Our Community - Reflections on Adventure

How To Plan Your First Backpacking Trip: Finding a Trail Using AllTrails.com

Backpacking is intimidating! We’re hoping to break down some barriers with a muli-step guide on how to get in. First things first, let’s find a suitable trail to get you out there! We are diving into AllTrail.com, a site that I (Roxy) use often to find the perfect trail to suit my fancy, be it multi-day intense trips or quick one night in and outs. See below on how to get started and ask questions in the comments!

1. Sign Up and Log In

No one wants another email or account, but signing up for AllTrails has a ton of benefits. You can sign up using your email, or connect via Facebook or Google. Logging in allows you to save and track your favorite trails, create personalized lists, and access your activity history. My homepage says “Ben” because I share a Pro account with my partner.

The Cairn Project Alltrails Guide 2023 12 12 At 5.11.49 Pm

2. Explore the Home Page

Once logged in, take a moment to explore the homepage. Here, you’ll find a curated selection of featured trails that can offer inspiration for your next outdoor trip. It’s a simple way to discover trails you might not have considered. It’s also a nice way to get acquainted with the lay out of the site and what information each hike provides.

3. Search for Trails

We’ve made it to why you’re here! This is the best part of AllTrails and one I utilize the most. Use the search bar at the top to find trails that match your preferences. You can input specific locations, trail names, or activities you’re interested in (in this case, backpacking). You can then modify those results by difficulty, length, elevation gain, and user ratings. I like to pick an area I’m interested in, search the entire area, then start narrowing down to my preferences using distance and elevation gain. If I’m feeling spicy, I also narrow it down by user rating (4 and above). If you haven’t hiked at all, plan for an estimated 1 hour per mile pace and FAR fewer miles than you’re used to per day. Anything more that 500 feet of elevation per mile is going to feel very uphill! If you see 1000 feet in a mile, steer clear!

4. Read Trail Reviews+FAQs

Before choosing a trail, delve into user reviews and photos. These are especially good at providing current trail conditions, highlights, and potential challenges. BEWARE, some users are currmudgens and will leave scatching reviews for beautiful hikes. Some aren’t even hiking the right trail. I like to look at the trail users GPS tracks (found by clicking the link next to the date they hiked) to see what they did and if I would do anything differently. You can scroll to below reviews to see FAQs which can be hit or miss, but sometimes very helpful!

5. Download the Mobile App

The Cairn Project Alltrails Guide

While I hate to recommend you download ANOTHER app, this one is pretty useful. It offers real-time GPS tracking, offline map access, and the ability to record your tracks. You can download maps with the Pro account (more on that below), but usually I just rely on leaving the map open while I hike and checking it periodically. Sometimes I take multiple screenshots of different intersections along the way to reference while I’m in the backcountry.

6. Save Your Favorite Trails

Use the “Save” button to compile a list of your favorite trails while you’re searching. This makes it easy to reference back on what you were looking at, and compare trails to narrow it down to what you want.

7. AllTrails Pro

It is not necessary at all, but for additional features, consider AllTrails Pro. It includes benefits like offline map access, real-time weather overlays, and the Lifeline feature for sharing your location with selected contacts.

8. Take All Information With a Grain of Salt

I can’t tell you how many times AllTrails has led me into a swamp, told me to turn when there was just dense forest ahead, or said a trail was 2 miles and it ended up being 10. Do not use it as your sole source of information! It will eventually lead you astray. Always triple check your routes with physical maps and other sources.

2022 Paria 1710503 Scaled

I love AllTrails for finding short hikes around me, or grand adventures afar. Let me know your favorite AllTrails tips in the comments!

All photos with the exception of the last one taken from AllTrails.com

Roxy Dawson
Industry & Operations Specialist at The Cairn Project

Roxy Dawson was born and raised on the east coast but found her true stride rolling around the west in a van. She is part community manager, part journalist, part editor and now splits her time between her van and Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her husband, adventure pup, and son. She is most alive when her community is close, the environment is thriving, and nature is truly accessed by all that wish to enjoy it.