Hiking is a form of walking, undertaken with the specific purpose of exploring and enjoying the scenery. It usually takes place on trails in rural or wilderness areas. In scouting, the word is often used for a long-distance walk taking two or more days, while carrying the own equipment.
General information on hiking
Hiking in language
The word hiking is understood in all English-speaking countries, but there are differences in usage. In some places, off-trail hiking is called cross-country hiking, bushwhacking, or bush-bashing. In the United Kingdom, hiking is a slightly old-fashioned word, with a flavor rather of 'heartiness' and 'exercise' than of 'enjoying the outdoors' (people in the UK would be more likely to use more modest terms such as hillwalking, or simply walking). Australians use the term bushwalking for both on- and off-trail hiking. New Zealanders use tramping (particularly for overnight and longer trips), walking or bushwalking. Hiking in the mountainous regions of Nepal and India is sometimes called trekking. Overnight hiking is called backpacking in some parts of the world. Hiking a long-distance trail from end to end is referred to as thru-hiking in some places.
Comparison with other forms of touring
Hiking is one of the fundamental outdoor activities on which many others are based. Many beautiful places can only be reached overland by hiking. Enthusiasts regard hiking as the best way to see nature. It is seen as better than a tour in a vehicle of any kind (or on an animal; see horseback riding) because the hiker's senses are not intruded upon by distractions such as windows, engine noise, airborne dust in large quantities, and fellow passengers. It has an advantage over standing in one place because the hiker may cover a wide area.
On the other hand, hiking over long distances or over difficult terrain does require some degree of physical ability and knowledge, as well as a backpack to carry food, water and essential equipment. Hikers may be caught in inclement weather or suffer mishaps. Some jurisdictions (for example, New Hampshire) now require inadequately prepared hikers to pay for their own rescues.
Ecological impact of hiking
Hikers often seek beautiful environments in which to hike. Ironically, these environments are often fragile: hikers may accidentally destroy the environment that they enjoy. The action of an individual may not strongly affect the environment. However, the mass effect of a large number of hikers can degrade the environment. For example, gathering wood in an alpine area to start a fire may be harmless once (except for wildfire risk). Years of gathering wood, however, can strip an alpine area of valuable nutrients.
Generally, protected areas such as parks have regulations in place to protect the environment. If hikers follow such regulations, their impact can be minimized. Such regulations include forbidding wood fires, restricting camping to established camp sites, disposing or packing out fecal matter, imposing a quota on the number of hikers per day.
Many hikers espouse the philosophy of Leave No Trace: hiking in a way such that future hikers cannot detect the presence of previous hikers. Practitioners of this philosophy obey its strictures, even in the absence of area regulations.
Human waste is often a major source of environmental impact from hiking. These wastes can contaminate the watershed and make other hikers ill. Bacterial contamination can be avoided by digging catholes 10 to 25 cm deep (4 to 10 inches, depending on local soil composition) and covering after use. If these catholes are dug at least 60 m (200 feet) away from water sources and trails, the risk of contamination is minimized. Many hikers warn other hikers about the location of their catholes by marking them with sticks stuck into the ground.
Sometimes, hikers enjoy viewing rare or endangered species. However, some species (such as martens or bighorn sheep) are very sensitive to the presence of humans, especially around mating season. Hikers should learn the habits and habitats of the endangered species, in order to avoid adverse impact.
There is one situation where an individual hiker can make a large impact on an ecosystem: inadvertently starting a wildfire. For example, in 2005, a Czech backpacker burned 7% of Torres del Paine National Park in Chile by knocking over an illegal gas portable stove. Obeying area regulations and setting up cooking devices on bare ground will reduce the risk of wildfire.
Etiquette of hiking
Because hiking is a recreational experience, hikers expect it to be pleasant. Sometimes hikers can interfere with each others' enjoyment, or that of other users of the land, but they can minimize this interference by following good etiquette. For example:
- When two groups of hikers meet on a steep trail, there may be contention for use of the trail. To avoid conflict, a custom has developed in some areas whereby the group moving uphill has the right-of-way. In other situations, the larger of the two groups will usually yield to the smaller.
- Being forced to hike much faster or slower than one's natural pace can be annoying, and difficult to maintain consistently. More seriously, walking unnaturally fast dramatically increases fatigue and exhaustion, and may cause injury. If a group splits between fast and slow hikers, the slow hikers may be left behind or become lost. A common custom is to encourage the slowest hiker to hike in the lead and have everyone match that speed. Another custom is to have an experienced hiker sweep up the rear, to ensure that everyone in the group is safe and nobody straggles.
