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Hiking is an outdoor activity which consists of walking in natural environments, often on hiking trails. It is such a popular activity that there are numerous hiking organizations worldwide. The health benefits of different types of hiking have been confirmed in studies.

What are the health benefits of hiking and trekking? Are these outdoor events really beneficial for health? Is hiking or trekking for everyone or has some age bar? Does hiking only has health benefits or are there any psychological benefits too?

These are some questions which quite often strike in our mind. If someone seeks answer to these questions, although most of them are subjective in nature as far as the degree of benefits is concerned, but certainly the response would be positive. Most of the people would immediately say, "Yes there are countless benefits." No doubt, there are many benefits of hiking and trekking ranging from controlling obesity to preventing heart disease to improving the quality of air we breathe.

While many sports activities and games require special equipment or training to get started, the hiking is relatively much simpler and more beneficial than any other exercise. Literally, anyone can put on a pair of shoes along with few necessary gears and equipments and start moving into the woods for a little fresh air—this is called hiking. The scenery, accessibility and diverse nature of hiking trails make this heart-healthy pastime attractive for people of all ages, fitness levels and income brackets. Moreover, except few points, hiking and trekking don’t require any special expertise and skills.

Hiking or trekking allows us to maintain our body in good working condition by walking which is really a good exercise. It improves our physical as well as mental health and the list of benefits from hiking and trekking is infinite. Hiking is essentially walking that is considered to be one of the most perfect forms of exercise for your body. You can get a chance to spend some quality time together with the Mother Nature, so it also provides a mental health antidote. Everyone can find trails to suit their physical strengths. And unlike other activities or sports, it is a pursuit that allows people to determine their own limitations.

Many research findings and studies show that hiking is an excellent way to lose extra pounds and improve overall health. To improve overall health, we don’t necessarily need to do heavy and painful workouts, but just a short brisk walk of few minutes can be more than sufficient. According to the American Heart Association, it’s best to walk vigorously for 30 to 60 minutes 3-4 times per week. But even low- to moderate intensity walking can have both short- and long-term benefits. Similarly, According to Walking for Health, people "won’t find a better way to lose weight than walking." The results will be more permanent and pleasurable than any diet or weight loss scheme.

For example, in December, 2001, the US surgeon general called the increased rate of obesity in the United States an epidemic. The report states that 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese, and the number is increasing year after year. In addition, thirteen percent of children are overweight. The report recommends that communities create safe sidewalks or walking trails to encourage physical activity. Not only these, but there are many more research findings that clearly show multiple health benefits of hiking and trekking.

When it comes to enlist the health benefits, then the list may go endless consisting of several mental as well as physical health benefits, such as losing excess pounds, preventing heart disease, decreasing hypertension or high blood pressure, improving and maintaining mental health, slowing the aging process, preventing osteoporosis, improving the quality of the air we breathe, preventing and controlling diabetes, improving arthritis, relieving back pain (which has become an epidemic in the modern contemporary world along with healthy habits for a healthy life i.e. team building skills, positive attitude, kindness, empathy.

At last but not the least, hiking has countless health benefits and the beauty is that it doesn’t cost you much. Moreover, while at hiking you can take other family members and your young children along with you without much difficulty. Indeed, it is a good idea to spend more time with your family and children. For young children, it helps improve their physical stamina and team building skills.

Hiking can refer to cross-country walking of a longer duration than a simple walk and usually over terrain where hiking boots are required.  A day hike refers to a hike that can be completed in a single day, often applied to mountain hikes to a lake or summit, but not requiring an overnight camp, in which case the term backpacking is used. Bushwhacking specifically refers to difficult walking through dense forest, undergrowth, or bushes, where forward progress requires pushing vegetation aside. In extreme cases of bushwhacking where the vegetation is so dense that human passage is impeded, a machete is used to clear a pathway.

Hiking a long-distance trail from end-to-end is also referred to as trekking and as thru-hiking in some places, for example on the Appalachian Trail (AT) or Long Trail (LT) in Vermont. The Long Trail is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States.

