Is Hiking A Sport?  What You Need to Know

Is hiking a sport or just a hobby?  While others might argue otherwise, we think that hiking can absolutely be considered a sport due to its physical demands and potential for competing in challenges and other events. 

Hiking involves physical exertion and physical training, competition and challenges, and skill development. These elements are essential to a sport, and hiking has them all. 

So, let’s dive into the reasons why hiking can be rightfully considered a sport.

What is the Definition of a Sport?

First, what is the definition of a sport?  According to Oxford Languages, a sport is defined as ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.’  So, does hiking fit this definition?  Let’s find out!

What is the Definition of Hiking?

Hiking is defined by Oxford as a ‘walk for a long distance, especially across country or in the woods.’  Personally, I think the difference between a hike vs a walk is a little more nuanced.  Hiking usually has the connotation of physical exertion and involves some kind of elevation change. 

So, is Hiking a Sport?

In short, yes, hiking can be considered a sport.  Let’s take another look at the definition of a ‘sport.’  The definition has two parts:

  1. Requires physical exertion
  2. An individual or team competes against others for entertainment

Everyone can agree that hiking most definitely fits the ‘physical exertion’ part of the definition.  Hiking is fantastic exercise and works all major muscle groups.  

As for the second part of the definition of a sport, ‘competing against others for entertainment,’ most casual hiking is not done to compete or to entertain others.  Most of the hikes I complete are simply for enjoyment and physical exercise.

However, hiking takes a more competitive spin in some situations, such as hike challenges and power hiking.  

So, the big question is: just because YOU don’t practice a certain activity competitively, does that disqualify the activity from being a sport?

For example, I love to weight lift and do it regularly, although I have never done it competitively.  For me, it’s just a way to exercise.  Does this disqualify it from being a sport for me?  No, because there are people that do it competitively.  

Hiking can be done competitively.  Therefore, we think it falls into the sports category. 

wildflowers on a mountain range
I did this hike in the Wasatch range as part of a challenge to complete 365 miles in one year

Common Sports Elements: Does Hiking Fit the Bill?

Apart from our dictionary definition of a ‘sport,’ there are lots of other elements that people associate with most competitive athletic activities.  We’ve made a list of the most common ‘sports elements,’ and we’ll talk about whether we think hiking fits the description. 

Physical Activity and Movement

Hiking most definitely involves physical activity.  The elevation changes, and different terrain types work the lower body muscles like your calves, quadriceps, and glutes. 

Hiking is even an upper-body workout, especially if you use trekking poles. 

Competition and Challenge

While hiking is often done simply for the social experience or for exercise, there are also lots of opportunities to participate in challenges, like the ‘52 hike challenge’ or the ‘365 challenge’.  These types of challenges give hikers an opportunity to compete against other hiking enthusiasts.  There are rules and guidelines, just like with other sports. 

Rules and Regulations

While most hiking only involves following the rules of the trail, if you participate in hiking challenges, these definitely have rules, regulations, and guidelines.  Just like other sports, they’ve got guidelines on the number of miles you need to complete, timeframes, and more. 

Skill Development and Technique

Many people don’t think about technique while hiking, but hiking correctly (especially if using poles) has a lot of technique involved.  Experienced hikers know this and train in specific ways to hone their technique. 

Equipment and gear

Many sports involve specialized gear. Depending on the difficulty of your hike, you might only need the low-cost basics, like good shoes and a water bottle—one of the reasons I love hiking. However, for more technical or multi-day treks, hikers might need advanced navigation equipment and other hiking gadgets

trekking poles and snow tips for winter hiking
trekking poles and snow tips for winter hiking
water filter system for backcountry hikes
water filter system for backcountry hikes

Training and preparation

Hiking, just like any other sport, requires training and preparation.  Hikers need to build up their cardiovascular endurance and follow a training regimen in order to increase the total distance they can hike in a day.   

Governing Body/Referee

While leisurely or social hiking doesn’t involve any kind of governing body, hikers participating in challenges or ‘sport hiking’ will need to abide by the rules of the governing body of the competition. 

Can You Compete With Hiking?

Yes, there are ways to compete with hiking, such as with hiking challenges.  Although these are not necessarily considered ‘spectator sports,’ you are still competing against other people.

Most Popular Hiking Challenges in the United States

Some of the most popular hiking challenges in the United States include the 52 hike challenge, the 365-mile hike challenge, and the Colorado 14ers challenge. 

a dirt hiking trail

Anywhere:

  • 52 Hike Challenge: Complete 52 hikes in a year.
  • 365 Mile Challenge: Aim to hike 365 miles in a year.

