Hiking is a great outdoor activity that works wonders for both your mental and physical health. Whether you are searching for something to bring you peace and better connect with the great outdoors or you want to find a new and fun activity to incorporate into your cross training for fitness, hiking an out and back trail is a solid choice!
You know it’s adventurous. You’ve heard it’s rejuvenating. But, it’s also just plain fun! Maybe you’ve recently been finding yourself wanting to try it?
If you’ve listened to our advice for hiking beginners, you have done your research, you’ve found a hike that sounds fun, and you’re ready to make a plan! The only problem is that it says that the trail is an “out and back” and you aren’t sure what that means!
Don’t you worry, we’ve got you covered. Let’s explore what an out and back trail is, what its benefits are, and we can help you decide if it’s the right type of trail for you!
What is an Out and Back Trail?
Let’s assume that you’re more interested in a day hike as a starter. You’re not quite ready to pack a backpack and spend days in the woods. You want to start small!
There are two types of ideal trails to choose from when going on a day hike. There’s a loop trail and an out and back. As the name suggests, a loop is a trail that starts and stops at the same destination, but you do not have to repeat any portions of the trail. You literally hike around in a loop. Similar to a loop, the out and back trail will start and stop at the same destination, but it will be the same trail going out from your starting point and heading back.
If you choose to hike an out and back trail, you will hike the same path twice (once going out and once coming back in). More often than not, out and back trails have a point of interest at the furthest point that youwill hike to. Whether it’s a waterfall or a lookout point, they typically have something to see at the halfway point before turning around and heading back.
Why Pick an Out and Back Trail?
You may wonder why people would choose to do an out and back trail if they’re seeing the same things they saw on their way in? You’d be surprised! There are actually several reasons you should pick this type of trail. Here are just a few…
If you’re navigationally challenged (like myself) or you are a little hesitant about heading out in the wilderness, an out and back is a great place to start! Because you are essentially doing the same trail twice, it will be a lot easier to navigate. You can remember different points of interest to keep yourself oriented as to where you are. For example, maybe you pass a particular sign or tree that caught your eye. You can see those on your way back to the car, knowing you’re headed in the right direction.
Provides a Sense of Familiarity
Because it’s easy to navigate, this will provide you with a sense of familiarity and comfort on your trail. Hiking to a beginner can be incredibly intimidating, and starting with an out and back trail can be a great way to gain confidence with trails and hiking.
Like I said above, you can recognize various points of interest and grow more familiar with your surroundings.
Great For Testing New Gear
These types of trails are wonderful for testing new gear for a couple of reasons. First, they are shorter and designed for day hikes. So, if you have some new boots you’re wanting to work in or test out, the shorter distance is perfect. Before heading out on a multi-day backpacking adventure, you can make sure you like the gear and it works properly!
Another reason out and back trails are perfect for testing new gear is because you can easily turn around and navigate your way back to the car more quickly. Let’s say your new hiking boots are incredibly uncomfortable. No worries! Just turn around and head back out before those blisters pop up!
As mentioned above, most out and back trails have a great view or point of interest at the halfway point. It’s a great motivator to know that something wonderful is coming! Then, by the time you make it to the lookout, waterfall, or other cool sight, you are already halfway done and you’re ready to head back to the car!
Most of the time, people will pack lunch or snacks in their backpacks. That way, when they arrive, they can enjoy some much deserved rest with a wonderful view. It’s a great resting point to just sit and enjoy nature before your final trek back.
How Long Is an Out and Back Trail?
Out and back trails come in all lengths and levels of difficulty. While most out and back trails are day hikes ranging anywhere from half a mile to 10 miles, you can also find others that can be a multi-day excursion.
In my experience, I would say that a great number of out and backs are in the 2-5 miles range for people who are beginners or intermediate.
How are Out and Back Trails Measured?
Because you essentially do the same trail twice, it’s easy to get confused when websites, such as All Trails, discuss route distances for out and backs. However, most websites dedicated to sharing information about trails will describe the distance of an out in back trail in terms of total distance. This means that if the website says the route is 3.5 miles, that accounts for both ways, going to the turnaround point and back.
This is outstanding news for you because you don’t have to do any further calculating! You can, however, half the distance if you want to know how long it’ll be until you get to your point of interest. But, just remember that listings will provide you with the total hike distance.
Out and Back Safety
While a big advantage of doing an out and back trail over a loop for a day hike is that it feels safe and more familiar, you should never go hiking with your guard down. Being in the great outdoors is amazing, but you should always be prepared and have all the things you need for a hike. This includes small things such as bug spray and a fully charged phone to bigger items like a first aid kit and plenty of water.
Another word of caution with hiking this type of trail is that just because it can be a little easier on your mind to navigate doesn’t mean that it won’t be difficult. If you are preparing to go to a beautiful lookout point, you’ve got to expect some steep climbs on your way. So, when you’re picking the perfect out and back trail for you, make sure that you consider and research difficulty, not just distance!