Have you ever found yourself trying to catch your breath when you should be enjoying the view? Or agonising over your feet when you could be stomping the trail with a smile?
If this sounds like you, you’ve probably asked yourself the question; ‘why is hiking so hard?!
Well, fortunately you’ve come to the right place. Here at SnowSunSee we love providing information that can improve your time in the outdoors.
In this article, we will look at what can make hiking so hard. Not only that, but we will also give you some vital information that can make hiking easier – enjoy!
Hiking Requires Cardio Fitness
The number one reason that people find hiking so hard is a basic lack of physical fitness. Remember; this isn’t just any old stroll in the park, this is hiking!
It’s easy to think that if you can walk, then you can hike. Well, with that attitude you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s a normal trekking trip to face steep ascents, technical scrambles and bumpy terrain; all of which can leave you feeling out of breath.
Arriving at the top of a hill puffing and panting is not the best way to enjoy the view you’ve worked so hard to reach. However, there is a solution.
Solution: Improve Your Cardio Fitness (Duh?!)
Let’s get one thing straight: We’re not saying you need to spend hours in the gym. However, you will need to find a sustainable way to increase your lung capacity over time.
Yes, that does mean you will need to be patient. However, with regular sustained exercise, you will gradually increase your lung capacity and cardiovascular fitness.
Now, you’re probably wondering what counts as exercise and which type of exercise is most effective at improving cardio fitness. Well, the answer probably won’t surprise you, but John Hopkins University advises ‘at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week’.
What type of exercise you ask? Well, anything that gets the heart pumping enough to become a challenge is the answer. Swimming, tennis, jumping rope, running and cycling have all been recommended.
Which type of exercise do we recommend? Hiking! Of course…
Our advice is to spend as much time on the trail as possible. Start with terrain that you’re still able to enjoy without severe strain, and build up the level of difficulty over time.
If it’s not easy to reach your favourite hiking spot, then go for a brisk walk around your local neighbourhood. Just get moving!
Although achieving cardio fitness can often feel like a long slog, it’s a physical trait that will pay dividends next time you’re in the outdoors.
Hiking Requires Muscular Fitness
Ever walked up a hill and found your thighs burning like fire? If so, you might be suffering from an acute case of ‘undertrained leg muscles!’
Hiking requires serious stamina from your lower body. The challenging nature of steep climbs, tricky descents and the occasional rock hop can leave your lower limbs feeling worse for wear.
Another often-overlooked factor is the challenges that that come with walking over uneven surfaces. It requires the recruitment of every tiny stabilizing muscle in your leg, many of which you probably never knew existed.
Hiking with tired legs can be a drain. It can turn a beautiful outing into a never ending ‘death march’. However, it doesn’t have to be that way…
Solution: Improve Your Muscular Endurance
Again, this isn’t a plea for you to renew your gym membership. However, if you don’t improve the endurance of your leg muscles then you’re destined to grimace your way across trails forever.
Simple bodyweight exercises, such as walking lunges or squats, will help to move the needle in the right direction. If performed at least 3 or 4 times a week, you will start noticing the difference after a couple of months.
For those that despair at the thought of a home workout, we do have some practical solutions that should fit your schedule. Over time, you will be amazed at the results these simple daily habits can yield:
- Take the stairs (instead of the elevator).
- Walk to work.
- Get a standing desk.
- Do the housework standing up.
- Take a short walk during your lunch break.
Every one of these simple changes have something in common; they all involve standing! Yes, it’s really that simple. The answer to increase muscular endurance over time is standing and moving more frequently.
Oh, and don’t forget to hit the hiking trail with high frequency. It gets easier over time, we promise!
Choosing A Trail That’s Too Difficult
If you’re wondering why hiking is so hard; it’s probably because you make it that way. Hiking is only hard if you choose a challenging trail that’s beyond your capabilities.
Anyone that chooses a route that’s too difficult for their physique to handle is setting themselves up for a tough day. Once you find yourself on a summit hike that’s too steep for your lungs and legs, you’ve lost your chance to enjoy the view.
Trails come in a range of difficulties, which in many countries is signalled by a ranking system. Easy, moderate and strenuous are the most common categories; although sub-categories do exist in many regions.
Solution: Choose A Suitable Trail
The most simple solution to your outdoor woes might be to find a suitable trail. Pushing yourself to the limit is great for improving athletic performance, but it’s not everyone’s idea of a nice day out.
Anyone that’s lacking the physical fitness or mental desire to put their body to the test should be aiming for flatter routes across well-trodden surfaces. It will allow you to enjoy the hike and the view without the suffering associated with fatigue.
