Road walking is a part of all long-distance hikes, section hikes, weekend backpacking trips, and even day hikes. Maybe the trail you’re hiking is still under development and you need to hike a stretch on roads, maybe a bridge has been washed out or a forest fire is blocking your path and you need to detour around them, or maybe you need to walk into town for a resupply.
Here are some tips to keep you out of jail, safe, and healthy if you need to do a stretch of road walking during a day hike or backpacking trip. These are all based on actual experience.
- If there’s a sidewalk, walk on it.
- If there’s a breakdown lane (but no sidewalk), walk on it.
- If you need to walk on the road itself, walk towards the oncoming traffic. You’ll be safer because you can be seen when approaching vehicles are trying to avoid you or you need to get out of the way yourself.
- Cross over to the other side of the road before you get to a blind curve. You don’t want to be on the inside of the turn when a car pops out of nowhere and is hugging the guardrail. Cross back over to the other side of the road, after the turn, when normal visibility resumes.
- If you see a trailer truck headed your way, get off the road and stop until it passes. You’ll probably want to close your mouth and eyes to avoid ingesting the dust stirred up from the truck’s passage.
- Make sure you understand the local laws about walking on roads without sidewalks. For example, many interstate highways prohibit foot travel and the police will give you a hard time or pick you up, issue a fine, and escort you to the next exit if they catch you doing it.
- Don’t walk on a road at night. Wait until it’s light. Besides the obvious safety issues, it sucks to have to find a campsite next to a road if you need to stop for the night but you haven’t reached your destination yet.
- Another reason not to walk a backcountry road at night: game poachers hunt along roads at night in forest or wilderness areas. You don’t want to be mistakingly identified as a deer in their truck headlights.
- Natural water sources can be scare next to a paved road. Make sure to fill up with water before you start a long road walk.
- Water sources next to a paved road can be suspect, especially if the road is treated with salt or chemicals during winter. Filter the water before drinking it to remove chemical impurities.
- If you’re not hiking near a National Scenic Trail like the AT or PCT, don’t plan on getting picked up.
- If you know you’re going to be doing a very long road walk, consider bringing a wheeled luggage cart to carry your backpack. I met two hikers at the beginning of the 20-mile road walk (pictured above) who did this. I thought it was quite clever!
- If you have trekking poles, bring the rubber tips along to cancel the noise that metal tips make on the surface of the road. Using trekking poles can help you increase your cadence when walking on roads and get it over faster.
- Road walking is a lot harder on your feet than walking on a trail and can really chew up your feet. Take breaks just like you do when walking on a trail, air out your socks periodically, and treat any hot spots as soon as you feel them developing.
- Paved roads absorb a lot of sunlight and heat. Try to avoid walking on them during the hottest part of the day or you’ll get cooked.
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