How many different types of hiking are there? The answer is three, and each comes with specific challenges and has different requirements. However, if done properly, this pastime can be quite fulfilling and invigorating. Whether you prefer a simple walk in the woods or a grueling trek across a mountainous trail, you will be a completely new person at the end of the trail.
Three Different Types of Hiking…
1. Day Hiking
As is apparent by the name, day hiking refers to a hike that does not exceed daylight hours. It can be anything from a simple walk in a natural environment, such as an urban nature park, to a hike across a small mountain trail with hikers returning as the sun goes down. It can also include a complete day trip into the wild with a guide in tow.
You don’t have to limit yourself to trails that are close by either. Just hop on a train or a bus to get to another trailhead. This is called a transfer hike, and if you want to ensure you can get home before it gets dark, just make sure the trail ends at a train station or bus stop. This type of hike is perfect for beginners who want to work their way up to more adventurous trails.
Also read: Top 20 Best Day Hikes in the World
2. Summit Hiking
Summit hiking is considered to be the most rewarding hikes a person can take. As the name implies, it involves surmounting the summit or peak of a mountain, an objective that is as challenging as it is fulfilling.
In fact, beyond the thrill of making it to the top, each peak offers a deep connection to the landscape that is unlike other hiking experiences. If you want to take it up a notch, you can also try peak bagging, which involves hikes to multiple peaks. The main aim of this pastime is to reach as many summits as possible (such as hills and mountains).
3. Long-Distance Hiking
Time has a way of putting things into perspective, something which long-distance hikers are well aware of. Contrary to popular belief, they are not like backpackers. A long-distance hike can take weeks and even a couple of months to traverse. It is an exercise in perseverance that breaks physical and mental limitations for those who can endure it.
Unlike a day trip, you cannot just turn around and head home when the sun starts to set. A long-distance hike pits you against nature for days to the point that everyday life just fades into the background. The only cares you have in the world involve the next panoramic view or the next landmark.
Types of Hiking Terrain…
General trails are simple ones that beginners can complete to increase their endurance for longer and more challenging ones. There are several types that you can try out. Loop trails, for instance, are great for hikers who wish to return to the same spot and are in search of a casual hike. Point-to-point trails are longer, which is why they start at one point and end at a specified location rather than looping back to the beginning.
Similarly, stage trails are long enough to be divided into stages with rest stops in between. Unlike the other trails, this one does not involve transportation, which means hikers have to return to the starting spot on foot. This trail should not be taken lightly and if you are a beginner. You can increase your endurance by taking on general and point-to-point trails first.
Once you are strong enough to complete a stage trail, you can test your mettle against technical trails. These are notorious for being difficult since they include obstacles such as rocks, roots, mud, water, loose trails, and steep climbs/descents. That is why it takes longer to traverse and there is also a higher risk of injury.
Not to be confused with mountain climbing, a mountain hike involves a long walk across a mountainous or hilly path to a summit. Plus, unlike climbing, you don’t need an ice axe or need to go off trail to complete it.
Each of these trail types requires specific skills and experience that you can get if you take each trail gradually. If you try out a technical trail before you have even mastered a point-to-point, you can end up getting seriously injured or worse.
Common Hiking Obstacles
Here are some common hiking obstacles you will encounter and how you can overcome them:
Rocks and boulders come in different shapes and sizes and each requires a different approach. If you are walking on small rocks or pebbles, make sure to wear hiking shoes that have rubber soles that won’t slip off them. Plus, avoid larger rocks by walking around them or risk twisting an ankle. The trick is to remain focused and plan your hike before heading out.
Walking over loose gravel and mud can be messy and dangerous, especially if both cover a steep slope. Make sure your hiking boots have strong grips for stronger traction so that you can slide down slowly enough to break a fall.
Exposed roots pose the same threat as rocks do for hikers. These also come in several shapes and sizes and can protrude on a trail making them a tripping hazard. Plus, roots can also be slippery depending on the vegetation they are encroaching on. To prevent yourself from slipping or tripping on these, look where you place your feet and of course, wear rubber soled hiking boots that provide strong ankle support.
Important Hiking Definitions…
Out and Back Hiking – Also known as an ‘in and out’ trail, an out and back hiking trail goes from one point to another and back to where you started. There is a specific way to measure distance for this. If for instance a trail is 3 miles long, if you are going on an out and back hike that means you will be completing 6 miles in total.
Section Hiking – Section hiking involves a long trail that needs to be traversed in stages. There are a number of different ways to do this. You can choose several weekend trips and take on a piece of a trail one length at a time or do half a trail one year and the other half the next year. Plus, section hikers don’t necessarily complete a trail in a specific order. Some may only complete sections they are interested in and ignore the rest.
Thru-Hiking – Thru-hiking or through hiking requires commitment to a trail for extended periods of time. Think of it as a long distance end to end hike with continuous footsteps and which needs to be completed in a single calendar year. In the US, this is most commonly associated with three trails namely the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.
Is hiking good exercise? Hiking is considered to be one of the best ways to lose weight fast. Besides burning way more calories than a simple daily walk, you get to breathe fresher air that also contributes to weight loss and general good health.
What is the most common mistakes first time hikers make?
- Not bringing enough water – New hikers underestimate the amount of water they need on a hike because they overestimate their endurance levels. A good rule of thumb is to bring enough water that can allow you to drink a liter every two hours of the hike.
- Wearing inappropriate clothing – Fabrics that wick sweat away such as polyester and wool are better than cotton that can take ages to dry. If the skin remains moist for too long, it makes the body vulnerable to hypothermia since it siphons off heat. Similarly, jeans can freeze during below-zero conditions.
- Packing the wrong gear – Even expensive sleeping bags or waterproofs can be unsuitable for a hike. This includes backpacks which should be robust and easy to pack and unpack. A school bag will do last long and will not have enough space for essentials. This includes a first aid kit and several liters of water besides other gear.
Hiking can be a fulfilling and healthy pastime but it can get uncomfortable and deadly fast if you do not try each trail gradually. You need to walk before you can run after all. Focus on small, obstacle-free and straight trails in the beginning to improve your endurance for more challenging hikes. With practice, time and perseverance, you may even be capable of traversing summits and completing difficult mountain trails.
Related content: 15 Common Mistakes Made by First Time Backpackers
Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.