An ode to hiking

On the benefits of being out in nature.

Art by Kate Scott.

I believe that one of the most fulfilling activities we can engage in is hiking. To go off, on your own accord, on your own two feet, is truly a blessing. I also believe that there is no better place for this than in nature. Whether it be a 30 minute walk in your neighbourhood or a multi-day hike in rugged landscapes, walking through nature feels right. And in many ways, it has the power to improve our well-being. Perhaps this is why it feels so right?

For me, hiking is about changing my environment, replacing the monotony of suburbia with the joys of nature. Being out on the trail forces you to engage with your surroundings, because, to be honest, it can be a little boring at times – in the best possible way! Once you’ve gotten away from the overwhelming hum of society you can truly appreciate your place in the world, and specifically in the natural environment. We are meant to engage with nature, the smells of the trees, the sounds of the birds, the rhythm of your walking—the pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly.

Hiking doesn’t just provide an emotive response, there’s an endless list of well-documented benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing. Your cardiovascular fitness will improve tremendously, as making your way through a natural landscape engages all kinds of muscles and forces your heart to work harder. The mental benefits of hiking are the most important ones, and are what distinguishes it from other forms of exercise. Getting out into nature can do so much for your mind; providing incredible stress relief and helping to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

But it goes both ways: you have to be kind to the environment as well. The golden rule of the great outdoors is “Leave No Trace” which means, quite simply, leave nature exactly as you found it. Whatever you bring into nature with you, bring it out too. You could even take it further, and take any rubbish that you might find. “Leave No Trace” is an important thought when engaging with the environment; it’s an all-encompassing set of principles that ensures the best outcomes for not only nature, but for the safety and enjoyment of other hikers as well. Practicing this set of ethics on a local scale can also allow you to apply them on a global scale. By protecting our local habitats in the ways that we engage with them while hiking, we can help contribute to overall wildlife conservation alongside challenging the systems that have threatened the environment.

I could go on forever about how much I love hiking. I truly believe that it is the best way to understand nature. And how can we save nature without understanding it?