Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Why Hiking? Rationality and Reflexivity within Three Categories of Meaning Construction

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Why Hiking? Rationality and Reflexivity within Three Categories of Meaning Construction

Article excerpt


In Norway, "hiking" consists of leisure trips conducted on foot during the summer and on cross-country skis during the winter. Thus, hiking or strolling trips are based on the use of the human body and are enacted without motorized vehicles. A trip may take less than an hour, or it may take many days. Hikers typically go through forests, or into mountain areas, or pass through landscapes that to various degrees bear signs of human influences from present or earlier activities. In Norwegian, hiking is talked about as "going on a trip" (gå på tur).

Hiking constitutes an important part of outdoor activities in Norway and is part of what Norwegians call friluftsliv (literally "free air life"). Dunlap and Heffernan (1975) distinguish between two types of recreational activities: Hunting and fishing are consumptive activities, while hiking is among the activities labelled appreciative. Besides hiking, many other activities may also be labelled appreciative outdoor recreation, for instance, picnicking or sun bathing on a lawn or a beach, or activities involving the use of motorized vehicles.

In contrast to some outdoor sports, hiking does not imply any formalised competition (Olwig 1995). Hiking must also be distinguished from activities implying substantial modifications of the landscape by arenas and installations, such as those for downhill skiing or golf. There are also significant differences between hiking and a wide range of outdoor activities requiring more specialised skills, for example mountain base jumping, climbing, dog sledding and off-road biking (Bischoffand Odden 2002, Mæland 2004).

A recent national survey shows that as many as 82% of the adult population (age 16-74) went hiking on foot in 2004, and 50% went cross-country skiing. Altogether, 95% of the population was involved in at least one type of outdoor recreation (Odden 2005). Although almost every Norwegian goes hiking sometimes, social differences can be found. An unpublished study by the Norwegian Trekking Association (Den Norske Turistforening) provided an image of the typical mountain hiker as a person with higher education who comes from Eastern Norway (thus, most likely an urban dweller), and who works in the public sector (cited in Pederson 1995). Furthermore, Pedersen (1995) has found gendered patterns, with women tending to go on shorter hikes than men, on hikes closer to home, and together with family.

Norway is not at all the only country in which hiking is a popular leisure activity. Odden (2008) has compared existing survey data about walks among adults (age 16-74) in six countries and found that although Norway ranks first, this activity is common in the other countries, too. In Norway, 95% of people hike, in Denmark the figure is 92%, in Sweden it is 87%, and in Finland it is 81%. These figures included people who answered that they had been out on walks at least once during the prior twelve months.

For cross-country skiing, Norway and Finland are on the top of the list of countries with survey data on this activity with 48% and 46% participation, respectively. After that comes Sweden (29%)), Austria (17%), Canada (17%), Switzerland (15%), and finally, the United States (4%). Sweden, Norway and USA are the only countries with relatively long time series data on walking. Over the last decades, all of these show growth in walking (Odden 2008).

This paper addresses the question of why people enjoy hiking. In order to understand this, it is necessary to investigate what constructions of meaning hikers themselves make. In the broad field of leisure studies, one of the approaches is to make "modernity" the context in which leisure occurs and evolves (e.g. Rojek 1995, Wang 1996, Kuentzel 2000). In some of the recent studies of Norwegian outdoor activities, modernity also constitutes a central reference for several scholars (e.g. Pedersen 1995, Riese and Vorkinn 2002, Tordsson 2003, Bischoff and Odden 2002, Skaar and Odden 2008). …

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