By Michael Lanza

“How hard will that hike be?” That’s a question that
all dayhikers and backpackers, from beginners to experts, think about all the
time—and it’s not always easy to answer. But there are ways of evaluating the
difficulty of any hike, using readily available information, that can greatly
help you understand what to expect before you even leave home. Here’s
how.

No matter how relatively easy or arduous the hike you’re considering, or where you fall on the spectrum of hiking experience or personal fitness level, this article will tell you exactly how to answer that question—and which questions to ask and what information to seek to reach that answer. This article shares what I’ve learned over nearly four decades of backpacking and dayhiking, including the 10 years I spent as a field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog, and this knowledge can help ensure that you and your companions don’t get in over your heads.

Whether you’re new to dayhiking or backpacking, a
parent planning a hike with young kids, or a fit and experienced dayhiker or
backpacker contemplating one of the toughest hikes you’ve ever attempted, it’s
important to have a good sense of what you’ll face on a new and unfamiliar hike
and whether it’s within your abilities.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Exceeding your limits or those of someone with you can
invite unwanted consequences—and the person with the least stamina,
abilities, or experience often dictates any party’s pace, limits, and outcomes.
Those consequences may range from an unpleasant experience that dissuades
someone from wanting to go again, to failing to reach your destination or make
it back to your vehicle, potentially creating a more serious situation.

Making smart decisions comes down to understanding
several objective and subjective factors—and recognizing when you may be
falling victim to misjudgment because of inexperience or simple overconfidence.

Backpackers hiking to Island Lake in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.
” data-image-caption=”Backpackers hiking to Titcomb Basin in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Wind5-009-Hiking-to-Island-Lake-Wind-River-Range-Wyoming-2.jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Wind5-009-Hiking-to-Island-Lake-Wind-River-Range-Wyoming-2.jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ width=”900″ height=”600″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Wind5-009-Hiking-to-Island-Lake-Wind-River-Range-Wyoming-2.jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”Backpackers hiking to Island Lake in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.” class=”wp-image-36788″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Wind5-009-Hiking-to-Island-Lake-Wind-River-Range-Wyoming-2.jpg?resize=1024%2C683&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Wind5-009-Hiking-to-Island-Lake-Wind-River-Range-Wyoming-2.jpg?resize=300%2C200&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Wind5-009-Hiking-to-Island-Lake-Wind-River-Range-Wyoming-2.jpg?resize=768%2C512&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.
Did you miss our previous article…
https://www.mansbrand.com/the-sun-is-slowly-tearing-this-comet-apart/

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