For many walking is just walking, putting one foot in front of the other. We do it naturally and intuitively without thinking much about it unless we suffer an injury or get involved in competitions (or read an article like this one). 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.com’s popular field guide, Lightweight Backpacking and Camping (ed. Ryan Jordan, Beartooth Mountain Press, 2005). Part 1 of this book is in fact titled: “The Art and Science of Walking”. Part 1 covers the following topics: Footwear, Backpacks, Pack Weight and Navigation. As might be expected, the first three chapters of this book 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 viewing walking this way 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 recommended in this book:
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 focus of the following in-depth article available on this website: Diversity of Walking Styles and Philosophies. In this article, I start by providing brief descriptions of 16 distinct walking styles and philosophies from which to choose. I then tease out the different values underlying the identified styles and philosophies.
I you are a dedicated and disciplined walker / hiker, consider viewing the act of walking from all four of the aforementioned perspectives: art, science, style, philosophy. If you do an in-depth examination of walking, however, consider of the following warning.
Examining walking and hiking in these ways (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 position 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 ignore this article. However, if you chose to evaluate and develop your walking, the responsibility is now yours for any problems that might be created.
Walking Viewed as a Chosen Style and Philosophy
Viewing walking as a chosen style and philosophy raises the issue of criteria. What criteria should I use to evaluate the best walking style for me? Here are some sample criteria that can be used to view walking:
If the criteria focuses on the last mentioned criteria (philosophical), it would be appropriate to identify my overriding values and priorities for traveling in the backcountry and then chose a hiking style(s) that best match up with them. I provide some sample values and priorities in the middle of the following website article: Diversity of Walking Styles and Philosophies
Which of the four mentioned approaches to walking will be the focus of your own practice? What criteria will you use to evaluate your own walking and hiking style? Are you committed to taking your walking and hiking to the next level? Or will you walk and hike in ways that come most natural without further examination and evaluation.