Outdoor enthusiasts will have noticed the rapid growth in a new style of trail-running – speed-hiking.
Speed-hiking - also called fast-packing or sometimes rapid hiking - is changing the perception of outdoor activity, combining elements of trail running and traditional hiking into an exciting hybrid embracing performance, fitness, and speed.
The sport’s pioneers have set the bar high, with elite practitioners covering up to 40 miles in a day. One leading exponent, Matthew Hazley, stunned the emerging sport by conquering the 7,525-mile Triple Crown of the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and Appalachian Trails all in one season.
Their achievements are inspiring a new generation of fast-packers, attracting people from all backgrounds, fitness levels, and age groups.
By packing light, wearing performance-focused attire, and training yourself to add speed to your gait, you can turn any traditional hike into a speed-hiking adventure.
So find an amazing trail, summon up your inner grit, and get involved with this incredibly accessible sport that has just as many benefits for the mind as it does for the body.
What are the benefits of speed-hiking?
Speed-hiking reveals new worlds, taking hikers further than they would have ventured before. Hiking at pace vastly increases the area you can cover, the sights you can see, and the adventures you can enjoy alone or with friends.
The inclines, declines, and obstacles of the outdoors present an ideal outdoor gym that simultaneously builds core and leg strength, agility, and endurance.
Powering your way through muddy plains will test the mettle of any experienced walker or runner, while zipping up imposing gradients delivers an adrenaline-piquing pump for your quads.
But what is attracting so many to speed-hiking is how these physical gains are earned not while staring at in the inner walls and mirrors of a gym, but the epic vistas of the trail.
Brushing a hand through long grasses, stumbling across unexpected flora and fauna, and feeling the wind on your face will reinvent what could have been a wearisome workout into an unforgettable experience.
Compared to road running, speed-hiking has other benefits to offer. Running puts the knees and ankles under a lot of stress, whereas an up-tempo hike reduces the heft of the impacts while strengthening muscles across the entire body.
Carrying a pack and using poles activates a range of major and minor muscle groups, from traps to tibialis anteriors. Your entire body is used to drive you forward, not just your legs, giving you a complete workout.
How do I get started in speed-hiking?
The best way to begin your speed-hiking journey is to set yourself a challenge. Identify a fantastic trail and give yourself a goal for completing the route in a time that will push your pace.
Once on the trail, be it a mountainside, country dale, or woodland, make a conscious effort to quicken your steps.
Identify several target split times along the route, and try to make each waypoint in good time.
You may need to work on upping your pace, even before your first speed hike foray, and this can be done at any time. Most people have a natural walking place which they often replicate while hiking.
Accelerating your natural stride can take practice, so use everyday walking as a training opportunity by quickening your steps and developing a faster gait.
Once you hit the trail, you’ll have already programmed yourself to walk with more urgency, giving you a big advantage for speed-hiking success.
What speed-hiking gear do I need to get started?
Speed-hiking has very different demands compared to traditional hiking. Your added speed requires a much lighter pack, while the heightened level of activity means more breathable, performance-focused clothing is a must.
Responding to the growth of the sport, manufacturers have already launched speed-hiking ranges, tailored to meet the needs of mountainside surges, decline dashes, and grassland gallops.
These include fast-climb jackets, trousers, shorts and shirts, hybrid mountain trainers, speed-focused boots, lightweight carbon poles, and fast-pack packs designed for the pared-back outdoor pursuit.
Wiggle has a vast selection of speed-hiking gear, providing easy access to the necessary equipment for those looking to get started, right up to the cutting-edge kit for the seasoned pro.
Speed-hiking shoes and boots
For quick movement over rough terrain, you’ll need sturdy but nimble footwear capable of navigating slippery rocks as easily as sticky mud. They need to be hard-wearing, waterproof, as well as comfortable, breathable, and light - a tall order for a simple shoe, but some of the best on the market have managed to meet the complex challenges speed-hiking presents.
The Hedgehog Fastpack GORE-TEX boots from The North Face will help you get a grip in all conditions - whether its hardened soil or slippery rock.
Built for versatility, the Litewave Fastpack Gore-Tex shoes are lightweight and offer support and durability, ideal for a speed-hiking weekend.
The Hedgehog Fastpack GORE-TEX boots for women from The North Face are purpose-built for speed-hiking, with large lugs providing grip for additional speed while offering full protection in all weather.
The high-performance, fast-hiking FT18 GTX Shoes are extremely light and pack a punch, offering unrivalled durability, support and waterproofing.
Light and breathable but with enough brawn to handle a mountainside, the jacket you take on your speed hike adventure must cope with the discipline's addition of speed while using latest technologies to triumph over the demands of the trail.
Berghaus' Fast Hike Jacket is ultra light, compact-able, and ready to go straight into the action while defending you from the elements.
A highly technical wind- and weather-resistant jacket for climbing, hiking, and scrambling, the Super Chockstone™ Jacket excels above and below the treeline.
Lightweight, waterproof, and packable, Berghaus' Fast Hike Jacket is packed with features, while its breathable fabric, insulation qualities, and excellent ventilation is perfect for an aggressive clamber across even the most unforgiving landscape.
Speed-hiking trousers and shorts
While careering through those passes and fells, you'll need materials with strong sweat-wicking properties to ensure you remain comfortable and chafe free over the distance.
Tough fast-packing at alpine elevations has never been easier with these dedicated fast-climb trousers featuring Kevlar reinforcements and ventilated panelling.
Full of technical expertise, these tough and durable Chockstone trousers feature excellent stretch for increased mobility when climbing, backpacking, or speed-hiking.
Icebreaker's Women's Comet Shorts are an extremely lightweight short with technical advancements that make them perfect for summer speed-hiking adventures on the trails or in combination with tights for cooler climes.
Designed for the trail, Icebreaker's Strike Lite Shorts are technically-advanced and comfortable, providing breathable support in even challenging conditions.
A set of top-notch hiking socks is essential to reduce rub, help your feet breath, and stay comfortable throughout your mountainside dash.
The T3 Women's light hiker is a versatile and technical sock built for warmer months and is guaranteed to keep your feet dry and protected on any speed hike.
The Lorpen T3 Light Hiker is a lightweight sock ideal for keeping your feet protected on non-winter hikes and uptempo treks.
The Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles are Black Diamond's lightest Z-Pole. Ideal for mountain endurance runners and equipment-conscious adventure athletes, the Distance Carbon Z Poles are the ultimate in folding pole performance, while their lightweight construction makes them ideal for a speed-hike.
Thanks to its Coolmax Extreme fabric, BUFF Headband is designed to effectively wick moisture from your forehead when you sweat during a strident adventure on the mountainside.
The Hikelite is simple yet effective, featuring durable materials, packed with features with a high level of comfort, offering great value for an excellent and super-light pack.
A versatile rucksack with up to 20 litres of storage capacity and an ultra-lightweight but tough desig, the Berghaus Fast Hike allows you to adventure at speed.