When it comes to the outdoors, there is no activity more popular than a hiking daytrip. Wilderness hiking need not be a major undertaking, but to the uninitiated, it may appear deceptively simple. What could be easier than putting one foot in front of the other and following a trail? Sometimes it is that simple, but there can be a lot more involved.
The essential feature of a day hike is that it takes less than one day – and by day, we mean daylight hours only. The biggest challenge for any hiker is not a chance encounter with a bear or falling off a cliff, but merely keeping your bearings and making the correct turns at each trail junction. Getting lost, even temporarily, is stressful and can happen as easily in popular places, where trails run off in every direction, as in remote areas where no trails exist.
Carefully examine a map or guidebook before you set off. You should familiarize yourself with where your route goes, and try to anticipate the conditions you'll find. In the spring many trails will be muddy or possibly snow-covered. By late summer water sources may have disappeared. You should also look for stream crossings, elevation changes, and other trails that intersect your route. Share this information with each person in your party, so that everyone has an idea of landmarks in the surrounding terrain.
How long it takes to cover a given distance depends on three main factors:
- Total distance covered
- Elevation gained
- Type of terrain negotiated
On flat ground, a hiking speed of 4 to 6 kilometres per hour is average to speedy. For every 300 meters of elevation gain, add an extra half-hour. Travel times will vary considerably depending on the difficulty of the terrain. Smooth, dry trails are easier going than rough, wet trails, or ones that involve loose talus or bits of bush. A trail with many ups and downs will not only slow you down but make you more tired.
The number of people in your group and the fitness level of each are also important considerations when estimating time. Be prepared to move at the speed of your slowest member and to turn back if necessary. Don't forget to build in time for lunch and bathroom breaks. The easiest way to increase the available hiking hours in your day is by starting very early in the morning. This allows time to navigate to the trailhead (this can often be a challenging task). If in doubt, be conservative and choose a destination that is closer to a half day than a full day for your first trips.
Check the trail conditions and weather forecast before you go. Mountain weather can change rapidly and without warning. Leave a note or awith a friend that explains exactly where you are going, the names of the people in your group, and your intended route (both to and from). End your note with, "If you haven't heard from me by such and such a time, notify the local RCMP or provincial police." Remember to contact this person upon your safe return – many search and rescue operations have been launched for people who were never actually lost.