Over the last several decades the sport of hiking has become increasingly more popular. According to the latest Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, 11.4% of all adults in the United States participated in hiking in 2013. But the burning question to a modern-day trekker such as myself, is when did people take to the trail for pleasure? Ever since our predecessors began walking on two feet humans have used bipedal mobility to hunt, explore, migrate to another territory, or trade goods with another community. At some point we as humans figured out that there doesn’t have to be a utilitarian reason for walking. We discovered that joy can be found by simply traipsing through the woods, seeing wildlife in their natural habitat, admiring the beauty of a wildflower, marveling at the roar of a waterfall, or soaking-in the awe-inspiring views from a mountain top. Is this a recent phenomenon, or was this something that humans always had a natural urging for? Here are a few of the key milestones in the history of hiking that’s led to its popularity today:
~3300 BCE: In 1991 two German tourists found the mummified remains of “Otzi, the Iceman” at roughly 10,530 feet in the Ötztal Alps along the Austrian–Italian border. Although scientists aren’t sure what this 5000-year-old man was doing at that high elevation, there are some that believe that Otzi may have been one of the first hikers or mountaineers.
125: The 2nd century Roman Emperor, Hadrian, hiked to the summit of Mt. Etna on Sicily to see the sunrise.
1778: Thomas West, an English priest, published A Guide to the Lakes, a detailed account of the scenery and landscape of the Lake District in northwestern England. The guide helped to popularize the idea of walking for pleasure and “to encourage the taste of visiting the lakes by furnishing the traveler with a Guide”.
1786: The beginning of modern mountaineering is marked by the first ascent of 15,771-foot Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in the Alps.
1799: Williams College (of Massachusetts) President Ebenezer Fitch and two others climb Mt. Greylock.
1830: A crew of 100 students and professors from Williams College blaze the Hopper Trail to the summit of Mt. Greylock. Later that same year students would build a wooden tower atop the same mountain. The tower was maintained into the 1850s, and was used for sightseeing and scientific observations.
1854: The beginning of the systematic sport of modern mountaineering as we essentially know it today is marked by the ascent of the Wetterhorn in the Swiss Alps by Sir Alfred Wills. His book, Wanderings Among the High Alps, published two years later, helped make mountaineering fashionable in Britain, and ushered in the systematic exploration of the Alps by British mountaineers These events also marked the beginning of the so-called “golden age of alpinism”.
1857: The world's first mountaineering club, the Alpine Club, was founded in London.
1863: Professor Albert Hopkins of Williams College founds the Alpine Club of Williamstown, the first hiking club in America. The stated purpose of the organization was “to explore the interesting places in the vicinity, to become acquainted, to some extent at least, with the natural history of the localities, and also to improve the pedestrian powers of the members”
1872: Yellowstone becomes the world’s first national park after legislation is signed by President U.S. Grant.
1876: The Appalachian Mountain Club, America’s oldest recreational organization, was founded to explore and protect the trails and mountains in the northeastern United States.
1876: Newtown, England entrepreneur Pryce Pryce-Jones designs the "Euklisia Rug", considered by many to be the forerunner of the modern sleeping bag. The rug included a wool blanket with a pocket at the top for a sewn-in, inflatable, rubber pillow. Once inside, the camper (or soldier) folded the blanket over and fastened it together, thus keeping themselves “snug in a rug”.
1879: One of the first hiking clubs in England, the 'Sunday Tramps', was founded by Leslie White. These early “rambling” (English for walking) clubs sprang up in the northern areas of England as part of a campaign for the legal "right to roam", a response to the fact that much of the land in England was privately owned.
1922: Lloyd F. Nelson submits his application to the U.S. Patent Office for his "Trapper Nelson's Indian Pack Board", which is acknowledged to be the first external-frame backpack. The "Trapper Nelson" featured a wooden "pack board" as its frame. On the frame was a canvas sack that contained the hiker's gear, which rested on the hiker's body by two canvas shoulder-straps. Prior to his invention hikers used a rucksack, which was essentially a loose sack with shoulder straps.
1930: The Green Mountain Club completes construction of the Long Trail, making it the first long-distance hiking trail in the United States.
1948: Earl Shaffer becomes the first person to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail.
1967: Climber Greg Lowe invents the internal frame backpack. The “Expedition Pack” also featured the first adjustable back system, first side compressors, first sternum strap and the first load stabilizers.
1969: Bob Gore accidentally stretches a solid polytetrafluoroethylene tape by almost 800%, which forms a microporous structure that was roughly 70% air. The discovery was introduced to the public under the trademark of "Gore-Tex", which became the first breathable, waterproof, and windproof fabric.
1992: Ray Jardine introduces the concept of ultralight backpacking with the release of his book, The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook. During his first PCT thru-hike Jardine’s pack weighed just 25 pounds. By his third it was less than 9 pounds. “Ray’s Way” of thinking has led to several innovations that have benefitted both backpackers and hikers.