I’ve been hiking for as long as I can remember, covering all sorts of trails and different terrain. However, while other hikers will already be aware of the various pros and cons of hiking, many new hikers may be unsure just what these advantages and disadvantages of hiking are.
Hiking has a number of advantages and disadvantages associated with it. They cover both the physical and mental side of things, and they range from better physical and mental fitness to the relatively high costs attached to a lot of hiking equipment on the market.
But understanding these different hiking advantages and disadvantages is key if you want to either get the most out of your next hiking trip, or simply want to find out if hiking is something you’re likely to enjoy. Below, we go through the pros and cons of hiking in more detail.
I must stress that this article is aimed more at those looking at starting out. However, there may be some hikers out there who are disillusioned with hiking, and perhaps require a gentle nudge to remind them of why they fell in love with it in the first place.
But as with any hobby, being prepared and knowing what you are getting yourself in for before starting is important. It allows you to make a better call on where you should be hiking, what you need, and also increase the chances of you enjoying your experience.
Hiking requires some investment in both a time and monetary sense. Knowing the ins and outs in advance allows you to make smarter decisions, often saving you both time and money. Also, it lets you ascertain how much time and money you should perhaps put into starting this hobby, if that is what you are doing. So, with this in mind, let’s get on with looking at the advantages of hiking first.
First, and this is perhaps the most obvious advantage of hiking, is the fact you get out into nature. That is something we should all do regularly, and the fact you can explore things away from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life is fantastic.
You can walk on hiking trails that cover all sorts of terrain. From forests to mountains, and from fields to paved trails. Perhaps you check out some coastal walks, or those that take you out into the absolute wilds. Basically, hiking allows you to choose the aspects of nature you like, and then get out there and interact with it.
Hiking is a wonderful type of exercise as you have complete control over what you do, where you go, and how long you spend doing it.
Whether it’s a short loop trail covering only a couple of miles, or if it’s the Appalachian Trail covering over 2000 miles, there is something for everyone. You have the ability to take as much time as you like. So what if a 2 mile hike takes you 2 hours? It’s your hike, and your time, so spend it as you like!
When I say hiking is for everyone, I absolutely mean it. No matter your physical condition or ability, there is a trail out there for you just waiting to be explored. People make the mistake of linking the concept of hiking with individuals going off into remote areas along trails where you encounter almost nobody, but that’s only part of what is on offer.
Instead, you will probably have some form of hiking trail relatively close to your own home. You can easily search online for simple trails with very easy terrain where you do not even require special boots or shoes to walk the trail. Hiking is accessible, and it’s right out there on your doorstep. You can even go urban hiking too, if you live in or near the city.
Hiking with a friend, or even a group of friends, is a wonderful way of enjoying life. You all have a shared interest in something, and it provides a space to free up the mind and to laugh. Also, hiking as a group does mean help is at hand should something go wrong, so that may be something you wish to keep in mind.
But while hiking with a couple of people is great, I personally do not enjoy a large group. I often hike to get away from people, so to then hike as part of a group of 10+ people doesn’t make a lot of sense to me! However, if that is something you love doing, and where the social aspect is a huge thing, then that’s a clear advantage hiking has over other sports.
For example, you might play a team sport, which has its own advantages of course. However, it’s not easy to talk to your friends about the important parts of your life when you’re both chasing a ball or playing at opposite ends of the field. Hiking mixes good exercise with easy socializing, for the best of both worlds.
When I say you are away from the fast life, I mean things such as internet access, cell phones, traffic, people surrounding you, and just the general buzz that surrounds modern life. I see this as being a huge advantage of hiking. You have the ability to completely detach yourself from life for an hour, a day, or even longer, depending on the trail.
The Mental And Physical Advantages
This short paragraph won’t cover all or even many of the mental and physical advantages of hiking, as they get their own sections later on. However, it goes without saying that hiking is good for the body and the mind. Whether it’s just a gentle walk to stretch out and relieve your stresses, or a strenuous uphill climb, hiking has powerful physical and mental benefits.
I think the first disadvantage I need to mention has to be the weather. Ok, so you will have times where the weather is perfect, but that’s not always the case. The weather, regardless of being good or bad, does bring along a number of problems to contend with.
First, if you know you hate hiking in the rain, then you need to really pore over those weather reports before setting out. Also, understand how long it takes you to complete the hike. You don’t want to look at the forecast for the next half-hour if your hike takes you four hours to complete.
