TheJamesGuide – The Perfect Hiking Trail

TheJamesGuide – The Perfect Hiking Trail 400 265 Hiking Blog

Hiking For Beginners: How to Choose the Perfect Hiking Trail

Guestpost: James R., TheJamesGuide | Jun 2024

Humans have always been explorers. Ever since the first caveman left the safety of their rocky home, we’ve continued to seek out new lands and experience new adventures, even up to the present day. Right now, I’m sure they’re figuring out ways to get a brave soul to Mars. We can’t help it, we’re curious creatures by default. It’s in our genes. 

Our primal urge to explore is the common link that ties every generation. Technology has given us the gift of information, yet even though we can pull up images of any spot on Earth, there’s nothing quite like seeing it with our own eyes. 

Taking a plane, riding a train, or sailing on a boat are fabulous ways to see the world, but they often feel detached. These methods only care about how fast you can get to where you’re going. It’s the destination, not the journey, but that’s not how life should be lived. 

True value comes from time and the enjoyment of it. Of course, quickly traveling from place to place has its purpose, but sometimes we all need to stop and smell the roses as the famous phrase states. 

One of the best ways to do so is by strapping on a pair of hiking boots, finding an epic locale, and going for a hike. Near or far, roaming around for a few hours or a few days can do wonders for your mental and physical health. The sights, sounds, and smells of nature are in many ways, priceless. Hiking provides so many benefits, that it’s almost impossible to list. 

Some of the major upsides include; a great form of exercise, reconnecting with nature, de-stressing from your everyday worries, and boosting your mood. The bottom line, hiking is awesome! 

Since there are so many advantages to hiking, by default there are many different types of hikes. So how do you choose? You might think it’s easy to pick a random patch and go down it, and sometimes it is, but if you want something more, there are some steps you can take to pick the best trail for you! 

Which leads me to the point of this article. How you can find the perfect hiking trail! This will be geared more toward the inexperienced, but skilled hikers might gain something from it so all are welcome! 

By the end, you shouldn’t have any questions about finding the optimal trek for every one of your wants and desires! Alright enough talk, let’s dive in shall we? 

1. What Are Your Hiking Goals?

Before you search for a great spot to wander through, ask yourself what you are trying to get out of it all. What’s the purpose of your hike? It might seem like an obvious question, but I’ve found when I stop and think “why I’m looking”, it sparks internal dialogue that helps refine my choice. Maybe it’ll do the same for you! 

For instance, are you looking for a mellow walk to relax on or are you trying to find a great running trail? Maybe you’re looking for photo opportunities and need a place that has incredible views or is full of gorgeous local wildlife. If you’re like me, you might just want something challenging and fulfilling. Whatever the case, answering this question first will help you narrow down your options. 

2. Are You Physically Capable Of Finishing?

Ok, you know what you want and what you’re looking for, now it comes down to your actual abilities. Hiking is unique and affects your body differently than a neighborhood jog or jumping on the gym’s stair stepper. All those little muscles you don’t typically use will be put to the test, even on mellow walks. 

I highly recommend taking a look at your physical fitness before you end up biting off more than you can chew. It’s easy to get tired or overestimate how much you’re able to push yourself and that’s when things can go sideways. 

A story I like to tell is about my attempt at a 20-mile (32 km) day hike that I nearly didn’t return from! I’ll save you the gory details but if it wasn’t for a friendly pair of fellow hikers who gave me some of their water, my legs would have cramped to the point of immobility and I would have been forced to spend the night in the jungle. A lesson I’ll never forget. 

Begin with thinking about how well you did on any previous hiking experiences you have. How much time has passed since the last time? Have you gained any weight since? Just be honest with yourself and start easy. 

If you don’t think you’re quite up for it yet, start training with simple exercises that can improve your mobility and cardio. Don’t overexert and be patient. As long as you stick with it, there’s no trail you can’t finish! 

