If you are wondering, “what is a switchback”, you are not alone. Many have not have heard of switchback hiking before. Switchback trails are an excellent option for anyone who has access to them. In this article, we’ll share the switchback definition, why they’re so great, and the etiquette of hiking these trails. 

Day hiking is an immensely fulfilling experience, with the sun and the elements synergizing themselves beautifully. Of course, any hike is excellent — as long as you have the right hiking equipment and the best paths. (Need a daypack? We’ve got you covered!)

We’re here to give you our insights into switchback hiking. If you’ve traveled these trails before, please drop your experiences down in the comments below!

what are switchbacks

What is a Switchback? The Switchback Definition

In a nutshell, a switchback is a path that twists and turns through a hill or mountain. Switchback trails are more elongate than straight paths—and, as such, take more time to traverse.

To see the layout of a real-life switchback trail, check out this switchback hike on AllTrails.com. You’ll see how sharp the turns can be and how long they can stretch.

Why Hike Switchbacks?

Now that you know the answer to “What is a switchback?” you might be wondering why they’re so fantastic. There are a few reasons.

Hiking Switchbacks Are Good For The Environment

Straight trails erode more quickly and more efficiently than switchbacks do. When a path erodes, water wipes away the flora and the dirt found on the way. Over time, this process will ruin the trail and eat away at the hill or mountain.

Switchbacks, on the other hand, are specifically designed to mitigate the effects of erosion. When planners insert deep curves in multiple spots along the trail, water must travel more slowly downward.

As a result, switchback trails stay around longer than their straight counterparts and help maintain terrain integrity. Trail planners carve out switchbacks to make sure the trails are as nature-friendly as possible.

Hiking Switchbacks Are Good For You

Switchbacks aren’t just a win for the terrain, though: they’re a win for you. These trails reduce the incline along which you hike.

That means steep angles are more comfortable to climb. Not only that, but switchbacks take longer to walk than straight paths do. That gives you more time to enjoy your hike!

Switchback Trail Etiquette

For the most part, switchback hiking etiquette is the same as standard hiking etiquette. Here’s the critical addition, though: don’t cut across the path by walking straight.

When you do that, you risk damaging plant life and disturbing animals along the way. It can also carve out a new straight path, which will erode the terrain faster than the switchback will.


What is a switchback? It’s a fantastic type of hiking trail that preserves land and optimizes your uphill hikes. We’ve outlined the nature of switchbacks, their benefits, and how to walk them. We hope that we’ve helped you on your way to switchback hiking!