Democratization of Hiking

The last year has seen tremendous change and stress throughout our society. Many people have found a new outlet for their stress in the great outdoors. Trails, parks, campgrounds, lakes, ponds, and marinas are all crowded with excited new faces. Many of the newbies are finding their way to the outdoors through the myriad of apps and blogs that are so easy to find right at their fingertips. It is a process I call the “democratization of hiking.”

democratization of hiking
New Hikers Enjoy the Sunset

In todays age, there is an App for everything, and just about every self-professed expert has a blog (just look at me!). Apps such as All Trails rely on crowd sourcing of trail data to offer huge selections for their customers to chose from. Blogs and YouTube channels offer suggestions on the latest hotspots to visit and the best places to go take selfies. These developments allow individuals get out in the wilderness and “choose their own adventure”.

The Problem with the Democratization of Hiking

I don’t think this is a good change in the community. People with little or no experience shouldn’t be exploring on their own. When there is no qualifying bar for bloggers or app developers to create content, it is much easier to get attention when your expertise is in communications or graphics rather than in wilderness skills. While there seems to be a lot of information out there, a lot of people are heading into the woods with just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

democratization of hiking
Scouts learning to read a map

We want you out here, just do it right!

In the old days, kids grew up in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or other programs and learned wilderness skills like trip planning, navigation, first aid, dressing in layers, and how to get “unlost.” Adults joined clubs like AMC or ADK, which have more recently been greatly supplemented by Meetup groups like Hudson Valley Hikers.

These organizations gave people a safety net in which to learn and gain experience before exploring on their own. They also helped to indoctrinate people into an existing outdoor culture that included themes like protecting the environment, personal preparedness, and service – such as volunteering to maintain trails or other facilities.

democratization of hiking
Group Hiking with Hudson Valley Hikers

The proliferation of apps and online knowledge bases is great in that it helps to distribute information and provide people with exposure to what is available to them. However, these innovations are encouraging people to circumvent the traditional development of outdoor enthusiasts and disrupting the indoctrination into our culture.


I highly encourage newbies to the outdoors to learn on their own and to use all of the tools available to them to gain as much knowledge as possible. But I also encourage you to join a club and explore the outdoors in group setting before venturing off on your own. Sure, you can learn by making your own mistakes, but it is a lot less painful to learn from the experience of others.

Happy Trails!