Many start into exploring the outdoors as day backpackers, heading out to get some time in the world outside of active civilization. Over time many will start to want to push out further, stay a day longer, and eventually become long distance travelers, so what is considered a long hike?
For many in the hiking community that I've watched, read, and listened to this would be more classified as a hike of the AT, PCT, or CDT. Those are long distance trails but not the only way for a long hike. A long hike could be a days effort for some or a section hike most depends on you.
If this appeals to you then lets continue and dig in much deeper into the long distance values, mentality, and why the experience is so rewarding to most who choose to take on these challenges.
When trying to look up information and talk to people there are different terminology for only a few things that tend to be more focused on a longer hike, so what is a long hike called?
Most will refer to them as thru-hikes, section hikes, or similar terms. This is typically due to those lengths meaning the hike will take weeks to months to complete, though technically any distance could be considered long depending on your fitness level.
Now that you understand the names around long hikes lets look at the overall mileage needed to be considered a long hike. While many may have a target in their head as to what they consider long the answer is far wider.
A long hike has no fundamental length, many will list them as a week of travel or similar as they are quite frequently like a thru hike.
There are many shorter trails, like the Lone Star Hiking Trail, which come in around 100 miles or similar from sections of longer trails, so how many miles is a long hike then?
Determining whats a long hike needs to be based on the terrain involved, if you are climbing 1000s of feet versus a flat trail you will make much more distance much faster. Exertion is a better way to figure out what will be considered long as a typical 10 miles hike on flat surface may take 4-5 hours.
The counter issue there is that a trail that gains thousands of feet in elevation, though only 10 miles in length, could take you all day to finish hiking and lead to a full day spent on the trail.
Understanding what you can comfortably do in a day versus what the trail will need from you in a day will tell you how many days and more about how long is a long hike to you.
When you are looking to begin hiking you should plan your trip in advance to know what you will be facing and what the impacts could be.
This will also help you to choose the right gear to bring and ensure your safety to make sure you can come back out again.
For most people a 6-10 mile day will be a full day of hiking depending on the terrain and elevation change. Many long distance hikers though will get to hiking 20+ miles each day as they get more and more time in building their legs and core up.
Most backpackers will want to put in the time to grow their daily mileage numbers if you are looking to explore longer trails.
If you are not interested in putting in long weeks of hiking or overnights though then we can move to daytime hiking and single days.
For many new hikers I would suggest starting out with easier day hikes, the flatter the trail you start on the better, as you get more experience or choose to push yourself you can look at larger elevation changes.
A long day hike for most will be about 5-10 miles in one direction as this will be doubled to leave. For many adults 10 miles will be a 5-10 hour day based on terrain difficulty and elevation change. This distance will ensure you can leave and get back safely before loss of daylight could cause issue.
The benefits to day hikes is they leave you less exposed to the troubles that can happen the more days removed from society you become if you hike longer.
Day hikes also help you figure out whether you enjoy the time out and to spend less money until you know you will gain benefits from purchasing gear.
Day hiking also can give you a chance to see a wide variety of places as there is day hikes in almost any park allowing you to see a vast array of nature and environments to find the one you love most.
One of the most amazing feelings for humans is to escape from civilization and really reconnect in and with nature, there is something in our souls that this speaks to.
A long trail ends up taking you further away from society and leaves you on your own, this is a unique and sometimes full on scary thing since we are so disjointed from it now.
The most wonderful things occur though the longer you are removed from the hustle and bustle of todays society and cities, its like your mind is able to clear for the first time ever.
If you are just starting looking into this as a hobby then look to assembling your gear and building up by starting with car camping at a National Park and then move onto day hikes, then it will be natural to know what each brings you.