Hiking Off Trail: Must Or Pass


Off-trail hiking is the most challenging hiking activity and the one that provokes opposed opinions among hikers around the world. Some think you should try it as soon as possible and that you’ll bring your hiking experience to another level, while others suggest that it is by far safer to avoid it and you should not take any risks or else you may end up getting injured in the process.

In this article, we’ll show you all the pros, cons, risks, and possible dangers that can happen when hiking off-trail. And also you’ll learn some basic information about how to behave and what to do to stay safe and enjoy your time hiking off-trail.

What Is Off-Trail Hiking?

As the name itself suggests, off-trail hiking is the type of hiking when you leave the trail and go through the area without a known or made path through the woods, fields, or similar unmarked terrain.

Reasons To Try Off-Trail Hiking

  • The first and the most fun reason you should try off-trail hiking is the fact that you don’t know where you’re going all the time and what you’ll run into. This may result in the hiking adventure of a lifetime thanks to the fact that you’ll be researching an unknown terrain and trail, possibly filled with many surprises.
  • Secondly, off-trail hiking offers you the chance to try something challenging. For instance, some National parks don’t even have proper trails but the whole park is divided by zones or areas, and you’re on your own to roam around and inspect anything you want. This includes going through different terrains, and you’ll have to navigate yourself through them.
  • Off-trail hiking will give you a sense of freedom you can’t possibly compare to anything else. Just knowing that you’re able to choose your path and to go wherever you like is a great thing that will most definitely not only relax you, but it will also give you the chance to experience nature from a whole different perspective, to get to know it better and enjoy it on a more personal and primal level.

Possible Risks And Dangers

Hiking off-trail is fun, but it also has its dangers and potential risks you should know about.

  • During off-trail hiking, you can easily end up meeting lots of wild animals. Some of them may be dangerous, others may not, but to avoid any possible problems, make sure to learn how to behave in this type of situation.
  • Weather is another potentially tricky issue when it comes to off-trail hiking, especially if you get caught by the storm and have to run to shelter. While on the regular trail, you’ll probably run into some kind of shelter from time to time. In off-trail hiking, you’ll mostly be on your own and would have to figure it out by yourself.
  • Trespassing is another possible off-trail hiking issue, especially if you hike somewhere you’re not familiar with.
  • Tricky terrain is something you’ll have to look out for at all the time. Remember, unlike official trails that are groomed from time to time and kept in a good shape, when hiking off-trail you’ll be going through an area where you won’t be able to see much of the human influence. This is beautiful because you’ll be able to enjoy nature at its best, but it can also be a bit of a problem because the terrain can be quite challenging, especially if you have to hike up the mountain or through the rocky area.

General Off-Trail Hiking Tips

With the help of the following tips, gaining your first off-trail experience shouldn’t be much of a problem.

Start At A Familiar Place

If you’re an off-trail hiking newbie, the best thing is to go somewhere familiar, take a map with you and slowly work your way around. Make two points and try to get from point A to point B with the help of the map, compass, and other hiking gear. You could also set up the campsite and start taking small daytime off-trail hikes around the campsite, just to get used to feeling.

Tricky Terrain

The terrain you’ll be hiking on will most of the time be far from perfect, and you’ll run into many different obstacles. Here is how to overcome them:

  • If you run into a fallen tree, the best solution is to go around it. If you have to go over it, then make sure that the blowdown is sure for hiking over by shaking or taping it.
  • If you go over a rocky area, move slowly. Before placing your weight on a certain area, test it with one foot and make sure it can carry your weight. Do your best to keep your balance.
  • If you end up hiking through a dense forest, make sure you have a compass with you, just in case you can’t see the sun.
  • Make sure to carry as light equipment as possible so you don’t risk losing stability. This way it will be easier to move around.

How To Navigate


In the modern era, navigations are way simpler, in theory, thanks to hiking GPS, but the GPS could lose its signal or simply malfunction, so you should learn how to read the map before you hit the road. You could use the GPS to check your course from time to time, but avoid using it too much. Knowing how to read the map can be a lifesaver.

Also, before you go, make sure you’ve planned the route and marked it on the map itself. What you could do is to mark the shortest line, but also at least one additional so you have an alternative route to your desired finish line. Remember, the shortest way also may not be the easiest one or the quickest one, thanks to possibly hard terrain, etc.

Look For A Water Source

An essential part of your off-trail hiking preparation should be finding a water source near your checkpoints. What you could do is the following:

  • Google them out.
  • Contact the local authority center and ask for information about the locations of water sources.
  • If unable to locate them, watch the birds and other wildlife. They rarely go too far away from the water source.

Learn When It’s Time To Quit

Hiking off-trail is unpredictable and sometimes things could go south no matter how serious you take them. If you find yourself in some of the following situations, it is best to call it a trip and get back to civilization for your safety:

  • If you’re too tired but nowhere near the finish line.
  • If you run into a situation you don’t know how to handle or to weather or trail conditions you’re not prepared for.
  • If the weather forecast says there will be a severe storm.
  • You get injured or ill.

Other Tips

  • Don’t go hiking off-trail alone. It won’t only be more fun in the company, but you’ll also have someone to help you and it will be way easier to overcome any possible challenges.
  • Always inform at least two different people about your timeline and trip plan. Your family, some friends back home, or local authorities will do. Hand them your trip plan printed and do your best to stick it.
  • Always be prepared for anything and everything.

How To Prepare

Besides working out and gaining strength, here is what to do to prepare yourself for your off-trail hiking trip:

  • Carry the essential gear. If you plan to hike dense forest, you won’t need the same equipment as when hiking the rocky area, so know your trail and get the gear according to it.
  • Print and study the maps. Mark all the important places and forbidden areas.
  • Check the weather forecast. This is especially important if you plan to go on a multi-day camping trip.
  • Make sure you have the best possible clothes for your trip. You don’t want to get cold, but you’ll also love to avoid getting overheated. Take merino wool into consideration. Check our guide on cold weather hiking clothes.
  • Practice setting up the tent and tarp. This you can do in your backyard and practice until you master it.
  • Learn how to use firestarters.
  • Inform yourself about possible off-limit areas or other rules and respect them.
  • Make sure you have your survival kit and a first aid kit with you, no matter what.

Globo Surf Overview

Some hikers adore going off-trail hiking, while others prefer to skip it due to the high risk it comes with. On the other hand, it is also one of the most rewarding hiking experiences you’ll ever encounter. In this article, you’ve read about the pros, possible cons, and dangers of hiking off-trail. Will you go for it depends solely on you and your preference.

More Backpacking/Hiking Reviews:


  1. Master Class: Off-Trail Hiking, backpacker.com
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!