So you might be thinking, what on earth is speed hiking? Well, perhaps you’ve just been doing regular hiking for years. Or maybe you’ve just picked up hiking as a hobby during the pandemic. With the fluctuation of travel and activity restrictions, hiking at the very least is one way to get out of the house. But away from the crowds. To get in touch with nature, whilst getting some fresh air and good old fashioned exercise.
So you’ve found yourself on a trail. It doesn’t matter where you are or what the terrain is. No matter the reason, you’ll be hiking in some capacity. Upon setting off for the adventure, you decide that you want to increase the burn in your lungs and your legs. Or perhaps you’ve got other things to do later on in the day. Maybe you’re absolutely pumped to get to the top of the mountain or to the end of that coastal trail to enjoy the epic views.
For whatever reason you have picked up the pace, you have entered the wonderful world of speed hiking. Beck and I are speed hiking enthusiasts. It’s why we’re collectively known as the ‘Speed Hiking Couple’. So let’s go into more detail about speed hiking and how it’ll benefit you!
What is Speed Hiking?
The moment you are moving on a trail at a faster than your usual walking pace, you are technically speed hiking. This fun activity is also known as power hiking. In essence, speed hiking is all about walking a trail at an increased speed and intensity for whatever reason.
Actually, speed hiking can be whatever you want it to be! It’s certainly not an exclusive activity for athletes surging up mountains, which tends to be the stereotype. Although there are speed hiking athletes, in a recreational sense, it’s an activity that is suitable for anyone that enjoys walking. Speed hiking can take place on any trail or track that you like. As long as you’re considerate of track limitations and others around you.
As a recreational activity, it can be completed for an entire trail or just in sections. This might be necessary if part of a trail becomes more technical and requires you to move slower to take care. You may also choose to slow down at some parts of a trail to soak in the ambience and nature. Maybe you want to dabble in some photography. Basically, there are no hard and fast rules. Speed hike as you please!
So as you can see, it’s nothing too complicated really, which is fantastic, as it’s then an inclusive activity for anyone interested in being active and seeking nature.
What’s the Difference Between Speed Hiking, Trail Running and Fastpacking?
So you now know the difference between regular hiking and speed hiking. But what about fastpacking and trail running? How is speed hiking different from those activities?
Trail running is the easiest one to differentiate from speed hiking, so let’s start there. Simply put, trail running is, well, trail running. Running on a trail. Easy. Well, what defines running then? The most basic definition would be that once both feet are airborne, you’re essentially running. So if you do that on a trail, you’re trail running. In contrast, you’ll never usually run when you’re speed hiking. You’ll just be walking quicker than usual.
Fastpacking is where the lines start to slightly blur with all of three of these activities, but there are still key differences. Basically, fastpacking is the combination of trail running and ultralight backpacking to cover a long distance trail. If you’re fastpacking, you’re running the descents, jogging the flats and hiking the ascents. It allows someone to cover traditionally multi-day hikes in fewer days or even a single day. When speed hiking, you may occasionally jog or let momentum carry you downhills, but you wouldn’t run otherwise. Unless a bear started chasing you or something!
So that’s the difference between speed hiking, trail running and fastpacking. Although all activities are different, they certainly have many similarities. Mainly in regards to exercising in natural settings. And that’s awesome, right?
Where Did it Originate?
Speed hiking is such an easy activity to participate in. Without even knowing, people have been speed hiking for years. Although no one has been calling it speed hiking. However, there are certain people who began choosing to speed hike consciously and purposefully for certain reasons. Traditionally, backcountry skiers would speed hike in the warmer months when the snow had melted off the mountains. It was a way for that group of people to keep fit during the offseason when they couldn’t ski.
So speed hiking didn’t really originate anywhere because people have been doing it for years and years. But it’s likely that cross country skiers first coined the term as to more specifically define this activity. So you could argue that’s where speed hiking originated.
Where is Best to Speed Hike?
For that reason, some people think speed hiking is reserved for trails that scale epic mountainous landscape. But the truth is, you can speed hike on any trail you please! Sure, it is more of a challenge when gaining elevation. We thoroughly enjoyed speed hiking up the mountains of Liechtenstein and Andorra. But there’s nothing wrong with moving a bit faster on the flat, on any trail or terrain.
Also, in answering this question, we should cover where you shouldn’t speed hike. Well, that ones pretty self-explanatory. You won’t do it on any technical terrain or on slippery surfaces. Anywhere on a trail that requires you to go slow demands a cease in speed hiking. No one wants to be injured or have an accident on a trail.
What are the Benefits?
