Hiking is an outdoor activity which consists of walking in natural environments, often on hiking trails.
Hiking may be broadly grouped into three categories:
- Day hiking involves distances of less than a mile up to longer distances that can be covered in a single day. For a day hike along an easy trail little preparations are needed, and any moderately fit person can enjoy them. Families with small children may need more preparations, but a day outdoors is easily possible even with babies and pre-school children.
- Long distance walking is multi-day hikes in non-wilderness areas or with significant service, such as trails, lodges and restaurants, possibly with transport for luggage. Long distance walking is a tradition very much alive in Europe. There are many trails through the countryside, often leading from one village to the next, and also to towns on the way. Often they follow routes used before roads were built. These and similar trails can be and are used also for day hikes. See Long distance walking in Europe, Grande Randonnée, Walking in the United Kingdom, Rheinsteig, Rheinburgenweg and Pieterpad.
- Wilderness backpacking involves a multi-day hiking expedition where participants carry the required supplies for overnight stay and two or more days of survival in the wilderness, and camp en route.
The categories overlap: many trails go through wilderness but have service where you are supposed to spend your nights. Much of the advice for wilderness applies between lodges or camping spots (or between the endpoints of you long day hike), but not all. Much of the advice for wilderness hikes may also apply where there is no wilderness at all, but you are carrying all your equipment, making your own food and sleeping outdoors.
Hiking can often be done near home, even if you live in a big city. If you or your family are not used to hiking, near home is often the best place to start. Getting away is easier and if something goes wrong or you simply do not enjoy your time, you can go home and do it differently the next time. For some, having a big experience the first time may feel important, but especially for children this is not a good option: they will be fascinated by the very small new experiences. If you do not have a wood behind your house, a picnic at some nearby destination with trails and a campfire site may be ideal until you know everybody will be comfortable with more demanding adventures.
At many hiking destinations, there are easy-to-follow trails, such that knowing how to use a map and compass is not essential (although recommended), and there may be lodges with food and accommodation. Some such trails offer the possibility to get to see wilderness without too much skill and effort. The requirements vary though. If you are not used to walk a few kilometres, then a ten kilometres mountain hike will certainly be very hard. And on some trails you may find that the trail is not at all easy to follow, or that the creek you have to cross has transformed into a fast-flowing river. Always check what to expect.