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Backpacking as "Sport"?
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Locale: Pacific Northwet
Sport on 07/26/2012 13:28:15 MDT Print View

I think for something to be a "sport" there has to be some kind of rules or regulations, and there also have to be some kind of spectators watching.

So in my opinion someone going out for a 3 mile jog is not practicing a sport. It's more recreation, or exercise.

But if you are running in a competition, it would be sport.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Backpacking as "Sport"? on 07/26/2012 14:08:57 MDT Print View

If you don't keep score, and /or it's not timed, it's not a sport. And a score from judges doesn't count.

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
Re: Backpacking as "Sport"? on 07/26/2012 14:43:57 MDT Print View

No and it sometimes irritates me when new folks refer to it as a sport because I think they have the wrong idea of why one would go out into the backcountry and walk around. Sure the endurance folks are using backpacking equipment and techniques but they are not out there to necessarily enjoy their surroundings but trying to get from A to B as fast as possible.

Like any past time, hobby or recreation folks always take the details to the farthest degree because they are really into it and want to explore all angles which is part of the enjoyment they/we get from it. Just because some one messes with their Bic lighter doesn't make it like fine tuning a tennis racket unless you are an endurance racer and then it might make a difference in your time but that again is different.

Tyler Fisher

Locale: northern california
Re: Backpacking as "Sport"? on 07/26/2012 15:01:55 MDT Print View

Yesterday I was finishing up an overnight trip and on my way back to Tuolumne Meadows south of Donahue pass and I passed a group of 12-15 backpackers travelling southbound on the JMT/PCT. They were all wearing the same shirts, pants, hats. They all had the exact same packs and even the same trekking poles. I didn't pay attention to their footwear. It wasn't typical hiking attire either, the clothing was very technical looking. Lots of pockets and such. It was really strange. They were obviously a team of some sorts what their goal was I don't know, but they looked pretty sporty.
To me backpacking isn't a sport, just something I enjoy.

Michael Wainfeld
(Adox) - M

Locale: EastCoast
Sport? on 07/26/2012 18:31:56 MDT Print View

In order for an activity to be a sport, a ball or puck must be involved. Backpacking, like cycling, swimming, skiing, sailing, etc are "Means of transportation".

Edited by Adox on 07/26/2012 18:34:20 MDT.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Re: Sport? on 07/26/2012 18:49:17 MDT Print View

hmmm- what does the dictionary say "An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others."

I'd say multi-day FKT attempts and multi-day adventure racing fits that bill pretty easy; I'd also go out on a limb and say a three day jaunt with the wife probably doesn't :)

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Sport? on 07/26/2012 19:23:01 MDT Print View

"I'd also go out on a limb and say a three day jaunt with the wife probably doesn't :)"

I'd say that depends on the wife.......

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: Re: Re: Sport? on 07/26/2012 19:25:36 MDT Print View

'"I'd also go out on a limb and say a three day jaunt with the wife probably doesn't :)"

I'd say that depends on the wife......."

I can always count on you for a ( much needed) laugh :)

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Backpacking as Sport on 07/26/2012 19:52:02 MDT Print View

OK, there have been several good comments/definitions on this thread. My personal take is that it is simply a walk in a splendid park, maybe with a sort of zoo thrown in, and a good time to hang in solitude in a stellar place by myself, or with a friend or two. Let's not overthink this--it's just us, hiking, being together, and everyone gathering water and wood, doing their part, and staring at stars and watching out for bears. This is not really rocket science, nor is it a sport. It's simply a joy. I call it recreation. And I'm glad to be part of a BPL group that likes to do it, however he/she chooses to pursue it, by any definition of just what it is.

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Re: Backpacking as Sport on 07/26/2012 20:54:35 MDT Print View

When I ride a bike, I don't intend to ever compete, but is bike riding a sport? Is it sport if and only if I am in competition? Is it a sport if I am in training for competition?

What about jogging? Isn't that just slow running which is what you do when in a foot race? How fast do I have to jog/run before I am being sporty? Must I have a competitor or a record time to beat?

Since FKT backpacking (or call it unsupported multiday foot racing if you like) is a sport by the dictionary definition, at what level do I begin to call my hikes "sport"? I think it is when I start pushing my limits and become concerned with performance - speed, altitude/hour, etc..

What about the progression from hiking to class 5 climbing? There are plenty of climbing competitions so that is indeed a sport. At what point does a hike become difficult enough to be considered part of the sport?

And what about different leagues of ability? If I break my personal best, no matter the world record, is it a sport even if I have no intention of competing with the FKTs?

Is peak bagging a sport?

I think hiking can be a sport if you make it so.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Re: Backpacking as Sport on 07/27/2012 03:32:44 MDT Print View

Hello Nathan,

"I think it is when I start pushing my limits and become concerned with performance - speed, altitude/hour, etc.."

I enjoy doing this on almost all of my hikes.
Even the slowest hikers complain about performance - speed, and altitude in their posts.

What's to say there's a difference between having 50 pounds on your back moving at a slow rate but still having your heart rate at 160 and having 10 pounds on your back moving very efficiently at triple the rate of speed while having a heart rate of 160.

I call it UL Hiking.

This is the whole reason to take the weight off for me.

I am willing to bet that my average heart rate is the same throughout the day as someone overly exerting themselves with a monster pack on.

Still, only hiking, definitely not a sport.

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Sport on 07/27/2012 10:44:29 MDT Print View

Hello Aaron,

I would've thought that with your dabbling in FKTs would see it as sport, at least when in pursuit of the records. I feel a distinct difference between hiking for performance and hiking for all the usual reasons.

Hope to be on a trail with you sometime!


Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
refreshing thread on 07/27/2012 13:04:04 MDT Print View

This was a nice thread to read. I like the notion of sport as competing against others, on a somewhat organized and official basis. I am hard pressed to think of any sport that doesn't do this, so it's a useful definition.

Keep in mind, prior to our car/horse buggy days, walking was pretty much it, and walking is what our bodies are designed to do. So backpacking is just doing what is most fundamentally natural for the human body. Now of course, there are some people who have to force totally natural activities into some more agro box so they can justify it to their hyper competitive personalities, so I like to leave adventure racing to them, and enjoy the trails and natural environment while they go elsewhere.

In a sense, ultralight backpacking at its best is actually returning us to the base weights that were used by travelers long ago in general, barring actual moves and so on, and that's what it feels like to me now walking with that weight, pretty natural, not weird, not a struggle, like a 50 pound pack felt.

If you think native americans, they had massive networks of trails, and they walked around on them, that was how you got around back then, and that's really all we are doing now when we backpack. Then, when they wanted to compete against each other, they had sports, just like we have today, and the difference was the organized competitive aspect, ie, there are winners and losers in sports, runners up, and so on.

I've done sports, bike racing, and so on, those are totally different, I'm competing against others there, and the point of the training is to compete successfully, or as successfully as I could. Training for backpacking has some of the same elements to me, but it's just taking walks in the end, albeit a bit more vigorous and focused than I'd normally do.

I really like the feeling of walking all day, but that's because that's so natural for the body, it's what it's built for. Driving and all that is the weird unnatural activity.

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
Re: refreshing thread on 07/27/2012 14:49:10 MDT Print View

Thanks Harald,

Like most through hikers I know say, in the end it is just walking.

No on 07/28/2012 13:04:44 MDT Print View


Sports, are broadly categorized as athletic based competition whereby you compete against others, with a defined winner.

Backpacking is an outdoor pursuit.

There are "sports" which encompass some of the same skill set as backpacking. Ultramarathons, adventure racing teams, etc.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Yes and no on 07/31/2012 13:36:24 MDT Print View

It's a "sport" in the sense that the better you condition yourself for it the more you will enjoy it, just like skiing.

And like recreational skiing, it's not (usually) competitive.

Good backpackers are good athletes. You backpack like you train.

Tyler Johnson
(riemannia) - F

Locale: Northeast Georgia
Backpacker's Triathlon on 08/09/2012 01:00:07 MDT Print View

That's the beauty of backpacking for me; it is what you make of it. Perhaps that's a bit of a cop out to the question, but if you're searching for an FKT or a personal best daily mileage, I think you've made it a sport for yourself. Otherwise, it's just a nice little non-competitive romp in the woods. It's a user-defined experience.

I do think that all the sport-like aspects of backpacking which the user can define are inherently speed based though.

Actually, I just remembered, I chuckled to myself about participating in the first backpacker's triathlon a few weekends ago, on a trip in Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA:
1) Swimming - avoid drowning in a severe rainstorm through the night,
2) Running - wake up late, tear down camp as quickly as possible, then run down the mountain to the trailhead, preferably toppling down a particularly steep section of the trail for expedience,
3) Biking - frantically search through the woods trying to remember where you stashed your bike near the trailhead, then pedal like a bat out of hell to the bus stop 10 miles away.

(Carless in Seattle, I had thrown my bike on a bus two afternoons earlier and ridden out to North Bend, WA then biked 10 miles to a trailhead for adventures. I was in such a hurry that morning because the last bus out of North Bend back to Seattle until later in the day left at 7:30 AM)

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: Backpacker's Triathlon on 08/09/2012 09:44:51 MDT Print View

That's hilarious Tyler. No doubt your adventure required some degree of athleticism. I suppose then that Alaska Wilderness Classic participants could be considered backcountry quadrathletes (bike, hike, packraft, swim)? ;-)

I think Harold makes some excellent points and I agree with his personal assessment, it is more in line with my thoughts on the matter. I do disagree slightly with the notion that those who take it to a different level (FKT'ers, adventure racers, etc.) are in some way entertaining some "agro" urges. For some people, pushing the body to its physical limit by means of competition is as natural as getting out for a stroll to smell the flowers- no ego required.

Edited by Eugeneius on 08/09/2012 10:21:27 MDT.

Mitch Chesney
(MChesney) - F
Anything could be a sport on 08/09/2012 11:49:45 MDT Print View

So a sport to me is a recreational physical activity in which all participants compete for a common goal.

Such that, backpacking is a sport if and only if everyone is competing for a goal. Now 'everyone' can be a subset of the whole backpacking community, much like the Olympic Rowers are a subset of all rowers - competitive or casual. Rowing by itself is a recreational activity. But a group of rowers in a designated competition is a sport.

Some people argue chess is a sport. It's nationalized and winners are awarded titles. But it's not exactly a physical activity. Korea nationalizes their Starcraft online game competitions as a sport. Popular 'players' can make a lot of money. But chess and Starcraft competitions are gaming competitions. The act of participation in one of these in a casual sense is to 'play a game'. Whereas to casually kick the soccer call around is still a recreational activity.

So if NOLS or Sierra Club began an Ironman competition of sorts along stretches of the PCT, JMT, CDT, or AT and the first backpacker reaching the end would win a prize... would that be a sport? It's not officially recognized but by my definition it would be (albeit an informal one). I know a bunch of people compete for the fastest time through the JMT. There are unwritten rules and regulations - you can't take shuttles or bypass loops using shortcuts, and there is still some debate if the start/end is at Whitney Portal or Whitney Summit. Nevertheless, it's a recreational physical activity among a group of competitive individuals who work towards a common goal.