What is Hiking?
The idea of taking a walk in the countryside for pleasure started in the 18th century, and slowly rose to prominence because of its newfound association with romance. It didn’t take long for people to begin to realize the healing properties an afternoon of hiking can have on the mind and the soul, let alone the health benefits. Hiking is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the outdoors and discover the beauty of nature at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. The ultimate goal is to cover all of the different types of hiking that are out there. However, first, let’s level set and make sure we’re on the same page as far as exactly what hiking is. Wikipedia gives a very thorough definition of hiking and how it is portrayed across numerous countries:
Hiking is a long, vigorous walk, usually on trails or footpaths in the countryside. “Hiking” is the preferred term in Canada and the United States; the term “walking” is used in these regions for shorter, particularly urban walks. In the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, the word “walking” describes all forms of walking, whether it is a walk in the park or backpacking in the Alps. The word hiking is also often used in the UK, along with rambling (a slightly old-fashioned term), hillwalking, and fell walking (a term mostly used for hillwalking in northern England). The term bushwalking is endemic to Australia, having been adopted by the Sydney Bush Walkers club in 1927. In New Zealand a long, vigorous walk or hike is called tramping. It is a popular activity with numerous hiking organizations worldwide, and studies suggest that all forms of walking have health benefits.
Why go Hiking?
What makes hiking so wonderful is that it can mean different things to different people, all coming from various walks of life. Some use it as a test of fitness. Others use it as a workout for more intense outdoor exercises like mountain climbing. However, there are more that use it to recharge their batteries, improve their mood, relieve stress, increase energy levels, and just get healthier overall by spending time outside. Furthermore, hiking can be used to expand horizons for yourself and others. You can educate kids about the plants and animals you see by taking pictures or making sketches. Then, when you get home you can look up unknown items in field guides. Ultimately, the point of hiking is just to get out outside. There is always something new to see and somewhere else to explore.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.” – Edward Abbey
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau
“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” – Frank A. Clark
What do you need?
Ultimately, what you’re going to need while you’re hiking will depend on the type of hiking you’re going to be doing. Some versions of hiking limit the supplies you’re able to carry. However, other types of hiking allow you the advantage of bringing plenty of supplies. So, why not? Fortunately, we’ve taken the time to research everything you might need regardless of the type of hiking you’ll be doing. For more information, follow the link below to check out our comprehensive Hiking Checklist.
Table of Contents
This list outlines some types of hiking that you may or may not have heard of, or perhaps you just know them by a different name? The list is certainly not definitive, just a guide to help hikers (and future hikers) understand the full breadth of hiking scenes that are available to them.
Types of Hiking
- Day Hiking
- Solo Hiking
- Trail Running
Day Hiking is exactly what you think it would be. A hike that is completed in a single day during daylight hours. What’s great about Day Hiking is that there’s no definition of how intense it has to be. It can be anything from a simple walk at your favorite park down the street, to a hike up and down Blood Mountain on the Appalachian Trail. How extreme you decide to go for the hike just comes down to what you’re comfortable with.
Anytime you head out on the trail for a Day Hike, someone in the group should always bring a day pack. It provides a good place to stick everything you’ll need while you’re out. I personally have one that I always keep mostly packed and ready to go. My pack usually has things like sunscreen, bug spray, chapstick, a lighter, a compass, paracord, a small pocket knife, a tactical flashlight, and a hand towel. Then, whenever I’m ready to go Day Hiking I can transfer the first-aid kit into the pack and throw in any snacks we may need, and stick drinks on the sides of the pack. This sounds like a lot, but it really only fills up about half of the day pack. This leaves room to put any extra clothing that you may need depending on the weather that day. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll use your day pack once you have it set up. Sure I use it for Day Hiking, but as a side note, we often end up taking the day pack to the beach, the neighborhood pool, and sometimes even the Nashville Zoo. I think even you will be surprised the little ways Day Hiking will impact parts of your day-to-day life.
What makes Day Hiking so great is its accessibility to anyone and everyone that loves the outdoors. Pretty much everyone falls into the Day Hike category at some point in time. Beginners can use Day Hiking as their introduction to getting out on the trails. Whereas, other day hikers can put down some serious distance before getting back home for the night. Whether you’re starting out or a seasoned veteran, Day Hiking is a recreation everyone can enjoy.
