From the workplace to the gym, our performance-obsessed culture leaves very little time to stop and smell the roses. Even within the outdoor community, every other conversation seems to revolve around getting faster, fitter, and generally more efficient. But it doesn’t need to be like this, as there are surprising benefits to slowing down. Perhaps it is time to take it at your own pace and experience the trails like never before.
Supercharge your recovery
If you find it hard to get away from a performance-oriented mindset, this slow hiking fact might change your mind about it: walking is one of the best forms of active recovery, recommended for athletes across many disciplines.
After a challenging race or mid-training cycle, embracing your inner couch potato might seem like a very attractive rest day option. However, the increased blood flow associated with walking is a much better way to reduce muscle soreness and flush out toxins accumulated after strenuous exercise. It will also keep your joints mobile and help maintain motivation for high-level performance.
Exercise has long been proven to reduce work-related anxiety, but letting off steam by going all out is rarely the best strategy. Yes, it might work short-term, but in the long run, pushing your body while your brain is already fried is a recipe for injury. Instead of skipping your hike altogether, allow yourself to go slow. You will still benefit from the time spent outdoors and increased oxygen levels but without the risk of hitting the wall.
Be beginner friendly
Embracing a slower pace is a great way to introduce a non-hiker to your favorite activity – especially given that they might simply be unable to keep up otherwise. The obsession with speed and the general feeling that if you’re not going fast, you’re doing it wrong, can put off many first-timers. In fact, there’s as much merit to slow hiking as there is to speed hiking, and there’s no need to stack them up against one another.
Slow hiking opens up a world of possibilities for hitting the trails with young children, elderly parents, disabled friends, or family. Experiencing the trail from the perspective of a slower buddy, and supporting them on their journey, will likely be more gratifying than always just stacking up the miles, or cutting down the time.
Reconnect with nature
Racing against the clock and pushing yourself to the limit is a very introverted activity; you will learn a lot about yourself, but you’re unlikely to learn much about your surroundings. Conversely, taking photos, sketching, or simply observing nature will elevate your hike to new heights as you notice new things and find your own place within the landscape.
Even your well-known backyard trail will reveal new delights if you let it. You can also choose a short section of a long thru-hiking trail and try slack packing. This leisurely approach to hiking involves carrying very little, often accepting the comforts of a hotel bed or a restaurant meal (or overnighting with friends), and can be described as the hiking equivalent of glamping.
Last but not least, going slow does not mean you cannot cover long distances – it will just take longer (and require more time off work), but it’s highly likely you’ll end up having more fun. Whether you’re alone or a part of a group, going on a day hike or a longer adventure, there’s no official playbook on how to hit the trails. To make the most of it, the only actual rule is to simply hike your own hike – be it fast or slow.