Due to the fact that people of all ages can ease into it, hiking is a popular activity that lets you explore and bask in the beauty of nature.
However, you might now be wondering, “Is hiking a sport?”
As you will discover in this article, it all boils down to the definition.
What is Hiking?
Hiking is an activity that involves walking in natural environments, usually on trails or designated paths. It can be done for pleasure, exercise, or as a means of reaching a destination such as a summit or a scenic viewpoint.
You can hike on a variety of terrains, including mountains, forests, and deserts. Hiking can either be a short, easy walk or a multi-day backpacking trip with overnight camping.
What is a Sport?
Let’s look at how sport is defined by official dictionaries.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill, especially one regulated by set rules or customs in which an individual or team competes against another.”
For its part, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sport as a “physical activity engaged in for pleasure”.
Generally, a sport is a physical activity governed by rules and typically done competitively.
So, is Hiking a Sport?
Strictly speaking, hiking is not a sport. It isn’t governed by rules and is typically not competitive. The lack of spectators further differentiates it from other recognized sporting activities.
Instead, hiking can be described as something more recreational.
Hiking vs Sport: Their Major Differences
While it’s easy to suggest that hiking doesn’t require skill—after all, you just need to move from one place to another—that isn’t entirely true.
Hiking requires endurance, and building endurance is a skill. Climbing, reading maps, observing the weather, and setting up a shelter are also skills you use in hiking.
It can be argued that there is a broad category of general skills in hiking compared to sports. After all, sports usually require only a few distinct skills to be mastered in order to rise above the competition.
There is no doubt that hiking is physically demanding. Depending on the trail, it may even require greater physical exertion than some traditional sports.
But an activity being just physically exerting isn’t enough for it to be called a ‘sport’. People workout at a gym or engage in manual labor at a construction yard that will require a great deal of physical exertion, but neither of these are considered a sport.
In this aspect, both hiking and sports possess entertainment value. The main difference is that sports are entertaining to spectators as well, while hiking is primarily entertaining to the hiker and those you choose to hike with.
Sports have been considered entertaining since ancient times. Nowadays, tournaments are even streamed and broadcast to a wider—sometimes global—audience.
Hiking’s entertainment value is more personal and usually only involves the hiker. The satisfaction that comes with seeing natural sights and being casually active can feel like a personal accomplishment.
In a general sense, hiking isn’t considered a sport. After all, there are no regulatory bodies, world rankings, and medals at the end of a hike.
Some articles contend that if there were timed hiking races, then hikers will naturally start running. If hikers are running, are they really hiking? Where does the line stand between hiking, mountaineering, and adventure racing?
However, some will consider that hiking is still a competition against nature and against yourself as you hike more difficult trails or complete the hike in less time.
This is not to say that there isn’t ‘competition’ in hiking. Peak bagging is the art of climbing to the summit of a mountain or other high point in pursuit of ‘bagging that peak’. This can be seen as competitive to friends and other hikers, as communities may attempt to bag more peaks than their friends. But there are no governing bodies to determine who has bagged the most peaks.
Is There Such a Thing As Competitive Hiking?
From its name, competitive hiking involves hikers who try to complete a trail in the fastest time. There are many organized challenges revolving around this concept.
However, since there often aren’t any rankings, everyone who completes the trail is usually considered a winner. Depending on who you’re talking to, this may or may not count as competitive.
Additionally, competitive hiking is also quite vague and overlaps with other activities that are considered sports such as marathons and racewalking.
One of the most popular competitive hiking events is the Five Peaks Challenge in the United Kingdom.
In this challenge, groups will hike the highest peaks of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland within 48 hours.
Although it’s not a scheduled event and is open year-round, different groups will try to break the record for completing the challenge in the fastest time.
There are many hiking challenges like this, where thousands of people from around the world go and push themselves to complete them.
Why do Some People Consider Hiking to be a Sport?
Some people often view hiking as a sport because it’s also a form of physical activity. The fact that it requires some skills also adds to this misconception.
Further, hiking can also be easily confused with other sports such as competitive mountain climbing, adventure racing, and trail running. However, keep in mind that these activities are very different from hiking.
The Main Purpose of Hiking
The main purpose of hiking is recreational as it invites people to spend time outdoors and in nature.
Remember that hiking isn’t (for the most part) about competition; it’s about experiencing the pleasure that comes from being in an unspoiled territory and away from cities and crowds.
It provides an opportunity to discover new places, escape everyday life and get closer to nature, as well as socialize with friends or spend quality time alone.
Hiking also offers mental benefits such as reducing stress, increasing focus and creativity, and strengthening problem-solving skills.
Additionally, it helps to build strength and stamina and can provide physical health benefits such as improved cardiovascular health, increased muscle tone, better posture, and balance.
Sports that are Similar to Hiking
Although hiking itself isn’t considered a sport, you might want to try any of the following sports that are similar to it.
Adventure racing is competitive hiking on steroids thanks to its combination of various outdoor activities like mountain biking, kayaking, paddling and climbing.
It’s usually a multi-day competition involving teams of two to five athletes who race against the clock. However, generally, the preferred format is a mixed-gendered team of four racers. The sport often takes them through the wilderness and remote locations and can last for weeks.
Participants must be extremely fit to take part.
Orienteering is a sport where competitors navigate from point to point through a designated course using a map and compass as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Typically held in natural environments such as forests and mountains, orienteering also relies on a number of skills that hikers use. These skills are often combined with cross-country running.
Orienteering can be performed on foot, bicycles, skis, and even kayaks.
Hikers and trail runners often cross paths—literally!
Competitive trail running races can range from short, 5K sprints to ultramarathon lengths of over 100 miles. Runners may race in groups or as individuals.
The challenging terrain which includes steep inclines, loose rock, and other obstacles requires fitness and training, especially as the distance gets longer.
Despite hiking and sports being worlds apart from each other in some respects, they still similarly invite people to become more physically active.
Hiking is a great activity to do, and it’s also accessible to many people. You can enjoy this together with friends and family— or even by yourself if you’re the more solitary type.
Whatever your personal opinion about the question may be, hiking is still a relaxing way to get out there and explore the unknown.