Not all of us are cut out to be around people all the time. Solo Hiking can be a great way to recharge your batteries. The solitude of a Solo Hike allows time for self-examination, relaxation away from the rat race for a while, and a chance to meditate, contemplate, or just zone out for a few miles. While Solo Hiking, you set the rules. You can change your route on the fly, take breaks whenever you need them, and move at whatever pace is best for you. You’ll notice things while Solo Hiking that you’ve never noticed during a hike with other people.
Although Solo Hiking can be settling for the mind, that doesn’t mean you can skip on the preparation. If anything, you’ll have to be more prepared. Make sure you feel comfortable with the route your planning to take before you leave. Having no one else there to consult with on directions, it will be solely on you to navigate the trail. If you’re going on a Solo Hike, it’s usually best to hike a trail or route that you feel comfortable with. Another worry is injury. No one ever plans to get hurt. So, make sure you have a plan in place in the event it does happen. Be sure someone knows where you’ve gone, and also know who you’d call in the event something does happen. Always have your phone with you so that you can make a call and for GPS capability if you happen to get lost. Anytime I’m Solo Hiking at a place for the first time, I like to drop a pin on my vehicle in Google Maps as soon as I park. Then, I can always check the map to know how far I am from my vehicle. Animals, weather, and unfortunately other humans with malicious intent are other things that you need to keep in mind for a Solo Hike. I know those would be worst-case scenarios, but the point is to just make sure you’re prepared for anything while Solo Hiking.
Once you’ve prepared yourself, get out on your favorite trail and just relax. Take in the scenery, feel the fresh air in your lungs, get a little exercise, but most importantly let the great outdoors work its magic and bring your mind back to neutral. Solo Hiking is a great way to just make the world stop for a little while.
“Between every two pines there is a doorway to a new world.” – John Muir
Backpacking involves venturing out into the wilderness, with everything needed to survive strapped to your back. This includes water (as well as water filtration), food, shelter, sleeping accommodations, etc. You typically walk and explore all throughout the day and set up camp in a new place each night. For a comprehensive explanation of backpacking, the various types, and all that it entails, you can check out our Types of Backpacking page.
Trekking is a form of hiking with the specific purpose of exploring by getting off the beaten path, literally. Depending on who you ask, a Trek can be just one day, while others demand it is supposed to last multiple days. Regardless, the characteristic that sets this form of Hiking apart from others is its purposeful lack of restrictions. With regular Hiking, you typically stick to a set hiking trail. However, with Trekking, you are most often traveling through isolated areas, giving you an up-close view of incredible scenery. In fact, you may not see another soul the entire time you’re on a Trek.
Several areas of the world are particularly popular with Trekkers, including the mountainous regions such as the Himalayas in Asia and the Andes in South America. Others refer to Nepal as a Trekker’s paradise, due to its variety of available Trekking adventure options. However, Trekking can be done anywhere. So, if you like the idea of Trekking, but you’re not sure where to start, there are many Trekking companies that specialize in organizing tours that span a wide range of destinations.
Trekking can result in a trip as long or short as participants decide. From trips of a week or more to expeditions that last more than a year, Trekking can be as athletic or adventurous as the people involved. Whether you are a hardened mountain enthusiast, who wants extended high-altitude Trekking involving peak climbing and expedition, or an occasional walker who prefers alpine footpaths, valleys, and villages, whatever your interest and ability, Trekking has something for you.
“The best journeys in life are those that answer questions you never thought to ask.” – Rich Ridgeway
Trail Running is a sport-activity that combines running and Hiking. It normally takes place in warm climates, on worn paths, and tracks that are relatively easy to follow. Unlike running on a road or track, Trail Running generally takes place on hiking trails, often in mountainous terrain, where there can be much larger ascents and descents. The groomed trails that are wide, limestone-based, and have an even surface make for the best introduction to Trail Running. Whereas singletrack trails tend to be more challenging in nature and offer a dynamic running experience. However, the greatest part about Trail Running is that every trail has its own unique terrain and challenging aspects.
The number of organized trail races grew 1,000% over the period of 2008 to 2018, from 160 to more than 1,800 globally. Because of the natural or serene setting, trail running is viewed as a more spiritual activity than roadside running or jogging. Another reason for the growth and popularity of Trail Running is the frequent acknowledgment of environmentalism. There is newfound stress among many trail-race organizers to keep these races “green” or environmentally friendly and minimize as much disturbance to the natural environment.
