If you are new to hiking, you have probably heard about the different types of hiking, some of them being backcountry hiking and frontcountry hiking.
The difference between backcountry hiking and frontcountry hiking is that backcountry hiking is undertaking hiking out far from trails and any human activity. In contrast, frontcountry hiking consists of hiking in places like city parks and frequented trails in national parks, within or close to human life.
In this article, I will explain all of the differences between backcountry hiking and frontcountry hiking.
So, what differentiates them? What are some of the places to undertake each type? What gear would we need to comfortably undertake each kind of hike? Why should you go for a hiking style over the other? Let’s find out more, shall we?
Whether you’re going on a quick day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip, you’ll need a reliable hiking backpack to help you carry and store your hiking gear. If you’re not sure about which pack you should get, check out our article about the best hiking backpacks to see which ones are our favorites.
What Is Backcountry Hiking?
Backcountry hiking means hiking whereby you leave busy and popular trails and the hordes of casual hikers to venture into less frequented hiking destinations. This type of hiking gives you a chance to enjoy nature without human-made distractions. It also allows you to experience nature in its rawest form, as you venture far out into an unbeaten track.
What Is Frontcountry Hiking?
On the other hand, frontcountry hikes usually take place on the fringes of towns or cities. If you have access to cell phone services, emergency services, or are overlooking a populated area, you are frontcountry hiking. Outdoor areas that are easily accessible by vehicles and visited mainly by day hikers fall under this category as well.
Differences Between Backcountry and Frontcountry Hiking
The two forms of hiking mainly differ due to their different locations. The striking difference you first notice is the distance. Frontcountry hikes experience mileage limitations as hikers are usually in a bid to follow the set out trails or are casual day hikers. Backcountry hikers, however, are only limited by their supplies and willpower.
The second notable difference is the returns. Less frequented hiking spots offer solitude, an abundance of challenges, and adventure. As much as frontcountry hiking offers some experience, there is a reduced immersion to nature as the trails fill with fellow hikers and little to no wildlife.
Another significant difference to note is the level of preparation the two forms of hiking require. While you can simply take off for a weekend hike with close to nothing or go for a short adventure while frontcountry hiking, trying that while backcountry hiking might not end up being an enjoyable experience as backcountry hiking requires extensive and reliable preparation to pull off safely.
Last but not least, the most crucial aspect that differentiates both types of hiking is the risks involved. As much as hiking is a fulfilling experience with extensive gains physically, mentally, and emotionally, the risks involved have to be considered. Encounters with bears, falls from great heights, and other unprecedented hiccups are more common in backcountry hikes, where less is in the hands of guides and set trails, and help is far off.
Hiking is an excellent way to get some much-needed respite from the big cities, but it doesn’t have to be cumbersome. Have you ever had a backpack that was simply too heavy to continue hiking comfortably? Free yourself from the discomfort and follow our 6 tips for hiking without a backpack.
What Gear Do You Need for Backcountry Hiking?
Proper preparation is vital when planning to undertake backcountry hiking. Never attempt remote hiking without extensive preparation and a reliable set of outdoor skills. For beginner hikers, it is best to hike with someone or a group experienced in backcountry hiking.
Essential gear for a memorable and hustle-free backcountry experience include:
- Navigation equipment – The fact that the backcountry is free from human-made support for navigation, like signboards and landmarks, makes it very treacherous to walk around without proper equipment. Consider a map, compass, GPS, the use of celestial bodies, or a combination of all whenever possible while maintaining a light backpack.
- Water bottles – Thinking about water treatment and storage is a vital part of the preparation as hiking is a rigorous activity, especially when undertaken on rough terrains. Minimalist pumps and chemical drops can do the trick for water needs while maintaining a lightweight packing.
- A backpacking stove and fuel – Whether tackling prepackaged, dehydrated meals or gourmet meals, a source of heat is essential when hiking in backcountry territory. Depending on your carrying capacity, get a small, lightweight stove and test it under multiple wind and temperatures.
- Backpacking food – The thought of going backcountry hiking with no food after packing heating equipment is horrific, if not comical. Unless you plan to live off the land (while abiding by local legislation).
- A backpack – The duration of your trip determines the size of the backpack you will need. Consider waterproof bags, especially if you are carrying volatile gear, like electric navigation equipment.
- A backpacking tent – Unless you plan on utilizing known natural shelters, like caves or makeshift shelters, a tent is vital to protect yourself from the natural elements as you settle for the night.
- Sleeping bags – The last thing you’d want after a long day of exploring is a restless and cold night. Sleeping bags will last multiple years when handled well by their owners.
