by Diane Spicer
I feel kind of silly talking about hiking motivation whenever someone asks me why I hit the trail every week, year round.
And go off into the wilds for weeks at a time any chance I get.
For me, hiking is an inbuilt need, a drive, an absolute "must have" in large doses.
And it's been that way pretty much since my teens.
So when people ask me how I stay motivated, I feel like a fraud giving them advice.
I've never explored the landscape of finding motivation as a hiker (get the little hiking joke there?).
Rather than share that unhelpful factoid, I dug deep into my memory banks for areas where I have NOT been motivated: taking a calculus or physics course, for instance.
Or scrubbing the kitchen floor.
I've done those things, because I knew they were important.
Did I enjoy them?
If you have to motivate yourself to hike, maybe you should explore other sports.
If hiking is a (pick one):
... then maybe you're a hiker by name, but not by heart.
And it's not really motivation that presents a problem.
Can you re-frame the way you think about hiking?
Can you make it more about its benefits, less about the physical discomforts?
To be blunt: Can you change your attitude?
Never underestimate the power of a good attitude when approaching a hiking goal.
It will revolutionize the way you hit the trail.
Use this website to manage and mitigate the physical discomforts of hiking.
I've observed lots of hikers, in many different settings and groups, over my five decades on the trail.
And I've noticed that they fall into 3 general categories in terms of attitude toward hiking.
If you're up for it, let's peek at these hikers to see if any of them are able to motivate you to keep going on a tough hike, or come back for more.
Maybe you'll spot your own hiking motivation style!
Out in front, taking the lead on every decision, knowing exactly what should be done or how many miles to go before stopping...
Have you met these folks on the trail?
Maybe even been run over by them?
Their posture shouts "I'm the leader!"
What motivates them to hike?
The challenge of conquering a goal!
If you're a hiker just starting out, beginning to gain outdoor skills and trail confidence, these are the folks you should be hiking with.
These alpha hikers will motivate you through sheer force of will, using emphatic gestures and words like "must" and "will" to get you back to the trailhead in one piece.
Give in to their persuasive powers, and you will indeed get back to the trailhead.
You can take comfort in their knowledge base if something goes wrong.
Their motivation for being on the trail?
Let them lead when you can't decide what to do next. They have a plan.
"Go with the flow" hikers are glad to be part of the herd.
They are happy to go as far or as short of a distance as you'd like.
They are content to take pictures, or soak their feet in a cold pool at the base of the waterfall.
This type of hiker is a joy on a group hike, where the route has been laid out, someone else is keeping track of the turn around time, and the weather is good.
Their motivation for hiking?
If things get dicey, though, this hiker can be a detriment at worst, or no help at all at best.
They may give into fear and be hard to motivate to get on board with a plan.
And it could be risky to be a group of all followers.
So don't hike only with other followers, if that's you.
Sometimes their mellow demeanor can calm down a hyper hiker when things begin to go wrong.
"Hey, if they trust that things will work out, so can I, right?"
And they make the job of the leader to motivate others so much easier by cooperating.
There is a lot to be said for the power of following the leader in an emergency.
This brings us back to the idea of best hiking motivation.
These two types of hikers are motivated to hit the trail for very different reasons.
But how easily can they motivate other hikers?
In my experience, I find an alpha type of hiker lacking in the ability to easily motivate other hikers.
The follower is also unable to generate strong hiking motivation in other hikers.
Well, there must be some middle ground, or I wouldn't have told you there were 3 categories, right?
Time to introduce the third type of hiker...
It's easy to define an individualist hiker:
Both have their time and place on the trail.
Deferring gracefully to someone else is a beautiful attribute to have, when it's called for.
Standing firm, putting forth your knowledge when it's essential for navigation, insisting on safety margins - also beautiful attributes.
And confident individualists have perfected the fine art of discerning how to choose the appropriate route (another little hiking pun - sorry).
Their motivation for hiking with others?
I have proof that they can.
I have been in groups of 10+ people and watched this type of hiker step up to the task of getting every tired, dirty, wet and hungry person safely to the camp site just before dark.
I've seen how one individualist can crack a joke at just the right time to break the tension around a difficult decision on the trail.
Their bag of tricks include:
These hikers know from their own experiences that sometimes people get themselves into uncomfortable situations:
It takes skill to walk the line between bludgeoning these folks with common sense for their own good, and cutting them too much slack.
Individualist hikers know how to walk that line, with grace and a calm demeanor.
Now you've seen 3 approaches to the trail.
And you must have drawn a few conclusions about hiking motivation, both your own and your trail companions.
Here's the thought I'd like to leave you with:
Hiking motivation needs to be internal first.
The thoughts that routinely play in our own heads on a hike will determine how we encourage others to do the right thing on the trail, even when it's hard or unpopular:
Your answer to one question tells you which type of hiker you really are:
Do you give orders, give up, or give your expertise?
Any of these may be appropriate, but it depends on the situation in front of you.
And here's a hiking fact to embrace:
You will need to use at least one of these styles on yourself if the going gets tough on a hiking trail.
It pays to think about which one you align with naturally, so you can step out of character to get the job done when the time comes.
Not to be dramatic, but your life might literally depend on you taking a back seat, or speaking up, or making a big decision - even when it doesn't feel comfortable.
Examples of situations I've faced:
I could go on, but here's the point:
By thinking about what motivates you, and others, on a hike you can keep yourself safe.
Try all 3 approaches to hiking motivation, and see which one feels most awkward.
Practice stepping into the role you are least comfortable with on your next hike.
Make mental notes:
Great facts to have about yourself
when before the **** hits the fan!
You can read more about the ins and outs of social hiking here.
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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