The benefits of speed hiking and slow hiking to relax in nature

The benefits of both speed hiking to crush a goal as well as slow hiking to relax in nature.
A peaceful setting on the Cassatot River.

I was hiking with my dog the other day, watching her sniff and peruse a bush and then turn and run off chasing who knows what. I think when we hike we tend to do the same thing. Sometimes we peruse what is around us and sometimes speed off.

There seems to be a debate on social media about speeding through a hike versus slowing down and taking it all in. But I believe both methods have value.

When my sister and I hiked with our parents when we were little, we rolled our eyes as they sauntered along the trail. They would stop, my dad especially because he took pictures, and inspected plants, fallen logs, butterflies, etc.

“Nature freaks,” my sister and I said to each other as we waited for our parents to catch up. At the time we did not see the value in what they were doing.

On the flip side you have the speed hikers who set out to crush a goal, whether that is to set an all time speed record on that trail or just a personal record. They go for speed, for distance, or whatever they feel they need to accomplish. They are not nature freaks.

But there are benefits to both types of hiking. Sometimes you have no choice but to speed hike, and other times slow hiking is beneficial.

Take hiking a 14er for example. In general you have to be off the summit by noon to avoid the dangers of lightning and storms. There is no quick and easy route up to the top, and many people begin their hike before sunrise. Their goal is to get to the top.

Last year I considered thru-hiking the Ouachita Trail, a 223-mile long trail through the Ouachita Mountains in southeast Oklahoma and southwest Arkansas. I wanted to do it in only two weeks so I wouldn’t have to take too much time off of work. That is about 15 miles a day. Not a nature freak walk. But I wouldn’t have had a choice. If I wanted to thru-hike it and keep my full-time job, I would have to do it in two weeks. Slow hiking was not an option.

But the other day I was sitting on my back porch and just enjoying the peace as the leaves quietly fell off the trees all around me. Going into nature, being still, and taking in what’s happening around you is good for your soul.

Paying attention to the terrain around you while you slowly walk through the woods is quite refreshing. And just as our bodies need exercise to stay healthy we need relaxation as well. Slow hiking helps you focus and meditate on nature.

Benefits of reflecting in nature

By taking your time, you will see many wonderful things and have a one of a kind experience. I have also seen a lot of wildlife by walking slowly and quietly through the woods.

Isn’t it your hike, YOUR hike? If you want to be a nature freak and only hike three miles taking a picture of every mushroom and flower, that is up to you. If you want to trail run and knock out 10 miles in two hours, that too is up to you. For me it depends on what kind of mood I’m in.

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2 comments

  1. I am for sure a slow and steady hiker. I like to pause, take pictures, and just listen to how quiet it is. I love staring out at the views I get when I’ve hiked up pretty high. I’ve been known to hang out at the top of a summit for like 30 minutes just taking it all in. I feel like I worked so hard to get up there and I want to enjoy it! But I definitely understand speed hiking too. In the winter I feel like every hike is a speed hike because I can’t slow down or stop for too long before I start to freeze!

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