Hiking is one of the fundamental outdoor activities on which many others are based. Many beautiful places can only be reached overland by hiking, and enthusiasts regard hiking as the best way to see nature. Hikers see it as better than a tour in a vehicle of any kind or on an animal (such as horseback riding) because the hiker's senses are not intruded upon by distractions such as windows, engine noise, airborne dust and fellow passengers. Hiking over long distances or over difficult terrain requires both the physical ability to do the hike and the knowledge of the route and its pitfalls.

Hikers often seek beautiful natural environments in which to hike. These environments are often fragile: hikers may accidentally destroy the environment that they enjoy. While the action of an individual may not strongly affect the environment, 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 if done 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 faecal matter, imposing a quota on the number of hikers per mile.

Respect for The Environment
(and others)

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. Followers of this practice follow strict practices on dealing with food waste, food packaging, and alterations to the surrounding environment.

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 (4 to 10 inches) deep, 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.

See More about When Nature Calls Here
(going poo-poo and wee-wee in the wilderness)

Sometimes hikers enjoy viewing rare or endangered species. However, some species are very sensitive to the presence of humans, especially around mating season. To prevent adverse impact, hikers should learn the habits and habitats of endangered species.

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 designated areas (or if necessary on bare ground) will reduce the risk of wildfire.

Types of Hiking

Backpacking – also known as trekking, a multi-day, often arduous hike especially in mountainous regions

Dog hiking – hiking with dogs

Scrambling - "non-technical" rock climbing or mountaineering OR "technical" hiking

Thru-hiking – hiking a trail from end to end in one continuous hike (people may end to end a trail, but in section hikes)

Ultralight backpacking 

Waterfalling – AKA waterfall hunting and waterfall hiking is hiking with the purpose of finding and enjoying waterfalls


Hazards of Hiking
(The following reading pertains to extreame hiking)

Hiking may produce threats to personal safety. These threats can be dangerous circumstances while hiking and/or specific accidents or ailments. Diarrhea has been found to be the most common illness afflicting long-distance hikers in the United States.

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 {See Sun Smart} or hypothermia), topical injuries (such as frostbite or sunburn {See Sun Smart}), attacks by animals, or internal injuries (such as ankle sprain). See First Aid

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.

The Ten Essentials is a list of essential items hiking authorities promote as recommended for safe travel in the backcountry.

The Ten Essentials were first described in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a hiking and mountain climbing club. Many regional organizations and authors recommend that hikers, backpackers, and climbers rigorously ensure they have the ten essentials with them. However, many expert hikers do not always carry all the items.

According to the Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, the ten essentials are:

  • Map 

  • Compass (optionally supplemented with a GPS receiver) 
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen 
  • Extra food and water 
  • Extra clothes 
  • Headlamp (outdoor)/flashlight 
  • First aid kit
  • Fire starter 
  • Matches 
  • Knife

The textbook recommends supplementing the ten essentials with:

  • Water treatment device (water filter or chemicals) and water bottles (see Safe Drinking Water)

  • Ice axe for glacier or snowfield travel (if necessary) 
  • Repair kit, including duct tape and a basic sewing materials. 
  • Insect repellent (or clothing designed for this purpose) 
  • Signaling devices, such as a whistle, cell phone, two-way radio, satellite phone, unbreakable signal mirror or flare.
  • Plastic tarp and rope for expedient field shelter. 

Not every expedition will require the use of an essential item. Carrying these basic items improves the chances that one is prepared for an unexpected emergency in the outdoors. For instance, if a hiker experiences a sudden snow storm, fresh clothes and fire starter may be used to keep warm, or the map and compass and headlamp will allow them to exit the wilderness quickly; otherwise hypothermia becomes a prominent possibility, perhaps even death.

Attacks by humans are also a reality. There are organizations that promote prevention, self defense and escape. The cell phone and GPS devices are used in some organizations.

In various countries, borders may be poorly marked. It is good practice to know where international borders are. Many nations, such as Finland, have specific rules governing hiking across borders.

Hiking equipment

Hiking equipment is gear or equipment that one takes along on an outdoors hiking trip. While hiking is considered different from backpacking (overnight camping), the equipment is of necessity of a shorter term more practical nature for such a walk. However even for a day trip it is prudent to pack at least rudimentary solutions for eventualities that may arise including being forced to stay the night, getting lost, or accidents.

