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Backpacking as "Sport"?
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Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Backpacking as "Sport"? on 07/26/2012 07:30:51 MDT Print View

Yes or No?

I've heard it said that backpacking is a sport by several people, mostly here at BPL within the forums. What do you think? Does it matter? If it is sport to you, then why? If you're adamantly opposed to it qualifying as sport, then explain. Or is this some silly UL backpacking vernacular and nothing else?

UL backpackers can be an occasionally competitive fringe group, whether that is in boasting of newly acquired base weight, number of grams shaved from a mini Bic lighter, specifying the daily mileage on their last multiday, laying out training/conditioning regiments for the backpacking "season", or announcing an attempt at a fastest known time on a given long trail.

There are occasionally, under certain circumstances, elements of "sport" in backpacking, but does this qualify it as a sport?

Michael L
(mpl_35) - MLife

Locale: The Palouse
No on 07/26/2012 07:46:16 MDT Print View

Personally I don't. But then I have a limited definition of "sport" so maybe that's just me.

I place an emphasis on needing physical prowess or competitive nature, or team organization. And usually a combination of them.

I also don't consider hunting, bowling, poker, or fishing as sport.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Backpacking as "Sport"? on 07/26/2012 07:58:31 MDT Print View

Yes and No.

My occasional foray into the hills with a 6 pack+ of beer, a bunch of food, and a child or a friend hardly qualifies as sport.

On the flip side, I've had days backpacking that were harder than running the L.A. Marathon was. So that's sport (I guess...).

But it always does make me laugh a bit when I think about how serious we can get about gear and technique and "training" and all the finer points of walking, eating, and sleeping in the wilderness. At times I wonder if this is in proportion to how soft we are becoming. I reckon an average American homesteader in the early 1800s or Comanche Indian 12 year old would be tickled pink by our preparations for "roughing it" and "working hard".

Reading about John Muir's childhood certainly gave me a little perspective on why the guy might have been so ecstatic to sleep for days on end on top of boulders or pine boughs with little bedding and such a nonchalant attitude: There was nobody there to yell and make him get up at 4AM and start digging a well, plowing a field, or go to church! Comparatively, roaming the Sierra at his own pace must have felt a bit like the easy life.

Edited by xnomanx on 07/26/2012 08:01:38 MDT.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Sport = competetive? on 07/26/2012 08:47:01 MDT Print View

I think that by definition a sport is an "athletic competition." That's why poker fails- not athletic. And that's why hiking fails- not a competition. If it's a competetion then it's a "race" not hiking per se, a la the Eco Challenge. So it makes sense to me to say that a hiker is an athlete but not a sportsman. Does that make sense? (And I think that the etymology of calling hunters "sportsmen" is different, having something to do with "sporting prey", so I'll overlook that one. Otherwise I'd agree that it isn't an athletic competition. Neither is pro-bass fishing.)

Just my $0.02.

Edited by acrosome on 07/26/2012 08:47:54 MDT.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
mostly no, but in certain instances yes on 07/26/2012 08:53:01 MDT Print View

for most backpacking (and probably for the majority of us) I'd have to say no- not a "sport", BUT when I read about FKT attempts, multi-day adventure racing and the like- then I'd have to say most certainly yes

I'm not overly competitive (that wasn't always the case :)), but I do like to read accounts of folks pushing the envelope in the great outdoors. I definitely think some of their techniques, gear selection/modification can have a positive trickle down effect for the rest of us; really not so different than sports car racing advances

btw Eugene can't quite tell from you new avatar, but are you now sporting a mustache? :)


Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Backpacking as "Sport"? on 07/26/2012 09:40:09 MDT Print View

this issue totally depends on the definition of " Sport ".
since I have not given a lot of time to this definition, what follows is a bit off the cuff.

I suppose sport involves some level of competition. But does competition against oneself qualify ? such as personal FKT's ?

If personal FKT's qualify, then much of fastpacking qualifies. but not all backpacking is fastpacking. slow packing as sport ? only if you are competing for the casual award.

more on my definition of sport :
1. I don't think sport requires teams.
2. I don't view simply exercising as "sport".
3. have not thought enough about it to say if, or how much, physical activity must be present to qualify as a "sport", i.e. competitive running-yes, bowling-maybe, car racing-hmmm, chess-hmmm

Edited by asandh on 07/26/2012 10:01:17 MDT.

