outdoor gear Is Hiking A Sport? Read Criteria For A Surprising Answer (2023)
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Is Hiking A Sport? Read Criteria For A Surprising Answer (2023)

Anytime you’re getting outdoors, working your muscles, and breaking a sweat, you’re getting exercise. But that doesn’t always mean the activity is a sport. Is hiking a sport? Let’s find out if hiking qualifies or if it’s just a fun outdoor adventure.

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Anytime you’re getting outdoors, working your muscles, and breaking a sweat, you’re getting exercise. But that doesn’t always mean the activity is a sport. Many people argue that if something as low-key as golf counts as a sport, then hiking is a sport.

Is hiking a sport? Let’s find out if hiking qualifies or if it’s just a fun outdoor adventure.

Is Hiking a Sport? Let’s Settle the Score

Hiking is not considered a sport because it’s not competitive. People don’t come to watch hiking meets, there are no teams, and no one keeps score. There is no way to judge from one person to the next or from course to course.

And consider this, if winning competitive hiking were a sport, it would likely involve picking up the pace and racing. Racing would require some form of running. At that point, it would transform into a running event, and ultra-long events would be akin to an ultra marathon in running.

And trail running offers competitive events and is clearly considered a sport. People hike on some of the same trails as trail running and mountain biking, but those events are considered sports because they are competitive activities.

Let's leave the trails for a moment to review the critical aspects differentiating hiking from "real sports," like golf. There aren’t always teams in golf, but there are sports associations to enforce rules and regulations. In sports, the score matters.

And for specific events, golf can be a team sport. In college sports, there are individual accolades, but a team competes to be teams from opposing schools. There is a standard scoring mechanism that enables comparison by individuals and between groups. A golfing event is a competitive activity.

So is hiking a sport? No, but it is still tons of fun. Let's explore criteria for calling something a sport.


Criteria For Calling An Activity a Sport

The dictionary definition of a sport is "an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another for entertainment." A few criteria clearly position an activity to be considered a sport.

  1. Physical Activity
  2. Requires Skill
  3. Competition

You can make a case that

hiking meets both of the first two criteria. Hiking can be exhausting, and you must be careful to stay on the right path, especially on less frequented trails. Hiking's candidacy for being called a sport falls apart on the third criteria.

So is hiking a sport? Hiking lacks competition. There are no competitive events and no regulating bodies providing competitive guidelines. In fact, part of the beauty of hiking is that you go on a long walk at your own pace and enjoy nature.

Could Hiking Become A Sport?

Now, that is a more interesting question. The answer is a resounding: Maybe. If someone wanted to put the effort in to put forth rules and regulations and host events, we suppose someone could craft a sense of sport hiking.

The key hurdles would be determining if you are scored on speed and whether hikers should wear a commonly weighted pack. We assume that you would score points or win by completing a trail faster than the other competitors, but if running isn't allowed, how would you define running or enforce a no-running rule?

Hiking trails are too long and varied for a judge or set of judges to see the entire course ensuring no one is running. Remember that if competitors are running, the sport is trail running, not hiking.

You could introduce a backpack that weighs enough to prevent running; however, most people call that rucking. Rucking is a low-intensity aerobic activity in which you add weight to your backpack while walking. Several brands make special rucking backpacks.

To our knowledge, there are no rucking competitions, so if your goal is to create a new sport, maybe you should create rucking contests instead of hiking competitions.


Little Competition In Hiking or Rucking

So is hiking a sport? Hiking requires physical exertion, but there’s no competition and no regulating bodies. You might push yourself to beat your best time or challenge a friend to make it to the end first, but it’s not an official competition. No sports associations are monitoring the guidelines for hiking.

As much as you enjoy hiking, you have to admit there’s not much of an entertainment factor to it. It’s hard to imagine crowds jostling on the trail’s edge, excitedly waiting for their favorite hiker to pass.

Activity Involving Physical Exertion

Most sports involve a lot of physical exertion. Sports require peak muscle strength so you can run faster and throw farther. Hiking requires strong muscles so you can climb steep mountains and keep your balance on rocky paths. So it’s an activity involving physical exertion.

This box is clearly checked.

Some Hiking Trails Require Peak Physical Fitness

Most people can take a stroll around their neighborhood regardless of physical ability. Hiking often requires more physical exertion and skill because you must prepare for different trails that might be steeper or rockier than usual.

Some hiking trails are challenging, so you need to be in great shape to ensure you can reach the end and return to the starting point. You can check out the distance and severity of a trail online before you set out.

If you plan on conquering the most challenging trails, hiking clubs may be worth considering. Hiking with other people provides companionship and camaraderie, but it also provides safety that comes with numbers.

Hiking May Even Require Physical Training

You want to have muscle strength and a good sense of balance before you start hiking. You can start by walking around your neighborhood, then stepping up by increasing the distance of these walks and pushing yourself to walk faster.

Experienced hikers recommend walking and running in the sand if you have access to it. It builds your knee and ankle muscles, so you’re better protected against injury on the trail. Any exercise that strengthens your core can also help you while hiking.

Cardio exercises are also ideal because you will get a workout on the trail. Anything that increases your lung capacity will help you get enough air in nature. You’ll be able to take longer hikes without feeling depleted.

The further you plan to hike, the more you need to train.


