Hiking is an outdoor activity which consists of walking in natural environments, often on hiking trails.
Hiking may be broadly grouped into three categories:
- Day hiking involves distances of less than a mile up to longer distances that can be covered in a single day. For a day hike along an easy trail little preparations are needed, and any moderately fit person can enjoy them. Families with small children may need more preparations, but a day outdoors is easily possible even with babies and pre-school children.
- Long distance walking is multi-day hikes in non-wilderness areas or with significant service, such as trails, lodges and restaurants, possibly with transport for luggage. Long distance walking is a tradition very much alive in Europe. There are many trails through the countryside, often leading from one village to the next, and also to towns on the way. Often they follow routes used before roads were built. These and similar trails can be and are used also for day hikes. See Long distance walking in Europe, Grande Randonnée, Walking in the United Kingdom, Rheinsteig, Rheinburgenweg and Pieterpad.
- Wilderness backpacking involves a multi-day hiking expedition where participants carry the required supplies for overnight stay and two or more days of survival in the wilderness, and camp en route.
The categories overlap: many trails go through wilderness but have service where you are supposed to spend your nights. Much of the advice for wilderness applies between lodges or camping spots (or between the endpoints of you long day hike), but not all. Much of the advice for wilderness hikes may also apply where there is no wilderness at all, but you are carrying all your equipment, making your own food and sleeping outdoors.
Hiking can often be done near home, even if you live in a big city. If you or your family are not used to hiking, near home is often the best place to start. Getting away is easier and if something goes wrong or you simply do not enjoy your time, you can go home and do it differently the next time. For some, having a big experience the first time may feel important, but especially for children this is not a good option: they will be fascinated by the very small new experiences. If you do not have a wood behind your house, a picnic at some nearby destination with trails and a campfire site may be ideal until you know everybody will be comfortable with more demanding adventures.
At many hiking destinations, there are easy-to-follow trails, such that knowing how to use a map and compass is not essential (although recommended), and there may be lodges with food and accommodation. Some such trails offer the possibility to get to see wilderness without too much skill and effort. The requirements vary though. If you are not used to walk a few kilometres, then a ten kilometres mountain hike will certainly be very hard. And on some trails you may find that the trail is not at all easy to follow, or that the creek you have to cross has transformed into a fast-flowing river. Always check what to expect.
If you do want to start with the big adventure, use a guide and make sure they understand your (lack of) experience and your preferences – and that you understand what you will have to cope with. A tourist entrepreneur told about customers who wanted an exotic adventure in the wilderness, but were horrified when they realised there would be no water toilet. What are the things you did not think of?
While there are long, demanding trails in the wilderness with comfortable lodging possibilities, there are also trails with unmanned Spartan shelters or only spots where you can put your tent. Wilderness backpacking often means that you have to live without infrastructure (even trails) and with what you carry and perhaps fish from the streams and berries you pick. If you need help, you'll have to fetch it yourself. If you feel like returning to the days long past or truly immersing in the natural environment, wilderness backpacking is a good choice for you.
On long trails that follow roads or bike paths, or where the path otherwise is wide and smooth enough, using a cart or stroller (with large enough wheels and suitable tyres) instead of a backpack can be a great way of saving your back and knees from the load. If you need to carry a few days' worth of water in a hot climate, this is a huge advantage. Make sure it is ergonomic for you. Also mind that this works only on some trails: you do not want to have to drag your cart over long stretches of duckboards, stairs, stones or loose gravel, or where the path is too narrow for it. If you do go with this option, put a backpack in the cart so that if the cart breaks you can abandon it (responsibly) and keep going.
- See also: Physical fitness
City folks are usually not accustomed to long walks with heavy packing, and usually not to the hilly and sometimes rough terrain of many trails. Even if you are fit, you should try long walks in hilly terrain before you go for any demanding hike. If aiming for real wilderness or long distance hiking, you should start with hikes you can interrupt more easily.
Ideally you build up your skills and endurance little by little, from year to year, from picnics to long wilderness hikes. If you have to train more quickly, remember to start gently anyway.
Packing and equipment
There are different philosophies about packing. Those looking seriously at backpacking of multi-day hikes will be most concerned about the weight and multi-purpose of items they have packed and as a result their kit is likely to be more expensive. Other more casual hikers may re-purpose everyday items or carry additional weight in order to increase their comfort and enjoyment.