Michael L
(mpl_35) - MLife

Locale: The Palouse
Fkt on 07/26/2012 10:01:15 MDT Print View

Yeah. I think as they gain popularity and attention FKT and endurance/adventure races will qualify for me for sure. They already would in my narrow definition if they weren't stll do fringe.

Edit. I don't think it has to be team if it really has a high level of physical prowess and competition. Races (not car) are the purest form IMO. Straight up speed. Or speed and endurance. Love it.

Long distance FKTs are very pure IMO. It doesn't have to be against others at the same time. Racing the clock works for me. My main caveat is that the level of competition isn't there yet. When u see such huge drops in times you know it is a developing sport still.

Edited by mpl_35 on 07/26/2012 10:08:24 MDT.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Not Sport on 07/26/2012 10:19:51 MDT Print View

I don't view hiking as a sport at all. It can be an athletic event if I focus the trip to push my limits either physically or mentally. A casual 10 mile hike to camp wouldn't qualify in my eyes as either a sport or athletic event. I also view record attempts as much as an endurance event as an ultra, certainly the preparations, sacrifice and physical and mental toughness puts it in the same camp.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Not Sport on 07/26/2012 10:33:58 MDT Print View

This is pretty simple, really.

To qualify as a sport:

1. You must have uniforms

2. You must have cheerleaders. They don't necessarily need to be all that attractive, but female cheerleaders must wear skimpy outfits, male cheerleaders must wear slacks and polos. Sorry, them's the rules.

3. There must be lots of sweating going on.

So while backpacking often has 3, and sometimes, weirdly, has 1, it doesn't have 2, so no sport.

Likewise, while fat guys in the stands looking at cheerleaders often incur 3, and 2 is, by its nature, involved, they generally don't have 1, so no sport either. Sorry fat guys.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: Re: Not Sport on 07/26/2012 10:37:34 MDT Print View


It is settled- Doug has solidified the status of backpacking henceforth.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Sweating on 07/26/2012 10:51:18 MDT Print View

But a fat guy might be sitting by a trail wearing his uniform, watching a team of cheerleaders hike bye. And sweating.
But no. Backpacking is mainly a mind game.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Backpacking as "Sport" on 07/26/2012 10:58:43 MDT Print View

I don't consider backpacking as a sport but as a hobby. IMHO you can be a average athlete and be very successful at backpacking. Andrew Skurka is a excellent athlete and I don't think anyone in our community will tell you different. That guy is amazing but is he a long distance walker with stamina or is he just a little crazy? Skurka is "Sportsmen" for sure but what is the definition of Sport? "Back in the Day" I played some sports and I have carried over my stamina and strength in my past sports to my hobby. The JMT: Walking 15 to 20 miles a day, carrying a pack that ways 30-40 lbs takes stamina and strength. I was only competitive with myself and I was on vacation, the best vacation I ever took. Backpacking is a hobby IMHO.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Not sport for me on 07/26/2012 11:07:16 MDT Print View

Even though I often set mileage, speed, and weight goals, I wouldn't consider backpacking to be a sport. Too many other factors play into it. It is the way I explore new places, relax, adventure, re-center, test myself, experience the natural world, etc

I run more than I backpack and self-identify as a runner, but I consider this my sport. If I couldn't run, I would probably find similar outlet in biking, swimming, or something else to maintain fitness. If I couldn't backpack, I would have to find a way to drag myself into the backcountry to reconnect with nature periodically. I consider it essential to the way I relate to the world and find my place in it.

Edit- should have known Doug would find a way to put this thread on track

Edited by Ike on 07/26/2012 11:14:59 MDT.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Not sport for me on 07/26/2012 11:45:58 MDT Print View

Sport, no way.
You have to cross a line between trail running and hiking to not be a sport.

A 100 miler could be used entirely on a trail you are hiking but those running are not carrying anything with them.

So if I have nothing on my back and do a route faster than anyone over a trail then I would say that would also be considered a sport.

I dabble with FKT's all the time. I'll focus 3 months of training for an FKT, however, when I start that attempt I am carrying everything I need to completed that trail and am essentially hiking, just very fast.
When I go Unsupported I feel that I am even doing a more pure hike than others do when they resupply.
I still have to hike every single step that you have to even if I am doing in one day what you will do in 5 or 6.

the other thing is usually my regular hiking is very quick and long days.
This is just the way I am. It has nothing to do with making it into a sport though.
It's still pure enjoyable hiking.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Not a sport on 07/26/2012 12:02:14 MDT Print View

To be a sport, there has to be either a record time, a race, or an organised event with a 'GO'. No?

