Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Hiking Alone: Understanding Fear, Negotiation Strategies and Leisure Experience

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Hiking Alone: Understanding Fear, Negotiation Strategies and Leisure Experience

Article excerpt


Women's participation in athletics and outdoor pursuits has increased 250% since 1977 (Women's Sport Foundation, 1997). According to the Foundation, the most popular women's fitness activities today include exercise walking, swimming, biking, aerobics and working out in the gym. Over 11 million women participate in hiking and backpacking. More women hike than play softball, basketball, tennis or golf (Cordes & Ibrahim, 1999). Despite the popularity of hiking among women, Chasteen (1994) found that 33 out of 35 women interviewed claimed they would never hike alone in the woods because they would feel isolated and vulnerable to attack by a man. These findings suggest that many women may limit their participation in solo hiking due to perceived fears. Trimble (1994), himself an avid hiker, explores the paradox of female socialization and relates what women have told him regarding their fears:

Cultural barriers and fears keep many of our daughters away from the woods and the fields. Tomboys are acceptable only until they reach the threshold of adolescence. Then they are told they must climb down from the trees they love and act as a proper lady. At this point, young women begin to live within a paradox. They are taught to spend their time attracting men but they are also taught to fear violence from men. As a result women may crave solitude but many fear being alone on the landscape. Over and over, they tell me they feel vulnerable; they feel danger-not from the land, but from men. They fear violence and never quite forget about its most disturbing expression: rape. (pp. 60-61)

Because of fear of attack by a man, many women may forego the health and fitness benefits, the opportunity to be close to nature, the chance for personal renewal, and the experience of self-reliance that solo hiking provides. Other women negotiate these fears, adopting a mix of wary attitudes and proactive safeguards. They change their behavior or their mindset to make a place feel more secure (Whyte & Shaw, 1994). Finally, some women may experience little fear while hiking alone. They recreate freely in the out-of-- doors, selecting places to recreate based on personal preference. But research suggests they are in the minority (Chasteen, 1994).

Women who experience fear while hiking solo are not alone. Men also talk of fears they experience while hiking solo. However, the type and intensity of fears that affect the male solo hiking experience have not been explored in the literature. Through an exploratory study design, this paper examines the type and intensity of fears hikers experience when hiking alone. In addition, the paper identifies the range of strategies solo hikers employ to negotiate their fears, feel more secure, and enhance their overall enjoyment of the solo hiking experience. Finally, this paper examines how these fears and negotiation tactics influence the leisure experience of solo hikers.

Fear, Negotiation Tactics and Leisure Experience

Research from a number of applied social science disciplines has shed light on how people experience fear in outdoor settings. In the leisure research field, research examining leisure constraints (Crawford & Godbey, 1987; Crawford, Jackson & Godbey, 1991; Mannell & Kleiber, 1997) and recreation conflict (Schneider and Hammitt, 1995) have explored how fears and coping behavior affect the leisure experience. Also, research examining women's roles and perceptions of leisure have contributed insights into how women experience fear in leisure settings and how these fears affect the quality of the leisure experience (Henderson, 1990; Henderson, 1996; Hender-son and Bialeschki, 1993; Whyte and Shaw, 1994). In addition, important research contributions have been made by feminist researchers from sociological and geographical traditions in their study of women's fears and negotiation strategies in public places (Koskela, 1997; Lupton & Tulloch, 2000; Mehta & Bondi, 1999; Moore, 1994). …

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