. . . it is very easy to improve [the act of walking] by a little conscious thought what I regard as the most important single element in the physical act of walking: rhythm. An easy, unbroken rhythm can carry you along hour after hour almost without your being aware that you’re putting one foot in front of the other . . . . . With experience you automatically fall into your own rhythmic pace. But when you first take up real walking you may have to think deliberately about establishing a stride and a speed that feels comfortable . . . . You’ll almost certainly have to concentrate at first on the important matter of not disrupting the rhythm unless absolutely necessary. I can’t emphasize this unbroken-rhythm business too strongly.
—Fletcher and Rawlins, The Complete Walker IV, p. 115
Which of the many styles and philosophies of walking and hiking do you prefer? What specific values underlie your preferred styles? If efficiency is an important value, how efficient is your current style? What would make your style even more efficient? Do you enjoy the act of walking and hiking itself? Are you willing to develop your walking into an art form?
Alternative Ways of Viewing Walking
For many walking is just walking, putting one foot in front of the other. [Note: “walking” will be used as an umbrella term for the following closely related concepts (unless indicated otherwise): hiking, trekking, tramping, tromping, bushwalking, hillwalking, ambulating, sauntering, meandering, strolling, trudging, slogging, marching, rambling and roving.] We do it naturally and intuitively without thinking much about it unless we suffer an injury or get involved in competitions. In cultures where humans walk everywhere and do not rely on modern transportation, many develop walking into a fine art and learn to walk efficiently for long distances.
Consider that walking and hiking can be viewed as both art and science. A prime example is the first section of BackpackingLight’s popular field guide, Lightweight Backpacking & Camping (ed. Ryan Jordan, Beartooth Mountain Press, 2005). Part I is in fact titled “The Art and Science of Walking.” This part covers the following topics: Footwear, Backpacks, Pack Weight and Navigation. As might be expected, the first three chapters of this part place strong emphasis on lightweight gear as a central component of the walking experience.
Walking and hiking can also be viewed as an art or a practice. A prime example of a walking style that is viewed as an art is found in Danny Dreyer’s ChiWalking: The Five Mindful Steps For Lifelong Health and Energy (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2006). The following quote provides some hints about the “artful” approach taken in this article:
“T’ai chi is the mother of all martial arts, based on the premise that all movement and power originates from your center, not your arms and legs. For centuries, the Chinese have studied animal movement and found that all movement in the body revolves around a central axis (along the spine) while the arms and legs remain as relaxed as possible and act only as conduits for the force generated by your core.”
Walking and hiking can also be viewed as a chosen style or philosophy of movement. This is the primary thrust of this article (which I see as quite complimentary to viewing it as an art and science). In it, I will provide brief descriptions of 16 distinct walking styles and philosophies. I will then tease out the different values underlying these styles and philosophies. Finally, I will reflect on how walking and hiking equipment (e.g., packs, footwear, poles) affect the enjoyment of this basic act.
Examining walking and hiking in this way (as an art, a science, a style or a philosophy) has the potential to cause all sorts of problems with what many see as a natural act. Some will likely take the stance that a natural act like walking should not be placed under a microscope and examined in this way. In this regard, I am reminded of the parable of the centipede that started examining the mechanics of movement of his numerous legs and soon found himself off in the ditch. So, if you are quite happy with your present style of walking and hiking, it might be wise to stop reading this article. However, if you continue, the responsibility is now yours for any problems that might result.
Styles/Philosophies of Walking and Hiking: Thumbnail Sketches
Below are thumbnail sketches of 16 selected walking styles and philosophies, starting with the more common and moving to the less common and more esoteric. The explanations for the more common styles are relatively brief, becoming more detailed for the less common.
Minimalist or Barefoot Walking
Walking in sandals, moccasins or barefoot has probably been and may still be the most common style of walking, worldwide, through the history of human movement. This style of walking often involves a mid-foot or fore-foot strike as contrasted with the more traditional heel strike. Without padding, this mode of walking utilizes what can be described as a “walking softly” technique. With minimal foot covering and without distinct heels or padding, this style definitely puts one in touch with the terrain under foot, strengthens the lower leg muscles and tendons and allows one to walk more upright than with footwear with distinct heels and cushioning. Some have conditioned their feet and legs to use this style in adverse conditions (snow, off-trail, rocky trails).
Power walking is roughly synonymous with fitness walking, aerobic walking, speed walking, power striding and fast packing. Power walkers move at a brisk pace with a longer-than-normal stride. This style involves pushing off aggressively with toes, ankles, knees and hips fully involved. The arms often pump aggressively back and forth to increase both energy expenditure and forward momentum. This type of walking can be practiced anywhere—on trails, paved or asphalt surface, indoor or outdoor tracks, treadmills, shopping malls, etc. Power walking is good for training and increased speed, but is energy draining and not usually efficient for longer walks. It is often competitive in nature (with self or with others).
[Plus 14 other thumbnail sketches in the complete article]
The above paragraphs provide a preview of the complete article (approximately 18 pages) available as a free download. Click on the following to download in either a Microsoft Word or PDF format.
The sub-topics listed below are developed in this complete article:
Alternative Ways of Viewing Walking
Styles/Philosophies of Walking and Hiking
Additional Walking Styles
Criteria For Making
Judgments About Various Styles
Values Implied by Styles Thumbnailed Above
Reader Participation: Acknowledging Walking Styles and Values
Author’s Values Relative to Chosen Walking Styles
My “Aha” Experience
Current Style(s) Maximize Efficiency and Stamina?
Integrating Techniques From Different Styles
Generalized Conclusions About Walking/Hiking
Additional Issues For Reflection