Northeast:

  • Northeast Kingdom Mountain Challenge (Vermont): A challenge to hike the peaks in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
  • New Hampshire 48: Complete the list of 48 peaks over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire.
  • Adirondack 46 (New York): Hike the 46 peaks over 4,000 feet in the Adirondack mountains of northern New York state.

Southeast:

  • Hike the Smokies (North Carolina & Tennessee): Earn a mileage pin for hiking 100, 250, and 500 miles.
  • South Beyond 6000 (North Carolina & Tennessee): Complete peaks over 6,000 feet.

Midwest:

  • North Country Trail Hike 100 Challenge: Hike 100 miles on the North Country National Scenic Trail in a calendar year.
  • Minnesota State Parks Hiking Club: Earn a colorful patch for hiking specific distances.

West:

  • Six Pack of Peaks Challenges: Various challenges in Northern California, Southern California, Colorado Rockies, and Central Oregon.
  • Colorado 14ers Challenge: Climb all 55 Colorado peaks over 14,000 ft or choose ten.
  • Idaho 12ers Challenge: Conquer nine peaks over 12,000 feet.
  • Tahoe Rim Trail Challenge (Nevada & California): Complete the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Southwest:

  • Hike for Health Challenge (Arizona): Explore various NPS sites and earn pins.
  • Arizona Six Pack of Peaks Challenge: Hike six specific peaks in Arizona.
  • New Mexico 12ers Challenge: Conquer 48 peaks over 12,000 ft.
  • Big Bend Chisos Peak Challenge (Texas): A challenge in Big Bend National Park.

Many of these challenges host different events and mini-challenges throughout the year.  You can form groups and compete within your circle.  We think that events and challenges like these solidly place hiking in the sports category. 

Is Hiking An Olympic Sport?

Hiking is not currently considered an Olympic sport. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has approved sport climbing, which is very similar to “Class 5 Hiking” (hiking terrain that is so steep that it’s considered climbing) as an Olympic sport for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. 

Just because hiking isn’t currently an Olympic sport doesn’t mean that it can’t be considered a sport.  American football, which is widely considered a sport, is also not part of the Olympics. 

Other ‘Hiking Sports’

One of the other reasons we think that hiking is considered a sport is that there are many other sports that have hiking as part of the sport itself.  Here are a few examples: 

  • Geocaching: Geocaching is a treasure-hunting game where players use GPS coordinates to find hidden containers, known as geocaches, in outdoor locations.
  • Trail Running: Trail running involves running and racing off-road on natural trails.  Runners will often revert to ‘power hiking’ on steep trail sections. 
  • Adventure Racing or Obstacle-Course Racing: Adventure racing or obstacle-course racing is a sport that combines navigation, trail running, and other challenges and obstacles, all in a race format.
  • Orienteering: Orienteering is a competitive sport that involves navigating through terrain using a map and compass to locate specific points in a certain order.
geocache bottle
Geocaching is a sport-like variation of hiking
purple trail-runner tennis shoes
Trail Running is another sport that shares similarities to hiking

Advantages of Hiking Compared To Other Sports

One of the things that makes hiking popular is that it’s a low-stress activity that’s great for your health.  If you want to compete in a challenge, you can.  Or you can keep it relaxed and social.  Here are our favorite hiking benefits compared to other traditional sports: 

  • Get out in Nature: Hiking is a great opportunity to connect with nature and enjoy incredible views, which is very different from many city-based sports.
  • Low Cost: Hiking generally requires minimal equipment and fees compared to expensive gear or memberships required with other sports.
  • Mental Health Benefits: Hiking gives you the chance to unplug from technology and relax.  It is a much less stress-inducing activity than many competitive sports.
  • Social Benefits: Hiking is a great way to spend time with others.  Whether that’s with family friends, or on a hiking date, you’ll have fewer distractions and really be able to get to know each other.
a group of 4 hikers on a trail together
Hiking is a great way to connect with friends and family members

So, is Hiking a Sport (Really?) 

We consider hiking a sport, even though it is not currently recognized as an Olympic sport. The physical demands, skill requirements, and competitive aspects of long-distance and mountain hiking are in line with what most people consider ‘a sport’. 

So, for those who love the backcountry, get ready to explore the wild, challenge your limits, and experience the rewards of your next hiking trail. 

FAQ

Is Hiking a Hobby?

Yes, hiking can be considered a hobby for those who enjoy outdoor activities and exploring natural landscapes. Many people find joy and fulfillment in hiking as a recreational pursuit.

Is Hiking a Good Workout?

Hiking is indeed a good workout. It’s a full-body exercise that engages muscles in the legs, core, and upper body. The elevation changes, and uphill climbs make hiking an especially good cardiovascular workout while being lower-impact than many other sports.