There are quite a few benefits to speed hiking. Without getting overly complicated or scientific, sometimes it just feels good to smash out a trail at a quicker pace. Feeling the wind in your hair, your heart rate increase, beads of sweat trickling down your face. The happy endorphin hormones. Essentially, the great feeling that you get from any exercise is replicated with this activity.
But specifically, what are the benefits of speed hiking over more traditional hiking? First and foremost, it gives you the ability to cover more ground and in turn observe more of your surroundings. This enables you to cover a greater distance in the time you have.
In fact, one of the reasons Beck and I started speed hiking was because when we were travelling, we always had a huge list of trails we wanted to complete. Speed hiking afforded us the opportunity to do more trails in a day when compared to just regular hiking. It was an absolute game-changer.
We could squeeze more out of our itineraries than ever before. For instance, we were able to do the W Trek in Patagonia in four days instead of the usual five days. As a result, we had a whole extra day to play with so we could get even more out of our South America trip. Actually, the ability to get more out of our trips by speed hiking is exemplified in all of our hiking based guides.
Plus, from a fitness perspective, when compared to regular hiking, the demand and challenge on your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system are greater. In turn, this can help improve your overall fitness levels. For more information on the benefits of hiking in general, check out 11 reasons why you should hike.
Are There Any Negatives to Speed Hiking?
A lot of people dismiss speed hiking as rushing through nature. But speed hiking is perfect for when you want a good workout but also want to do it in beautiful surroundings. Of course, we don’t speed hike through all sections of a trail. We will pick and choose where we speed hike to maximise our time but also allow ourselves to truly appreciate epic scenery and the natural ambience.
After all, if you love photography, you’ll need to occasionally stop to take some shots. Or maybe it’s time for lunch and a rest before you set off again! Remember, it’s mostly a recreational activity, so speed hike whenever you want on whichever part of a trail you want.
How to be a Considerate Speed Hiker
Particularly during the pandemic, it’s vital to maintain physical distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. This presents a challenge to speed hikers who would usually zip in and out of crowds when on a trail. So there needs to be some adjustment and common sense in place when partaking in this activity. Before you speed hike, consider these questions below. It’ll make you a much more thoughtful speed hiker, and person in general.
- Is the trail crowded? If a trail is busy, speed hiking may mean that you break the physical distancing protocol. So if the trail is too busy, you may not want to speed hike. Alternatively, if there are just busy sections of the trail, like at lookouts or viewpoints, you’ll just need to slow down, and/or let people pass just as you always would on a trail. Just because you are speed hiking doesn’t give you an excuse to be an arse hole on the trail.
- Is the trail narrow? If the trail you’re on is too narrow, speed hiking may not be practically possible. You may accidentally knock into people or be prevented from moving as quickly as possible. To avoid disappointment, perhaps pick and choose the right trails to speed hike on.
- What’s the terrain like? Is it slippery or rocky? Is scrambling required? Are you needing to hike close to a cliff’s edge? Under no circumstances is it okay to speed hike on trails that require you to slow down to take care.
Is There Specialist Gear for Speed Hiking?
Speed hiking is mostly a recreational activity. Plus, all in all, it’s essentially just faster than usual hiking. So if you are unfazed about what time you are completing trails in, and just want to speed hike for fun, then we have good news for you! You’re more than welcome to speed hike in all of your usual hiking gear. There’s no need to go out of your way to buy ‘speed hiking gear’ or specialist equipment. Most people are speed hiking in their usual hiking gear without even knowing!
However, with that being said, speed hikers traditionally travel lighter. That makes sense, as the heavier your gear and the more you carry, the slower you’ll go and the more energy you’ll use. Logically, having lighter and less gear may help you speed hike faster, so you can accomplish all of the distance or trails that you want to accomplish in a day.
So without going into exact detail about every single piece of hiking equipment, we’re going to cover just the basics that you may want to consider when speed hiking. Tim Ashelford from We Are Explorers categorised the essential gear nicely into five categories. This includes:
- GPS technology
So let’s go into a bit more detail about this these bits of kit so you can maximise your speed hiking experience and performance. We’ll compare the main differences between your usual hiking gear and speed hiking gear.
No matter what type of hiking you’re doing, you should be wearing hiking boots. If you’re speed hiking, you’ll want decent traction to avoid slipping as you turn corners and descend trails at an increased speed. Because you’ll be working harder and getting hotter, having breathable footwear is also necessary for comfort. With hiking long distances, you’ll want decent waterproofing too. Whilst comfort, in general, is another important factor when choosing the right pair of hiking boots.