Remember that if you don't know how to use an item, it will just be dead weight in your pack. Learn how to use safety-essential items like a map and compass in a safe location before needing to rely on it in the hills. Many of the items below can also be shared between your party – you probably don't all need to carry a first aid kit, as long as you have one or two between you.
The following list constitutes the essentials for the majority of hikes, and is a good starting list for a beginner:
- Waterproof coat
- Jumper (especially fleece or synthetic fibers) – with a spare layer or two in your backpack.
- Comfortable sturdy shoes (especially hiking boots or training shoes)
- First aid kit
- Mobile phone
- Trousers or shorts – avoid jeans as these become heavy when wet.
- Comfortable socks – with a spare pair in case of blisters.
- Food – lunch or dinner, plus slow-release items like nuts for on the move snacking.
You may also want to consider bringing other 'luxury' items which may add to your experience:
- Picnic blanket
- Walking poles
If carrying out a multi-day trip, it is likely that you will also need to carry a stove, tent, and other supplies. See camping for further details.
It is highly unlikely that you will be the first person to hike in the area where you are going. Consider seeking the advice of other hikers before setting off to learn about any particularly challenging areas or any places of interest.
Weather is one of the main factors in preparing for any hike; know the climate, check weather forecasts, ensure you have a good weather window, with lots of time to spare. Be aware that weather in mountainous or coastal areas can change dramatically and adjust your equipment accordingly. Bear in mind the impact that sudden or severe weather could have on your route – if you are walking next to a river for instance, flooding could render the path inaccessible, and descending cloud could increase the time needed to get "below the weather".
Always overestimate the length of time that a hike will take you – the standard calculation advises 4km/hour, plus another minute for every 10m of height ascended. You may want to adjust the standard calculation down to 3 or 3.5km/hour if you are a new or inexperienced walker. Once you have calculated this, build in additional time for rest stops, lunch breaks, and sight seeing. If your route has you finishing within a few hours of dusk, consider taking a torch with you in the event that you are delayed. It can be helpful to inform somebody (such as a friend, relative, or even your hotel manager) when you expect to be back. This allows them to raise the alarm if you encounter an accident while out hiking and need assistance.
See also Appalachian Trail#Prepare for information about a demanding long-distance trail.
Doing trail sections with two cars
Many well known hiking trails are of long distances, more than many people can tackle on a single trip. One method to do these is to walk in stages using two vehicles to get between start and finish points of a day hike. The method is simple once pointed out. You drive with two cars to the end of the trail, parking one of them there. Then everyone gets into the other car and drives to the start of the section you are walking. At the end of the hike you get back the first parked car and drive back to the start to get the other. Sometimes a local business can be asked to drive the car to the hike endpoint – you avoid driving two cars to the destination (their car is already there, so less driving in total in most situations).
By public transit
Of course the vastly preferable option if at all possible is public transit. In some countries there are dedicated buses or train stations intended primarily for hikers. There are even remote railway lines where you may request a stop outside a dedicated stop (or official stops that look like they were just improvised).
If you can use public transport (and perhaps a taxi for getting near the trailhead) you avoid the extra driving and the hassle of handling the cars.
- Depending where you are going, see also cold weather, pests, altitude sickness and dangerous animals.
- Often you will have to climb up a mountain to see a glacier or a lake, just to return later—in that case consider leaving your (heavy) luggage where it cannot be found and enjoy the trail without the burden, but remembering where you left your backpack before.
A last check
To each hiking trip, there are three sides. Check the risks by looking at each of them:
- The people: How is your health and the health of your partners? Do you have enough stamina? Does your ability match the difficulty of the route? Do you have enough experience? Do you carry the right equipment? If you have a 'guide' do they know your level of experience?
- The route: How long? How difficult? How difficult is navigation/orientation? Will you meet the most difficult part in the beginning, or at the end?
- The circumstances: How does current, past and forecasted weather affect the route?
It is impossible to minimize or cancel all dangers. But if you know about a danger, you can offset it by choosing a safety factor. For example, if it is raining heavily, you can choose a route without river crossings. Or if you feel unprepared, add larger time reserves. Also if the conditions don't seem favourable for a particular hike, don't feel pressured to go against your feelings, even (and especially) experienced hikers know that cautious disappointment is better than getting into a potentially risky situation.
