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Hiking Terrain

The planned duration of your hike and what you will bring with you depends in part on the terrain where you be hiking. Make sure to find out as much as possible about your intended route, trail and terrain conditions. Leave nothing to chance.

Analyze trail maps and guidebooks. You should use maps that are as detailed as you can get. Never make the mistake of calculating the distance of a hike by trying to measure the distance on the map. The distance often differs greatly from the distance in reality. You also need to consider the change in elevation a 10 mile hike over mostly level terrain is much different from a 7 mile hike with a large change in elevation.

Make sure you are using up to date maps. Trails could have washed away or re-routed over the years. Even if the maps are current, you should also check with local authorities to make sure the information is still up to date. Most maps are created by local or national organizations you can contact to check for newer versions and updates of their maps.

Terrain conditions change as the seasons change. Trails that are dry in summer could be muddy in autumn and impassable by snow in winter. Consult local authorities to ask about the conditions. They will often know the altitude to expect snow and/or ice and if rivers are flowing outside their natural boundaries. A map alone is not enough.

Trails differ in their difficulty and obstacles. There is a big difference between hiking a smooth trail and trekking over small loose rocks especially when climbing or descending. Try to find maps that indicate the type of difficulty and terrain you can expect. Ideally, you want maps outlining the hiking duration between markers. Most public hiking areas are managed by authorities who maintain the trails and they can usually provide last-minute details about the terrain and trail conditions. The smart hiker makes use of others knowledge.

Another factor related to terrain is the weather conditions that you can encounter on your hike.

Knowledge of what terrain and conditions you are going to face will let you know what you are up for. And this information can help to keep you safe. Get out there and enjoy it!


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