Backpack Weight & Weather Conditions Can Make Hiking Complicated

Going for a walk is a leisure activity, but if you’re going on a longer hike and need supplies, you’ll have to carry a backpack. This weight elevates your walk to a proper workout because you carry more weight than usual. Training with your pack on before you hit the hiking trail will set you up for success.

This is where physical ability and skill start to meet. Just as there is skill required to navigate complicated trails, it takes experience and skill to properly interpret weather conditions and to pack your bag accordingly.

Weather conditions impact the trails. It’s hard to know what to expect in nature, so it’s best to be ready for anything. A week of rain might make part of the trail too muddy to traverse. You might have to find another route that involves obstacles to climb over.

Hiking in hot weather means your body could lose as much as one liter of water every hour. You need to be aware of that and stay hydrated so you don’t get sick or injured. Also, stay mindful of your body temperature when winter hiking. You might feel too warm, but you could freeze if you take off your coat.


There Is Skill Involved

Sports require a certain level of skill. Some people are naturally athletic and can play sports without much training. But once you’re playing competitively, you must stay in shape and work to improve your skills so that you’re not pushed out of the game. With hiking, skill is involved, but it appears in different ways.

Is hiking a sport if there is skill involved? No, because there isn't any competition, and that is one of the criteria.

Steep Trails Are Difficult to Traverse

Walking up a steep trail, you’ll feel the burn in different muscles compared to level trails. You need to ensure you’re strong enough to handle these paths, or else you could injure yourself. You might not make it to the end and get stuck along the way. Working out and building muscle through other sports and exercises can significantly help your hiking skills.

You will also need to hone your technique for climbing over rocks or other obstacles in the way. You may think of hiking as a walk in the park, but that is not always the case. Many steep hikes require climbing over rocks and boulders, all of which most certainly requires skill.

Doing this while carrying your pack is even more challenging. Antedotally, carrying a child on your back in a carrier can be terrifying when you come across rock walls you will have to climb, but it happens, and I have done it. many others have too.


But No Rules and Regulations

Even though hikers in great shape might blaze past you on the trail, you’re not competitors. There are no rules to hiking, so someone in great shape can enjoy the activity just as much as someone who wants to get outdoors. There are no regulations or guidelines you must meet before setting foot on a trail.

No Governing Body

Because there are no rules and regulations, there’s no governing body to oversee hiking. The lack of a governing body is good, though—hiking is a recreational activity. You don’t need to mark items off a checklist before you’re allowed to walk on the path. You don’t have to consider anything other than your physical fitness and comfort level with the hike.


Are There Competitive Events for Hiking?

There aren’t actual hiking competitions like there are for basketball or more well-known sports. There are activities similar to hiking that are closer to sports, though. Geocaching, adventure racing, and trail running have large organized events that make them more like sports.

Competitive Hiking Is Not Really a Thing

While there are no games, matches, or meets for hiking, there can be some elements of competition. For example, you can try to beat the logged times if you’re hiking a well-known trail, like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. But it’s only a record you’re trying to beat; you’re not competing against another hiker in real-time.

If you’re geocaching while on the path, you might add a competitive element regarding who can find the most geocaches, but the hiking itself is not really competitive.

Trail Running Is the Most Akin Activity That Is a Sport

Trail running uses the same natural paths as hiking but requires more physical effort. You’re running on any path that isn’t paved or sealed. You’re getting out in nature and following a path, but there’s a level of competition because you want to be the fastest.

If you’re a hiker considering running, make sure you train first. It would be best if you increased your strength and speed in conventional ways before getting out in nature. The paths are rocky and unbalanced, so you have to be careful and alert at all times.

Organized events for trail runners are similar to thos organized for street racers, such as 5Ks, half-marathons, and even ultra-marathons.. These events are competitive because you’re running trails with other competitors, trying to beat them and record the fastest time record. If you’re a hiker with a competitive nature, you’ll love this physical activity.

Trail runners wear specialized equipment, including GPS watches to keep track of their pace. It’s a serious endeavor, and much more challenging than you might think it would be.

Adventure racing is closer to trail running than hiking, but a whole team competes. There are some solo competitions, but since it’s such a strenuous activity, there’s safety in numbers. Many adventure races require multiple days for one course. Your team does many activities, such as climbing, mountain biking, paddling, horse riding, and skiing.


Mountain Biking Is Also a Sport That Uses Trails

Mountain biking is similar to trail running because you’re taking an activity from paved roads and moving it into nature. You use a sturdy bike with thick tires to navigate your way across organic paths.

Biking is already a full-body sport because of the muscles it uses. When you add in the element of unbalanced trails and natural obstacles, you’ll be using your mind and body to find your way to the end.


Hiking Is More Hobby Than Sport

Most people who hike do it because they enjoy it. While athletes can also enjoy playing a sport, the element of competition makes it a more serious endeavor. They’re always working to ensure they maintain their fitness level and get even better at their game.

Hikers like to get out in nature and see the world. They enjoy exercising in the fresh air and navigating unique trails. There’s an option to compete against yourself by timing your hikes, but it’s not a requirement. Hiking is just a fun hobby that keeps you active and healthy.


No “Real Sport” Status Like Trail Running

Is hiking a sport? Because hiking isn’t a spectator sport and has no governing body, it doesn’t qualify as a “real sport.” But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get out there and explore the world. Nature is full of surprises, so take a hike!

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