Is Hiking A Sport? (Full Answer)

Hiking is one of the oldest and most popular of all outdoor activities. While for our ancestors hiking was a thing of necessity for survival, today it is a recreational pursuit enjoyed by millions around the world. However, is hiking really considered a sport?

Hiking is not generally thought of as a sport, but more as a recreational activity. The absence of competition within hiking and the lack of a governing body overseeing a set of accepted rules and regulations prevents hiking from being recognized as a sport.

If you sit a group of hikers around a table, you may still get a lively debate on this issue. However, in this article, we will discuss the reasons hiking is not considered a sport, while also looking at the events which could still be considered as competitive hiking.

Is Hiking Considered A Sport?

Hiking is generally not considered as a sport. Although hiking can require the physical and mental demands that you would associate with sporting activity, it is viewed more as a hobby. While this may seem a little harsh to a hiker whose lungs are at bursting point on a steep elevation, the lack of competition is one of the prime reasons hiking is classed more as a hobby than a sport.

There are certainly a few offshoots of hiking that are recognized as sports. These include trail running, adventure racing, and geocaching. They are seen as sports due to the competitive nature of the organized events, some of which attract participants from around the world to compete. However, outside of an organized event, a trail run is just a recreational activity like hiking.

Fishing is another good example of an activity that many will struggle to view as a sport. How can fishing compare to the physical demands of a good hike they may ask? Well, physically it might not match up to hiking, but fishing is a highly organized activity with a huge network of competitions, some of which are incredibly lucrative.

To better understand why hiking is not considered a sport we need to take a look at the definition of sport and the relevance of competition.

Why Hiking Is Not Considered A Sport

A standard and accepted definition of sport is ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules and often undertaken competitively.’ No one can say hiking does not involve physical exertion, and on some tougher trails a good degree of skill is required too. However, this is not quite enough for hiking to be classed as a sport if we accept the definition.

There are three key criteria within the definition where hiking qualifying as a sport begins to fall down:

  • Set of rules
  • Governance
  • Competitiveness

Recognized sports have governing bodies that oversee the rules and regulations of the activity. These governing bodies can be at the local, national or international level, but they all serve the same purpose and that is to bring a level of consistency to the rules and regulations by which competitors in their sport are expected to abide.

Admittedly, you might think that there can’t be many rules needed for hiking. Yet with just a quick upping of the pace you are a trail runner, and even competitive walking has rules regarding matters such as lifting your feet and what constitutes running. A competition always needs a tight set of rules!

Does A Sport Have To Be Competitive?

Going by the mainstream definitions of sport, it does have to be competitive. Activities outside of a competitive environment will otherwise be classed as a recreational activity or hobby. With a few exceptions which we will come on to later, hiking has never really been about competition but instead about being in the great outdoors, surrounded by stunning natural environments.

When you mention sports as a subject, people will instinctively consider their own favorite sports and greatest sporting occasions. Whether this is a Super Bowl final, Nadal versus Federer, or an event at the Olympics, sports often tie people to specific times and events. This is not to downplay hiking, but sports thrive and survive on great competitive moments.

So, competition is paramount to recognition as a sport. However, a sporting occasion does not always necessarily mean packed out stadiums or thousands of spectators lining a race route. Again, think of most fishing competitions! But it does need governing bodies overseeing the rules and regulations of the competitions to effectively fit the definition of a sport.

Does Hiking Have The Same Benefits As Other Sports?

However, just because we are not classing hiking as a sport, it does not mean you can’t enjoy the same benefits other sports have to offer. Hiking is great for exercise. Trails offer varying degrees of difficulty, and you can make a hike as easy or as strenuous as you wish. Therefore, the physical fitness benefits of hiking are the same as those of many other sports.

But hiking is great for the soul too. Getting away from built-up urban areas and into nature, where you can lose yourself in miles and miles of tranquility, can also be great for your mental health. Hiking may need some planning in terms of routes, clothing and appropriate footwear, as well as food and drink compared to your average walk, but the scenery when hiking a trail makes it so worthwhile.

Hiking can also be beneficial as part of a training plan for other endurance sports. Taking a break from a running training schedule or leaving the bike behind for the day to hike instead can be the refreshing change in routine you need, while still receiving the fitness benefits of a good hike.

Finally, you should never overlook the social side of sport. While we might all like to hike alone from time to time, hiking as a group or with family and friends can be an enjoyable social occasion. By ensuring the trail is planned with everyone’s abilities and fitness levels taken in mind, hiking can provide the same social benefits as other team sports.

What Is Competitive Hiking?

While there might not be the type of competitive events we recognize as sport, there is still the chance to participate in some competitive hiking. However, this tends to be more in the form of personal challenges and is the main reason you don’t hear people talk about hiking as a sport more often.

Such challenges are often self-paced with time limits to complete the route. You are not generally racing other competitors to finish the challenge first. That is not to say you won’t have some people wanting the ‘honor’ of completing the challenge in the fastest time, but they are unlikely to win any prize or financial reward for doing so, as they might in many major endurance events.

Often such challenges are viewed by participants as an escape from daily work routines, and turning it in to a race may be completely off-putting. This would make it more of a trail run or adventure race too. Notable hiking challenges and events around the world include:

  • Pacific Crest Trail
  • Three Peaks Challenge
  • Six Pack of Peaks Challenge
  • Camino de Santiago de Compostela
  • Colorado Trail Fest
  • Lake District 24 Peaks

These are all examples of individual challenges or events aimed at providing hikers with a challenging route. None are organized within the remit of an umbrella organization that oversees the rules and regulations of the hike. Every participant needs to be aware of the stresses of the challenge and apply their own safety considerations.

However, none of this means the hikes are any less enjoyable just because they are viewed as a personal challenge as opposed to a sporting event.

Is There An Argument For Hiking As A Sport?

Beyond sheer terminology, there are undoubtedly elements of hiking that resemble many other endurance sports such as marathons, trail running and adventure racing. The physical demands and the fitness levels required to complete trail courses are very similar in some cases.

Hiking challenges can be timed and can be about completing the course in the fastest time. There is nothing here that is different to other endurance race models. If hiking formed a governing body and applied rules and regulations, it would be difficult to see how it could not be classed as a sport.

The bigger question is whether hikers would really want that to be the case. As hiking is largely seen as an escape into beautiful scenery, probably not! For those who want a challenge there are plenty of options already available, while those who want to race have similar sporting disciplines they could try too.

Final Thoughts

Hiking is viewed more as a recreational activity than a sport. Hiking is largely a non-competitive activity which does not have a governing body overseeing a set of rules and regulations. However, hiking still has its fair share of challenging events around the world, some with a competitive aspect.