look for established trails that you can easily follow. But of course, you should know by now that learning how to read maps and use compasses are necessary skills for every hiker.

Crowd And Congestion

Some of us want to hike to commune with nature or to explore the wonders it offers, effectively leaving the noise and bustle of the concrete jungle. 

Keep in mind that many popular trails are crowded for the most part of the year. If you don't want to come across other groups of hikers along the way, you might want to pick those hiking spots that are not that congested with people. These areas may not be as well-maintained and easy to follow as those most-sought hiking trails. However, they can give you the benefit of solitude. 

If such an option is not available, then I suggest that you hike early. The earlier you arrive at your destination, the easier it is for you to find a parking spot for your vehicle. It will also help you avoid the "rush hours." 

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