Is Hiking A Sport: Everything You Need To Know
Hiking has been a large part of my life since before I can even remember. I’ve hiked thousands of miles in all sorts of terrain.
From the deserts of southern California, to the pine forests of Colorado, I’ve hiked in just about every clime and place!
Part of what I enjoy about hiking is the competitive feeling I get from it. From time to time, I like to race my hiking partners (or myself) to see how much faster I am at getting to a given objective. This element kind of makes it seem like hiking is a sport.
But is hiking a sport? Despite the competitive nature that you may have with yourself or your hiking buddies, hiking is not truly a sport.
After much research, we’ve come up with a detailed answer as to why hiking isn’t a sport and what you could do instead to combine your love of competition and the outdoors!
Read on for curious facts and useful advice.
What is hiking?
Hiking is just a leisure activity. And even though it's a leisure activity, it often could be quite tiresome.
Similarly to sport, hiking is undoubtedly an activity involving physical exertion in mountainous areas. Just think about the last time you walked on a steep trail.
We think that hiking is walking (often it's a long walk) in a natural environment over a wide variety of distances. The intent behind it can be wide ranging too!
People hike for the pleasure of being outside. They hike for fitness (that physical exertion is invigorating) and promoting good cardiovascular health. We have an extensive article on the psychological benefits of hiking too.
They hike to access beautiful places that can’t be seen from the seat of a car. They even hike in order to spend multiple nights in wild and remote locations!
And as you might now, hiking every day isn’t bad. In fact, it’s just the opposite!
Part of what draws people to hiking as well as sports is the community that is built around each activity.
The main thing about the hiking community is that it is much more supportive than many sports communities.
This is due to the very low competitive nature of hiking, which is another big differentiating feature between hiking and sport!
What is sport?
What's the official definition of sport?
The official definition of sport is that it's an activity involving physical exertion. But hiking is the same, right? It takes quite a physical exertion. And they both can occur on a hiking trail.
But while hiking can sometimes be competitive, sports are always competitive. It is characterized by competitive events.
An individual or a team competes against other. And there are rules organized by a governing body. Such a governing body could be a federation, for example.
Whether you’re engaged in racing or in a game, there are clear winners and losers at the end of the day, participating in those competitive events.
As we talked about earlier, there is always a regulatory organization that makes the rules and validates the outcomes of competitions. There have to be rules and judges in order to keep the integrity of the sport intact.
Think about different incidents in sports across time. There have been examples where athletes use unfair advantages in order to gain an upper hand over their opponents.
Had there not been regulator organizations to enforce rules on cheating, these athletes would not have been caught for cheating!
This is extremely important when defining what sports are, as there has to be a large degree of integrity when dealing with competitive participants.
It makes things fair, which encourages people to continue to participate ethically.
Last but not least, every sport involves an important amount of physical exertion and skill.
Is hiking a sport?
Since hiking is an activity involving physical exertion and often - significant physical effort (especially winter hiking and mountaineering at high altitude), we might easily confuse it with sport. That's why it's often considered a sport.
But a key aspect here is that hiking lacks competition.
To qualify as a sport, an activity has to be something that you can organize competitions (competitive events) around.
While you can definitely have informal competitions with your friends on hiking trails can have , there aren’t organizations that regulate and conduct hiking competitions. That is why hiking is not a sport. At least not officially.
Official organizations are important because they establish the rules for competition and, more importantly, verify competition outcomes.
This ensures the integrity of the competitions, as official organizations track and provide officiants to competition events!
Hiking is defined by walking in natural environments and usually on dirt footpaths. With that being said, of course, hiking is different from walking.
While you can absolutely time yourself to track how fast you are and compare that time against your past times or your partners, we think that because you can’t verify the times, fair competition isn’t possible with hiking.
So, is hiking considered a sport - no. There's little competition in hiking.
Crucial differences between hiking and sport
It's true that hiking is often considered a sport. There are some key aspects that differentiate hiking from sport and vice versa. Both involve significant physical activity.
For example, boxing is a real sport.
Even though they both require physical training, the biggest difference between hiking and sports is the regulatory nature of sports. Sport hiking doesn’t exist yet, because there isn’t an organization that dictates the rules or enforces them. Plus, there's a certain level of skill involved in sport.
