Different types of trails all Hikers should know

Planning a hike can take some serious planning. How are you going to get there, how long is the hike, what do you need to bring? One of the biggest things you will need to pay attention to is what type of hike it is, as this can play a huge part in the planning process. When browsing the trails, you may have come across the term ‘out and back trail’, but what is an out and back trail? And what does it mean for your hike?

What is an out and back trail?

An out and back trail is pretty self-explanatory. The trail will lead you to a certain point, and then you will have to turn around and follow the same path that you have already been on back to your starting point. The benefit of these types of trails is that you always know your means of transport will be at the trailhead where you left it, saving a lot of planning logistics. You will also be able to turn around and head back to the trailhead at any point if you get tired or don’t want to carry on.

Hangover trail in Sedona is a Out and Back trail
Hangover trail in Sedona is an Out and Back trail

Usually, an out and back trail will end at an attraction, be it a waterfall, a scenic viewpoint, a beach, or some other natural wonder. You can spend some time at the ‘end’ of the trail before beginning to make your way back. This is why you may have also heard of an out and back trail described as a destination trail, as they are designed to take you somewhere.

They are also very easy to follow, meaning you don’t have to worry about complicated GPS or maps, but you are free to simply walk and enjoy the hike. Many people will also use an out and back hike as a way to test out new hiking gear, as if something is not working, they can simply turn around and head back.

How are out and back trails measured?

When looking at the distance of an out and back trail, many people are confused about how it is measured. Is the mileage based on just one way along the route, or is the whole trip, with the ‘out’ and ‘back’ part included in the milage?

You will be pleased to know that when you see the mileage of an out and back trail, it is for the whole trip. This means you will not have to do any calculations to work out the total length of the trail, as it has been done for you. The number shown on the trail description will encompass both legs of the journey.

You should also assume that out and back trails have been designed as day trails, ones that can be completed in a day or less. 

What is a loop trail?

Similar to an out and back trail, a loop trail will start and end at the same point. The difference lies in the fact that on a loop trail, you don’t retrace your steps at all. Essentially you will be walking in a circle shape, with the trail leading you back a different route to which you came. These do not usually end in a destination, but instead, the hike itself is the enjoyment. There may, however, be several points of interest along the way.

Navajo Loop in Grand Canyon is a Loop trail
Navajo Loop in Grand Canyon is a Loop trail

Out and Back trail vs Loop trail?

Both a loop trail and an out and back trail have the benefit of starting and finishing in the same place. This means you can pull up to the parking lot and then return to your car once the hike is over, so no worrying about how you can get home.

Many people prefer a loop trail however as it means that you will not have to traverse the same trail more than once. You will be experiencing new scenes and views for the entire hike. The downside, however, is that you can’t cut the hike short as easily as you can on an out and back hike. Cutting a loop trail short will turn it into an out and back trail, as you will have to follow the same path that you came from.

What is a Point to Point trail?

A point-to-point trail is the most logistically difficult to plan, as you will start and end in different locations. This type of hike is occasionally a day hike, meaning you will have to plan transport at either end of the hike. For the most part, a point-to-point trail is part of a longer multi-day hike. Once you reach the end of the trail, you will camp or stay somewhere, before continuing on the hike even further the next day. Each point-to-point trail is a segment of a much larger trail that will take several days or even weeks to complete. For example, the Superior Hiking Trail is a Point to Point trail or a thru trail


An out and back trail simply means you will head out to the endpoint of the hike, then turn around and come back the way you came. Although this may seem a little frustrating to some, there is a huge range of benefits that come with this type of hike, making it a very popular type of hiking trail. Each of the other types of hiking trails, such as loop and point to point, come with their own sets of benefits, so you will have to consider which works for you before donning those hiking boots and heading out into the great outdoors. 

Emily Winters

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