If I am going on a 10 mile hike and the book says the hike is 10 miles out and back, how many miles will it be total?

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    Welcome Annella Prosser! This is a great question because trail terminology is confusing! You probably know this but for people who don't, I want to clarify that "out and back" is a trail that ends, and you need to turn around and use the same trail to come back. It can also be called "in and out" or "destination trail." People often use them just to see something at the end, or to know that the terrain will be the same both ways. – Sue Aug 12 '18 at 21:59

Out and back is the same as total. The 10 mile trail might be 5 miles out and 5 miles back, for example.

If you take a different route back, the numbers might not be the same. For example you might go out, around the base of something, up the far side, down the near side, then rejoin your original trail to come back to the trailhead. Maybe that would be 5.5 miles out (to the peak) and 4.5 miles back (from the peak.) But the total is what you are told.

It's said that way for two reasons: first, If I said it was a 5 mile trail I would need to clarify whether that's 5 miles each way for a total of 10, or a total of 5. Second, they are telling you the shape - it's either an "out and back" route or a "loop."

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    The problem with the given phrasing is that it's unclear to the uninitiated whether it means that the outbound and return journeys are each ten miles, or whether the figure refers to the toatl length. – David Richerby Aug 12 '18 at 19:57
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    @DavidRicherby That is why the question was asked and answered. – paparazzo Aug 12 '18 at 20:16
  • Everything about this answer is correct, except I would disagree with the last three words "or a loop". While you might be able to find an example of someone referring to a loop as an out and back, that would be incorrect. Out and back refers to the type of trail, not the distance of going "out and then back", so while the context might clue you in that they weren't talking about the trail, but instead the actual walk itself, I've never seen anyone try and use it that way so it's probably only adding more confusion. – AHamilton Aug 13 '18 at 9:42
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    @AHamilton my point was more that there are two kinds of trails - some are out and back, and some are a loop. So if I'm telling you about the trail I not only tell you the length, I tell you which of the two it is. I'm not saying anyone would call a loop an out and back. – Kate Gregory Aug 13 '18 at 12:07

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