What is an Out and Back Trail?

When referring to hiking trails you’ll hear about a few different types. Three common ones you hear about are out and back, point to point, and loop trails. In this article I’m going to answer the question “what is an out and back trail?”.

An out and back trail is a trail that goes from point A (generally the trailhead) to point B then back to point A along the same path. If the hiking trail is 2.5 miles, and it’s an out and back trail, then you know your total hike will be 5 miles. If you take a different path on the way back then your distance will be different, so keep that in mind.An out and back trail may also be referred to as an “in and out” but the terms are used interchangeably.

How are out and back trails measured?

If the trailhead sign says 2.5 miles one way then the total distance for the hike is 5 miles, we’ve covered that. However when looking up an out and back trail total distance for your hike on websites such as alltrails, the distance is going to be listed as round-trip distance. So when you look up an out and back hike and the distance is 5 miles, that’s for the total hike which includes out and back.

How long is an out and back trail?

There is no set distance on an out and back trail. It’s simply however long point A to point B is times 2. Generally though, most out and back trails do refer to day hikes so with that in mind an out and back hike will to be a distance that can be completed in a day in most cases. A long distance hike that involves backcountry camping could also be an out and back, when you hear the term out and back hike though people are generally referring to shorter trails.

2 thoughts on “What is an Out and Back Trail?”

  1. Hello,
    So, I want to put a sign at the trailhead of an out and back trail and the one way distance is two miles. Should the sign read “2 mile out and back trail” or should it read “4 mile out and back trail” ? Please let me know. Thank you.

    • Hey Tom, I’ve seen it both ways. It’s really a case by case basis. If the trail has no forks or options for other trails along the way I would probably want to see the out and back distance which would be 4 miles on the sign, but that’s just me personally. You can equate “out and back” to “roundtrip”.

      As an example, Virgin Falls is an out and back trail but does have some options along the way. One way it is 4.3 miles and the total out and back is twice that. You can see the sign in this post. Keep in mind the sign is just telling you how far to the falls though, which is at the end of the trail. Hope this helps!


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