When it comes to hiking, there is a special language that is used by experienced hikers. This language can help to communicate information about the trail conditions and other relevant factors. Here's some more common terms hikers use about the route and conditions, and how they approach the hike itself:
This is the path that you will follow during your hike. Trails can be well-marked or more difficult to follow.
A blaze is a mark that is put on trees or other objects to indicate the trail. These marks can be helpful when the trail is not well-defined.
A footbridge is a bridge that is designed for pedestrians. Footbridges are often found over streams or other obstacles.
A scramble is a steep section of trail that may require the use of your hands to climb.
Out and Back Trail
Out and back trails are hiking trails that starts and ends at the same point. Hikers typically follow the trail in one direction until they reach the end, before turning around and retracing their steps back to the starting point. This type of trail is usually used for day hikes because it's not necessary to worry about getting back to your original starting point via a circular route. Out and back trails are popular because they offer a linear hiking experience without the need for transportation to a different starting or ending point. However, because hikers must double back on the same path, out and back trails can often feel repetitive.
A Point to Point Trail
A point to point trail is a type of route that starts at one location and ends at another typically following a linear path from one destination to another. This can make them ideal for long-distance hikes or multi-day backpacking trips, as hikers can simply follow the same trail from start to finish without having to worry about getting lost. Point to point trails can also be useful for linking together different parts of a larger trail system, so you get the variety of a round trip, without it being a loop trail. For example, the Appalachian Trail includes several point to point sections that connect its various segments together. Ultimately, point to point trails provide a straightforward way to reach a specific destination, making them a popular choice for both thru-hikers and day-hikers alike.
In contrast in out and back trails, loop trails circumnavigate a specific area. A loop trail allows hikers to explore different parts of the trail network without having to retrace their steps along the same path they followed before. Some hikers prefer the greater variety offered by a loop trail. A lollipop loop trail is a hiking trail that features a large loop with a smaller, connecting loop at the center. The name comes from the fact that the trail looks like a lollipop, with the small loop serving as the stick and the large loop representing the body of the lollipop. Lollipop loop trails are a popular choice for hikers because they offer a great way to explore an area without having to backtrack along the same trail. Plus, they're generally easier than longer trails, making them a great option for novice hikers.
A switchback is a zig-zag pattern that is often used on trails to help hikers gain elevation - helping hikers ascend or descend a steep hill or mountain.
The trail typically consists of a series of sharp zig-zag turns, which helps to minimize the grade of the hill or mountain. This, in turn, makes the hike more manageable for hikers so they can gain elevation more slowly and safely. They are often found on trails that wind their way up steep hillsides or mountains. Switchbacks are often used in conjunction with other trail features, such as staircases or ropes, to provide additional support. In some cases, switchbacks may also be used to create different hiking trails that branch off from the main trail. This can provide hikers with a variety of options depending on their desired level of difficulty.
While switchbacks can be challenging, they can also be immensely rewarding, offering hikers stunning views as they make their way to the top. For many people, the challenge of conquering a switchback trail is part of the appeal.
No matter how they are used, switchbacks are an important tool for helping hikers safely enjoy the outdoors.
Elevation gain is the amount of elevation (usually in feet) that a hiker ascends during a hike. For instance, if a hiker starts at an elevation of 5000 feet and ends at an elevation of 6000 feet, they have gained 1000 feet of elevation. Elevation gain is often used as a measure of the difficulty of a hike, since it can give hikers an idea of how much effort they will need to expend to reach the summit. In general, hikes with large amounts of elevation gain are more challenging than those with less elevation gain. However, other factors such as terrain and weather can also affect the difficulty of a hike.
Backpacking and Day Hiking
As the term suggests, day hiking is done over the course of a day without overnighting en route. An out and back hike is a popular option for a day hike.
The word “backpacking” is a bit of a misnomer, since the activity can encompass a wide range of different types of travel. In its most basic form, backpacking simply involves carrying your belongings on your back as you walk from one destination to another. However, it can also include taking public transportation or hitchhiking, and you can stay in a variety of different types of accommodation, from camping out in the wilderness to staying in hostels or hotels. Backpacking is a great way to see the world on a budget, and it allows you to experience many different cultures and landscapes up close.
This term is used to describe the activity of hiking a destination trail from end to end, without taking any breaks.
Thru hiking is hard work - it demands strength, endurance, and determination. But if you're prepared to put in the effort, the rewards are unparalleled. On a long distance trail you'll see scenery that most people will never witness, forging friendships with people from all walks of life. And at the end of it all, you'll have earned a sense of accomplishment that can't be bought with any amount of money.
It's important to be prepared for the challenge ahead if you're thinking of hiking. When planning the adventure, some hikers picture a winding trail through the woods, with few roots and rocks to trip over. In contrast, others choose more challenging trails with rougher terrain and more inclines. The choice of hike will impact what you bring along for the experience. Gearing up is making sure you have the right gear for the hiking conditions.
Weather can be unpredictable in even the most temperate climates, so come equipped. You'll also need to carry enough food and water to sustain you for the duration of your hike. And don't forget to pack a good set of hiking boots - your feet will thank you later.
I have written some guides on gearing up for both day hikes and more challenging backpacking hikes that involve camping overnight. I'll drop some links below - hope you find them helpful!