Hiking has long been an active yet restorative way to be one with nature and oneself, but no one has boiled down the art form as poetically as Cheryl Strayed. In Wild, she writes this about her badass, life-affirming solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail: “It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets.”
That the memoir has (rightfully) gone on to sell a few gazillion copies, leading next-gen hiking women to don red-laced boots and hoof through mile after mile, is no surprise. Because, um, inspiring much? And while not every outdoorswoman may provide the same answer for why they venture into the wilderness in the first place (some may say it’s meditative, others that it helps them escape the craziness of their respective cities), the gist of many conclusions is similar to Stayed’s: It just feels good to spend time trekking through nature.
Apart from that certain je ne sais quoi soul-searching quality though, the pastime does boast some seriously good-for-your-bod benefits that make hitting the trails even more worth your while. Below, you’ll learn all about ’em.
Keep reading to learn four benefits of hiking that’ll make you want to Google the nearest national park—pronto.
1. Hiking can reduce your chances of having heart problems
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about 20 percent of American adults meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. It’s a huge issue, since exercise has been linked to preventing cardiovascular disease, decreasing risk of stroke, and lowering blood pressure. But if you call up a few gal pals and get them onboard for a long, meandering walk through the woods, the time will fly by and you’ll be part of the healthy group that’s sweating on the reg.
2. Spending time in nature can boost happiness and relieve stress and anxiety
A series of smaller studies have linked spending time in green spaces with relieving stress and anxiety, upping happiness levels, and improving overall well-being. So just like heading out for a run can do your mental health a solid, so too can getting (metaphorically) lost in nature.
3. Hikes work muscles differently than other exercises
Know how HIIT series’ works separate muscle groups than, say, a yoga class? Well, hiking has its own distinct positive effects on your body. Notably, the activity works the entirety of your quads and hamstrings, tones your calves and glutes (especially if you’re moving uphill, forcing your abs to engage to hold you upright, despite the weight of your pack). A full-body workout disguised as a walk? You’ve got it.
4. Hiking helps build strong bones
Similar to other weight-bearing exercises, hiking has been found to improve bone density. (Along with your daily dose of calcium, of course!) Simply walking has been found to slow the decline of your bones that naturally happens as you age. Meaning, walking up a mountain must be even better, right?
Now that you’re sold on hiking benefits, let’s talk gear.
Once you’ve decided to try out the #outdoorlife, you’ll need the proper equipment to propel you through the hike sans physical hiccup. Here are just a few things you’ll need for a daytime hike:
1. Hiking shoes
Trail-ready footwear comes in many styles and options, so make sure you’re schooled on the model and sizing that’s right for you. REI recommends going into a store IRL to pick up your pair so that a fit specialist can give you a once over.
Before you leave, check the weather forecast. Even if it seems sunny outside, remember that conditions might get chillier as you move into higher altitudes.
Finding a place to refill a water bottle is easier said than done when you find yourself in the middle of a wooden nowhere. And thus, making sure you have enough water to quench your thirst no matter your mileage is key. Keeping a water purifier on hand in case of emergencies is smart, too.