Some say we were born to run. But we were also born to walk.
The first humans — our hunter-gatherer ancestors — roamed for miles on foot, sleeping where they stopped.
Today, the modern equivalent is backpacking. And because we evolved to walk, it’s no surprise that hitting the trail has a ton of benefits for mind, body, and soul.
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What are the Benefits of Hiking and Backpacking?
1. Get Stronger
As you might have guessed, carrying a pack around and hiking for miles strengthens your body.
Plus, it’ll improve your cardio.
Hiking might not give you huge muscles, but it’ll make you functionally strong.
And that lower back pain you have from sitting in a chair all day? With regular backpacking and more movement in your life, you might find it starts to ease. Just make sure you’re using one of the best backpacking backpacks that are comfortable and ergonomic.
2. Improve Your Mental Health
Most of us know that exercise is good for the mind.
But backpacking has additional benefits because it immerses you in nature.
Of course, we’re all different, so not everyone may experience these benefits. Sometimes the best way to discover is to learn for yourself, and that leaves you only one option: get out there and see what happens.
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3. The Incredible Views
In 2021, it’s far too easy to spend most of your days looking no further than your computer screen or the walls of your home.
Now imagine what happens when you get out on a hike, the path leads to the top of a ridge, and you turn around to look for miles to the far horizon. It can be a mind-bending experience.
Suddenly, you’re reminded how small you are and how big the world is. All of your daily worries and concerns, which seem so important when you’re cooped up, seem a touch more insignificant in the face of the vastness of the landscape before you.
And of course, if you’ve chosen the right route, that landscape can be achingly beautiful.
4. Improve Your Social Life
Backpacking can be great for your relationships.
It’s a great activity to do with friends on the weekend, but it can also help you meet new people. If you live in a town, there’s probably a local hiking group near you.
On longer trips — particularly overnight hikes in the backcountry — you may find that backpacking with people brings you closer together. Why? Because the further you get from civilization, the more you depend on each other.
You could even get social benefits when hiking alone. Some studies have suggested that when we feel a sense of awe, it makes us more generous and cooperative, and feel more connected to the rest of humanity.
So if you stop to gaze at an intricate plant or take in a magnificent view, the feeling of wonder you experience could benefit you in other areas of your life. Again, the only way to discover whether this is true for you is to try it yourself.
If you need some inspiration, take a look at the best places for backpacking and hiking in the world.
5. Learn a New Language
Ok, so hiking won’t help you learn French or Spanish (unless you go hiking with French or Spanish people). But there is one language it will help you to learn: the language of nature.
Nature can often seem confusing or irrelevant to our daily lives. Birdsong seems a jumbled background noise. Trees and plants are an indistinguishable mass of green.
But that’s because you haven’t learned to look.
When you’re regularly out in nature and start to pay attention, you’ll gradually start to notice and learn. What before was generic background noise is actually five different species of birds. What before was a messy jumble of green is now three separate species of tree.
Through your curiosity, the confusing chaos of nature will reveal its order to you. You’ll slowly begin to notice its routines, its patterns, and how its parts connect with one other.
And when you do, it’ll make so much more sense. It’s like putting on a pair of glasses having not realized you were short-sighted or being able to understand a foreign language for the first time.
It will make your world richer.
6. Gain Confidence
Backpacking takes guts — particularly if you go solo or overnight.
You have to learn how to adapt to a world without electricity and any of the comforts of civilization. No roads, shops, taps, or showers, not even a solid bed or roof over your head.
That means it’s scary. And that means if you do it, you’re learning how to face your fear.
You’ll also have to learn new skills such as planning a route, preparing a backpack, and pitching a tent. It’ll be tough at the beginning, but if you persevere, you’ll learn — and that’s a mark of confidence in yourself.
But most of all, it’ll test you.
Things inevitably go wrong when you’re backpacking. Despite your best efforts, you’ll almost certainly get lost. You can mitigate your errors to a certain extent (for example, if you’re lost, using applications like maps.me), but it’s still challenging.
However, if you’re prepared and you keep going, you’ll come through it. And when you do, you’ll be more prepared to deal with adversity in the future.
7. Go Places No-One Else Can
Some of the world’s most incredible and awe-inspiring scenery is only accessible to hikers — assuming you don’t have access to a helicopter.
From the famous Fitz Roy trek in Argentina to the Emerald Lake in New Zealand, driving to these places is impossible (and rightly so).
Some treks are so demanding that it’s only advisable to attempt them if you’ve had previous backpacking experience — for example, the stunning Dientes de Navarino circuit in Chile, the southernmost trek in the world.
But even the less demanding trips will be vastly more enjoyable with a good fitness level and a bit of hiking experience behind you. So get out there.
8. Disconnect From The Digital
We won’t deny it: computers, phones, and TVs are amazing tools. But sometimes, they can get a bit much.
Constant group chat messages demanding a response, infinite scrolling, and a seemingly endless supply of good TV, all can take a toll on our attention. What’s more, it’s designed to addict us.
When you’re out backpacking, all this falls away. Instead of constant technological dopamine hits, you have to learn to be alone with your thoughts without distraction, and get your kicks in a more measured, mindful fashion.
In short, backpacking is a great tech detox.
9. Reconsider Your Problems
Backpacking can help you think outside the box.
By getting out of your habitual environment and engaging in an activity that requires your mind to work differently, you might find yourself subconsciously working through problems from a different angle.
As a result, you might be struck by ways of addressing a problem you’d never have thought of from your desk chair — or by realizing the problem isn’t actually a problem at all.
You often do your best thinking when you’re off hiking in some mountain or something. You get a different perspective on things.Reed Hastings, CEO and co-founder of Netflix
10. Indulgence Feels Better
We all love indulging. Whether it’s getting out of bed at midday, ordering your favorite fast-food dinner, or curling up on the sofa watching a useless TV show, indulging feels good. But sometimes, letting yourself go like this can come with a hint of guilt (there’s a reason they’re called ‘guilty pleasures’).
The great thing about hiking is that it lets you enjoy these pleasures guilt-free.
Hiking is demanding, and it’s good for us. This means that we no longer feel bad about it if we indulge afterward — we feel like we’ve earned it. After a good hike, a guilty pleasure is no longer guilty.
Furthermore, the demands of hiking intensify the pleasure of those indulgences. A cup of hot cocoa on a winter evening feels much cozier when you’ve spent the day outside facing the cold. Your favorite meal is extra-delicious when you’ve spent the day getting by on nutbars and trail mix.
Exercising restraint makes those times you indulge extra sweet.
To wander the landscape is an ancient human activity that isn’t going out of fashion anytime soon. And if we haven’t convinced you of its benefits by now, we must have done something wrong.
Perhaps you’d like to improve your mental health. Perhaps you’d like to gain confidence in yourself in the outdoors. Or maybe you just appreciate an incredible view. Whatever your preference, we’re confident that through backpacking, you’ll come away knowing more about the world, and more about yourself.
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