3. How Long and Difficult is it Going To Be?

Almost all seasoned hikers immediately look for a few things when they’re researching trails. Those are distance, elevation gain, and time to complete. There’s a HUGE difference between a 5-mile (8 km) hike on level ground and a 2-mile (3 km) climb up a nearly vertical hillside. 

To me, it’s all about how steep the trail is going to be, coming or going. That includes downhill. Most of the pressure facing your knees comes from the descent, not the ascent, so keep that in mind, especially if you have problems with your joints. 

Hikes mainly fall into 5 levels of difficulty. They are – 

  • Easy hikes – Under 2 miles (4 km) and less than 100 ft. (30 m) of elevation gain.
  • Moderate hikes – Between 2-4 miles (4-8 km) and 100-300 ft. (30-90 m) of elevation gain. 
  • Difficult hikes -Between 4-6 miles (8-12 km) and 300-500 ft. (90-150 m) of elevation gain. 
  • Advanced hikes – Between 6-8 miles (12-16 km) and 500-1,000 ft. (150-300m) of elevation gain. 
  • Expert hikes – 8+ miles (16+ km) and 1,000+ ft. (300+ m) of elevation gain. 

If you’re new to hiking, your first outing should be short and easy. Start with 3 miles (5 km) and less than 100 ft. (30 m). Increase as necessary! 

When it comes to time there’s no universal answer since everybody is different but there’s an easy way to guestimate. The average hiker walks 2 miles (3 km)per hour, some up to 3 (5 km).  

It takes about 30 extra minutes per 1,000 feet (300 m) of elevation gain. So using this formula for a hike that’s 5 miles long and 500 ft, we get a 2 hr 45 min hike. 2.5 hours of walking plus 15 additional mins for elevation gain. 

This of course is just a baseline, but extremely handy for a quick calculation. Once you get more experience, you’ll have a better understanding of your capabilities! 

4. What are the Features and Conditions?

After you’ve found something that fits, the next thing to look at are the elements of the trail itself. What will you be walking over, under, through, and around? Is it mostly rocky or are there patches of mud to contend with? Will you be crossing rivers or is it dry as a bone, but incredibly sandy?

You’ll need to know what you’re getting yourself into so you can prepare with the proper clothing and footwear. Finding the perfect hiking shoes depends on it! For example, hiking boots with solid ankle support are great for steep, stony mountains but aren’t necessary for hot and humid flatlands. For that, light and airy shoes with breathable mesh fit the bill. 

Also, what’s the weather going to be like? Is there ice or snow? Do you need to prepare for rain? If so, you might need gear that’s water-resistant or thermally insulating. 

A couple of minutes of research can make all the difference! 

5. How Safe is it?

Lastly, check on the local wild and plant life. Are there predators you need to worry about like bears, wolves, snakes, or mountain lions? Usually, all will avoid you but if the trail you are looking into has a high population of dangerous animals, it might be a good idea to skip! 

Besides nature, is the trail close to civilization in case anything goes wrong? How close is the nearest water source? What can you do if you run into potential problems? I don’t mean to scare you because most popular hiking trails are extremely safe, but a little forethought can go a long way! 

No matter what, always bring a small first aid kit with you just in case! You never know when you’ll need it! 

Final Thoughts 

This is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hiking. As you get deeper and deeper into the pastime, the trails will get longer and the gear, better. You might work your way up to multi-day backpacking treks, overnight camping excursions, or navigating technical trails that require additional skills to complete, and so on. 

But, as a starting point, this is more than enough to get you moving. Remember, as long as you do your due diligence, spend a little time researching, read up on a couple of trail reviews, and bring/wear the proper attire, you should be perfectly fine to tackle the easier routes. 

Hopefully, I’ve helped steer you in the right direction! 

I wish you the best of luck on your next hiking adventure. Be safe, and as always, happy trails! 

About the Author 

James Ryan is a seasoned hiker and adventurer who loves to travel and experience new things. An extrovert and creative at heart, James is most definitely a “People Person”. He started his blog – – in the hopes of sharing his knowledge and expertise. Look him up and give him a shout today! 

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