I weekly organise a 10-15km long hiking session;
for a logistic matter, it is always a loop (I end where I started...);
and I always follow a rule-of-thumb: start from the "bottom" point.

Thus, established the route, should I start from the "right" or the "left"?

Here is an elevation profile of a planned trip:
(colours are different kind of terrains but the important aspect is slope...) elevation

In other words, are there any other rules when planning a route?
e.g. should we prefer starting with the steepest/hardest part?

Any tip is welcome!

  • 8
    Where would be a good spot for lunch? What views are better morning vs afternoon? Stretches of open trail in the hot afternoon sun? Water access? All kinds of things to think about.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 24 at 2:14
  • 3
    Out of curiosity: what routing software/website is this elevation/surface screenshot from?
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 24 at 7:44
  • 2
    @gerrit it's gpx.studio
    – mattia.b89
    Commented Apr 24 at 15:53

3 Answers 3


I would question that the lowest point is the best place to start, although obviously the highest point is not, because you must end the walk with a climb.

There are multiple factors to consider:

  • not leaving the most energetic section until last

  • not walking into the sun

  • walking upwind in the first half

  • not finishing on a steep downhill in fading light, when you are tired.

So IMO the best place to start is somewhere in the middle elevation, perhaps with the most difficult descent. From there you'll be 'in your stride' and can walk to the top, followed by, hopefully, a gentle descent to the start.

So, I might start somewhere near your 14km mark, and walk to the right.

  • 1
    I would add that if you lose your footing when walking uphill, recovery is much easier than when you slip walking downhill :) Commented Apr 23 at 20:17
  • 1
    Do you think starting downhill is more injury-prone?
    – mattia.b89
    Commented Apr 28 at 20:07

In any routing software I use, it makes sense to start the route from a useful start point (which might be my house, a car park, bus stop etc.), and plan the route in the direction I intend to take it, towards whatever features I would like to visit. It's very rare to have complete freedom in where to start, and paths are limited, so the gradient is only one factor in planning a good, interesting route.

Some navigation devices and software are better than others at following routes joined part way through, so the start of the route file should match the start of what you plan to do (important when adapting others' routes). If I need to note significant sections (perhaps the most exposed to the weather, the hardest terrain, or the last source of water in a while), I do that separately. In some contexts that's a sheet of notes, but points of interest (POIs) in a navigation file (waypoints in a GPX) can hold this information in a convenient way.

Even having assumed that your choice of start points is fairly limited, if you have some flexibility in where you're going, then you still have some decisions to make on routing.

You may of course have somewhere you want to be at a certain time - good views of the sunrise or sunset for example

The bottom is often the start in mountainous areas, with roads running in valleys and wanting to get to summits, but it's not the case in all terrain.

Making the first half harder than the last bit is usually a good idea, as you're likely to be tired on the way back, but there's often interest in the climbs, so it can be nice to spread them out a bit. This is quite typical if you walk up to a ridge, along a bit, then drop down into the valley again.

Also descending in the dark can get interesting in some conditions, so a little caution is required. Having slid down a very wet grassy slope with no visible path by headtorch, I recommend planning to come in on a nice trail if there's a chance you'll run out of light. If the path gets very steep, so you're scrambling, that's often better to do on the way up - harder work, but less risk of injury.

So overall, planning to climb steeply and descend gently is a good idea. But that's just one factor.

  • 1
    I try to do the hardest part first, so that I am likely to need less energy to return. When canoeing where there is a current, it's usually better to go against the current first, and when walking against the wind, so that when you get half way you don't need as much effort when you are getting tired. Commented Apr 23 at 17:25
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    @WeatherVane, yes, I also paddle or swim upstream first, cycle out into a headwind in the hopes it will be behind me on the way home, etc. I need to come back to my answer having run out of time earlier
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 23 at 19:12
  • 1
    Another option is to start with the least attractive part or the most boring part, so that the hike ends on an emotional and esthetic high point. Of course, there may be no boring part or not-so-attractive part, so then I agree to start with the hardest part.
    – ab2
    Commented Apr 23 at 19:47
  • 1
    @ab2 I once managed to start with a fairly boring climb in the rain and dark, get to the first summit at sunrise just as the weather cleared, see some rare birds really well on the 2nd hill, then descend over moorland with some navigational and geographic interest. That took a bit of luck, but the first bit of luck was the location of the car park where I spent the night - just below a pass
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 24 at 5:57
  • @Chris H. Congratulations on the navigation.
    – ab2
    Commented Apr 26 at 2:00

The list of things to consider in deciding the direction for a day hike is very long, and depends a lot on the area you're hiking in (populated vs. remote, mountainous vs. flat, coastal...). Some things to consider, very roughly sorted from common to less common:

  1. If one direction is steeper than the other, do the steep part on the way up. On very steep trails (where people need their hands), going down can be harder than going up, even though it takes less energy.

  2. If you pass by any spots likely to get busy, get there early during the day, when the place is less crowded (assuming you prefer when it's less crowded).

  3. If you pass by any attractions with limited opening hours that you would like to visit, pass there when they are open (more likely in the afternoon, because of the previous point).

  4. If the route passes by any places that serve snacks or drinks, pass by those during the latter part of the hike, so you have the option for an extended break supporting the local economy, when you have the bulk of the hike behind you, when those places are most likely to be open, and when you are most hungry/thirsty.

  5. If the trail passes along an open area with scenic views, consider the viewing direction. It's a bit of a pity to have that spectacular glacier view in your back but then hike in the opposite direction in the valley or the forest without views.

  6. If one direction has more open areas and the opposite direction more sheltered areas, in windy weather, you might want to hike the open area with the wind in the back.

  7. If the route passes along trails that get much busier in one direction than the other, you might want to walk in the same direction as the crowd, so you will meet fewer people.

  8. If any sections could be easily done in the dark (broad forest or farm tracks, or even lit areas), do those at the end. This reduces risks in case of delays.

  9. If hiking in a mountainous area in a climate with afternoon thunderstorms, get past the highest point early in the day. This tends to agree with point (1).

  10. If there are any sections that might be impassible and can't be easily detoured around, plan them early during the route, so that you have enough time to backtrack.

  11. When crossing fields of snow, plan them early during the day, but not too early, as they should not be frozen but also not too soft.

  12. If the route involves unbridged river crossings in mountainous terrain, plan those early during the day, when they contain less water.

  13. If the route involves glacier crossings, those might be easier later during the day.

  14. If your route passes along a beach (or otherwise ocean shore), consider tides. Don't get stuck in Sunderland, like I once almost did, naively cycling there from Potts' Corner unaware the road would be flooded for hours not much later.

Most of those criteria only apply to day hikes.

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