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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.