Quote by Robert Pursing
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Alternative Ways to View the Act of Hiking and Walking

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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 we read an article like this one).

[Note: “walking” will be used in this context as an umbrella term for the following (unless indicated otherwise):  hiking, trekking, tramping, tromping, bushwalking, hillwalking, ambulating, ambling, sauntering, meandering, wandering, strolling, trudging, slogging, marching, rambling and roving.] 

Hiking and Walking Viewed as an Art or Science

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.

For a non-technical review of the science of walking, check out this article on “How to Walk” that appeared in the August 2011 issue of Backpacker magazine.

Walking and hiking can also be viewed as an art or a discipline. A prime example of viewing walking this way is found in Danny Dreyer’s book, 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.

Consider a visit to Dreyer’s website for more information on the art of ChiWalking. 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 over long distances.

Hiking and Walking Viewed as a Chosen Style or Philosophy

Viewing walking as a chosen style or philosophy raises the issue of criteria for making one’s choices. What criteria should I use to evaluate the best walking style for me? Here are some sample criteria that can be used to choose a hiking or walking style:

  • as a practical exercise (i.e., how to most efficiently to get from point A to point B)
  • as a matter of peer pressure (conforming with or resisting the style most everyone I hike with is using)
  • as an experiential matter (where I experiment with a number of styles to decide which are most comfortable and efficient and enjoyable)
  • as a scientific matter (where I do the appropriate research and consult with experts)
  • as an aesthetic matter (where form, rhythm and style are central)
  • as a philosophical matter (where consistency with my chosen lifestyle and personal values is the central focus).

If your criteria for choosing a hiking or walking style is the last mentioned criteria (philosophical), it would be appropriate to identify your overriding values and priorities for traveling in the backcountry and then chose a hiking style(s) that best match up with them. I provide sample values and priorities in the middle of the website article: Diversity of Walking Styles and Philosophies. In this in-depth 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.

For an example of a unique and more philosophical walking and hiking style with which I have been experimenting, click on Mindful Wandering.

If 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 decide to do an in-depth examination of walking, however, consider the following warning.

Warning! Warning! 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. Some will say 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 that he had walked off into a 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 examine, evaluate and refine your walking style, the responsibility is totally yours for any problems that might be created.


Which of the four approaches to walking mentioned in this article will be the focus of your own walking and hiking? 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 choose to walk and hike in ways that come most natural without further examination and evaluation?


Picture of Mountain Landscape