Hiking equipment may be considered in several categories


Items Worn — Things that a hiker wears on the hiking trip. This may include footwear, clothing, head gear, etc.

Carrying Items — Backpacks, waist packs, walking sticks or staffs, etc.

Essential gear — Items that are essential for the hike safety or necessary in potential emergency situations.

Food and drink — Food items to consume as snacks, lunch, or in emergencies.

Optional Items — Any other items that the hiker desires to bring along including seating pads, chairs, notebooks, hammocks, and sometimes even computers.

Weight and bulk limit the amount of equipment that one can carry (particularly if one follows the principle of Leave No Trace and does not discard items on the trail). Criteria for packing an item include weight, bulk (size), number of alternative uses and the chances of each of those uses becoming apparent, weighed against the importance. For example, a whistle may seem unlikely to become necessary, but can be real life saver when it does and weighs next to nothing. Other items, like a sleeping bag , can also be important but can also be very restricting, so a simpler alternative like an extra layer of clothing might be a better idea.

First of all, one needs something to carry the equipment in. This can be simple fisherman's jacket or a daypack for short hikes, or a full backpack.

Items Worn - The hiker will generally consider clothing items based on the expected weather and demands of the particular hike location. For example rain or snow would require different gear than a desert environment.

Footwear — Many hikers wear hiking boots or shoes. These come in a variety of high top (better ankle support), or low top (more comfortable) styles. Some hikers wear various rugged outdoor sandals. Footwear should be rugged enough for the terrain envisioned (hiking boots for a rocky mountain, vs sneakers on a paved rail trail). Hikers will generally consider water proofing the boots or shoes based on the weather (rain, snow or slush), and the nature of the trail (swampy or wet). Along with footwear most hikers should also consider socks that will help wick sweat from the hiker's feet, provide warmth, and provide buffering inside the shoe.

Headwear — A hat can provide cooling in the summer, warmth in the snow, and protection from sun.

Pocket knife, possibly with a tin opener and a saw.

Flashlight plus spare batteries and bulb

Map(s) with sufficient detail to be meaningful

Compass — roughly knowing which way is North can already make a huge difference. It is also helpful to know the declination from Magnetic North to True North applicable to your location.

First aid kit

Matches and/or a lighter and possibly a flint or magnifying glass (always work, even when wet)

Tinder — plus knowledge how to start a fire. In emergencies, a campfire can be one of the biggest life savers (warmth and signalling) and it is not as easy to make as some might think. A fire also keeps up the spirits, which can also be a life saver.

Candles — for light but also a useful aid to start a fire

Water flask, plus water if needed

Water purification — tablets and/or filter  (see Safe Drinking Water)

Food — preferably with a low water content to keep the weight down (if water is readily available on the spot)

Plastic bags of various types and sizes to keep things dry and pack things out. Ziploc bags are very practical because they are easily closed and opened. Garbage bags can be used to line the backpack with, but also to put in one's shoes to keep the feet warm, even when the socks are already wet.

Insect repellent

Mat — even a small thin one can make a difference in emergencies

Sleeping bag (and/or liner)

Clothes — best worn in layers, so one can easily adapt to changing circumstances. So two thin sweaters make more sense than one thick one. Also, on overnight trips, keep one set of clothes dry for evenings and nights (eg a jogging suit) and put the dayclothes back on before one starts walking, even if they are wet.

A warm hat or cap — even when no cold weather is expected. Per weight and volume, this is the best insulator because a lot of body heat escapes through the head ("If your feet are cold, put on a hat").

Big handkerchief — for various purposes, such as a rough water filter, a thin scarf or a bandana to keep the sweat out of one's eyes (should be big enough for that purpose).

Rain jacket or parka — preferably either one that fits over the backpack or accompanied by a separate pack liner

Boots — Often heavy boots with soles with a thick profile and high heels are recommended to avoid twisted ankles after a misstep, which is one of the worst things that can happen to a solo hiker. However, heavy boots put a lot of weight where it is least desirable and are thus exhausting. A less popular alternative philosophy is to use light trainers with thin soles so one can feel the ground one walks on and avoid making missteps in the first place.

