An Intro to Off-Trail Hiking

A quality common among almost all hikers is the strong desire to explore and discover. The sense of wonder and peace you get when making your way through snaking wooded paths and natural terrain is tough to beat. For some experienced hikers, the best of that feeling comes when exploring truly untouched areas – the ones that you can’t find on a well-traveled trail.

Called “off-trail hiking” by its practitioners, going off marked paths and into the uncharted forest can add an element of excitement to your hiking trip. The distinction might not seem huge at face value, but many hikers believe that pioneering your own path makes all the difference in having a rewarding outdoor experience. Those who are trying to catch a glimpse of native wildlife, too, commonly venture into less traveled areas. After all, you wouldn’t really expect to see an avid bird watcher or wildlife photographer walking on a path crawling with hikers.

Off-trail-hikingIn addition to adding a level of excitement to an outdoor adventure, off-trail hiking allows you to hone your skills. For instance, someone might wander off and then attempt to make their way back to the trail using a map and compass. Another might walk the woods to look for signs of wildlife, sharpening their tracking skills. Whatever the specific reason might be, there’s little doubt that experience off the trail will help you work towards becoming a better overall outdoor enthusiast.

Special Considerations for Off-Trail Hiking

Of course, it would be unwise to talk about the merits of off-trail hiking without mentioning safety precautions. Because you’ll likely pass through places you’re not exactly familiar with, you should always make sure someone knows the general area you plan on exploring before setting out. If it’s somewhere you’ve never been, be sure to bring a GPS or map and compass, and know how to use them effectively. Those with less hiking experience might find it better to hike with a buddy or group – they’ll be able to teach you a thing or two, and can make the whole experience much more fun.

Because off-trail terrain is often more rugged than the trails themselves, be sure to wear a good pair of socks and boots. Aching feet have a way of making hikes miserable in a hurry. If you’re leaving for an undefined length of time, pack enough water and food to keep full and hydrated. With a few simple safety measures, the right equipment, and a positive mindset, you just might find off-trail hiking to be a new personal favorite outdoor activity.

2 Replies to “An Intro to Off-Trail Hiking”

  1. Before you go off trail be sure that it is welcomed by the owner of the property—private, town, city, state, or national. Most areas have on-line property records, so there is no excuse for not knowing who owns the property that you are planning to visit. If you don’t have permission from the property owner to do anything other than hike on the trail, you are violating the rights of the property owner just as someone wandering around or using your property without permission would violate your rights. Inappropriate use can result in trail closure. Woodland and wilderness areas are managed for a number of purposes of which hiking is only one. Managing an off-trail area for wildlife habitat includes allowing dead trees or snags to stand until they fall down naturally and dense shrubby and wetland areas to remain unaccessible. Walking in these areas can be dangerous for a hiker and disruptive for the wildlife. Trails and parks often include areas that have been set aside for scientific study. Non-scientific interaction with these areas can ruin the studies and make it more difficult to learn about effective management techniques that will enhance the woodland and wilderness that you love.

  2. Nice article. Off-trail hiking is a great adventure! Of course it is important to be aware of safety precautions – taking map and living information about our plans is important even on a marker trail trips. But if you won’t try – you won’t know how the “freedom” tastes 🙂

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