A little searching on the web and you’ll unearth an endless list of trails to target for your next hiking adventure. But how to decide which hike is right for you and your walking party, and what factors should you take into account before you lace up? Here are a few pointers to consider.

Fitness

First of all, when considering where and how far you intend to hike, take an honest assessment of how fit you are. How is your endurance and strength measured against the intended undertaking? If you’re looking to a long, multiday hike lugging a big, heavy pack, be sure that you’re adequately conditioned. If you are unfit, or not used to the amount of time you’ll be on your feet and uncomfortable with the weight you will need to carry, perhaps opt for a shorter hike, with less weight.

Experience

If you haven’t had any experience in remote wilderness, far from help, where self sufficiency skills are mandatory, perhaps it’s best not to undertake that solo trek across the high Himalaya. Equally, if you haven’t any navigation experience, best not take on a hike requiring good map and compass skills. It’s obvious, but your selected hike should be one that matches your abilities and confidence. Of course, sometimes hiking is about pushing your own limits, but best to do those with others more experienced than you. That way, you gain the experience safely and can comfortably tackle something of that magnitude next time. If you haven’t any experience, join a bushwalking club, or go with a guided tour, or at least find friends who are experienced, that you trust.

Seasonal conditions

Unless you’re a very experienced hiker looking for a challenge, it’s worth being very particular about when you visit a region in which you intend to hike. Preferably, you want to avoid the worst weather wherever you go, but particularly in extreme environments. As a general rule, in winter you want to avoid high mountains. However, deserts, the tropics and sub tropics can be ideal for walking during the ‘colder’ months. High mountains are by and large best tackled in summer, but beware that avalanche zones become much more dangerous in warmer months. Apart from high mountains, cold climate forests, arctic and sub arctic areas are best trekked in summer. As ‘intermediate’ seasons, spring and autumn are ideal for the intermediate environments, hill country and low mountains and forests, with autumn in particular good for walking temperate deciduous forests. In summer, obviously avoid deserts, tropics, sub tropics and hot lowlands.

Weather

Beyond having a sense of the season and its general weather conditions, it also pays to understand local weather conditions in the region you want to walk. Also, you can be prepared, for instance you may trek a desert in winter knowing the days won’t be as blistering, but that the nights will be freezing.

Other timing factors

Some other things to consider when researching places to hike (factors that could influence you either way) include when the high tourist season is, when the animal migration season is, when the flowers are blooming, when local festivals and holidays are taking place, if there is a hunting season and if there is any political unrest where you intend visiting.

Style of hike

What kind of walking experience are you seeking and how much time do you have? Are you seeking a short, easy stroll for a bit of a break or are you wanting to get really deep into the wilderness and test yourself over many days on one of the world’s great multiday trekking routes? Do you want to be immersed in pristine nature the entire time, or are you happy to walk through as much cultural interest as you are environmental attractions? And, what about your accommodation if on a multiday walk? Are you happy with a basic tarp under a tree, or do you want some campsite facilities? Or even better, a hot shower and someone else in a kitchen, cooking the meal? National Parks are the best spot to look for the camp-based walking, while trails through Europe and in many Asian countries are excellent choices for village to village, with varying levels of comfort and cultural diversity.

Guided or independent

Are you a lone ranger, wanting to strike out into Mother Nature reliant only on your own skills and confidence? Or do you want to leave all the organising and risk management to someone else, not to mention the map reading? Guided walks can be just as wild and remote, rough and challenging as independent missions, but with the safety and surety that the guide or company you are paying is responsible for all the planning, meaning you can relax and just enjoy the walking.

Environment

This one’s obvious – what kind of scenery are you wanting to explore? Those looking for big mountain vistas will choose very different walks to those looking for niche environments such as jungles, deserts, or artic landscapes. Do you want to trek trails through big forests? Okay with lots of up and downhill or want something a little more sedate and predictable? The type of nature you want to enjoy will very specifically dictate where (and when) you walk.

Reason

Beyond the type of landscape you are seeking, there are other reasons to consider walking in particular places. If you’re interested in World War history, you might head to the battlefields of Europe. Incan ruins? Peru and Ecuador trails will be calling. Wildlife viewing? There are many hotspots around Australia and the world you might want to travel, Africa or the Amazon, or try Kakadu National Park to be a bit closer to home.

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