Updated: Oct 8
It is estimated that over 50 million Americans will be going hiking in 2022. Hiking as an activity is growing fast and furiously. Do you enjoy it? What’s your favorite trail? Ever wonder why we hike?
No doubt, hiking takes us out of our familiar and perhaps monotonous existence. For just a while we have traded the companionship of screens to pines and songbirds. Perhaps, it’s simply gratifying to transport our own body along a trail without the help of any modern-day vehicle?
For me, it’s a taste of freedom. Free from never-ending responsibilities that current lifestyles demand. When hiking in the woods, my only to-do list is to take one step after another on a dirt path, pay attention to the natural world around me, possibly seeing members of the more-than-human world. It’s simple. It’s uncluttered. It’s necessary -- for my mental health.
Why is hiking so popular? Maybe in some unconscious way, hiking connects us to our ancestors who spend most of their waking days walking in nature. Hunter/gathering societies moved about their environment for at least 5 miles every day. Many eastern cultures practice some form of ancestral remembrance. Our western cultural heritage doesn’t really include that. What if hiking, in some way, honors an inherited affinity for a past nomadic tradition?
HIKING IS NOT ESCAPISM; IT’S REALISM. THE PEOPLE WHO CHOOSE TO SPEND TIME OUTDOORS ARE NOT RUNNING AWAY FROM ANYTHING; WE ARE RETURNING TO WHERE WE BELONG" –
This quote is from Jennifer Davis, a long-distance thru-hiker. I feel that Jennifer has fully captured our desire for homecoming and connection to more species than our own homo sapiens kind.
Why do we hike? Possibly, it’s our way of reaching back into our long-lost past and connects with a wild and natural world that used to be the only home we’ve ever know: the untamed earth.
About the author: Heidi Schreiber-Pan, Ph.D., LCPC, is a successful psychotherapist, the clinical director of Chesapeake Mental Health Collaborative, and a sought-after international speaker and trainer. She is also the author of popular books like Taming the Anxious Mind — A Guidebook to Relieve Stress & Anxiety and Breaking the Anxiety Cycle - A Treatment Blueprint for Acute and Chronic Anxiety Relief
Heidi lectures, consults, and trains professionals in the mental health sector and in corporate and public settings on anxiety, stress, resilience and nature, neuroscience, and occupational burnout. Her work focuses on how to connect to nature to improve and sustain our mental well-being.