For those that have aspirations of taking on some serious hikes but currently lack the capacity; start small, think big. Consistent brisk hikes across flat ground will have you progressing towards your goal in no time.
Increasing the duration and difficulty of your excursions is a slow process that will yield great results over time. Just think: If you start now, you could find yourself thru-hiking your favoured path in a matter of months.
Using Poor Quality Hiking Gear
It can often feel like experienced hikers spend far too long worrying about the quality of their clothing and equipment. However, anyone that’s spent significant time in the outdoors will know that it can make or break your adventure.
Hiking can throw up a variety of weather conditions that require adequate preparation. Feeling too cold is a recipe for painful extremities, while wearing clothing that makes you feel hot and bothered is not fun either.
Another key decision is footwear; which will need to provide support and protection on challenging surfaces. Getting the wrong hiking boots could cause you a lot of pain, or worse leave you with a sprained ankle.
Backpacks, electronics, refuelling supplies and safety equipment all need to be optimized for a successful trip. With so many things to worry about, it’s no wonder people are wondering why hiking is so hard!
Solution: Get The Right Hiking Gear
The list of clothing and equipment required can seem overwhelming; especially if you’re a newcomer. However, taking a systematic approach to learning about and acquiring appropriate gear doesn’t have to be difficult.
It’s usually best to start with arguably the most important item you will buy: Hiking boots. Anyone that plans on walking across parks or flattened paths will likely require some lightweight hiking shoes. It will make hiking easier by improving comfort and increasing energy.
Once you’ve found the right shoes, you can look at clothing. It’s often best to find clothing that’s appropriate for the weather you will be facing. Breathable items will make hiking in hot weather tolerable, while waterproofing will keep you smiling throughout the wet winter.
Once you start getting into longer hikes, the efficiency of your equipment also becomes a factor. Backpacks, camping equipment and accessories all need to be lightweight and easy-to-use.
The key to finding quality gear is usually research. Follow trustworthy online sources, speak to other hikers and get a feel for the outdoors. Once you’re feeling well-equipped and comfortable, you will be amazed at how much easier hiking will become.
Attacking The Trail With The Wrong Mindset
The phrase ‘mind over matter’ is more than one century old, but it still rings true in many situations. When it comes to extended physical pursuits, it’s worth noting that the wrong mentality can often compound perceived ‘suffering’.
Hiking is an activity that requires endless stamina, strength of mind and force of will. If you arrive at the trailhead thinking that you’re in for a tough ride; chances are that your thoughts will become reality.
If you start to focus on the burning in your thighs, the blisters on your heels or the crushing weight of your pack; you’re not going to enjoy the journey. Every step can sometimes feel like a chore, but it doesn’t have to be that way…
Solution: Hike With A Positive Mental Attitude
Attacking the trail with a smile is something that can go a long way to improve your physical and mental experience. It will shift your focus away from the physical exertion and onto your beautiful surroundings.
Soak in the sun, breath in the fresh air and take in the scenery. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be the fastest or fittest, just enjoy the moment.
Hiking is an activity that can be leisurely by nature. If you start to get tired, maybe it’s time to stop for lunch. Take your time, enjoy the moment and focus on the positive aspects of being in the outdoors.
The spiritual benefits of hiking should not be underestimated. Taking the time to get back in touch with nature is what hiking is all about for a lot of people.
Hiking is also a chance to get reacquainted with your own thoughts and feelings. Take the time to enjoy the moment and reap the psychological rewards it can bring.
Don’t focus on the pain; focus on the gain. Hiking never has to be hard if you have the right attitude.
Thoughts From The Author
Why is hiking so hard? Well, I think that answer is: ‘It doesn’t have to be’.
If you’re hiking demanding trails, above your level of fitness, with poor equipment and a negative attitude; then yes hiking is hard. However, if you take the right steps, you will be smiling throughout every journey.
Advancements in modern technology, equipment and clothing have all made hiking easier in recent years. Harness the power of these items and you will be amazed at how much they can help.
One of the things I love most about hiking is its inclusivity. It’s an activity with an adjustable level of difficulty that can suit all abilities, ages and outlooks.
Use the simple tools in this guide to make actionable changes that improve your outdoor experience. Trust me; hiking is only hard if you want it to be.
James is the founder of SnowSunSee. He started skiing when he was five years old and has been a qualified ski instructor for 8 years. He has taught skiing in many countries, including UK, Europe, Japan, China and Malaysia. When he’s not on the slopes, James spends his time travelling the world one trail at a time.