What Is Cross Country Hiking?


Hiking is a great way to spend the day outdoors with friends, family, or even alone to collect your thoughts. As hiking is gaining numbers in popularity, new hiking trails have been popping up all over the world to keep up with enthusiasts. What if you didn’t want to be like everyone else, and you wanted to go out on your own with no one else around just to enjoy nature? Well, that is were cross-country hiking comes into the picture for these people.

What is cross-country hiking? Cross-country hiking is hiking where there are no pre-determined or specific trails to take. Cross-country hiking requires the use of GPS, or a compass as a guide instead of a worn or paved path. Cross-country hiking is very similar to cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing, where you have a start and end point, but it is up to the individual to get where you want to end without any assistance or help from trail guides.

Choose A Path

Even though you are making your own “way” so to speak, you need to know where you are going to start and where you want to end. The best way to do this is to get out an old fashioned map, or Google maps to locate where you want to start, and end. From there you can almost map out a boundary of where you would like to go in between. Be very careful to follow topography and watch for deep canyons, rising altitude, and anything that looks un-passable, or you might end up having to back track for miles.

Train, Train, Train

Cross-country hiking is not recommended for beginner hikers at all, and for good reason. If you are a beginner into the hiking world, and try to set off on a cross-country hike, you may end up getting more than you bargained for in the end. Trails are cut, or paved so people can hike and have fun, and know that if they follow it, they will get to where they are supposed to. Cross-country hiking uses the experience of the hiker to know what type of brush they can pass through, or how to get up and down canyons, or even where and when to cross creeks and rivers. A novice hiker can get into serious trouble if they do not pay attention to maps and their compass.

Learn Navigation Techniques

Whether you are hiking, camping, hunting, or anything outdoors related, it is good practice to know how to use a compass, and especially how to read a map. A compass is usually not that hard to understand because they will always want to point north. From there you can pretty much know how to get back as long as you know where you started. A map on the other hand is a little harder to understand. Learning the older ways of navigation will help you keep your bearing in any situation you run across.

Map Or GPS?

Even if you have GPS, or navigation on your phone, there could be a chance that you will run out of batteries. A map on the other hand has a lot more going on and is harder to read than GPS. There are classes you can take, and even some places where you can buy them, might be able to guide you through how to read it. Always stay current on your GPS updates, and always buy current maps before you plan your trip. If you are planning to hike in the mountains, you could be in for a horrible day if a place on the map is clear cut by loggers, or has been mined for something. I suggest going and buying a map of you home town, and read through it to see if it makes sense. Try plotting a route to a place you do not really go, and see if you can get there and back just by the map.

Stay Calm

All hikers will have the same advice for people wanting to get into cross-country hiking. Stay calm! No matter what situation arises while you are out hiking, always stay calm and address the situation with a clear and level head. It is much easier to read this and think that you will be okay no matter what, but anything from falling and twisting your ankle, to getting lost by taking a wrong turn, to even getting approached by wildlife and not knowing what to do. If you get turned around, or get chased by an animal to a place you do not recognize, STOP! Stay calm, and look at your map or GPS to get your bearings before moving on. If you are so lost that you cannot find your way back, always stay put and build a fire to stay warm and wait for people to come find you. It is harder to find someone that is on the move, than it is to find someone who has stayed put.

Gear Checklist

Here is a brief checklist of what you might want to carry in your bag when you are out for a cross-country hike:

  • Knife
  • Compass
  • Map or GPS
  • Sleeping Bag (if going overnight)
  • Small Tent (if going overnight, or a long hike)
  • Matches or Fire starter
  • Fishing line and hook
  • Extra Socks
  • Warm Jacket
  • First aid Kit
  • Flashlight

Having these items will ensure if you get stuck or lost, you can stay there for at least a day or two until people can find you.

Learn How To Make A Fire And Setup A Tent

Even if you think you are only going out for a day long hike, always learn how to build a fire, and how to setup a tent quickly. In the case that you get lost, injured, or the hike took longer than you thought, being able to build a fire can save your life. Building a fire is not extremely hard, but there are different tactics to use depending on where you are hiking, and if it is wet or not. Most of the time, when you realize you are going to be out overnight, its already dusk or dark and you need to understand how to put your tent together with a flashlight. I suggest that after you buy a tent, you spend a few times putting it up and taking it down in your back yard or living room before you go, so there are no surprises, or missing pieces.

Final Thoughts

I love the outdoors, and hiking because of all the things that you get to see and hear when you are away from the concrete jungle. I have been cross-country hiking before and it can be a lot of fun, but there are also dangers to it that most people do not realize until they get out there. Watch out for snakes and wildlife, and pack the right gear for your hike, and you should have no problems with any situation you come up against, as long as you stay calm, and use your head.

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