Most people go on hikes to experience nature or work up a nice sweat. Then there are those backpackers who want to immerse themselves in the outdoors and feel the challenge of living off their backs. And then, there are those extreme outdoorspeople who venture into the wilderness, hoping to really feel how raw nature can get.
Here is a list of hikes most suited to that last category of people; these trails are sure to make your heart pound and legs ache, but when you’re done you’ll know you accomplished something very few have even attempted. But be forewarned: You should never attempt a backpacking trip of any difficulty without the proper gear; if any of these trails pique your interest, check out our satellite phone coverage maps to see which sat phone could save your life in an emergency.
Slovenia’s Julian Alps
Unlike other trails that are challenging due to their extreme weather or distance from aid, the Julian Alps in Slovenia are dangerous for backpackers simply because of the trail itself. The trail up the Alps to Slovenia’s tallest mountain, Mount Triglav, is thin and winding and often requires rock climbing, so unless you pack climbing gear, you’ll be crawling up boulders and twisting metal ladders with only your own strength (and courage) to hold you.
Slovenians maintain the trail at one-half to one-quarter the size of most backpacking trails, and often you’ll be traversing sheer drops with very little foot room. The locals believe you aren’t truly Slovenian until you’ve reached the summit of the trail, so if you feel like you’re up to the challenge of gaining Slovenian nationality, you might steel yourself for some serious backpacking.
Peru’s Huayna Picchu
There’s a reason this trek is called “The Hike of Death.” The settlement at the top of the mountain was created strictly to house the high priests and their sacred virgins, so only the most worthy of citizens were expected to make the treacherous ascent to the top of the peak. The staircase is well-planned and carved of granite, so unlike the Julian Alps, you aren’t likely to get lost or confused; instead, you’ll need to be fit enough to climb 1,000 feet in less than a mile.
Additionally, due to its age, some of the staircase is beginning to crumble, adding an element of surprise to the already grueling hike. However, once you’ve made your way through the fog to the sunny summit, you’ll be amazed at the beautiful view of Machu Picchu below — before you have to make your paralyzing descent.
Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Track
Survivors of this intense hike have likened it to a StairMaster in a steam room. It takes 11 days to complete this trek through this subtropical rainforest, and during those 11 days, you’ll experience extreme shifts in temperature and climate: Frigid nights that brighten into sweltering mornings and bone-drenching afternoon thunderstorms.
You’ll also be facing the danger of malaria and other tropical diseases. The death toll is unusually high on this trail due to the harsh conditions. Though Australia and Papua New Guinea are working to update the trail for safety, it’s still quite wild out there, and it wouldn’t hurt to rent a Globalstar Sat-Fi for your trip.
Scotland’s Aonach Eagach Ridge
This hike is only four miles, but if you’ve learned anything from this list, it’s that the length of the hike can have little bearing on its treacherousness. The trail follows a thin ridge that spans two mountains, and on either side of the ridge trekkers must avoid grassy slopes that make emergency shortcut exits impossible if the weather turns bad — which in the North of Scotland, it’s apt to do.
Most of the mistakes hikers make here come down to trying to leave the trail sooner, which requires near-impossible technical scrambling. If heights don’t scare you and you know to trust the trail, come here for some of the best views of the country.
Hawaii’s Kalalau Trail
Unlike the other tropical trail on this list, this Hawaiian trek isn’t dangerous for its shifts in temperature or possibility of disease. Instead, the environment, rather than the weather, is extremely dicey, especially for the unprepared. Over the course of its 22 miles, the trail crosses three streams which flood frequently and unexpectedly, especially during the wet season. Moreover, falling rock is a regular hazard, especially around the many waterfalls.
However, these conditions aren’t even the most dangerous aspect of this hike; rather, the communities of transients who live on the beaches around the trail tend to be rough with hikers. Be mindful of your possessions if you choose to depart on this hike.
Not everyone has the endurance and skill needed for the world’s most difficult hikes, but despite the advertised danger of these trails, countless numbers of people just can’t fight their allure. If you’re one of those who must answer the call of these treacherous treks, make sure you’re completely prepared before setting out; one mistake might cost you your life.
Written by Steve Manley