Live in a City? How Urban Hiking Can Give You an Outdoorsy Fix

By Bethany Johnson in Healthy Feeling

The word “hiking,” usually conjures images of mountain ranges, dirt paths, and lush greenery. But what if you live in a concrete jungle and communing with nature isn’t an option? Easy: go on an urban hike.

Urban hiking combines the best of the outdoors with some of your city’s greatest sights. Like a traditional hike, you get the health benefits of walking—advantages that involve boosting the immune function, counteracting weight gain, and diminishing joint pain, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School. Plus, you’ll get to discover new areas and neighborhoods that you may never have explored otherwise.

boston hike

To get the most out of your hike, you have to prepare. Here are four ways you can make urban hiking work for you.

Equip Yourself

Just because you won’t be on a rugged forest trail doesn’t mean you should skimp on gear. Concrete is much harder than dirt, so borrow or invest in a solid, comfortable pair of hiking boots and well-cushioned socks. You want to bring a small backpack so you can keep plenty of water and snacks handy while you walk. Also, make sure to pack a lightweight jacket with reflective material so motorists can see you. Finally, leave room for a small travel umbrella just in case.

Review the National Institutes for Health’s Safety Tip Sheet for hiking in urban areas to ensure you’ve thought of (and prepped for) every scenario.

Plan Ahead

You can start your hike by simply heading in whatever direction catches your fancy, but to really make the most of it, plan ahead. Use a mapping mobile app like the one from the National Park Service to strategize your walk and what you’d like to see while you’re out. Play the tourist and visit local monuments, historical sites, and other places of interest. Consider adding in a couple stops at hip local eateries to try something new.

Up the Ante
Stairs SF

While you may not have hills or mountain trails in your city, you can still boost the cardio effect by taking stairs as often as possible. These concrete hills are sure to get your heart rate up and mimic the climbs you would expect in a wilderness setting. In my city, many of the monuments have multiple sides of stairs, so we can hustle up one side and down another. We also occasionally dip into the big public lobby of government buildings to get in a marble flight or two before moving on. If you’re feeling really adventurous, plan an urban hiking trip to a city that’s known for its varied topography, like San Francisco.

Run with a Pack

Many cities now boast active urban hiking communities. Getting involved is a great way to blaze new trails. It’s also a chance for you to add your personal spin to the local hiking scene. Don’t have a city hiking community in your area? Start one! Creating an urban hiking community doesn’t just benefit your peers, but it can also be an effective way to get at-risk youth involved in an activity that builds stamina, resilience, self-awareness, and problem-solving skills. According to Michigan State University, collaborative partnerships between youth and adults can strengthen communities and help build leadership skills. So not only would you be getting your nature fix, but you’d be simultaneously investing in the next generation. That’s a win-win.

When the urge to get out and move your body strikes, don’t bemoan your urban setting. Make the most of it by preparing well, boosting your effort, and encouraging others to join you. Send us pictures of the cool things you find during your hike on Twitter.

Image sources: Pexels | Wikimedia Commons | Flickr

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

Hiking has always been known as a feel-good activity, so it can be discouraging when you live far from uninhabited hills or isolated trails. Instead of getting down about it, take charge and try urban hiking. Your body will feel better from the movement, sure, but so will your mind, since you'll know you're not letting geographic circumstances slow you down.