Types of trails and their signage

In times when technology makes everything easier, knowing how trail markings work is essential. And it is that when the coverage fails and the battery runs out, only the hiking signals can save us from ending up lost.

If we have to go from one city to another by car, we have the help of our GPS, as well as the signs that we find on the road. However, although many people do not know it, when it comes to walking trails we also have specific signage, which helps us to better orient ourselves wherever we move, even when the GPS leaves us stranded or when the data does not match the ground in which we stand.

One of the key issues when it comes to what hiking is is to move through the terrain with greater safety. Something that, after all, is also among the objectives of hiking. Best of all, the simplicity of this system makes it easy to learn, so you will hardly need time to master this discipline.

types of trails

The first thing we have to know are the three categories of trails that we can find on our routes. It is important to know that these categories have nothing to do with the types of hiking that we can do, but simply categorize each path according to criteria, based mainly on the length of the route.

The result is three different categories, in which the roads that have been classified are included. The longest are classified as long-distance trails or GR trails. These routes must have a minimum length of 50 kilometers and are part of a network of paths that require at least two days to complete. These routes are recognized by the acronym GR, as well as by signs with a white stripe and a red stripe. Obviously, you will have to take your tent and sleeping bags (here you can find some options to choose from) to cover the entire route. It also does not hurt to take some whistles for dogs that bark, in case you need them, along with all the necessary material to carry out long routes.

The second category is made up of short-distance trails or PR trails. These have an extension that goes from 10 to 50 kilometers, and must be covered in one or two days, at most. In this category there are also some circular trails, which begin and end at the same point, as well as routes that run through environments of great ecological value. They are marked with a yellow stripe, along with the usual white stripe.

Finally, we have the paths qualified as a local trail. These routes must be less than 10 kilometers long and are identified with the acronym SL. Its identifying color is green and they are routes that can generally be covered in no more than 2 or 3 hours, depending on the level of the walker.

Trail signposting

So far, we have categorized the trails. The next step is to know the different existing signals to manage us on the routes. The good news is that these signs are the same for the three types of trails that we have discussed, only the color varying, according to the category of trail that corresponds.

The first signal is the continuity of the path, which consists of two parallel rectangles in horizontal format. This signal tells us that we are on the right path. Just the opposite happens when we find the two crossed rectangles in the shape of an X, a warning that we are going the wrong way.

On the other hand, we may see rectangles with their tops rotated left or right. This indicates the route that we have to follow, according to the direction to which the aforementioned signage points. Finally, we have a signal similar to the aforementioned continuity signal, but with a small, thinner inverted L at the bottom. This variant informs us that there is a path that, starting from the main path, returns to this same path after a few kilometers.

As extras, it is usual to include elements such as beacons, which inform us that we are on the correct route, or certain signs in the form of an arrow, which indicate points of interest, such as shelters, towns, natural areas, etc.

By the way, except for these last signs, all those that we have mentioned to mark the route can be present in different elements, such as stones, trees, wooden milestones placed on the edges of the path or other elements. So it is convenient to have a good view when following the trails, to avoid getting lost.

interesting extras

Although we have removed it from the signs, it is common that at the starting points of some of these routes we find large information panels, with complete maps of the different routes and how they are distributed. Ideal to start the road and organize yourself better.

In parallel, it is common that in the visitor centers of these hiking areas, as well as on the Internet, we find those same plans that we have mentioned, along with a large amount of other useful information for the routes. However, this also depends on the good will and the means that the different administrations make available to users.

The signaling problem

Once we’ve gotten this far, you may have considerable excitement about moving around the countryside and starting to discover these paths. However, like the ones we find on the road, mountain signs are not always as useful as they should be.

Part of this problem is derived from human action. Many of the signs that mark these routes are affected by the incivility of those who destroy them for mere pleasure, with the risk that this entails when following trails and routes in areas that we do not know.

Added to this problem is the carelessness of the administrations, which often take interest in signaling paths and trails, investing a good amount in leaving everything resolved, but forgetting the subsequent maintenance. And it is that the signals, even without nearby incivics, tend to deteriorate, to be erased or simply changes in the route can occur for a thousand reasons, which cause the path to vary. So even when it comes to approved trails we must be careful not to get lost or have an accident on the route. 

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