For fun and adventure in the world of hiking, plotting an off-trail route is one of the best things that one can do. It promises a change of scenery, and also means that the hike will be exclusively unique to the one planning it. Knowing that one is doing a hike that has never been done can add to the thrill. It also adds to the reward, as completing the hike feels more impressive when one knows that no one else tested it out first, that one truly was breaking trail and going it alone. However, planning a course like that can be hard and sometimes dangerous, so there are a number of things to think about when plotting out an off-trail route.
The first thing to do is to get a GPS Unit. These are very good both in helping in plotting the route and in using while on the hike. In the off chance that one becomes lost, a GPS unit can help to find the nearest trail or town, and it will also ensure that one will not commit that one mistake that haunts the imaginations of all hikers: walking endlessly in a circle without ever realizing it. The GPS Unit will allow the hiker to set waypoints, which can be set all along the route one wants to take, and then the GPS will keep track of the distance to the next waypoint during the entire hike. This way, the hiker can get an accurate idea of how fast they are traveling, and from that figure out how fast they need to go to reach their destination by the desired time — or, at least, before nightfall.
The next thing to do is to get out a paper map and study the terrain. This can work on a GPS Unit as well, but works better on a paper map, as the big picture is decidedly more clear. One can then see where the rivers lie, what bodies of water they run between, and where there are mountains, hills, or valleys. This is all very important to plan out, as the hiker will need to calculate some sort of time and distance, which will change with the topography of the land. For instance, the distance from one waypoint to another may only be a mile, as the crow flies, but it will be much more if there is a tall hill within that mile. The hill could be hundreds of feet high, which all has to be added into the equation. Flat ground is much faster.
After figuring the course and the terrain, a hiker should check out the ground a bit on foot. They need not walk the entire distance, of course, but going to the starting point to get a feel for the land is a must. They will want to know how thick the forest is; since they are not going on a pre-cleared trail, they will want to know what they will be going through on the way. Are they going to be wading through wetland bogs with water up to their knees? Are they going to be fighting the underbrush the entire way, hacking it back with a machete? Has the land been cleared out in years past by a forest fire, leaving the ground sparse for quick movement? All of these questions will need to be answered so that the hiker can pack and plan accordingly.
Finally, the hiker must plan for safety. They will want to have plenty of water and food to take along, which varies with the length of the hike. They will also want to have a first aid kit and a cell phone. The GPS Unit will help a lot toward keeping them safe, but adding on just a few extra things will make sure that all unexpected circumstances have been planned for.
An off-trail route is a very exciting hike to set for oneself, and with a little planning, it can be a huge success. The hiker must just make sure beforehand that they know what they are getting themselves into. Then, they can experience the joy of hiking, the rush of adventure, and the thrill of victory.