- Hikers often enjoy the silence and solitude of their surroundings. Loud sounds, such as shouting or loud conversation, disrupt this enjoyment. Some hikers purposely avoid loud sounds, out of deference to other hikers. Staying quiet will also increase the likelihood of encountering wildlife. (This is a hazard if dangerous animals are present; see "Personal safety hazards".)
- Hikers sometimes trespass onto private property from public land or rights of way (easements). Such trespass can alienate the property owners and (in countries where rights of way are not protected by law) close down hiking rights-of-way. To maximize hiking opportunities for everyone, most hikers will either stay on public land and easements, or solicit permission from property owners. Staying on well-marked trails avoids the possibility of trespass.
- Tree branches or other vegetation often hang low across trails. A passing hiker may cause a tree branch to snap back in the face of a hiker behind. While it is courteous to warn following hikers if a branch is likely to snap back, it is every hiker's responsibility to allow enough space between himself and the hiker ahead to avoid the hazard.
- In rural Britain, when two groups of hikers meet, it is considered a common courtesy to exchange greetings (either verbal or physical (e.g. smiles and friendly nods)). To pass another group without such acknowledgement is seen as rude.
Personal safety hazards
Hiking may produce threats to personal safety. These threats can be dangerous circumstances while hiking and/or specific accidents or ailments. Dangerous hiking circumstances include losing the way, inclement weather, hazardous terrain, or exacerbation of pre-existing medical conditions. Specific accidents include metabolic imbalances (such as dehydration or hypothermia), topical injuries (such as frostbite or sunburn), attacks by animals, or internal injuries (such as ankle sprain).
Hikers often propose a set of behavioral prescriptions to minimize these threats. A well-known example of such a set of prescription is the Ten Essentials.
Hiking as a Scout activity
Hiking as a scout activity usually takes place for groups of scouts from the age of about 11 years old. For younger scouts, a one-day trip of about 3 to 6 kilometers is common. Whether hiking with backpacks is required or not, the amount of days the hike takes and in what way sleeping is done (in open air, in tents etcetera) depends on the age of the group and the group culture.
Preparing a successful hike for others
Not only for walkers, but also for the preparers of a hike, there are several useful tips and tricks to think of. During the walking of a hike, groups of scouts may experience motivation problems to continue. Bring therefore some variation in the trip, so that the hikers not thinking that they have to hike because it is an obligate part of their camp weekend. Try for example to give some "theme" to the hike. Furthermore, you may:
- insert missions which have to be fulfilled during the trip
- insert adventurous spots on the route, which take some time
- take care that the hikers will have enough resting spots during the hike
- take care that everyone has enough to eat and drink
Take in mind what the condition of the group is. For scouts (11-14), 15 kilometers a day is already quite a trip: it may take a whole day, depending on what happens at the spots during the hike. With all the games and puzzels during the route, and the resting, you can count on an average speed of 3 kilometer per hour per group.
Some concrete ideas:
- Games during the hike:
- let them draw, take pictures, search for things, get signatures from total strangers...
- let them make a recognographic sketch, or a logbook with in it a sketch of the route
- give them a piece of wood of 2×2×15cm at the start of the hike, and let them cut a harpoon out of it (and add a First Aid box... just in case...)
- put riddles in your hike
- Pieces of the trip with other transport than hiking:
- let them cross water during the trip (how to cross that is up to their fantasy... and the width and depth of the water of course)
- let them do a part of the route by bike, boat, canoo, kick scooter, skelter etcetera. It can be known to the hikers, or be a sudden surprise: for instance put a spot near a railway station, where they suddenly receive train tickets.
- Resting moments
- Let the hikers eat or make their meal in a special way. It will be a welcome surprise if one spot suddenly supplies fresh self made hamburgers!
- Make a spot where the hikers can sit down and drink tea with the staff
- Let the trip pass an interesting place (carnival, museum, candy store) which they can visit if they like
Kinds of hiking:
- Trekking, a multi-day, often arduous hike especially in mountainous regions
- Thru-hiking, hiking a trail from end to end
- Directory of regional hiking websites
- American Hiking Society
- Recreation: Outdoors: Hiking - category on hiking sites, from the Open Directory
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