- Personal items – Individuals should consider essential items such as sunscreen, hygiene products, whistles, and bear spray for territories that require it.
- A first aid kit – Unprecedented cuts and bruises while out and about can cause dangerous infections and may even lead to amputations in severe cases. Thus, we highly suggest packing a small, easily accessible medical kit before venturing out into the unknown. Getting medical aid may take time, and this necessitates mitigation means since you spend a lot of the hike off trails and away from other humans.
- Footwear and clothing – Hiking boots, socks, breathable or bushwhacking pants, and a rain jacket determine the level of stress encountered while out and about, especially when considering changing weather and terrains. Packing light is our most significant consideration, but you also have to consider waterproof clothing items that will keep you warm.
What Gear Do You Need for Frontcountry Hiking?
Given that you are traveling on easily accessible trails, frontcountry hiking allows you to only pack items that are essential for a hike, such as:
- Water bottles – Dehydration is common when hiking out on trails. Thus, a refillable water bottle is crucial, especially when hiking to places with little vegetation cover, unreliable water sources, and rough terrains.
- Weather appropriate wear – Appropriately chosen wear will result in light packing and a comfortable hiking experience. It is imperative to consider where the hike is strenuous, like mountainous trails and generally hot geographical zones.
- Sufficient amounts of food and trail snacks
- A first aid kit
- A multi-tool or a knife
- Navigation equipment – Despite not trudging the beaten path, it is paramount to have a navigation tool for any needs that may arise unpredictably.
Nobody wants to experience a quick day hike trip with excessive weight on their shoulders. Imagine the heavy load and muscle pains you’ll go through by the time you get back home. To help you avoid this situation, read our article to learn how to pack for a day hike.
Best Backcountry Hiking Places
As much as backcountry hiking may look like walking off into the sunset, intense preparation goes into it, including finding out the best hiking routes and places for the most enjoyable experience. Selecting a proper hike location could be the difference between a memorable experience and a gloomy rain/snow-filled dash across the countryside.
Below is a curated list of the best places for backcountry hikers:
- Enchanted Valley – This moderately complex trail in Olympic National Park takes about 3-5 days to cover to properly experience everything it has to offers. The temperate rainforests and deep glacial valleys provide an enchanting experience as you traverse moss-covered gorges and encounter wild animals like elks, deer, and bears.
- Mount Rainier – The Wonderland Trail encircling the mountain is a haven for backpacking hikers. Comprising many elevation gains and losses, this strenuous hike takes you through low-land forests and valleys, all through sub-alpine and alpine areas.
- The Grand Canyon – Casual day hikers usually have limited time and ability to access the Grand Canyon’s backcountry territories.
- Yellowstone National Park – Featuring jewel-like pools throughout its vast landscapes, Yellowstone offers an extensive array of sceneries and physical features to get the most out of your backpacking adventure.
- The Appalachians – The gruesome hike in its entirety usually takes hikers about 5 to 7 months to complete. The Appalachians is one of the ultimate backcountry experiences, with about 1 in 4 people making it to the very end.
Best Frontcountry Hiking Places
Numerous frontcountry hiking trails exist to cater to different hiking needs. Enjoy this curated list of some of the most reputable frontcountry places to hike:
- Shenandoah National Park – With popular hikes, like the Old Rag Mountain and Whiteoak Canyon Trails, which features waterfalls, this place offers a truly satisfying hiking experience for anyone looking into the frontcountry experience.
- The Great Smokey Mountains – The subrange of the Appalachian Mountains offers trails with beautiful mountainous sceneries, dotted numerously by magical waterfalls.
- Vermont – Home to hundreds of 19th-century bridges, the mountainous terrain is the perfect hiking and skiing getaway.
- Zion National Park – Nested full of fantastic rock formations, panoramic viewpoints, and scenic hiking trails, Zion National Park is a worthy contender when it comes to frontcountry hiking.
- Santa Barbara – Santa Barbara offers a versatile array of hiking opportunities for frontcountry hikers. The place boasts hikes around pools, canyons, and botanic gardens, all bundled with incredible ocean views.
Hiking is a worthwhile activity that improves our physical abilities, keeps us on our toes if there ever is a post-apocalyptic world, encourages us to bond with our loved ones, and works wonders for our mental states.
That said, preparation is crucial before venturing out, whether you’re partaking in frontcountry or backcountry hiking. Emergency contacts should always be up to date and reliable. With the primary measures set up, enjoy Earth’s expanses in all its awes and wonders.