Also, weather can change. While some love this unpredictable nature, that’s not the case across the board. And of course even “perfect” weather brings its problems. A beating sun might be pleasant at the trailhead, but after an hour of strenuous walking you might be uncomfortably warm. To avoid any issues, always plan your route and the gear you want to bring very carefully.
Hiking can hurt at times. The good news is it tends to hurt more when you have overdone things, so it’s easy to avoid this. Incorrect planning may lead to you walking a longer distance than you intended, or it being physically tougher than you expected. That type of mistake means you do run the risk of your legs and back stiffening up for a few days after you have completed your hike.
Also, you may want to add in blisters on your feet if your hiking footwear is not suitable for you. However, experienced hikers will tell you that blisters are just something that can happen to anyone, so it’s nothing to worry too much about. While pain is clearly a disadvantage of any activity, it’s fairly easy to avoid when hiking with some proper planning.
Hiking is not something you should just simply get up and do. Instead, you need to have the right equipment to make everything as safe as possible. Now, I’m not saying you need the best of the best when it comes to hiking. You don’t need the latest Gore-Tex jacket or the most high-tech waterproof boots every created.
However, you do need to have certain items to make your hike as safe and as comfortable as possible. Hiking boots or shoes are a bonus, along with hiking trousers, different jackets, waterproofs, a backpack, walking poles – the list goes on. You can add other things in there as well, depending on the type of hiking you wish to do.
The point I’m making is that this can all add up from a monetary perspective even if you do plan on purchasing items priced at the lower end of the market. But you once again don’t need to fork out too much, and it all depends on the specific trail you plan to hike. If money is an issue, aim to start with smaller hikes that are closer to home before taking on the big ones elsewhere.
Even though nature is beautiful and wonderful, it does come with risks attached. Of course, you can do various things to mitigate those risks, but hiking will never be 100% safe. After all, you could do something as simple as twist your ankle on a flat trail. It’s very easy to do. Or, you may be caught out in some sudden bad weather.
But you must keep in mind that risks occur in everything we do. Hiking is not immune from this, so while it is a disadvantage, it’s not something that should rank high on your list of reasons to not go for a hike.
Other Disadvantages Of Hiking
Other things that could be classed as a disadvantage include:
- You fall in love with hiking so much that you then hate that you don’t have enough time to do other things
- You start to want to explore more trails but can’t find the time
- Your ability to hike may be limited to your actual location
- Some of your favorite trails may be extremely busy
The first physical benefit is the most obvious, and it’s to do with becoming physically fitter. Any sort of hiking will help. You don’t have to turn into a mountaineer overnight to get the benefits.
The thing I love about hiking is you can walk any distance you want, so if you struggle with your fitness, then even half a mile is good for you. You have the time and ability to build your stamina and fitness levels as you continue hiking. The trails will always be there, so you can start as small as you need to and work your way up.
As you become fitter, you can tackle slightly more arduous trails. I know from my own experience how I started off with a hike on a paved trail around a very small man-made lake, taking my time. Then, I worked it up to inclines and longer trails that were off the beaten track.
You become your own judge as to how fit you are at any given time. With so many trails out there, covering all kinds of terrain and difficulty, there really is something to suit every fitness level. It all makes for a fantastic time out in nature, and you just know you will become physically fitter as a direct result.
It is widely accepted that hiking does indeed reduce the risk of heart disease. This happens as hiking is a fantastic cardio workout, and it’s one where it is very easy to set the pace and work as hard as you want. The harder, steeper or longer the trail, the better the cardio work out can be, so it can also therefore scale to your desires and physical limitations.
Gentle exercise is known to reduce blood pressure. So, it’s not a surprise that hiking can also help in this area. At the same time, it can also prevent high blood pressure occurring in the first place.
But how does hiking manage to do this? Well, exercise has the ability to reduce the stiffness of blood vessels. That then means the blood can flow more easily through them, and this reduces your blood pressure.
But don’t think you need to go on a long hike on a daily basis to get this benefit. Just going for an urban hike for 30 minutes each day, which basically means walking around the area where you live, can provide decent benefits until you have the time to go out for a longer hike elsewhere.
Hiking has been linked reduced cholesterol levels, with a real focus on that bad cholesterol number. However, to really get this benefit, it does require you to be hiking on moderate terrain.
This is due to the need to be pushing your body just that little bit harder than if the terrain was smooth and flat. Your body requires something of a challenge for this to work. Also, it’s even better when the terrain is more uphill than downhill, and this increased difficulty level will also ensure you get even more of those other physical health benefits too.
