Trip Constraints

Once you have hiking goals, you should outline your constraints to minimize stress during the planning phase, and ultimately the hike itself:

Physical fitness constraints – How much trail can you or your group realistically attempt?

  1. Don’t try to tackle the highest mountain or longest trail on your first time out. Pick a trail that’s likely to get you hooked on hiking, rather than get you thinking you found a new form of torture.
  2. Think about those you’re going with. If you choose a trail that is beyond their current ability, no one is going to have fun (trust me). On the flip-side, if you choose a trail everyone can enjoy, you’ll have hiking partners who might be willing to join you again. I always look for locations with lots of options, where you can evaluate and adjust the plan at any point, and still feel like you’ve accomplished something.
  3. How much can you carry? A good rule-of-thumb is the longer you’re gone, the more you will have to pack.

Time constraints – How much time do you have for the total hike? Establish a turn-around time before you leave to ensure you get back on time.

  1. First, subtract travel time to and from the trailhead. The result is how long you have to actually hike.
  2. If you’re hiking in relatively flat terrain, cut the remaining time in half – that should be your turn-around time. If you’re hiking up a hill or mountain, plan on two thirds of the time going up, and one third coming back down (it varies based on steepness).
  3. Also factor in planned or unplanned stops like photo ops, wildlife sightings or nature discussions

Location constraints – What is the terrain like?

  1. Established trails are easier to hike than trailblazing or bushwhacking.
  2. Elevation gain will take more out of you than long distances (in my experience). Here’s my personal guide for elevation gain on a dayhike:
    1. 0 to 500 feet – beginner/couch potato
    2. 500 to 2000 feet – easy/ can walk up a flight of stairs without wishing there was a bench at the top.
    3. 2000 to 3500 feet – moderate/exercises regularly between hikes.
    4. 3500 to 5500 feet – advanced/above average fitness level and really motivated to get there.
    5. 5500+ feet – showoff
  1. Will there be water available, or do you need to carry it all with you? Consider factors such as temperature and expected physical exertion when determining how much water to take (remember the weight of the water will add to the exertion).
  2. What kind of ground cover will you be walking through – i.e. will there be shade to help cool you?

Weather Constraints – Evaluate expected weather conditions

  1. A rule-of-thumb in mountain areas is to hike early in the day, to avoid being on a peak when afternoon thunderstorms develop. Leaving earlier also means cooler temperatures.
  2. Start watching 10-day weather patterns about a week before your trip. Being flexible with a trip date is beneficial – I usually take a Friday off, then plan on going either Friday or Saturday – choosing the one with the best weather forecast.
  3. Check the hour-by-hour forecast the night before your trip. This will give you a general idea of what to expect.

People Constraints – Are you hiking with family, friend, strangers or is this a solo outing? If anyone joins you, you need to add in their constraints also. Discuss hiking goals and trip constraints with everyone who will be joining you.

Equipment Constraints – Are you prepared? Do you have everything needed to have a safe, enjoyable hike? See the equipment section to get ideas of what is needed.

Back to Pre-Hike


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