Outdoor Expert Says Consider Your Purpose For Walking.

[Editor Note: Steve Hines will be teaching a hiking boot fitting workshop at the REI in Reading, MA., on August 10 at 6:30 pm. If you are in the area, drop by REI at 279 Salem St. and say hi.]

MountainTrekI like to hike. I hike for exercise, escape/“mental health” and to enjoy the companionship of friends and family. If there were no other responsibilities to take care of or if I could make my living hiking, I suppose I would hike every day. Henry David Thoreau had a humble opinion when he quipped that any hike that took less than half a day wasn’t worth it. Focusing on day hikes is my purpose here. Backpacking is a different topic. I select hikes based on a loose set of criteria.

Day hikes can stretch from a few hours (Thoreau notwithstanding) to a dawn to dusk affair. Some folks make a weekend or a vacation out of it by hiking all day and staying at a comfortable lodge or hotel each night. For me, day hikes are any where from four to 15 miles. Below are some tips and suggestions for choosing your next hike into the back country.



I often hike for exercise. If I want a good workout, I’ll pick a trail or location I know and am familiar with distances and terrain. I’m looking for a trail that provides a good cardio workout with some interesting features like rock scrambles. Generally, these hikes are moderate to strenuous and along trails I’m familiar with.


A hike along a forest trail restores the mind and spirit. Credit: Steve Hines

I often like to escape my routines here in the city and find the best scenery to take my mind off civilization. I like mountain views most but also enjoy lakes, rivers and dense forest trails. Purists also like to differentiate between hiking and climbing. In that classification, hiking is along flat trails with little or no elevation gain while climbing involves elevation gain and loss to peaks over 2,000 feet above sea level. Climbers like to differentiate between technical or aided climbing and scrambling or “walk up” summits.


I adjust my hiking destinations according to who I’m hiking with. Generally families with small children prefer flat or gently rolling terrain. I’ve certainly chosen hikes and climbs with folks who are younger and/or in better shape than I am. I try for some consensus or form groups with similar interests.

Scales The hiking guide books I use generally describe hikes on a three point scale:

Easy: Short or flat hikes of very limited duration. Good for families and those with small children.

Moderate: Longer hikes with some elevation gain. Usually longer and requires some level of fitness.

Strenuous:  Long hikes requiring at least a day’s time. They often have serious elevation gain and loss. Strenuous hikes/climbs provide wonderful views from summits and “height of land”.

Motivation Easy Moderate Strenuous
Escape A walk in the woods can clear your mind. Take the same hike in all four seasons Scenery often gets nicer as you gain elevation Rest often and take photos.

High peaks offer great views

Exercise Start slow and move through the levels Hills and mountains build your quads (great for pre-ski season) Gives a better cardio workout
Companionship Stay easy when children are along Appeals to a wider range of your friends Invite only the fittest in your circle

A desert spring with great companions is a treat in Sedona, AZ. Credit: Steve Hines

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