“Hiking is not escapism; it’s realism. The people who choose to spend time outdoors are not running away from anything; we are returning to where we belong.”
— Jennifer Pharr Davis, The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength & Resilience
By Angie Comer
Unlike many outdoor sports—water-skiing or rock-climbing, as examples—hiking does not require heavy gear or extensive lessons. A simple activity, hiking can be enjoyed with only minor preparation—and proper footwear. Just throw on your best Ariat boots, pack a bag with plenty of water and healthy snacks, and you’re off. (Be sure to do your research—you don’t want to be halfway down the trail when you realize it’s 30 miles long!)
Hiking isn’t—and never was—meant to be thought of purely in terms of physical exercise. The origins of the activity go all the way back to the 18th century Romantic Movement, when appreciation for the beauty of nature fully evolved. It began simply as walking for pleasure, maturing over centuries to become the craze that it is today.
Still, it is well established that hiking is good for your physical and mental health. It can help control weight, improve balance, build upper and lower body strength, strengthen the core and enhance mood. As an added bonus, hiking is a great way to bond with friends—or even seek out exciting travel opportunities the world over.
Did you know that only one hour of hiking can burn more than 500 calories? Head for the hills and you can expect to burn even more; just a small incline can boost calorie burning by 30 to 40 percent. If weight loss is your goal, hiking regularly can help you shed those extra pounds.
Regular walking has its own fitness benefits, but your body gets a total workout from hiking, especially up trails with sharp inclines. Your quads, glutes, hamstrings and core are all being worked and strengthened. If you’re carrying a backpack and using trekking poles to help propel you forward, your upper body reaps the benefits as well. Emotional Wellbeing Nature can be a great therapist. Getting outside and into the sunshine can help clear the mind of clutter and slow-building negativity. On the trail, confidence, problem-solving, creativity and self-esteem can be restored as you meet the challenges of your journey.
Most hikers would agree that it’s more fun to hike with a friend. A regular weekend meet-up or a planned long-distance trek is a terrific way to enjoy conversation and bond over a shared challenge. There are no screens or distractions, so you and your companion are sure to experience meaningful interaction. Not to mention that the hiker community encourages hiking as a lifestyle—making you more eager to continue hiking regularly.
While hiking can be enjoyed locally, some adventurers take the opportunity to seek out beautiful trails in other parts of the world. If you find yourself bound for Europe this season, there is Tour du Mont Blanc (TOMB), a 110-mile trek through France, Italy and Switzerland, beloved by beginners and experts alike. Also in Switzerland, surrounded by beautiful glaciers, is Haute Route. Not recommended for the faint of heart, Haute Route is a demanding 12-day trek passing through Chamonix, France and Zermatt. It’s quite strenuous, to be sure—but the eye-catching villages, snow-capped peaks and green alpine valleys make this one of the most fascinating and stimulating trails in the world.
Fitness and exercise programs often seem a chore, but hiking is absolutely the opposite! It’s inspiring, enjoyable and accessible. All you need are comfortable clothes and shoes. Start with day and weekend hikes to train and ready your body. Increase your skill level before moving on to more advanced trails. Oh, and remember to bring your camera. You’ll want pictures of all the surprises Mother Nature has to offer.