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I was sure I knew the definition of hiking. I was also sure I knew the meaning of adventure. During the first year of this blog I realized that adventure means different things to different people. Hiking can mean different things to different people too (and and differ by areas of the country).
This year I made a resolution to hike 250 miles with Chester and Gretel. Before we can start counting the miles, I want to be sure that the definition of hiking is clear. I need to know what we can count towards our goal and what we can’t.
So what IS the the definition of hiking? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hiking as “to walk a long distance especially for pleasure or exercise”. Another definition I found elaborated that it is walking for long distances “across country or in the woods.”. Wikipedia defines it as “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.” It is clear that hiking involves walking “long distances” and nature but my gut tells me that it is more complicated than that.
What is considered “long distance” anyway and is it necessary for something to be a hike? One of our favorite go-to hikes, Rattlesnake Ledge, is 4 miles round trip. I definitely don’t consider that long distance but absolutely consider it a hike. The trail does climb significantly through the woods though.
What about walking for an hour through an urban park? We call that “urban hiking” but, although it cures our hiking itch a little, I honestly don’t consider that real hiking. The trails are relatively flat and we typically walk those trails at a slower pace than we do when we are hiking.
Does hiking and “walking for exercise” ‘imply that there must be a certain amount of elevation gain? Not necessarily. I can think of at least one 8-mile hike that follows a river and doesn’t gain more than 200 feet of elevation. I definitely consider that a hike.
There are many attempts at defining hiking but they just draw a muddy line at best. It might be one of those things that is really up to the perception of the person. This is what our definition of hiking is:
- Is in nature and on a dirt of gravel surface
- Elevates my heart rate, and implies more work, that simple walking (ie. not easy to carry on a full conversation when walking uphill)
- Requires the use of hiking boots and wicking, quick-dry clothing (because it probably involves some sweat)
- Has a natural feature as a destination – waterfall, lake, peak, abandoned mining camp, etc.
- If I need a forest service pass to park there, it is definitely considered a hike
- It has an elevation gain/loss of at least 200 feet per mile and/or is a “long distance” hike of over 4 miles
This is what I think our definition of hiking is anyway. I am going to keep an journal of all of our hikes this year with trail notes, including what defined it as a hike in my mind. I will revisit this list at the end of the year and see if I need to tweak my definition.
What is your definition of hiking?