Heathfield hoenderloo
Hiking,  History

The History of Hiking

Hiking is deeply intertwined in the history of humanity, from a way to get around to gather food. A way to march to battle, and finally for fun. Explore the History of hiking.

Taking everything you need on your back and walking a long distance through pretty terrain. That is pretty much what hiking is for a lot of people. You can differentiate between a lot of different forms of hiking, from simple day hikes with family members or friends. Long distance thru hiking, and multi day backpacking trips.

Encountering History while hiking

As a history lover that is an avid watcher of history channels on YouTube and history book reader, hiking and history is a match made in heaven. When walking through iconic landscapes or sites of history you appreciate it a lot more than other forms off exploring.

Santiago church in the sun
Cathedral in Santiago de Compostella, the end off the famous Camino’s.

At the Hadrian’s wall path I encountered a lot of tour Busses with entire flocks of people getting out, taking a look around and take some pictures. Get back in the bus and ride off to the next stop.

I get that not everybody can walk long distance trails anymore, however I think you can not truly experience what it must be like in the past if you do not walk in the same footsteps.

Hiking trails with historical significance can be found all over the world, several examples of them are:

  • The Hadrian’s Wall Path in England
  • The different Camino’s that lead to Santiago de Compostella.
  • National Blue Trail in Hungary
  • Hiking trails across battlefields off historic significance.
  • Many more……

The history of these different forms of hiking differ quite a bit. We are going to be focusing on the general hiking history and the longer distance hiking.

History of hiking boots

The history of hiking boots or footwear is closely related to the history of hiking. Throughout the ages people have been looking for ways to protect their feet from rough terrain, the cold or wet. In my separate article for the history of hiking boots I go in to more detail about this subject. If you want to check it out you can do so in the above link.

Hiking in ancient times and beyond

Hiking in ancient times was the way to get around every day and in every weather. Simply because alternative transportation was unaffordable for many. Horses and carriages over land where only for the elite and wealthy and ships or water transportation was not feasible in most areas of course.

Marching was the way that ancient armies covered fast distances over any terrain. The Roman republic and Empire made an extensive road network over Europe to make the marching easier and faster.

Hadrians wall bathhouse ruins

That is still true to this day. Walking over a paved road or hiking path is faster than bushwhacking through rough undergrowth. Today a lot of people on hikes try to avoid the paved roads as much as possible because it is a little tougher on the feet and knees if you are not wearing the right footwear.

Walking everywhere was up until recent history the way of getting groceries, going to work or traveling. The joy of taking a leisurely stroll in the weekends or off days was a way of spending time outside and I imagine was a relaxing experience as it is now. But in a lesser form as it is now. Taking a walk in a park or nature area is a lot more fun if you can skip the 2 hour walk to the park.

I remember stories from my grandparents that their fathers and grandparents did everything on their feet. From walking 15 km to school everyday to getting to their work. If you think about how that shifted in only a few generations it is quite something.

With the introduction of faster ways to get around people started to walk or hike more and more for fun. Taking your first date to the park for a hike, or taking a day with the family was becoming more accessible.

The more recent history of hiking

In the more recent history of hiking you see a trend of people in the 1900’s and up start hiking for fun and exercise. With the more laid back lifestyle that mechanization and technology provided, less time is spend on providing. In the 1950’s and up you see the development of hiking trails through nature and forest parks and the first long distance hiking trails start popping up.

Trails that can be walked continuously through the same way that for example the Appalachian trail, Pacific crest trail and a lot of E long distance trails in Europe can be hiked are quite a recent development. The Appalachian trail was finally the real deal in only 1968. And the Pacific crest trail was completed in 1993. These trails gained a lot of popularity over the years through several different factors.

Big bald Mountain – Appalachian trail

My personal opinion is that the several factors are that information is more widely available. A guy in the Netherlands is for example now writing over a trail in the United States after visiting it in 2018. The way that independent YouTube hikers can reach an audience of millions all over the world, and share their passion for hiking is also a big factor in my eyes.

And traveling to and from different countries to see what their hiking trails have to offer is now not to far away for most people in the western world. With air travel and train travel being much more affordable than even as little as 20 years ago.

In the European Union there is also an extensive network of long distance trials that cover many different countries. Many off these hiking trails are a collective of existing smaller trails that are stitched together. In a recent (at the time of writing) post on Reddit there is now another big scale trail in Europe called the The Trans-European Alpine Route (TEAR).

Trails like these can now be planned out and made with a GPS track by anyone with a smartphone. All it takes is a crazy hiker to get going. Where as before maps needed to be drawn, trails needed to be blazed and much more. Sure the trails need to be maintained all the same but the planning out of trails has become much easier over the last years.

I am very much looking forward to hike a lot more hikes until the day that I kick the bucket. And as a history lover the way to experience history is connected with hiking for me. From walking along the ancient Roman borders and structures to walking the way that Pelgrims have done for hundreds of years. That is hiking at its core for me.

Happy hiking and Hike for Purpose!

I'm Frank, the main guy and owner of this website. Loves hiking, gear and bushcraft. And can get quite nerdy about them. In the woods several times a week preparing for my next hike. Always searching for another hill, which is quite difficult in the Netherlands. That's why I search around several countries. More about me on the about page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *