Hiking is a wonderful sport and activity that can teach you a lot about yourself. Everybody can do it and start in any location. Here are my eight reasons to start long distance hiking.
All hikers have different reasons to start hiking, but it all boils down to a few key reasons. When walking a Camino to Santiago de Compostella you will be sometimes asked what your reason is for walking the way. In the beginning I didn’t really have a reason. But the more I got asked the question along the way the reasons became more clear to me. And I hope for you they will to.
- Peace and Quiet
- Seeing nature in a new way
- Exploring cities and culture while hiking
- Searching for your own borders
- Meeting new People, Hikers or Pelgrims
- Learning new skills from hiking
- Realizing what you truly need
Click on the links to directly take you to that reason to start hiking, or read them all!
Number 1, Peace and Quiet
In today’s world a lot of everyday tasks and errands run at a million miles an hour. You are connected in every way to technology and entertaining yourself with a screen in front off you. When you are on a long distance hike you will reset yourself in a way, everything slows down and it boils down to taking a single step. And then a few more.
Away from big cities and roads you will see a lot off new sites, mountain views, big green tunnels and sights that seem to go on forever. In many places in the world you can still experience that.
Fewer and fewer people tend to realize the satisfaction you can have by walking until your tired. Setting up camp on a hike and making your own meal before crawling in your sleeping bag. Only to rinse and repeat everything the next day. Hikers tend to get in a rhythm and flow after a few days that can almost be compared to a trance like experience. Not to get to spiritual but that I find a really great feeling when out there. And a feeling that is tough to replicate in another activity.
Number 2, Exercise
Exercising is good for you. Walking and hiking is a sport that can be extremely tiring. After hiking all day you will feel muscles you didn’t now you had. If you want to get a little healthier or just want to feel better about yourself hiking can do a lot for you. You can see before and after pictures online from people that have walked the Appalachian trail or Camino’s that are quite inspiring.
Exercising in the gym was never my favorite hobby, but taking a few small hikes during the week and big ones when I find the time are a great way for me to stay healthier. Perhaps it can do the same for you.
Number 3, Seeing nature in a new way
There are a lot of different ways to see nature around you. Taking a bicycle ride or mountain biking. Dirtbiking through rough landscape, riding a motorcycle through the Alps. Driving a pick up truck to a campsite or an RV. You name it.
However all these ways are quite different from hiking. You zip past at various speeds to go to a picture sight. Go to a waterfall that a hundred other tourists are at. Or simply zip by to go faster and faster. Hiking slows everything down to a level that is greatly enjoyable.
No longer can you zip past a big piece of straight road in 5 minutes. But you have to spend a hour walking the same stretch. Think about your commute to work, and try to figure out how long walking to work will take you.
With long distance hiking you often see big numbers of miles or kilometers, this can seem daunting to a first time hiker. After you spend a bit of trail time no longer will you look at that number with fear. But with how many days that will take.
Take small footpaths no wider than 50 centimeters, climb up steep mountain paths or rocky terrain. Everything can be done with your feet and some good hiking boots or shoes. You will see sights and spots that nobody else can reach on their vehicles.
Number 4, Exploring cities and culture while hiking
Often the case with long sitance hiking or thru hiking is that you will encounter some bigger cities and small country side villages. Big cities can often be a haven to replace broken or lost gear and recharge in a hotel or hostel. Small villages offer resupply for food and drink and a well deserved beer after a long day. The people you meet and the culture your entering are often greatly different than the place you are from.
In Spain and Portugal I encountered a lot of Spanish and Portuguese culture on the Camino. Yes it is the case that you are sometimes trapped in a sort of bubble with other hikers. But interacting with native people is a occurence that will happen. From ordering coffee in a strange language to asking where the next pharmacy is.
And from other languages you can also experience different architecture and buildings. When walking through a big city you often see the hustle and bustle from everyday life again. Until you step out and hit the trail again. This feeling I had most strongly after leaving Santiago de Compostella and setting foot on the Camino to Finisterre again. It got pretty heavy for me. And it might be the same case for you.
People will often try to strike up a conversation with you when your hiking. And that is something you can enjoy or not. That choice is yours on how much you want to interact with the local culture and sights.
Number 5, Searching for your own borders
Hiking can be tough sometimes, tough on your feet, back or whole body. And mentally tough. Often you will encounter the man with the hammer as is a Dutch saying. He will not hesitate to slam you down. It is up to you to rise above that moment and keep on hiking. You do not have to win all the time. Take rest breaks, listen to a song that pumps you up or call your Mama. But try not to give up without a fight. Just try to climb that one more hill before you give in.
In day to day hiking on thru hikes you get in a rhythm, what I was most surprised about on my first long distance hikes is how quickly you recover from a nights rest. You will get stronger and more resilient. Humans are funny that way. How broken down and exhausted you feel in the night and how willing to do it all over again in the morning is something really special. Hiking will do that for you.
That way you can push your borders and comfort zone way farther than you might think. When that moment comes is difficult to say, but try to not give up until you push through. I know that can be tough and I wont lie and say I have never given up. But the rewards are so worth it. Don’t feel that bad if you do, and try again another time.
Number 6, Meeting new People, Hikers or Pilgrims
Depending on how popular a trail your going to be hiking, meeting new People, hikers or Pilgrims is a everyday occurrence. With lesser known trails you will encounter normal People more. And with popular trails like the French way on the Camino or the start of the Appalachian trial you will walk in a big group. Meeting hikers or Pilgrims on Thru hikes is a mostly wonderful experience. I say mostly because you always have some people that perhaps you like a little less.
Sitting around a hostel or campfire with fellow hikers is a great way to relax after a day of hiking. You can complain about all the little things that bug you. Admire different pictures that everybody took and swap stories and drink. Meeting the different people out on trails is not something that you will soon forget. I fell in love with a hiking girl. And remember all the different hikers and pilgrims that I met along the different hikes that I took.
Keep in mind that some hikes are more social than others. Along the Hadrian’s wall path for example I spend most days alone on campsites. Along the Camino was a completely different experience.
Number 7, Learning new skills from hiking
With hiking you learn a lot off new skills, I did a separate article on this subject if you want to read a bit more. For now I will quickly summarize.
Besides learning how to set up your camp with the least amount of time wasted, you learn a bunch of different skills with hiking. From tying your shoes correctly to trying to maximize your caloric intake. And everything in between. The smartphone has made hiking navigation easier than ever and the amount of people that carry around GPS devices are getting rarer along the big trails.
Working safely with tools and your burner and much more. I encourage you to read up on the earlier link about the Learning skills for hiking article to dive deeper into all the different skills that you pick up with hiking.
Number 8, Realizing what you truly need
Hiking takes you a step back from the everyday ups and down off life. And focuses you more on what you truly need on trail but also in life in general. I often see hikers that also have a drive towards a more minimalist lifestyle, an interest in Tiny houses, van life or life aboard on a sail boat. I think a lot off people that have walked long distance trails realize that you don’t actually need that much to be happy. Not to go full monk lifestyle but lessening the impact that you have on the environment and being more aware about all the stuff that you have.
I started out hiking from a young age and long distance hiking in 2017. But since then I realize more and more how much useless stuff I used to have around me.
At the end off the day you need a comfortable spot to sleep, a nice way to eat your meal and some proper footwear on your feet. Investing in one expensive item that will last you a lifetime instead of spending every time you go on a hiking trip can make a difference to.
Life is too short to spend in front of a screen all day. Get out there and hike for once.
Happy hiking and hike for purpose!