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Finding Your Spirit Trail

Author: Jennifer Pharr Davis

There are long distance trails all over the country – and the world. And, no two long distance trails are the same. So how do you pick the one that’s right for you?

All too often, hikers chose a long trail simply because it’s popular or because their friend wants to hike it and they opt out of researching the best trail for their ability and interests. Sometimes a lack of planning works out okay and other times it diminishes the experience and can prove dangerous.

For instance, if you are going to the trail for solitude and you start the Appalachian Trailin mid-March from Springer Mountain, Georgia then you might become frustrated by the quantity of hikers on the trail. Or, if you are a novice backpacker who doesn’t have any desert experience and then decide to trek the remote Hayduke Trailthen you might be putting yourself at risk by walking through unfamiliar extremes.

So, before committing to a long distance trail do some research to decide which long distance trail is best for you. Here are some basic criteria to get you started:

Distance: Not everyone wants to hike for half the year. And, if you don’t want to be gone for months at a time… then don’t attempt the entire Continental Divide Trail.Long Trails are defined as anything over a marathon in length, so regardless of whether you hike the 30 mile Art Loeb Trail, the 111 mile Centennial Trail, the 272 mile Long Trail, the 567 mile Colorado Trail, or the 4,600 mile North Country Trailyou will still be on a long trail. Spend time thinking about how long you want to be away from home and how far you want to hike before making any final decisions.

Difficulty – The difficulty and technicality of a trail should be weighed against your skill set,. If you aren’t comfortable with a map and compass or GPS then you shouldn’t pick a path that requires route finding. Or you should at least try to up your skills before setting off.

Community – Some people love to go outdoors to escape from other people; other hikers expect to find hiking partners and community once they hit the trail. If being around other hikers makes the experience more enjoyable for you, then don’t set off on the Oregon Desert Trailby yourself. And, if you’re a social backpacker then consider joining some hiking clubs and online groups to see if other friends are willing to hike and backpack with you on your next long distance adventure.

Climate – Personal note: I hate being cold. I’m from the south so I can handle 100 degree heat and humidity but if I go through multiple days of high temps below the freezing mark then I lose all motivation. So unlike, Justin Lichter and Shawn Forry,I will not attempt a winter traverse of the Pacific Crest Trail, but I thrived on the 600 mile Bibbulman Trackin Australia during the dead of summer when hikers are discouraged from backpacking due to extreme heat.

There are a lot of factors that go into picking the right long trail for you. And, if you hike a long trail and do not have an amazing and life changing experience then remember, it could be you… but it could also be the trail. There are lots and lots of long trails and by researching factors such as distance, difficulty, community, and climate you are more likely to have an amazing hike and find your own personal spirit trail.

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