What Is 'Soft Hiking'? The Viral Movement Making Trails More Accessible

Is your daily life a little lacking in the sunshine and exercise departments? You're not alone. Most of us could stand to spend a little more time outdoors, plus a lot more time moving around. As an easy way to meet both needs, you may have considered trying out a nearby hike β€” and this is a great idea. Combining the physical and mental perks of exercise with the health benefits of spending time in nature, hiking is a fantastic outlet for anyone hoping to transition into a more active lifestyle.

But β€” intentionally or not β€” there can be a sense of competition and even gatekeeping in the hiking community that intimidates novice athletes from joining in. For instance, you may see more experienced hikers' fancy gear and feel inadequate or get embarrassed if you aren't able to keep up with a fast walker's grueling pace. As a result, it can be tough to incorporate hiking into your wellness routine without feeling like an out-of-place wannabe.

But hardcore hikers and fitspo influencers aren't the only people who deserve to leave tracks on nature trails, and more casual hikers are starting to carve out their own niche. With an upswell of support on TikTok, a movement known as soft hiking is redefining the requirements for outdoor athleticism. Spoiler alert: There are no requirements. Rather, this empowering philosophy is all about inclusivity, positivity, and enjoying hikes in whatever way is most meaningful to you.

The origin of soft hiking

Taking a leisurely stroll through nature isn't exactly a new idea. But in an athletic landscape where hikers can feel pressured to define themselves by the distances they've traveled and the brand name on their boots, the term "soft hiking" seems like a much-needed rallying point for people who want to reimagine their time outdoors.

TikTokkers Lucy and Emily, who share the account @softgirlswhohike, reportedly coined the term themselves after looking for a way to take up hiking on their own terms. "We've been on hikes before with seasoned hikers, and we just felt we weren't good enough, strong enough, or fit enough to keep up," the duo explains in a recent video on TikTok. "We realize we had different motivations β€” and while their reasons are not wrong, it's just not for us. Ours is simply to enjoy ourselves."

It's no surprise that soft hiking is gaining traction online. Putting any idea of competition or challenge on the back burner, soft hiking makes getting out into nature less intimidating and more accessible to people who want to enjoy a walk without pressure. As Soft Girls Who Hike, Lucy and Emily are receiving a lot of excited and grateful comments, showing that their philosophy is resonating with their audience. "I'm disabled. I'm ambulant, but I use a walking stick and tire out from pain very quickly. This video has given me a lot," comments TikTok user Jess.

Commenter Sophyska adds, "Yes! This is why I've always been afraid to go on the local girls hiking group outings. I'm not as fast but love having a bimble up some hills." As this trend gains steam, more and more viewers seem eager to get involved. Fortunately, it couldn't be easier to start your own journey into soft hiking.

How to try out the soft hiking movement

If you're interested in trying soft hiking for yourself, the first thing to do is to recognize the goals of a nice nature walk and remove any sense of urgency from your internal monologue. "It's not about pushing yourself to the limit," say Lucy and Emily. "Soft hiking is about the pure joy of spending time in nature and moving your body. It's important to take breaks, eat, and actually take in your surroundings."

Think about what would make soft hiking most rewarding for you. Choose a hike that you're interested in, even if it doesn't seem challenging. Not every walk has to involve scaling a mountain. Then pick out comfortable clothes that you'll enjoy moving around in, even if they don't look impressive or like professional hiking gear.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks and water. Pack a whole lunch, if you want to, and take time to enjoy a mid-hike picnic. When soft hiking, it's important to fuel both your body and soul with sustenance that makes you feel good. If you have a miserable time during your walk, you'll be discouraged from going out again.

Finally, don't compare yourself to other hikers you meet on the trail. They may approach the walk in a very different way, and that's okay! Ultimately, the goal of soft hiking is to open up the world of nature walks to anyone who wants to get involved. As far as this trend is concerned, hiking doesn't have to be about tracking your heart rate, counting calories burned, or setting new records for height climbed or distance traveled. Instead, soft hiking lets each person define success for themselves. As Lucy and Emily proudly report, "Slowly, we have learned that we are capable hikers, too."