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Is hiking a sport? We put this common question to rest

Two hikers in Colorado National Monument
While hiking requires physical exertion and, on more technical terrain, a degree of skill is definitely helpful, it is not typically done as part of a competition (Image credit: Cavan Images)

It’s one of our favourite outdoor activities here at Advnture and it certainly gets your heart and legs pumping, requiring some pretty hefty physical output, but is hiking a sport? It’s a common question amongst devotees and curious thinkers alike, so we set out to answer it. 

Is hiking a sport? 

A woman hiking wearing The North Face Thermoball Eco Jacket

Hiking is the common term used to describe going for an invigorating walk in the countryside (Image credit: The North Face)

In short, no, hiking is not a sport. By definition, a sport is an activity that involves physical exertion and skill during which an individual or a team competes against others, for the entertainment of spectators.

While hiking requires physical exertion and, on more technical terrain, a degree of skill is definitely helpful, it is not typically done as part of a competition nor is it usually performed for the enjoyment of onlookers.

No, hiking is the common term used to describe going for an invigorating walk in the countryside. It usually involves a bit of an adventure, involves wearing hiking boots and carrying your provisions in a backpack and while it doesn’t have a designated minimum length, it’s more than a short amble. You can learn more about what hiking is, and isn’t, in our article what is hiking

Is there such a thing as competitive hiking?

A group of women trail running up a steep mountain

Power hiking, which is a technique used by ultra trail runners on mountainous terrain where they hike quickly instead of running on the uphills (Image credit: Ascent Xmedia)

There is one exception to the definition of hiking as non-competitive, and that is power hiking, which is a technique used by ultra trail runners on mountainous terrain where they hike quickly instead of running on the uphills to conserve energy without losing ground. That is a sport. 

But hiking in and of itself is not competitive or done for the enjoyment of others. Rather, it can be done alone or in the company of others, and is entirely for the benefit of the person doing the hiking.

So what is the point of hiking? 

A hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington

In a time where every activity seems to have become “ultra” or “extreme”, from trail running to frisbee throwing, is there any point to hiking if it’s not even a real sport? (Image credit: Mint Images)

In a time where every activity seems to have become “ultra” or “extreme,” from trail running to frisbee throwing, is there any point to hiking if it’s not even a real sport? Absolutely there is. Contrary to what our social media driven world would have us believe, not everything you do has to be death-defying to be worthwhile.

Hiking delivers an enormous array of benefits, from the cardiovascular impact of walking uphill to the positive mental health aspects of spending time in nature, never mind the fact that this low impact activity can find you tackling some pretty challenging terrain, whether that’s thru-hiking all 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail or climbing into the sky on one of Colorado’s 14ers. In fact, while it may not involve the adrenaline rush of free-soloing cliff faces or cyclo-cross, hiking can carry plenty of risks

The North Face Thermoball Eco Jacket

The point of hiking is to get out of urban environments and into the outdoors on your own two feet instead of on four wheels and have an adventure where you solve problems that don’t take place on a screen (Image credit: The North Face)

But risk is not necessarily the point of hiking, where it is in sports like ski racing. The point of hiking is to get out of urban environments and into the outdoors on your own two feet instead of on four wheels and have an adventure where you solve problems that don’t take place on a screen. Sports are certainly fun and a great way to bring people together, but we already live in an adrenaline-fuelled world and there’s a lot of value to getting away from the stress of competition and removing some of the pressure around constantly achieving goals.

Ultimately, while you could make hiking a sport if you wanted to, doing it on your own time and at your own pace is highly recommended. It can serve as your primary form of exercise, or if you do a lot of high impact, competitive activity, go for a gentle hike on rest days to unplug and recover. 

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Adventure.com. She is an author, mountain enthusiast and yoga teacher who loves heading uphill on foot, ski, bike and belay. She recently returned to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland after 20 years living in the USA, 11 of which were spent in the rocky mountains of Vail, Colorado where she owned a boutique yoga studio and explored the west's famous peaks and rivers. She is a champion for enjoying the outdoors sustainably as well as maintaining balance through rest and meditation, which she explores in her book Restorative Yoga for Beginners, a beginner's path to healing with deep relaxation. She enjoys writing about the outdoors, yoga, wellness and travel. In her previous lives, she has also been a radio presenter, music promoter, university teacher and winemaker.