"Is hiking a sport or a hobby?" is one question that puzzles many people. It is something that editors and writers never seem to agree upon.
Their disagreement is that since hiking does not have any rules and regulations that must be followed, it cannot be considered a sport. While the other faction believes that sports are physical activities, and so is hiking.
It is not appropriate to consider hiking a sport. According to various definitions, sports must have defined rules and regulations and comprise competitive events. Since hiking lacks these essential elements of sports, it is safer to think of hiking as a hobby rather than a professional sport.
Hiking is a physical activity that requires navigation skills and, for some trails, serious endurance. Like sports, it requires physical exertion and skill, and you get better at it with practice and experience.
Seasoned hikers believe that considering hiking as a sport can cause it to lose its essence. Hardly any hikers take on hiking adventures to compete with one another. Most people resort to hiking because of its serenity and the opportunity it allows to become part of nature. There are many positive effects hiking has on your physical and mental health. In sports, everything is about competition, which means your focus is always on winning. You will not be able to enjoy nature or the serenity of the environment if your priorities are different.
Why Is Hiking Not a Sport?
Before allocating hiking to either category, it is essential to understand what makes an activity classified as a sport. Going over various definitions, we conclude that a sport is any activity that requires skill, physical exertion, has a competitive nature, and is sometimes done for entertainment.
Hiking does require a skill. However, as with other sports, these skills are hardly defined. Traversing on steep slopes and muddy trails often requires precision, balance, and a sense of direction. An experienced hiker will often find a trail that beginners start with very easy to pass through. This shows that hiking requires skills that can be perfected with practice and experience.
No one can argue against the fact that hiking requires a lot of physical exertion. Even before beginners set foot on their first trail, they have to undergo rigorous training, which pushes their physical abilities to the limit.
For those who want to take on challenging trails, it is essential to be healthy and physically active. Like most other sports, hiking requires significant physical exertion and proper physical training.
Hiking does not quite fit the requirements of entertainment. An audience does not frequently watch it unless it is some fancy survival show. Even in those shows, hiking is not what people prefer to watch; they are more interested in how the character finds solutions to problems rather than how they climb over mountains or walk along trails.
In contrast, sports like basketball, baseball, hockey, and even some eSport events are broadcasted for the people to watch. People even go out of their houses to attend these events for entertainment.
Many who do not consider hiking a sport often argue that it cannot be a sport since it lacks competition. This is probably the most significant disqualifying factor that removes hiking from the sports category. Many people consider hikes as racing up or down a mountain. We can have those races ourselves, but they are hardly categorized as sports.
But let's not rush to conclusions here. We do have some competitions in hiking.
For instance, professional hikers compete against each other regarding the time taken to complete famous trails. For example, many hikers are known to make and break records for the Appalachian Trail. Those in favor of calling hiking a sport argue that it is possible to compete with themselves.
The difference here is that when people compete against each other, they are only competing to break the record. There are many things that you can hold a record for that are not sports. Some of these records are weird. A person holds the record for walking the longest distance on legos barefoot – that is definitely not a sport.
But there are some sports such as fishing or bicycling, which you can do without competition. If they can be considered sports, why not hiking? Well, if you do them in a formal setting, they will be sports, but by yourself, they will probably be more of a hobby.
This brings us to two crucial elements missed by the bookish definitions of sports: rules and regulations and competitive events.
Rules and Regulations
Think of a game of soccer. There are so many ways to receive warnings (yellow card) and many ways to get disqualified from the game (red card). However, hiking does not have any set rules or regulations that you must follow.
For example, you cannot get disqualified from hiking if you plan to cross a particular part of the trail on your knees rather than on two feet. Nor can you get disqualified if you bring along longer hiking poles than the standard ones found on the market.
If a sport does not have some rules to abide by, it would be more of an activity than a sport.
Events such as the Olympics or Super Bowl are competitive events where different players and teams come together to face and compete against one another. Most of these events have a prize at the end, such as a medal or a trophy to signify the winner.
There are no such events for hiking, and since there are no rules and regulations attached to hiking, chances are such events would not be fruitful until a governing body sets the ground rules for the activity.
Sports Considered Similar to Hiking
Three sports are commonly linked to and often mistaken for hiking. These sports are adventure racing, geocaching, and trail running. These sports are often broadcasted for entertainment.
Adventure racing is a team sport that involves teams of 2-4 people. The objective is to navigate toward an object using only a compass and a map. There are three core areas that the participants have to focus on, kayaking, mountain biking, and trekking. However, some courses may require additional endurance for whitewater rafting, rock climbing, horse riding, and sailing.
The participants have to find their way, and one team often follows a different path from the other. For this reason, the courses are measured in time rather than in terms of distance and can range from anywhere between three hours to ten days.
The game is built to test navigation skills, teamwork, and fitness. It is often described as one of the most demanding sports.
Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunting game that goes on around the clock. To play this game, participants use an app and a GPS device to navigate and find hidden containers called geocaches. There are several million geocaches spread across 190 countries.
This sport started in the early 2000s and only had seventy-five geocaches initially. With the increasing popularity, the number of geocaches has grown to over three million, and millions of people play the sport.
The geocaches come in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and difficulties. They can be found in rural and urban areas. It is a sport that builds curiosity and lets players compete with each other regarding who can find the most number of caches or who visits the most number of countries during their hunt.
Simply put, trail running comprises taking a run deep in nature. It is a sport that works the legs and the upper body and puts the participants' endurance to the test. It requires significant amounts of focus and concentration.
Trail running can take place on unpaved areas, which can be dirt roads, sand, forest trails, or even snow paths. These events are held in different environments, from deserts, forests, mountains, and valleys. There are no defined limits for elevation, descents, or distance covered. The courses usually allow for an exploration of the area.
Trail running does not need special equipment such as mountaineering hooks or ropes for rock climbing. However, hiking poles might be permitted depending on the governing body.
Competitions often revolve around endurance, and athletes often race between stations to access aid such as food, communications, or gear.
The Purpose of Hiking
The core purpose of hiking is not to compete with others. Instead, it has more to do with health benefits, stress relief, and enjoying the views of nature. Several studies have proven that surrounding yourself with greenery and nature can help stress, and since most hikes run through forests and green areas, they are a sure shot way to bring your stress down.
Similarly, walking and other physical activities are essential for your health. Hiking comprises mainly walking through nature, which gives your body access to fresh oxygen. It makes you feel healthier and rejuvenated. Among the many benefits of hiking are that it improves sleep quality, elevates your mood, and even improves your memory.
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks