HikingHiking can be defined as walking over long distances (preferably a scenic, natural setting) for pleasure or exercise. For many, hiking has meant backpacking, or going on extended outings carrying a backpack. Presently, many sports and outdoor activites are being redefined in terms of specialized applications or specific types of participants. Hiking today is further identified through such activities as trekking, which involves slow, laborious travel often in mountain environments; rambling, which occurs in more remote or often rural areas (as through the British countryside where the term originates); heli-hiking, which begins by flying by helicopter to distant or inaccessible areas such as glaciers; and animal-assisted backpacking, which uses pack animals including horses, donkeys or llamas.
The most common form of hiking is that which takes place in our community or city parks and open spaces for a morning walk or a weekend family stroll. In this case it is more closely associated with walking (for pleasure), which remains the most popular activity participated in by Canadians. More than 80% of Canadians participate in walking. This activity is also known as day hiking, which generally involves an outing of 3 hours or less, within an hour or so from one's home.
While backpacking in a wilderness setting has tapered off, participation in the more exotic or specialized forms of hiking (like heli-hiking) increased significantly through the 1980s and 1990s. Reasons for the continuing interest and growth in hiking participation stems from an increasing urban population that is becoming more conscious about our natural environment, our quality of life and our levels of fitness. In addition, with a wide range of new lightweight clothing and equipment, and generally easier access to more remote parks or open space areas, hiking continues to attract an increasing array of new participants, old and young. Generally most participants tend to be in the 20-35 age bracket, although an increasing number of those over 55 continue to enjoy the activity. Older people today tend to be more fit and lifestyle conscious and also have more disposable income with which to pursue the more exotic forms of hiking.
Many people pursue hiking by becoming a member of a hiking club or association such as the BRUCE TRAIL Association, the Waskahegan Trail Association or Skyline Hikers of the Rockies. Others join different types of clubs or groups where hiking is an active part of the activities pursued, such as a naturalist club, a bird watching club or even the Elderhostel program, which is becoming increasing popular among those over 55.
Many hiking/outdoor clubs are formed as a result of promoting the development, protection or use of a particular trail or natural area having potential for a trail and hiking use. With the formation of the TRANS CANADA TRAIL Foundation, which is encouraging the development of a cross-Canada linked trail connecting communities and regions from coast to coast, it is expected that many more hiking and trail organizations will be formed that further promote participation in this activity.
Many of the trails people enjoy hiking along may represent a historic aspect of Canadian heritage such as the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail in BC. Others tend to provide access through a scenic or natural environment within an urban, rural or wilderness setting such as the Great Divide Trail in Alberta. Trails for hiking can be found for all levels of difficulty, from easy, urban park nature walks, to relatively easy rural countryside trails (like the Waskahegan Trail in Alberta) to the more stamina testing and rugged trails such as the West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island, or the Chilkoot Pass Trail, Yukon.
See also TRAILS AND GREENWAYS.