A friend once asked me what hiking actually was. Wow! I never thought to define it. When I first started trying to define hiking, I think I was like everyone else. I was either confronting the image of a giant overstuffed pack on my back slumping along on arduous treks through some densely forested areas, or I imagined physical climbs through mountainous areas. Fortunately, neither of those concepts accurately represent what I have come to love.
Hiking is Not backpacking. It’s Not mountain climbing or trail blazing. It’s not another form of camping either. Neither is it a simple stroll along a sidewalk or on some paved path around a public park. Some folks will “Hike” into a place where they want to set up and camp for a night before going back home. That starts to look more like “Backpacking” or “Camping” doesn’t it. Do you begin to see the confusion between hiking vs. backpacking. I guess there are hybrids to the term “Hiking”.
So How Does “Hiking” Differ From “Backpacking?”
For me, I suppose the best concept of hiking is that it’s a personal adventure into, or though a wilderness area that involves a bit more effort than walking and typically involves a few hours, or a day. It’s usually a bit more strenuous than walking so it can demand a bit more stamina.
Here is where the terms become tangled. When someone goes out for a few days on the trail, they are probably backpacking, which includes the “Hiking” in to where they are going, and after having spent a night or two in the woods, or wherever, they “Hike” back out to go home. So you see, t’s easy to confuse the terms.
I suppose the simple answer about the difference of hiking vs backpacking would be that backpacking involves overnight camping over a couple of days, or weeks, or longer. That means the backpacker would need to carry everything along for the journey – in a backpack like food, water, sleeping bag, tent, etc. I think of backpacking as an extended or prolonged wilderness hiking adventure. So, in essence, the principal difference between the two concepts would be how you prepare, what you bring along, where you are going and how long you are out.
Why Should You Go Hiking?
As I mentioned before, “Hiking” through wilderness areas is food for the soul. The best way to get grounded and find balance in your life is to get into nature for a few hours. I try to go out at least once a week, but even going out once a month will reward you with improved mental and spiritual health. I recommend that people try to go out as often as they can. Even if you can only go hiking once a month, the experience will certainly yield huge benefits.
The first benefit is your personal communion with nature. Getting out and away from all the distractions of every day life brings a sense of inner peace and calm. You already know how hectic your daily journey through life can be. Cell phones, televisions, mass media exposure, social media contacts and all the rest tend to distract us and create in each of us various forms of stresses. Stresses can manifest into lots of BAD things. It has been studied and proven that excessive exposure to daily stresses can result in health problems and that means we are suffering from the exposures of all those daily events and distractions
Certainly, there is no way to avoid the routine activities in ones daily life. Work, home, family and financial obligations can not be overlooked, nor should they be. We all have to communicate. We all want to remain connected with friends and family and at work we want to achieve certain goals and meet various deadlines. Also, we all want to keep up with the daily events around the world and in out local communities.
Clearly, it’s not realistic or practical to completely cut ourselves off from the world. But the question is, what do we do to find balance and shed the stresses that accumulate over time?
Most people would say they have a hobby or they like to exercise or read or do something that takes them away from all those daily stresses. I suggest adding something far more rewarding to your life. In my humble opinion, taking a walk in the woods is by far the most relaxing and life-giving experience one can have.
When you go out for a hike into the wilderness, you will discover that nature has its own rhythm. A calming and soothing environment that tends to captivate you. Because there are no distractions along your path, you tend to connect with the essence of the world around you and you begin to see things you haven’t experienced before. Some things are bright and beautiful and others are fascinating and curious. Your mind is taken to a completely new area of discovery and you become enveloped in the vastness and wonders of nature all around you. This is the experience I believe provides you the opportunity for getting balance in mind and spirit.
How Long Should A Hike Be?
I have often wondered about his question. Lots of folks think that a hike should be a protracted experience that includes camping overnight along the journey. I suppose for many folks, this is a great experience. I would love to be able to do those kinds of prolonged journeys. Certainly that the longer I can spend in nature the better I feel. But extended hikes for most of us are not practical options. We can’t just up and leave out daily lives for a few days. It’s just not practical.
The great thing about hiking is that you don’t need to be out overnight or for several days to get the relaxation a and calming benefits. You can achieve the soothing experiences and find the balance you desire in a just a few hours along the trail. And, like I said earlier, if you can get out two or three times a month for a few hours you will benefit greatly from the time away.
For me, the ideal hike can be as short as two hours as I walk to visit a magnificent waterfall or perhaps a bit longer to experience a breathtaking mountain vista. I may want to challenge myself with a bit physical exercise by hiking up and down a mountain trail.
