Ask the occasional hiker what he or she wants from a trail and a common response is less hikers encountered. So they want a bit of solitude while hiking. Sounds good and I agree, but as the sport of hiking gathers fans, sharing trails, especially easy ones that are easily accessible, hiking with others is the norm. To find a trail with less foot traffic, a hiker must choose a trail that explores a lesser known park or location. The other option is to select a more challenging trail. If your health and hiking skills allows, a more difficult trail will provide a dose of the trail solitude you seek. But before accepting the challenge, a few points should be pondered.
Hiking shoes or boots are the foundation to any hike and hiker. The lightweight shoes that serve as sufficient wheels on a partly paved, tightly packed dirt trail should be parked for the tougher trek. Ankle support is key when rocks and roots are steady obstacles on trail. A mid-height hiking boot offers the needed ankle support and also keeps feet drier while creek hopping shallow water. Rubber outsoles provide a wider grip on slippery and hilly trails, and deep traction lugs on the boot bottoms help also.
Trekking poles are a must when tramping over rough terrain. Inclines and declines are challenging enough on well-manicured trails, so add those to a rugged track and two extra points of contact keep things going smoothly. A trekking pole is also handy for pushing over growing vegetation out of the way for clear passage. During tick and other biting insect season, utilizing a trekking pole to move the weeds to the side keeps hands clear of the little critters.
A waist pack is better traded for a small daypack for a day hike on a tough trail. The extra packing space will allow for an extra bottle of water, trail mix snacks, energy bars and a more comprehensive first-aid kit. A more challenging hiking trail demands more energy so be prepared to provide your body the fuel it needs. Exhausting yourself before completing the planned hike is the first domino to fall, that will lead to one distress after another. Stay hydrated, nibble on the energy bars every half-mile and check your maps often. A GPS unit and compass should be utilized more on less used trails. Trails can become nearly invisible with less use. Especially during the autumn season when falling leaves cover the trail, and with only the occasional hiker's feet leaving no trace of the trail's location.
The last, but not the least thing to include in preparing for a more challenging hiking trail, is a digital camera. With less people around and more of nature doing its thing undisturbed, photo opps are more common. A well-prepared hiker tackling a tougher trail will be rewarded for the effort — and gain a true appreciation for a trail less traveled.