Circular -vs- linear
"Should I chose a trail that gets me from point A to point B or should I decide for one that gets me back to the point I started?" Thousands of hikers ask the same question every week. For all these hikers, this is one of the main dilemmas they face. There are many advantages and disadvantages to both choices, and so the final choice depends on each individual's preference.
The main advantage of circular trails is that they always show you something new and unexpected. You are not backtracking your own steps, and so you get to see new parts of the forest, experience new views and be surprised by sudden climbs or descends. This type of trail clearly suits to an adventurous hiker better, for the reasons already stated. In addition, circular trails tend to circle around a mountain range or a summit of a hill, providing many spectacular views to all sides.
On the other hand, these trails tend to be more dangerous than linear trails, especially for inexperienced hikers. Unless you hiked that trail before or have a good map and know how to evaluate it, you may end up exhausted before you finish hiking. On linear trails, you always know what you have to go through on the way back, so you can always return when you start to feel tired. Circular trails, however, have the uncanny ability to prompt you to go further. Therefore, you should always study the map well before embarking on this kind of quest.
Linear trails are not as bad as some people portray them. You always know what's in front of you once you turn around and backtrack your steps. Still, you will be surprised how differently the trail looks once you walk the other way. In addition, you will know what to expect once you turn back.
There is another type of linear trails, however, featuring a much longer trail where you do not backtrack your steps, but where you go in a group, and leave one car at the end of the trail. This trail works the same way as a circular trail and is used by hikers who want to hike a piece of the Appalachian Trail or other long trails.
It's up to you what type of trails you chose. If you are a more adventurous type, you will prefer the circular trail. If you are a more systematic and secure type, most likely you will chose a linear trail. But before deciding, try both types of trails a few times; you may me surprised by your taste in one or the other type.
How to choose binoculars
Considering that many hikes on this Web site feature at least one panoramic view, you may consider buying a pair binoculars. Not only it is fun to observe the world below you, but unless you are extremely unlucky, you will run into enough wildlife to make the binoculars pay for themselves in no time. The following paragraphs describe the basic characteristics of binoculars and offer my humble advice on which binoculars to buy.
When you search for the appropriate binoculars, you will notice a series of numbers behind the name. Most commonly, you will run into something like "Brand name 7x22". In addition, most binoculars list a number associated with "Field of view". Let's look at the first two numbers first: 7x22 means that the binoculars have a magnification of 7 times, and that the front lens diameter is 22 millimeters. While the first number is self-explanatory, the second number sometimes confuses the user. Why in the world would you want to know the diameter of the front lens?
The reason for this is that the bigger this lens is, the more light it gathers, and the worse light conditions the binoculars can be used in. If you divide the diameter by the magnification (in this case 3.1), you get what's called the "Exit Pupil". This refers directly to your own eye pupil. In extreme daylight, your pupil contracts to a diameter of about 2mm. At night, it expands to about 7mm, in order to capture more light. The same applies for binoculars. A 3.1 exit pupil lets through about as much light as you can see with your naked eye on a normal day. The larger this number is, the better the binoculars perform at night.
Field of view is another important number. It refers to how large an area you can see with your binoculars. Usually, it is represented by a number of degrees (such as 6.3), or by the actual area you see at 1000 yards (such as 290 feet at 1000 yards). Generally, the larger the number the better, because at the same magnification you can see more.
There are a few more factors to take into account: whether the binoculars are watertight, how good the lenses are and what's the design of the binoculars. For hiking purposes, I would recommend the following: A 8x magnification is more than sufficient. As these models are very common, you won't have a problem with finding the appropriate binoculars. You will be hiking mainly through daylight, so you don't need any monster lenses. In fact, anything between 23 and 25 should be enough. All those binoculars feature a field of view between 250 and 350 feet at 1000 yards, so there's nothing much to choose from. You want as compact and light-weight binoculars you can find. As for optics, go for the best you can find: aspherycal multicoated lenses. Aspherycal means that the image is sharp everywhere, including close to the edge. Multicoated lenses improve the image quality and protect from UV rays. I have not find features like waterproof models not worth the extra price.
Following this advice, I can recommend two relatively cheap models. The Canon 8x23A has a great compact design, excellent optics and a very low price of $59.99. These are the binoculars I own, and I've been very satisfied with them. For more information, please check my review of these binoculars here. The other model I recommend is the Pentax UCF M 8x21. These binoculars cost $10 more, but have better optics, a better field of view, but suffer from a slightly lower exit pupil and I didn't like their design too much. Still for this price, you cannot get wrong with either model.
Good luck, and see you on the trails.