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Not a sport on 07/26/2012 12:14:39 MDT Print View

so ... it all boils down to the definition of that nebulous term "sport".
everyone seems to have their own personal, yet vague, definition.

aside from :
1. uniforms
2. cheerleaders
3. sweat
what other criteria are mandatory to call something a sport ?

I vote competition, even self competition. although it can be a bit gray just what competition is. (a major reason to accept self competition is because in reality it does not exist. theoretically there is, or will be, someone else doing the exact same thing competing against himself, and you can/will always compare yourselves).
this is one reason to accept fastpacking and FKT as Sport, as long as you wear a uniform.

no to the team requirement.

no to the official "organized" start line requirement.

no to the running v.s. walking requirement - walking is in the Olympics.

finally - some things can be sport or non-sport depending on the intent and motivation.

Edited by asandh on 07/26/2012 12:26:27 MDT.

(KalebC) - F

Locale: South West
NO on 07/26/2012 12:22:38 MDT Print View

Pretty sure it's a hobby, or a game where the object is to get back home.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Backpacking as a Sport on 07/26/2012 12:27:55 MDT Print View

Nope...if it were a sport, it would be called adventure racing/ultra running.

Backpacking is just walking outdoors and staying out overnight or multiple nights.

I am secure enough in myself to say that I am a UL Dork who weights his stuff on a postal scale to obsess over how to save a quarter ounce of weight so that when I am homeless on the trail, that I am as light as possible.

Call it a hobby, passion, activity, but not a sport.

My ego does not require me to call backpacking a sport...the enjoyment I received from backpacking is not enhanced or diminished if people call what I do a sport or something else.

However, if I have to wrestle a bear each night to sescure the best campsite, well....maybe we could call it a sport.

Do I get a say in who my cheerleaders will be while I am wrestling the bear?

If I do, I can tell you that their outfits will be made of white Cuben. :)


John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Backpacking as "Sport" on 07/26/2012 12:53:30 MDT Print View

Armchair athletes may get confused on this question when in a lot of cases hiking equipment is purchased in sporting goods stores or sporting goods departments of larger department stores.

These same "athletes" are equally confused by the term outfitter. In their confused state they would expect us to emerge from an outfitter wearing a new suit.

Hiking is my hobby bordering on obsession. Why else would I have a closet filled with 7 packs, 3 rolls of braided mason's line, 1 canister stove with a 1/2 dozen fuel canisters, 3 cook pots, a titanium spoon, numerous dehydrated meals, multiple cozies, 3 tents, four dozen or more stakes, 3 sets of trekking poles, my prized plastic trowel, hats, bandannas, buffs, base layers, wind shirts, rain gear, compass, trail guide, 1 flat tarp, 1 poncho tarp, 2 quilts, 1 sleeping bag, 4 sleeping pads and too many alcohol stoves to count with Everclear, Heet and 91% Isoproryl for fuel all on hand.

My computer has 72 bookmarks geared towards hiking.

I also have enough MYOG supplies and tools to choke a mule. And yes my sewing machine stands ready with G├╝termann Tera Tex 50 100% polyester thread.

I shop in auto parts stores for tent seam sealer. To most people a yo-yo is a toy. To me a yo-yo is walking a trail from beginning to end and back again. I keep many of my most valued posessions inside of a trash compactor bag. Some people see a recycle bin ready to go out to the curb but I see water bottles and alcohol stoves. Some people see construction trash and I see ground sheets. When I drink a beer I have to force myself not to fashion a stove out of the can.

I tear off perfectly good zipper tabs to install string in their place. None of my hiking clothes have labels to tell me what size they are.

I read test results of whistles.

I weigh everything in grams and ounces.

This is my favorite. I pay someone whom I have never met before to take me out to a place that I have never been before, let them drop me off and wave good-bye while saying thank you as they leave me in the middle of nowhere with a huge smile on my face. ;-)

Party on,


Edited by Newton on 07/26/2012 17:42:45 MDT.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Athletic but not a sport on 07/26/2012 13:25:51 MDT Print View

I look at backpacking as an outdoor activity that happens to be an athletic activity

Something like ultras are athletic events that (often) takes place outdoors.

Hope that makes a least it does to me. ;)