Hiking is also linked to improving blood sugar levels. Studies have indicated that a hike with a substantial amount of downhill walking works best at not only reducing blood sugar levels, but also boosting your ability to tolerate glucose.
As we age, bone density becomes even more important, and so it’s good to know that hiking has the ability to help us out in this area. Also, don’t think you need that long hike for this. Instead, studies have indicated walking as little as three to five miles a week can make a significant difference.
Walking as short a distance as five miles in total, so not even all at the one time, will reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis. Also, it doesn’t need to involve anything too strenuous either, so it’s also highly accessible.
Having a strong core leads to better physical health, and hiking has you covered in this department too. By working muscles across your legs, hips and back, hiking improves your strength in these areas. Keep in mind that your core, and I include the lower back here, plays a key role when it comes to general stability.
If you fail to exercise regularly, then the muscles around this area will become weaker. That then means you increase your chances of developing issues with your spine and hips. Hiking counteracts that by working these muscle groups, and at a level you can control by varying the length, type, and difficulty of your hike.
Hiking can improve your general flexibility. This is all thanks to working those muscles, because sitting around too much means the muscles tighten, and that’s when flexibility becomes an issue. By hiking, you get blood flowing into your muscles, and they will avoid tightening up and become stronger.
Also, if you don’t exercise regularly, your joints can become stiff, and that can also lead to pain. Stiffness in the hip area and lower back can eventually lead to the back even becoming out of line, and that’s clearly not a good thing. Walking can counteract all of that, and it then makes it easier to enjoy the other clear physical benefits associated with hiking. Hiking can also improve your posture too.
When you have a strong core, and good flexibility, it also means your balance will improve. This is due to your core being capable of making those continued small adjustments required to help you keep your balance.
Better balance can give you greater confidence when hiking. You will often encounter uneven ground, so having better balance makes it less of a challenge.
Any type of exercise is good for you when it comes to helping with your weight, and hiking is certainly something capable of making a difference. Hiking is a form of cardio. That means it will help burn belly fatwhile, at the same time, building muscle.
We all need Vitamin D to be healthy, but it’s not something we can produce on our own. So, we need some sunlight to help us make it, and getting out on a hike is a great way to do this. Hiking allows you to get a healthy dose of Vitamin D, and it all happens without you even realizing it.
Our immune system fights off nasty viruses and bacteria. Hiking has the ability to boost our immune system, making us better positioned to fight them off. We also tend to live in very sterile environments where we seek to clean everything to a point where we avoid exposing ourselves to anything we determine to be ‘dirty’ or any sort of ‘germs.’ But that’s not always a good thing.
Hiking means you are out there in an environment that is far from sterile. Scientists have shown how hiking in the great outdoors can boost your white blood cell count by as much as 40%, and this boost can even stick around for a month or more. That is a huge increase, and it means your immune system will be firing on all cylinders as a result.
Now, imagine if you go hiking on a regular basis. It’s almost as if you are topping up your immune system all the time!
Hiking, as a form of exercise, can boost endorphin levels in your brain. These are chemicals in your brain and nervous system that act to make you feel pleasure and reduced pain. Release of these endorphins can make you feel better and happier about life.
But even though the act of exercising boosts those endorphins, it’s not the only thing about hiking that is capable of doing this. Just being out in nature can also increase those endorphin levels.
Anything that can reduce your stress levels should be welcomed, and hiking is happily one of those things. Once again, it’s connected to those endorphins and the impact nature is known to have on our bodies. Also, add in the fact you are surrounded by peace and quiet far from the stresses and rushing around of modern life, and you can easily see how hiking can reduce your stress levels.
The act of clearing your mind, which tends to happen when hiking, is known to be highly beneficial for boosting creativity levels. If your mind feels less cluttered, due to being able to ignore everything else going on, then your creativity can in turn become enhanced.
Hiking provides your mind with the perfect opportunity to allow it to relax. The noise that surrounds our thoughts can be overpowering, especially when we have technology and media blaring at us from all angles. Hiking stops all that in an instant. It’s simply you out in nature, and alone with your own thoughts.
By creating that kind of mental space, you provide yourself with the perfect opportunity to allow your thoughts to be processed in the correct way. Hiking is therefore a particularly useful tool if you’re facing a tough problem in your life. You can use hiking to clear your mind, and take a clean slate approach to thinking about the problem.
The advantages of hiking outweigh the disadvantages. Hiking improves both your mental and physical health, and it does this in a variety of obvious and subtle ways. While hiking can bring its own risks and costs, the improvements hiking can make to your mind and body are well worth it.