Regardless of where you hike, you will find your own preferences for how long to be out. For those new to this experience, I suggest you start out simple, by say, an hour-long hike along a wilderness trial that follows a river, or stream or though some beautiful forested areas. When you finish, you will notice the benefit. After a few of those short excursions, you will likely want to venture out for longer hikes in and through differing wilderness areas. Your desire to be out in nature will increase and so will your mental and physical well-being. Your experiences will result in a desire for longer hikes and your improved physical fitness will make you be ready for more physical challenges.
Remember, you are not trying to make any destination on a timetable. There is no rush and nobody is recording how fast you complete a trail circuit. Take your time and enjoy every moment of the experience. It’s personal and enriching for you no matter whether you are out for an hour or a whole day.
Should You Prepare For A Hike?
Are there somethings you should do to prepare for a hike, like physical training or equipment planning? Depending on the expected duration of your planned hike (i.e. one hour or all day long) there are some considerations. A simple day hike lasting about an hour, that is reasonably flat, does not necessitate any great preparation. You want to always bring water with you and some simple snacks you can eat along the way. A simple hour-long hike doesn’t require any physical training per se. If you are reasonable healthy and can walk you can go do this kind of hike.
If you are new to hiking and really want to do a longer challenge, say about two to three hours, then you will need to do a bit more preparation before you go out. You should be physically healthy. I don’t mean that you have to be a perfect physical specimen. I simply mean that you should be reasonably healthy and able to walk without someone’s assistance. Age is not a discriminator either. I see hundreds of older folks, I think we call them “seniors”- of which am one, along the trails.
For those longer hikes, I like to take a small utility pack, kind of like those kids school backpacks. Make sure I have plenty of water and some simple foods. I usually take along some nuts, dried fruit, maybe an apple or banana, cheese and crackers – things like that. I recommend you take along a basic first aid kit (I mean “BASIC” – not a field hospital load out). It’s a good idea to include a space blanket – you know the kind that looks like aluminum foil folded up into a square. I always bring along a small utility knife and a length of string or cord.
Sometimes, I bring along a pair of binoculars and a camera (a cell phone also works well) for pictures. If you have to take medications throughout the day, be sure to pack them as well. Some folks may go way beyond the basics and load up all sorts of additional things, that’s up to your own personal needs and desires. I keep it simple and light. I have never found it necessary, when I’m out for a few hours on the trails, to load up a lot of “extras”.
One thing I am sure to bring is a “WalkingStick”. This can be a hard wood branch that you have cleaned up, shaped and smoothed out or a store bought set of hiking poles. A suitable walking stick should be a length from the ground to about the middle of your chest, above your waist. The point is, for me, the hiking/walking stick provides some added balance as I hike along the trail.
You should make sure to wear appropriate footwear and clothing/outerwear for the season. In the winter, put on a pair of sturdy hiking boots and wear layers with a sweater and a winter coat. In the spring and fall, I lighten up a bit. I put on lightweight hiking shoes and wear long pants and a long sleeve shirt. I wear a windbreaker with a sweater if its still a bit chilly. In the summer months, I wear shorts and a light shirt but I pack a light windbreaker in the bag, just in case I need it. You should think about your clothing and hiking shoes a bit because it will definitely impact your comfort and overall hiking experience. After you have completed a few short hikes, you will get a feel for other things you may want to bring along. Just remember to keep it simple and light – you’re going out for a day hike. Obviously, if you plan to do camping on an extended hiking journey, your planning and preparation will require a lot more thought.
Hiking vs. Backpacking – They are Different
As you can see, Hiking is not Backpacking. However, the two are related in that one is connected to the other. In this article, I’ve merely attempted to explain some differences between the two terms and focus mainly on Hiking for the pleasures and life balance that experiencing nature can have. I’ve offered some personal opinions on how to prepare and how long a wilderness adventure can be. I can post some articles on backpacking later on, but for now I just want introduce the personal value of hiking and encourage folks to get out of the house, the office or their daily routine and experience the joy, benefits and relaxation that hiking in the wilderness can afford. There is nothing as refreshing or soothing to the soul as a walk in the woods.
Whether you are 15 or 75, whether you go out alone or with someone else, you will benefit from a journey out in the wilderness and enjoy the wonders of nature. I guarantee that you will be rewarded for your efforts and most certainly will want to return over and over again. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to buy a lot of stuff or do al kinds of physical and mental preparations for a simple day hike. You’re not climbing Everest or going out for a month of trekking. A simple walk through the forrest will recharge your battery and provide you a sense of inner peace and enlightenment that you deserve. So get up, get out and go for a hike. You will never regret it.
See you along the trails.