Socks — as with boots, special attention should be given to socks (eg, no irritating ridge above the toes). Footwear is obviously essential for long distance walking.

Toilet paper or paper napkins — also handy as kindling 

Sun cream and sun glasses — may be essential for those who are easily sunburnt, eg fair skinned people who rarely go outside. Especially on snow, water or (to a lesser degree) sand. The reflection of snow can lead to snow blindness.

Remember that this is only a guide

Worth considering

  • Tent and/or ground sheet — the sheet (plus a rope) can be a simple substitute for a tent.

  • Bivvy bag or space blanket — a simple substitute for both a tent and a sleeping bag , mostly to keep out wind and rain.

  • Hammock — especially popular in the tropics, to stay away from most insects, especially poisonous ones.

  • Pillow — small or big, preferably inflatable because of bulk (possibly neck pillow). Can be improvised on with clothes or backpack.

  • Mosquito net 

  • String — for all sorts of purposes, such as a clothes line 

  • Rope — various lengths and girths, for various purposes, eg Parachute cord. Maybe also (copper) wire.

  • Fishing line and fish hooks — extremely light weight, but potentially a life saver. The fishing line is also very versatile (eg for repairing boots)

  • Machete — may be frowned upon or even confiscated in National Parks, but can be essential when one wishes or needs to go off the beaten track, where one may encounter thick vegetation. Also very handy for construction and collecting firewood. Can also double as a spade.

  • Small Axe or Hatchet 

  • Cooking pot or billy 

  • Stove and fuel — can be as simple as an Esbit cooker. Esbit blocks are also good firestarters, albeit not too environmentally friendly.

  • Spoon and possibly other eating utensils 

  • Rain pants 

  • Cyanoacrylate or Super Glue — Can be used to stop bleeding and cover wounds; preventing further damage, or infection.

  • Sarong, shawl or other large cloth — for various purposes, such as a (spare) towel or sleeping sheet (or sleeping bag liner)

  • Scarf — can double as a headdress 

  • Gloves 

  • Flip flops or sandals — for the evenings or night visits to the toilet (or what ever passes for that)

  • Towel — can double as a scarf or head dress (against the cold)

  • Soap and shampoo — can be frowned upon in National Parks. Preferably bio-degradable. Use sparingly and away from lakes and rivers.

  • Sewing kit, possibly with a scalpel 

  • Heliograph — a mirror with a hole in it for signalling airplanes. Requires knowledge of how to use it.

  • GPS — an electronic device (preferably a rugged and waterproof model) used to display and monitor progress on trails downloaded from the internet or pre-made mapping systems, record trails on the fly, and keep track of trip times and other data. Good GPS systems have electronic compass and altimeter and either come pre-loaded or allow the user to add topographic or aerial maps to help one to keep aware of changing elevation and avoid sudden dropoffs or other hazards. Some GPSs allow Data logging.

  • Walking stick 

  • Notebook 

  • Earplugs — some forests can be noisy, especially cicadas in the tropics

  • Elastic bands — various sizes and girths for various purposes 

  • Gaffer tape — for quick repairs 

  • canteens — one canteen can hold about a liter of water 

  • Radio — eg to listen to weather reports 

  • Tweezers (if not already in pocket knife) — for removing thorns and such.

  • Spade — for various purposes, eg to dig a cathole. 

  • Snacks — preferably of the healthy kind, as emergency 'power food'.

  • Beta light — handy for reading maps and possibly to catch fish at night

  • Black Shoe Polish — Can be used for marking and camouflage or as a fuel for fire, also giving off a smell that can repel animals

Special interests

  • Binoculars — not only for birders 

  • Camera plus spare batteries and film/memory card 

  • Gaiters — essential for those planning to cross shallow bodies of water or walk through tussock. However gaiters are useless unless worn properly. Always ensure that they are pulled down around the boot, attached to the laces and sufficiently tightened in order to form a waterproof seal around the foot. Gaiters should only be tightened around the calf when crossing water,otherwise they may cut off circulation.

  • Ice axe 

  • Hiking rope 

  • Snow shoes 


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