Trail running opens up a whole new world for you beyond paved surfaces. Unlike road running, the terrain varies constantly when trail running. You run on trails, over rocks, mud, grass, and perhaps even over snow during a white trail run. Shoes are the main gear consideration for trail runners. If your first Trail Running experience will be on a gravel road, you can get by with your usual road-running shoes. However, as soon as you encounter roots, rocks and slippery mud, you’ll realize the importance of having Trail Running shoes. By having the ability to concentrate on each step, you’ll think less and listen to your emotions more. This state of mind is what really defines Trail Running, and it’s undoubtedly why new runners are taking up the sport of Trail Running each year.
The summits you would be attempting to reach usually come from some type of published list, such as 100 Famous Japanese Mountains, the Sacred Mountains of China, the Seven Summits, the Colorado 14ers, and the Eight-Thousanders. However, there are many other lists that a Peak-bagger can choose to follow. Furthermore, anyone can make a list for Peak-Bagging, even you. It simply needs to contain a set of peaks confined to a geographical area, having peaks with subjective popularity or objective significance, and preferably being among the highest or most prominent in the area.
Peak-Baggers tend to have a mild obsession with collecting as many summit victories as possible over significant, named peaks. However, the truth is, Peak-Bagging is a lot more than ticking peaks off a list. Many of the most popular lists you’ll find force you to experience a wide range of different mountain flora and fauna, across many different areas. Because of this, Peak-Bagging helps motivate the acquisition of more advanced hiking techniques such as weather forecasting, navigation, layering, advanced footwork, first-aid, along with many other skills.
When a summit is finally reached, the peak is considered “in the bag,” so to speak. You can choose any list or make your own. For example, you might choose to climb all the hills in a particular range or all the summits in your county over a certain altitude. If you are venturing into the hills, it is essential that you know how to navigate with a map and compass. Additionally, leave a copy of your route with someone before you set off and plan ‘escape’ routes just in case the weather should change suddenly.
The fact is, there are few things in life that feel as good as standing on top of a mountain and gazing down at the forests and fields below. From Wyoming to New Hampshire, there are Peak-Bagging trips waiting for summit glory. While en route, you might get altitude sickness, and you’re likely going to have at least one moment where you ask yourself, “What am I doing here?” However, stick at it and just enjoy the fresh air, exercise, and once in a lifetime views.
“We don’t stop hiking because we grow old. We grow old because we stop hiking.” – Finis Mitchell
Bushwhacking, sometimes called Off-Trail Hiking, involves hiking off the beaten path on trails that don’t actually exist and that are completely unmarked. You’re the one making the trail as you go. Some of the appeal to Bushwhacking is going someplace where things aren’t scouted out for you in advance; where there are no trail markers; where there are no trail signs and no mileage maps to tell you how far away you are from where you want to be. While this sounds a little scary to some, those that participate find it liberating, challenging, and freeing.
There is no style to Bushwhacking. Sometimes you will grab branches to pull yourself uphill, hold onto them to lower yourself down gullies, or just hang on for balance. Other times those same branches will hit you in the face. At some point, you’re going to pull thorns out of your hands and thighs. However, don’t show remorse or fear because plants can smell weakness. In short, the moral of the story, if you’re thinking about heading out on a Bushwhacking adventure, make sure you wear long pants and a long shirt. Otherwise, the scars from scrapes, cuts, and nicks will remind you that long pants are much better for this type of hiking than shorts.
Most people don’t realize that hiking trail design is a spin-off from landscape architecture where trail designers deliberately plan vistas and trail features to heighten our experience of natural beauty. Bushwhacking might be the only way to truly experience mountains, lakes, and views as they truly are. By Bushwhacking, you can find views that most people will never see, climb unnamed peaks, and find that clearing in the woods that feels like a fairytale. You cease to observe and become a participant in the comings and goings, the buzzing and the chirping, the courtship and the dance.
