What is Soft Hiking?

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Hard hikes are so great but the budding “soft hiking” movement offers a refreshing perspective on outdoor experiences, emphasizing mindfulness, accessibility, and personal enjoyment.

Soft Hiking offers an alternative to the slightly competitive vibe in outdoor culture, and on social accounts, reminding us that connecting with nature is its own joy, and is also a fundamental human need. 

By creating space for diverse hiking experiences, soft hiking promotes inclusivity in the outdoor community. Let’s explore the core ideas behind soft hiking, its benefits, and the role it plays in fostering a more balanced approach to engaging with the natural world.

Soft Hiking: New Phrase for an Old Approach

Soft hiking is something my hiker friends and I have been doing for years. Without having a label for this style of hiking, we’ve been conscious and vocal about being anti-peakbagging in our personal approach to hiking.

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Sure, the big views are great but we’re more into noticing the uncommon rocks, and the soft moss, maybe some remnant of history we come across, but our attention is drawn most frequently to striking trees and pools of forest light. Really, the very basics.

My friends and I might consult our lists from time to time but we’re not focussed on our lists. We just want to spend time in nature. Personally, I have a very hard time hiking a boring hike just to complete a list. Who is the boss of me, I wonder on those days, me or… a meaningless spreadsheet?

As Casey from the Modern Hiker newsletter says, soft hiking is, “a sentiment that’s been floating around for a while but does need to be restated every so often—especially in an age of attention-grabbing extreme endurance feats packaged for social media and memoirs: you can and should hike your own hike.”

(The famous John Muir quote about sauntering versus hiking also comes to mind — but I won’t repeat it here because John Muir is cancelled AF.)

For the last two years, I’ve been just four hikes from completing my Catskill 3500 Winter list. This season, I got exactly one of those hikes done: a quick, snowy saunter with a friend to Southwest Hunter. I’ll get to the remaining three hikes when I get to the remaining three hikes.

Why is Soft Hiking So Hot Right Now?

Soft hiking is getting a lot of attention online since this viral TikTok from Lucy and Emily of @softgirlswhohike.


Replying to @LousLife good question! we kind of coined the term ourselves. heres what it’s all about 🤎 #girlswhohike #hikinguk #hiketok #bestfriends #softhiking #softgirlswhohike #softlife

♬ pluto projector – al

Then, Huffington Post UK picked it up with this piece.

What Is Soft Hiking?

A definition of “soft hiking” might sounds something like, “Soft hiking, as you described, is a more mindful and inclusive approach to hiking that emphasizes personal enjoyment and connection with nature over competition, physical challenges, or speed.”

As Lucy and Emily say, “Hiking doesn’t have to be hard.”

This approach can offer several benefits:

  1. Accessibility: Soft hiking is suitable for a wide range of people, including those who may be new to hiking, families with children, seniors, or individuals with limited mobility. It allows more people to experience the joys of being outdoors and exploring natural landscapes.
  2. Mindfulness and mental health: By slowing down and focusing on the surroundings, hikers can be more present and appreciate the beauty, history, and geology of the area. This can lead to a deeper connection with nature and have positive effects on mental health, including stress reduction and relaxation.
  3. Social connections: Soft hiking creates a relaxed atmosphere for people to connect and engage in conversations, fostering a sense of community and friendship among hikers.
  4. Personalized experiences: The “hike your own hike” philosophy allows individuals to tailor their hiking experiences to their unique preferences, abilities, and interests, ensuring a more enjoyable and fulfilling outing.
  5. Sustainability: With a focus on appreciating nature and the environment, soft hiking may encourage more environmentally conscious practices, such as following Leave No Trace principles, and promote a sense of stewardship for the natural world.

Enjoyment of the outdoors is key. I believe that, ultimately, anything that onboards people into nature is a good thing — in itself, for its own intrinsic rewards, but also because it is such a powerful way to disconnect from the things that make us disconnect from ourselves: the pings and arrows of our outrageous techno-fortune.

soft hiking near balsam lake spring
Spring boulder

Where Can I Soft Hike?

Anywhere you have access to nature and you feel comfortable.

In the Catskills, where I do most of my hiking, there are any number of exceptional Nature Trails, Easy Hikes, and Family-Friendly Hikes.

All of these are great places to start.

Soft Hiking is Not Here to Replace Hard Hiking

Of course, there’s plenty of merit in challenging oneself through hardcore hiking, pursuing hiking lists, and pushing personal limits. But it’s important to recognize that there’s more than one way to enjoy the outdoors. 

The growing trend of “soft hiking” is a response to the bias towards more intense and competitive outdoor activities we see in the media and on popular social accounts.

Ultimately, the soft hiking movement seeks to expand our understanding of what it means to hike and celebrate the diverse ways in which people engage with the outdoors.

For me, one of the big joys of hiking is that it’s non-competitive. When I used to train joylessly for 5K/10K/Half-Marathon type runs, I was always working toward some faster-than-last-time time. Except for sprinting, I never found running intrinsically enjoyable.

Why skim the surface when you can plunge into the heart of every trail? By joining Mountain-Hiking.com on Patreon, you’re not just gaining access; you’re stepping into a passionate hiker’s world, complete with vivid imagery and personal insights. Get full access to all content on this website instantly and enjoy unique supporter benefits.

When I’m hiking, however, I never think like that. Beating this or that time or effort never crosses my mind. About the only thing I try to do, and only sometimes, is to hike longer so I can hike longer. It’s such a relief to have found such a healthy form of exercise that I find intrinsically enjoyable.

Ultimately, the idea of “soft hiking” serves as a reminder that outdoor activities can be enjoyable and accessible to everyone, regardless of their fitness level or their level of experience. 

Not everyone can hike a mountain. Not everyone wants to hike a mountain. But something all humans need is time in nature — time away from computers and work and homes — a break from our daily lives in spaces that are the original, natural environment in which our DNA is best expressed.

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