Write a plan
On each trip, there are many instances where you can decide between three alternatives:
- When conditions are good, carry on
- When conditions are bad, choose an alternative path
- When conditions are bad and an alternative path does not exist, turn back.
So, create and carry a written plan that says when and where you have to make a decision. This forces you to be conscious of the time, the weather conditions, your well-being, and above all – the risks.
A good plan, will also consider your state as the hike progresses. For example, a well planned hike will aim to put any major ascents (such as hill climbing) at the start of the hike when you (and your party) have the energy for it, conversely at the end of the hike, a good plan will have you on a gentle descent, perhaps with "slack" allowances as you are tired.
In remote areas, wind, heat and cold are significant dangers to an injured or a sick person. Finding some kind of shelter is extremely important – that is why you should always carry a map! When looking for lost persons, rescue personnel will always check shelters and their guest books.
There is a trade-off between getting good shelter, and avoiding transport that may be hard for the injured or sick person (and arduous for you). Often it is better to build a shelter where you are or somewhere close.
Always keep in mind the phone numbers of the rescue agencies. For example, in Europe, 112 is the number for all kinds of emergencies. When calling for help, have your map ready to explain your location. While in some cases, you may be able to use a maps application on your mobile device to identify your location, mobile phone positioning systems often do not work in rural areas. (Standalone GPS systems will work in remote areas provided the GPS can "see" enough sky to find satellites.)
When using a mobile phone is not possible, you must send somebody to call for help. If possible, send two people with written instructions (make a copy for those staying, as that will allow you to check whether changed plans are compatible with the instructions, or whether the instructions were ambiguous). Determine what path they should use, and whether they should come back to give assistance.
When you see or hear a helicopter, use the international signs for help. If you do not need help, make a "N" with your arms to signal "No help needed": One hand pointing to the ground, one hand pointing to the sky. If you need help, make a "Y" with your arms for "Yes, we need help": Point both hands to the sky. This is saving valuable time for the helicopter crew.
When a helicopter is landing, stand with your back to the wind, and your face to the helicopter (the pilot wants to land against the wind). Kneel on the ground, protect your eyes, and do not move. In case of bad vision (fog, night, rain, snowfall), the helicopter crew needs your body as a landing aid. For that reason, wear bright clothing when directing a helicopter.
Travel topics are listed first, and then itinerary articles in alphabetical order.
- Main article: Hiking in South Africa
- Main article: Hiking and backpacking in Israel
- Main article: Trekking in Nepal
- Main article: Trekking in Vietnam
Australia and New Zealand
- Main article: Tramping in New Zealand
New Zealand is popular for both day hikes and multi-day hikes, with a network of trails and huts to cater for most abilities. The country has a number of Great Walks which offer both private and public accommodation as well as guided hiking. These include the following:
- Grande Randonnée
- Hiking in the Nordic countries
- Long distance walking in Europe
- E9 European Coast Path – planned to connect Cape St Vincent in southern Portugal to the Baltic coast of Russia near St. Petersburg
- E11 hiking trail – through the Netherlands, Germany and Poland
- GR 5 – from the Netherlands through the French Alps to Nice, including Grande Traverse des Alpes
- Nidaros Path – pilgrimage routes to Trondheim, Norway
- Nordkalottleden – wilderness backpacking route in the Arctic of Finland, Norway and Sweden
- Way of Saint James – pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain
- Main article: Hiking in Estonia
- Main article: Hiking destinations in Norway
- Main article: Walking in the United Kingdom
- East Sussex Footpaths
- Hikes in the Lake District
- Ben Nevis
- Coast To Coast Walk
- Great Glen Way
- Ledge Route and the Carn Mor Dearg Arete (Ben Nevis)
- Offa's Dyke Path
- Oxfordshire Way
- Pennine Way
- Speyside Way
- Southern Upland Way
- South Downs Way
- Wales Coast Path
- West Highland Way
United States of America
- Hiking in the East Bay
- Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail
- American Discovery Trail
- Appalachian Trail
- Arroyo del Valle Trail
- Continental Divide National Scenic Trail
- Ice Age Trail
- Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
- Ohlone Wilderness Trail
- Oregon National Historic Trail
- Pacific Crest Trail
- Pony Express National Historic Trail
- Santa Fe National Historic Trail
- Trail Of Tears National Historic Trail
- The Quetzal Trail – 5 hr (one way)