The term slack-pack is a phrase common in the hiking and backpacking world. It simply means you hand off either all or most of your pack to another person. That eventually turned into Slackpacking, which is a term that was coined to describe a day’s worth of Thru-Hiking unencumbered by a pack. Then afterward, the hiker would hop in a car and drive home or to a Glamping type of setting. Then, typically the next day, you would drive back and pick up wherever one left off. However, you could go back at any point in the future. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the next day. The timeframe is all about your schedule, physical fitness level, and overall ability to continue at the pace your body allows.
Slackpackers can move far and fast over difficult terrain because they’re carrying a small pack or no pack at all. Instead of setting up camp and building a fire, a Slackpacker is jumping into a car and either driving home or driving to a hostel/hotel. In this way, Slackpacking is a bit like Section Hiking a Thru-Hike, and covering as much of the trail as you want to do at any one time. Then, turning around and heading home.
These days the definition of the term “Slackpacker” has expanded to somewhat represent anyone that fits in between the casual day hiker and a backpacker. Slackpacking affords hikers the benefit of lessening their load and “actively recovering” on the trail, while still ticking off those wonderful miles needed to reach their goal. You can choose to Slackpack for several days or pick whatever section you wish to Slackpack. There are even outfitters that will drop you off at the start and then pick you back up at the end of each day, for a small fee of course.
What’s great about Slackpacking is that it allows you to hike sections of well-known trails and reach destinations or summits that are typically reserved for Backpackers. While you don’t have quite the flexibility of Backpacking, you also aren’t experiencing the constant discomfort that Backpacking can bring. As long as you’re willing to put in the mileage each day, you can reach almost any place Slackpacking that you would Backpacking, without sacrificing all of our modern comforts to achieve it.
“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Scrambling, sometimes short for Alpine Scrambling, involves climbing up steep terrain to the point that you have to use your hands. Another way to describe Scrambling is the gray area between Hiking and Climbing. Some people would consider easy scrambling as steep walking; others would classify hard scrambling as easy climbing. There is no clear distinction. As with anything, it’s all about perspective.
While you don’t need Climbing experience to do a Scrambling route, most of the time it’s not the actual Climbing moves that cause accidents but people’s inability to pick the right line. Scrambling lines do not jump out at you the way a trail across bushy terrain does. So, it’s easy to end up scrambling up the wrong line. To the untrained eyes, identifying the easiest break in a rock band can be a challenge. Therefore, most Hikers will usually bring a short rope along on a Scrambling route in the mountains because it might be needed for safety.
While it’s great to enjoy the freedom of Climbing without gear and a rope, there is always the potential for accidents. The fact is it’s important to recognize that Scrambling can be very dangerous. Scrambling accidents and fatalities occur in America’s mountain ranges every year, usually from falling rocks and unroped falls. So, know your limits. Don’t climb beneath or above another party. Always wear a climbing helmet. Never be afraid to break out the rope if you or your partners feel at all nervous or worried about a particular Scramble. Finally, as with any form of hiking, make sure you check the weather before you head out, and keep an eye on the conditions around you.
If you’re interested in getting into Scrambling, there are lots of great Scrambling routes in America’s rough mountain ranges. Although there’s a lot of information available online about Scrambling routes, that won’t help when you’re halfway up a mountain. So, make sure to get a guide book. As you’re starting out, you’ll want to follow routes that have already been mapped out. Otherwise, you may end up on something that’s way harder or steeper than anticipated or are prepared for. In addition, look around for Scrambling courses in your area that will teach proper technique. Anytime you’re setting off in the outdoors, you can never be over-prepared.
Snowshoeing is a type of hiking that involves walking over snow with the assistance of footwear that displaces weight over a larger area. The snowshoe is designed with the intention to deter snow accumulation and allow for optimal maneuverability. This prevents the person’s foot from sinking completely into the snow, a quality called “flotation”. Over time, the traditional wooden frames with latticed rawhide lacings have evolved to lightweight metals and plastics connected with synthetic fabrics. In addition, the toes of snowshoes are raised to increase mobility, which increases their athletic appeal.
What started thousands of years ago as an essential mode of winter transportation has evolved into a popular recreational activity. With origins roughly 4,000 to 6,000 years ago, Snowshoeing is the original snow sport. In the past, snowshoes were essential tools for fur traders, trappers, and anyone whose life or living depended on the ability to get around in areas of deep and frequent snowfall. Today, they remain necessary equipment for forest rangers and others who must be able to get around areas inaccessible to motorized vehicles when the snow is deep. Snowshoeing is easy to learn and in appropriate conditions is a relatively safe and inexpensive recreational activity.
