What is hiking?
Before I answer that question, let me give you a spectrum of “walking levels,” from easiest to most-difficult, in hopes that it will help to clarify the true nature of hiking.
Using the two legs we were all given at birth, a “walkabout” can be one of three types:
- Casual walking
Let’s look briefly at each of these.
If this writer remembers correctly, the first shopping mall came to my hometown of Tacoma, Washington, sometime during the 1960s. Shortly after the opening of the Tacoma Mall, I became aware of an interesting phenomena happening at that mall. Early in the mornings, before the Mall opened for business, a determined group of seniors used the mall for a sort of walking arena. They would start at one end, walk all the way to the other end of the Mall, turn around and repeat, and repeat, and repeat. I don’t know if that group of walkers had a group name, but I remember it being an anomaly at that time, people out walking with as singular purpose, to improve their health.
Of course, people had walked around neighborhoods for years prior to that, but it is my earliest memory of a group of people planning walks with their health in mind.
The idea of walking long-distances is an integral part of our history, dating back to ancient times. It can be argued that the Oregon Trail pioneers were “hiking” across country in the 1850s. But the advent of actual hiking trails, in cities, for the purpose of exercise, did not start popping up across the country until the 1950s in the U.S. Of course, hiking trails have existed in National Parks for a long time, many of which were constructed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but the casual hiking trails we see in most cities today have their origin dating back to the 50s and 60s.
Today we see hiking trails just about everywhere we look, in city parks, along city waterways, connecting neighboring towns, all part of a mass movement designed to get people outside, get people involved in improving their health, and to get people mingling with nature after a hard week of work in a cubicle.
This sort of hiking usually includes carrying a small backpack for convenience. In that backpack one might find a water bottle, possibly a few snacks, and most likely layers of clothing should the weather turn bad. I think it is also safe to say those small backpacks carry some sort of electronic device like a cell phone because, well, that’s just the nature of the world we live in.
Backpacking takes casual walking, and casual hiking, to a whole new level. With backpacking, one carries the necessities of life in the backpack, and is gone for a number of days. Crocodile Dundee would call it a walkabout. A backpacker is usually dropped off at a trailhead. They are carrying a tent, extra clothes, water, and food, enough for an overnighter, at least, but usually enough for several days and nights on the trail.
Among these hardy souls, the true backpackers of our generation, there is the Holy Grail of backpacking, the Triple Crown which consists of The Appalachian Trail (2,160 mile trail from Georgia to Maine), the Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 mile trail from Mexico to Canada), and the Continental Divide Trail (3,028 mile trail from Mexico to Canada).
The benefits should be obvious, but here they are anyway
One walks, or hikes, or backpacks for improved health. It is a medical fact that those who have a regular program of walking/hiking have healthier metabolisms and improved cardiovascular. Walking is good for mental health as well, and is quite good at soothing the beast within us all, calming us, clearing our minds of things that are bothering us.
There is no need to spend too much time on the obvious medical and mental benefits of hiking/walking/backpacking. We all know them and we have all experienced them at some point in our lives. They are so obvious, in fact, that we are left with the obvious question: if we are physically able to do so, why don’t we do more of it? It costs nothing to go for a hike. It improves our health. It improves the quality of life for us all. And it gives us all a chance to get outside and experience the wonders of life.
What’s not to like about hiking? If it allows me to witness the wonder of it all, and improve my health, sign me up!