Speed hiking – If you’ve spent any time at all online lately reading about any topic related to the outdoors, you’re bound to have run into this term at some point or another. Still, as ubiquitous as it might be, the exact meaning remains unclear to a lot of fans of the great outdoors. As the name suggests, speed hiking means hiking rapidly over rocky terrain both on and off trail. In football terms: Speed hiking is to normal hiking what Gareth Bale is to Per Mertsacker.
Both are excellent football players, but the former is quite a bit faster. Or, even better: Speed hiking is to normal hiking what the Flash is to the Hulk. Ok. I’ll stop with the comparisons. Allow me to be more specific: Speed hiking consists of several elements from other outdoor disciplines, but mixes them up, gives them a good shake and rolls the dice anew, creating a brand-new outdoor experience that you’re bound to love! In fact, you could say, it’s the best of many worlds. If you want to know more about speed hiking and why it’s greater than just the sum of its parts, keep reading! We’ve got a lot to talk about.
What is speed hiking, anyway?
Zooming through nature on foot sounds a lot like trail running, doesn’t it? Well, no it doesn’t! Even though speed hiking has a few things in common with trail running, many of its aspects are much different. Like what?
Well, trail running usually describes a fast run on hiking trails or mountainous terrain that is limited to a specific time or route. And, of course, you’re running most of the time. A speed hike, on the other hand, can be any length, from short bursts to extended multi-day trips in the mountains and even overnight stays in huts. Plus, in contrast to running, neither speed, running times nor your overall athletic performance in comparison to others plays a role.
True, speed hiking is high-paced walking, but you don’t necessarily have to be running the majority of the time, as you would when running the trails. Speed hiking allows you to linger a bit and take your time. Instead of PRs, KOMs, etc., your own personal limits are your benchmark. Speed hiking allows you not only to get to know and experience your own body in a different way but also to discover the great outdoors. Whilst a trail runner usually goes at it alone, speed hiking is oftentimes a collective experience – be it with your partner, friends or family.
Before we put this comparison of disciplines to bed, here’s just one more difference: Whilst trail runners often head out to the trails with some functional garb, a running pack and very little gear, speed hikers take equipment along as well. Depending on the length of the trip, they could have a backpack, GPS device, maps – basically anything you’d have for a hill walk as well.
The core of a speed hiker’s gear is their walking poles, which give hikers an extra boost on the uphills and take the strain off of your joints on the downhills. If you’d like to know more about speed hiking gear, you can have a look at our upcoming post on the topic! We’ll keep you posted!
Wait, did you say walking with poles? Is speed hiking just a cooler way to say you’re Nordic walking? Again, a resounding “no!” Whilst walking describes a more intense type of walking with poles on mostly flat terrain, speed hiking is quite a bit faster and takes place on much more technical terrain. Depending on your knowledge and experience, you may even go really high up in the mountains.
Speed hiking is not just some simple hybrid of different outdoor activities. In addition to experiencing nature, you also get quite the workout, one that trains a variety of muscle groups. In fact, the specific way you move when speed hiking trains your entire body, since you incorporate your legs, upper body and core.
Because of how hard all those different muscles have to work, speed hiking is considered to be quite the physically demanding cardio workout! It trains your endurance and cardiovascular system. Plus, you also work on your muscle coordination and balance in the process. Despite how physically demanding speed hiking can be, it is still very relaxing. In addition to experiencing the great outdoors, there’s a lot of things to love about speed hiking. For one thing, there’s no competition – no PRs, KOMs, or the like. You can just go at your own pace, enjoy yourself and let your mind be at ease. By the way, since you use poles when speed hiking, the activity itself isn’t as hard on your joints as, say, running is, either!
Who’s speed hiking for?
Basically anyone can become a speed hiker. Regardless of whether you’re young, old, athletic or a couch potato, the sport is easy to do. Speed hiking is for everyone! But, if you end up being completely exhausted for days after an easy speed hike, then you should definitely build up slowly.
Fortunately, it’s really easy to do thanks to the various levels of difficultly the sport allows for. I know I said that speed hiking is for everybody, and it is; but be careful. If you’re not all that active and get your 10,000 steps a day only in the virtual world of computer gaming, it’s very important to go to a specialist in sport medicine for a check up first. They’ll be able to tell you what your body is capable of and what you can do to get started.
If you want to try your hand at speed hiking, we recommend taking baby steps. Don’t try a multi-day trip through the Alps or something mad like that. Speed hiking over tough terrain and at altitude can put your body under too much strain and even cause permanent damage in some cases.
Before starting, it’s also important to listen to your body and take a break if you can’t keep it up. Afterwards, make sure to slow down too, so that the same thing doesn’t happen again. If you get really exhausted, start cramping, have pain in your joints or major shortness of breath, it’s probably a good idea to call it a day. The same applies if there’s a severe weather warning or you see a storm coming. That being said, it is important not to go too far out into the wilderness or plan too long a trip so that you can make it back safely.
When speed hiking, it is absolutely essential to estimate the distance correctly as well. Since you’re moving more quickly, you’ll be covering larger distances in shorter periods of time. This means you’ll be demanding more of your body per hour than you would on a normal hike. To make sure you don’t put your body under too much stress, it is extremely important to plan your route beforehand.
Check the distance on a hiking or walking map. Also: Consult a walking guide book, as they can provide very important information on elevation, terrain, difficulty, where you can take breaks or even sleep for the night. Again, don’t take on too much and allow yourself enough time to take breaks and enjoy the great outdoors. By the way, for certain hiking regions, there are even speed hiking-specific guide books available.
Keep your pack as light as possible and keep your gear to a minimum. Pack everything you need but remember that every extra gram will seem heavier than it would on a normal hike. Another tip that I often ignore myself: make sure you break in your new speed hiking shoes thoroughly beforehand. Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with hot spots and painful blisters and nobody wants that.
And where can you go speed hiking? That’s entirely up to you! The only restriction? It’s got to be outdoors in nature! For beginners, it’s always a good idea to go somewhere in the vicinity. If you don’t live anywhere near high mountain ranges, just go to the popular walking regions in your area. When you improve and get to know your body and its abilities, you can then venture out to higher and more difficult spots. Simply put: Start small. Head out to lower mountains and leave the Alps to the professionals. In terms of distances, day-long speed hikes range anywhere from approximately 8 to 30 kilometres, with shorter distances being in the 8-12k range and the longer distances between 20 and 30k for more intense adventures. You can always hike shorter distances, if you want. More experienced speed hikers often combine day-trip routes to make their trip into multi-day adventure.
Regardless of where your hike takes you, remember these three things: forget about the stresses of everyday life, enjoy the outdoors and have a good time. That’s the most important advice I can give you!