Words: Caroline Sandry

You know running is a fantastic way to get fit, burn kilojoules and blast fat, but perhaps you didn’t realise that walking can have a significant impact on your fitness, too. I recently spent a week on a hiking retreat in Verbier, Switzerland, and discovered just how challenging it can be!

High up in the Alps, in a beautiful, picture-postcard setting, lies the Equilibrium fitness retreat. Its regime consists of nutritious, low-kilojoule food combined with hard-as-you-like hikes, yoga and some bootcamp-style circuits thrown in for good measure, to ensure weight loss, increased fitness, and a detoxified and revitalised body and mind.

What is hiking?
Hiking is an outdoor activity, which consists of walking on hiking trails or in areas of natural beauty, such as mountains or coastal paths.

Where can you do it?
You can go hiking almost anywhere in the world, with the added benefit that it’s a year-round activity.

Why do it?
Training outdoors benefits the mind as well as the body – getting back to nature is therapeutic and can help relieve stress. In terms of physical benefits, hiking will challenge both your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, tone your legs and bottom, and burn heaps of kilojoules.

How does hiking compare with running?
Hiking is much lower impact than running, and hiking up steep hills and mountains can really challenge the anaerobic energy system, improving your fitness, burning kilojoules and increasing your endurance.

What are the fitness benefits?
Hiking will strengthen your bottom, hips and thighs, and if you’re using poles (used for Nordic walking), you’ll also get a great upper-body workout – particularly the backs of your arms (triceps) and upper back (lats). As the duration of a hike is typically longer than a run, you’ll have a higher kilojoule burn and develop good levels of endurance. As with any sport or activity, the more effort you put in, the greater results you can expect.

What’s the most enjoyable aspect?
For me, as well as the physical challenge, I enjoy being away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Putting on a backpack, switching off the mobile phone and taking to the hills is wonderfully de-stressing. If you love nature, being outdoors and getting a good workout, hiking will be for you. And if you’ve never been that way inclined, but want to improve your fitness level or lose weight, then it’s definitely worth giving it a try. You never know – you might get the bug and start spending your weekends in outdoor shops, planning your next trip!

Best foot forward – Things you may not know about hiking

Hiking can be an excellent form of interval training.

Heli-hiking involves getting dropped off in remote locations that are only accessible by helicopter.

Mountain hiking will tone and strengthen your bottom (glutes).

It’s not all about nature! Try “urban hiking” and get to know a new city.

Fancy naked hiking? Yes – this does exist! Also known as “free hiking”, this is an active form of naturism. Just watch out for biting insects!

Hiking must-haves

  • A decent rucksack – ensure it fits snugly to your back, so it doesn’t bounce around.
  • A camel bag, for easy access to water.
  • Snacks – apples and bananas always go down well.
  • A lightweight waterproof jacket.
  • An extra base layer.
  • Decent walking boots.
  • Plasters (in case of blisters).
  • Sun cream and lip balm.
  • A heart rate monitor