So these are all the elements that make up a solid pair of hiking boots, whether it’s for hiking or its speed equivalent. The major difference when we look at footwear for regular hikers versus speed hikers is the weight. The ideal speed hiking shoe is more minimalist in nature, as to have less weight. So you might consider a more traditional trail running shoe or minimalist low top hiking shoe. Beck speed hikes in The North Face Hedgehog II Fastpack hiking boots. They are relatively lighter than the usual pair of hiking boots I wear (Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Mid Goretex Hiking Boots).
When it comes to a backpack for speed hiking, you’re looking at something lightweight, waterproof, and able to store a relatively large supply of water. A Camelbak is certainly a good option. They are lightweight but are designed to have the appropriate chest straps as well for comfort. Honestly though, we think a Camelbak is more appropriate for trail running. Usually when speed hiking, you’ll be on a trail for a long duration. So you’ll need a more spacious backpack to fit in all your hiking equipment.
In that case, consider the Osprey Skarab 30 Hydration Pack. With the Osprey Hydraulics 2.5L Reservoir, it works just like a Camelbak. But you’ll have a lot more space to pack all of your gear. In regards to weight, with its intelligent chest and hip straps design, load and weight are distributed evenly throughout the body. Meaning you feel less of the actual weight of the backpack. For something even smaller, consider the Osprey Skarab 22 Hydration Pack.
Like with all hiking clothing, you’ll want gear that is waterproof and windproof but lightweight and breathable. It’s easier said than done though! One of the major challenges of speed hiking is temperature regulation. Often, you’ll be starting a hike early in the morning in cold temperatures. So you’ll have a few layers on.
But soon enough, the combination of the temperature rising and your high intensity of exercise means you’ll need to start taking all of the layers off. The more layers you take off, the heavier your backpack. Oh, the conundrum! So at the very least, you’ll need high-quality and lightweight waterproof and windpoof gear. Without good quality, your clothing may be lightweight but hopeless in keeping you protected from the elements.
For a waterproof/windproof jacket, consider the Kathmandu Aysen GORE-TEX Jacket. Like all windproof jackets, breathability is the biggest challenge as you work up a sweat. But at least with this jacket, there are nifty zips located throughout the jacket that can help cool you down if needed. Most importantly though, it’ll keep you dry!
For your warming layers, what you’ll be looking for is outstanding weight: warmth ratio. For a fleece jacket, it’s hard to look past the lightweight but incredibly warm The North Face TKA Glacier Snap Fleece Jacket. Beck has been wearing this jacket for years.
Additionally, if you need a lightweight down jacket, there’s the Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket. But for those willing to spend even more for the optimal weight: warmth ratio, consider the Patagonia Micro Puff or Patagonia Nano Puff down jackets.
What About Hiking Trousers?
In regards to hiking trousers, waterproof ones are generally heavier and non-breathable. That’s why a water resistant trouser may be a better option as it’s lighter and much more breathable. Consider the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers. But if it absolutely buckets down, the water resistant trouser may not suffice. In such a case, carry an emergency Mountain Warehouse Pakka Waterproof Overtrousers. They certainly aren’t breathable but will definitely keep you dry during heavy periods of rain.
Poles are often a contentious piece of equipment for hikers. Some people swear by them. Poles are able to take the weight and load off a person’s legs and trunk when descending trails. Whilst using poles can take a lot of the effort out of surging up hills. The cross country skiers will obviously be using them.
With their ability to help you hike quicker, they may help increase performance. But if you’re wanting to get fitter from hiking, the poles may be lessening the effort and demand on your body, thereby decreasing your maximal exercise output, in turn, slightly reducing your overall improvement in fitness. But you could also argue that by using poles, they will help you conserve energy, so you could speed hike at a greater speed for longer, thereby facilitating the maintenance of a higher intensity of movement output which would help you get fitter!
However, on a longer hike, you may not want to be using hiking poles the entire time. Particularly, if the trail consists of varied terrain where poles are negligible. They will inevitably add extra weight to your backpack if stored there during periods of non-use.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference.
Although speed hiking is mostly recreational, using some GPS tracking or mapping technology is worthwhile. Some people may use Strava to time their speed hikes or measure other statistics. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. However, you may simply want to use your smartphone for GPS maps. When you’re hiking at a quicker pace, you often have less time to make decisions when on a trail. This can often lead to losing a trail or going the wrong way. Having a GPS signal or even an old school map will help you navigate to ensure you’re back on the trail!
We hope that we have sparked your interest in joining the wonderful world of speed hiking! Or perhaps you’ve come to realise, that you’ve been doing it, all this time, without really knowing. Either way, we hope this guide can either kick start your speed hiking adventures or help improve them.
For a more comprehensive rundown of hiking gear, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. We go more in-depth into what hiking gear we use.
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