Is Hiking Considered A Sport?

Many leisurely activities are viewed as sports, so you may find yourself wondering if hiking is considered a sport as well. After all – if golf makes the cut, then you might think hiking would as well!

Hiking is not considered a sport because it is a recreational, non-competitive activity. Additionally, the lack of spectators and competitors further differentiate it from other recognized forms of sport.

The long answer gets a bit more complicated. While most physical activities fall into the black and white categories of sports vs. non-sports, hiking is one of the few that lingers in the gray areas in between. 

This isn’t helped by the fact that the word ‘sports’ has varying definitions. Pinning down an exact definition and deciding whether hiking is a sport or not has come down to personal opinion.

Many hikers will fight to classify it as a sport, while outsiders tend to disagree!

Definitions

Turning to the official definitions of sports and hiking should offer a valid solution, but unfortunately, the terms are either too loosely defined or don’t have enough consistency to make the decision!

Sports

What exactly are sports? Taking all of the definitions into account, a sport boils down to:

  • being of a competitive nature 
  • requires a decent amount of physical effort 
  • takes skill in order to compete effectively. 
  • needs a level of entertainment for viewers

Since the beginning of time sports and similar events were designed just as much for the audience’s enjoyment as it was for the players. 

As you can see, the common factors are so vague and different that it’s impossible to decide whether hiking effectively counts as a sport!

In some cases, sports need to be a competitive and skillful activity, while in others, it just needs to be physical and fun. 

Hiking

Hiking has a more consistent definition, but the wording seems to imply that this is a leisure activity or exercise instead of a full sport. 

Each definition defines hiking as a long walk or a march for pleasure, with only a single definition stating that it is also an exercise or military training.

There’s no mention of the level of skill or any form of competition. 

The technical definitions for hiking don’t have much variation, but anyone who has put a decent amount of time and effort into hiking may consider the activity in a completely different light.

Few aspects of hiking seem to fall into the same category as most sports, but there’s still room for debate. 

Pro-Sport Argument

There are a couple of common arguments that those fighting to identify hiking as a sport use to prove their point. 

Physical Exertion

Sports do tend to require a higher than normal physical ability if you want to excel in them, and the same can be said of hiking. Depending on the trail and duration of a hike, it can be a better workout than some actual sports. 

Sports require more than just a physical intensity.

Unfortunately, just being physically demanding doesn’t mean it’s a sport. Going to the gym or being a construction worker are also both physically taxing, but neither is a sport.

You Can Race!

Another common point is that racing against another person on a hike adds the competitive aspect that appears to have been lacking. Racing on a trail is absolutely a sport, but it’s no longer hiking. 

Once the speed amps up and a form of competitiveness is added, it becomes the trail running sport. This is a widely accepted sport, but despite the similarities to hiking, it is a different activity. 

There’s Skill Involved

Anyone can play sports, but it does take a certain level of skill to play them well. Hiking is no different, and any hiker can tell you that the pros will fly by you on the trail with seemingly little to no effort.

(Un)fortunately, skill alone doesn’t qualify an activity as a sport.

It takes skill to make artwork or create unique dishes in the kitchen, but neither are sports. There are multiple levels to hiking, but that alone isn’t enough to knock it out of the gray area. 

Anti-Sport Argument

Just as the pro arguments have a certain amount of validity, the anti-sport views are also valid. Much like the pro-arguments, each point can be somewhat turned around. 

Lack Of Competition

A major aspect of most sports definitions is a competitive factor. Whether it’s between individual players or entire teams, sports thrive on the competition to drive the activity forward.

Hiking just isn’t on that same level.

Versions of hiking do promote a bit of competition, such as trail running or mountain running. Some races include hiking and camping across long paths like the Appalachian Trail, so there’s potential for competitiveness.

It’s More Recreational

Hiking can often be done alone and is often done as a way to admire nature or get some exercise as opposed to playing competitively. Most hikers view it as a leisure activity and don’t try to take it too seriously. 

Some are willing to pour their heart and souls into taking their activities to the next level. These athletes are blowing past others on hiking trails and attempting hikes that take days or weeks to complete while camping along the way. 

Key Aspects Of Sports

There are little nuggets of truth to both sides of the argument. If you were neutral before, you might still be struggling with which camp you want to stand-in.

Sports have four key aspects, and seeing where hiking falls into them may be enough to help you decide. 

Physical Effort

Different sports have varying levels of physicality needed to succeed, but they all require some. Hiking is slower-paced than most, but the physical toll it takes is on par with some of the hardest sports out there. It’s not an easy activity, so in this aspect, it could be considered a sport.

Skill Level

There are levels to hiking and a clear gap between the pros and the newbies. Skill levels are apparent in every activity known to man, and hiking is no exception. Having a group of ‘professionals’ that can perform this activity better than most is a step in the correct direction. 

Entertainment

Entertainment value isn’t in most sports definitions, but it is a well-known factor that some may overlook. Sports are a way for individuals or teams to see who is better at an activity, but it’s also a way for others to be entertained by the competition

Hiking simply doesn’t offer any entertainment value. Gorgeous views and fascinating wildlife aside, there isn’t anything to see in terms of the hiker’s performance.

No matter how much you love hiking, no one is standing on the sidelines (or sitting on the couch) cheering you on.

Competition

There are hints and potential of competition hidden in hiking, but overall, it’s not a competitive endeavor.

Any time hiking turns into some form of a race, it can classify as a different activity, such as trail running. The competitive nature is consistent in sports, and hiking just doesn’t have that factor. 

Final Thoughts

Hiking has enough factors going for it that it’s in the gray area, but it still does NOT qualify as a sport. It lacks too many points in its favor to join the ranks of other well-known and well-loved sports. 

There’s no denying the skill and physical ability that goes into excelling at hiking. Clambering up a steep trail for hours is incredibly difficult, and any untrained hiker will realize that fact within a quarter-mile.

Sport or not, it takes genuine skill and physical prowess to excel on a hike — but that doesn’t mean you can earn an Olympic medal for tackling your next grueling trail. 

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