I suspect loop hikes are generally more preferable than out-and-back hikes, as you avoid covering the ground twice and you get to enjoy new scenery for the entire route.
However, out-and-back hikes have their own special charm.
You go as far as you dare, knowing that when you turn around you’re exactly half-way through.
You see all the same scenery, but from a different vantage point on the return leg. Inevitably, you’ll notice different details and appreciate the chance to take it all in for a second time.
You can mark your progress on the way home (negative splits anyone?). You’ll notice landmarks on your return that give you a refernce point for how far you’ve travelled and how much further you have to go.
Personally too, out-and-back hikes along the same route always invoke visions of the great Antarctic explorers, from Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen, to more modern explorers like Borge Ousland and Ben Saunders. These explorers set off from a base camp headed for the pole, before turning around and retracing their steps home. All of them wrestled with the question of when to turn around. They had to solve the equation of distance remaining versus supplies left. Could they reach the pole before food ran out on the return journey? In the words of Shackleton: “Better a live donkey than a dead lion”.
Luckily all I have to worry about is how tired, hungry and thirsty I’ll be at the end of a pleasant walk!
Here is a selection of photos from a 12-mile out-and-back hike along the Appalachian Trail from home to Keys Gap and back.