For hiking competitions (an individual or a team competes against others) that do exist, the honor system is the main way that hikers keep the integrity of the competition.
That isn’t something that many serious competitors want to depend on, as people tend to do things that serve their own self interests.
This is especially apparent in real sports, as there have been many cases of people cheating in order to get the upper edge to win a competition.
With that being said, hiking often could be a competitive sport. Unofficially.
Why some people consider hiking as a sport?
Some people confuse hiking with sport because they have small competitions between friends on the hiking trails. And they both involve physical activity.
Sometimes those even qualify as adventure racing. You can make up all sorts of competitive games while hiking.
For example - getting to the end of a section the fastest, competing for the most miles hiked over a given amount of time, spotting the most of a specific type of animal, and so many other ways to keep your mind and body engaged while hiking.
In addition, people confuse hiking as a sport because often hiking clubs advertise organized hiking events (and similar events). Again, those are just events, even if sometimes they could have a competitive character.
But again, these competitions can’t be verified by anyone, which means that hiking can’t be a sport. It doesn’t meet the technical definition.
Most sports require competitiveness that's officially regulated. Just recall the official definition of sport.
Which sport is similar to hiking?
There are many similar events that are sports. And they all resemble hiking in some way.
Ultra-marathon races (and similar kinds of adventure racing) are considered sports. Mountain biking too. In fact, I've participated in a mountain biking race recently.
That’s because often they are regulated by official organizations.
Most sports such as the above mentioned are close to hiking, because competitors cover many miles over a long period of time, usually taking a few days to complete. Often, the terrain is mountainous.
Ultra-marathon runners often camp out while racing, as the distances that they run are far above what is possible for someone to complete in one day.
This makes it really similar to hiking, especially backpacking, as runners spend multiple days on trail during the race.
Famous hiking competitions and races
An unofficial hiking competition, that is close to sport but isn’t, due to the lack of regulations, is achieving the Triple Crown of Hiking.
To achieve this accomplishment, hikers must complete all three of the major national scenic trails in the US: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail.
People who complete all three hikes can unofficially claim the title of being a triple crown hiker. There are more people that have gone into outer space that have achieved the Triple Crown of Hiking!
Why aren't those considered sports? Because nothing regulates them.
A prominent example of an ultra-marathon that mixes hiking with sport is the Four Deserts Series of Races.
The Four Deserts takes competitors on a 7-day experience of racing across various deserts around the world. Racing takes place over 7 days total, but will take longer as that doesn’t include travel times.
The Four Deserts Race Series is regulated by RacingThePlanet Limited. In order to take part in this monumental race, competitors must qualify by providing a doctor’s physical proving that you are in healthy enough condition to participate in this grueling race.
Outside of that, you must have the determination and grit to complete a race through some of the most austere terrain on the planet!
Trail running is a great way to combine hiking with sport. Races like the Four Deserts Race Series is an extreme example of trail running racing. There's even some races on the Appalachian trail.
But you don’t need to go out and complete that behemoth of a race to enjoy trail running. You can sign up for smaller races that combine the elements of hiking with sport.
The shortest races you can sign up for are about 5 kilometers and can be done all over the world.
With that being said, hiking the Appalachian trail, for instance, can't be considered running or trail running.
Runners love to participate in trail running because it combines the serenity of being outside that hiking possesses with the competitive nature of sport.
So, bottom line is that trail running and adventure racing could be considered sports.
While hiking does have the potential to become a sport, it’s not fair or accurate to call it a sport right now.
Sports have regulatory organizations that define and enforce competition rules to ensure safe and fair competition between athletes.
Trail running and ultra-marathon racing is very similar to hiking in that both get people racing outside. They are defined as sports, as you must register to race and adhere to rules in order to compete.
Do you agree with our assessment? Did we miss anything when defining whether or not hiking is a sport? Drop a comment below and let us know!
From the mountains of Colorado to the deserts and beaches of California, Josh has been all over the place. An expert in camping, hiking, backpacking, and almost all things river related, Josh can be found doing just about anything and everything outside. Read more about Josh here.