To enjoy the winter in the mountains you don’t necessarily need to ski or snowboard. Snowshoeing is a great cardio workout and it works your entire lower body more than walking because of the weight of the snowshoes. So, if you’re planning to be at a ski resort in the near future or just have a local ski shop down the road, there’s a good chance that they rent snowshoes. Furthermore, even if you’re not overly familiar with the area, you can likely find a map with local snowshoe routes online or ask for them in the tourist office at a ski resort. If you can walk, then you can definitely handle Snowshoeing.
No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. – Ansel Adams
Orienteering combines a number of skills, namely navigation with the use of a map and compass to get from point to point. In addition, it tends to be rather challenging due to the fact that you’re covering diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain at a high speed. While Orienteering, participants are given a topographical map, which they use to find control points. Originally it was used as a training exercise in land navigation for military officers. However, Orienteering has developed into many variations (i.e. Foot Orienteering – FootO, Mountain Bike Orienteering – MTBO, Ski Orienteering – SkiO, Trail Orienteering – TrailO). So, in short, almost any sport that involves racing against a clock and requires navigation with a map is a type of Orienteering. In this day and age, Orienteering is even included in the programs of world sporting events, such as the World Games.
Whether you’re an experienced hiker, competitive runner, or just a family or group out for an activity in a park, Orienteering helps you improve your navigation. On Orienteering maps, courses typically consist of a triangle, circles, a double circle and sometimes connecting lines in purple. The triangle is the start, whereas the double circle is the finish. Then, all the circles in between are checkpoints. Finally, numbered orange and white flags (like the one above) are placed in the terrain to show you that you have reached a checkpoint, which you denote by punch registering that you reached the location. You may choose any route you prefer between checkpoints.
Most Orienteering events use staggered starts to ensure that each Orienteer has a chance to do his or her own navigating, but there are several other popular formats, including relays and events in which the Orienteer must find as many controls as possible within a specified time. As a way to keep the playing field level, controls are often shared by more than one course. This means you might see someone at your control and be tempted to follow them, but they could be on a different course.
Many people enjoy Orienteering for the challenge it offers, and they are totally uninterested in their time. In addition, many families enjoy going as a group on one of the easier courses. For more information about this organized form of Hiking, check out the information provided at Orienteering USA (click here).
Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor adventure that is happening all the time, all around the world. Participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device, as well as other navigational techniques, to hide and seek containers, called “Geocaches” or “Caches“. These Geocaches are placed at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world. There are millions of Geocaches in 190 countries waiting to be discovered. The best way that I’ve found is by using the Geocaching app on my phone. You can find more information about the app on their website (click here).
Fellow Geocachers will always include a logbook and pen or pencil, and then perhaps a hodgepodge of trinkets and possibly even a disposable camera. This hoard is then stuffed into a weatherproof box, known as a Geocache, and hidden under a rock, behind a tree or maybe even in a more urban locale. As a Geocacher you sign the log with your established code name and date it in order to prove that you found the Geocache.
With Geocaching, there are no dues to pay or clubs to join. The game transcends geographic, political, gender and age boundaries. Geocache sites range from easy to challenging, and their level of difficulty is indicated alongside the cache’s coordinates for easy access. Geocaches often use a 5-star system to rate the level of difficulty and the terrain.
The joy of discovering the box and the surprise of the trinkets inside are the bonus to a fun day spent Hiking, Biking, Trekking, and searching in unfamiliar places with lots to discover. In fact, since 2000, the Geocaching community has grown from a small group of enthusiasts to thousands of people. So, get out there and hone your treasure-hunting skills. Chances are you won’t have to go far to find a Geocache near you.
Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains. – John Muir
Hiking can be a fulfilling and healthy pastime, but it’s definitely a sport where you need to walk before you attempt to run. Different seasons throughout the year will require planning and foresight before your boots hit the trail. So, start with small, obstacle-free, straight trails in the beginning to improve your endurance. With time and practice, you can become capable of traversing summits and completing any mountain trail you set your eye on. Thanks to conservation efforts, everyone has access to outdoor hikes, and the United States offers a number of climates and terrains to trek through. Now, the only thing left to do is lace up your boots, grab your map, and head out into the great outdoors.