How Hiking Can Impact Your Mental Health

I love to hike.

There’s something special about the feeling of pebbles under your boots. Or, the way dampened grass mats down beneath you as you cut through a meadow. The sense of touch.

The sounds of the bridge’s planks creaking while you crossover a rushing river, and the babbling stream against the sandstone riverbed. Birds will call out above you and the cicadas make music for their day to day dance. The sense of sound.

The visuals cannot be matched, as you gain elevation you will literally watch as the clouds form around you. Cities will become small, and treetops will become your new carpeting. The sense of sight.

You can taste the fresh air. Your breaths get shorter and more frequent as the oxygen thins around you, yet somehow, you are encapsulated in the truest form of freedom. The sense of taste.

The air smells of pines, wildflowers and rain. the raindrops flee past you as they race their way to the ground, though sometimes they take the long route and travel sideways with the wind. They carry all of the wonderful scents that nature has to offer, neatly packed into tiny water molecules. The sense of smell.

Hiking Appeals To All Of The Senses

Recently, I watched a “Ted Talk” about an experiment to create a new type of clock that was conducted by two researchers.

One man created a clock that would read time based off of shadow positioning, similar to a sundial. This clock only appealed to the sense of sight.

The other man created a clock that had multiple magnifying glasses. As the sun would rise and set throughout the day it would reach a point where it hit each magnifying glass. Those magnifying glasses would then beam the sunlight into a shot glass containing essential oils that would heat up and release a scent. People would be able to tell time based on the sense of smell, and also based on looking at which magnifying glass the sun was currently lighting. This clock appealed to two different senses; smell and sight.

What made the second clock so much better than the first? The stimuli. Also, what does that have to do with hiking?

Luckily for us, hiking appeals to all of the senses, providing a multitude of stimuli to respond to, which has been proven to effect the brain’s healthy chemicals. Serotonin, especially.

Smell – Pleasing smells reduce stress.

Taste – Eating natural foods such as trail mix (without added sugars) increases well-being and mindfulness.

Touch – Sometimes, you just need to feel some sunlight on your skin to boost your mood.

Sound – The acoustics of the great outdoors are what people evolved to hear. They are usually more subtle and less dramatic than sounds from inside the city. The decibel range is quite low. Many of today’s auditory disasters, are man-made.

Sight – Without mentioning the obvious views, let’s talk about something else that acts as an energy booster. The hiking community is genuine. Many times, it’s full of friendly people you may come across. As people seek peace in the outdoors, they generally respond to others in a peaceful light to match their surroundings. You may come across something as small as a hiker smiling as you trek past. This elevates your mood.

Engaging Mindfulness While Hiking

If you use your five senses to respond to stimuli around you with mindfulness, you’ll find that you’re happier. To engage in mindfulness you’ll want to practice grounding techniques.

As an example:

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – This exercise requires you to name five things you can see, four things you can physically feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This exercise helps you to shift the focus of your anxious mind away from the thoughts that may be causing you to feel anxious. Repeated use of this exercise can help you to reframe negative or harmful thought patterns.

With hiking, you’re able to practice techniques such as the one above without even realizing it. Because no two hikes will ever be the same you’re constantly shifting your thought patterns, problem-solving, and allowing your creative juices to flow.

You can also participate in fun ways to learn, another great grounding technique.

Things like plant identification can make the hike more enjoyable and adventurous, you can read about some of the common ones you may see in the United States, here:

Botany For Hikers

Releasing Serotonin

Immediately after you begin your hike, your brain will release serotonin, also know as the happiness hormone. This chemical is even more effective because you’re senses are stimulated. Think of it as “keeping your body in as healthy a state as possible”, because your mind doesn’t know what to expect next, it preserves your health in preparation, including your mental health.

It’s been proven in studies that moderate exercise results in a happier lifestyle, and hiking provides that exercise without feeling like a chore. After all, you’re simply going for a walk to get a good view, right?

Stanford University released a statement that, “being in the great outdoors reduces anxiety and leads to lower risk of depression.”

This study also noted that hiking helps to calm the portion of your brain that dwells on bad thoughts.

“Outdoor exercise has a direct correlation to greater feelings of positivity and energy and fewer feelings of tension, anger and depression.” -Environmental Science and Technology Journal.

Burning Calories For Your Mental Well-Being

Let’s face it, when we’re out of shape, we don’t feel good. We don’t feel good about ourselves and we don’t feel good about our lifestyle.

I know.

I’ve lived it.

For a long time I sold myself on the idea that I was happy with my way of life. It involved very little exercise, if any at all, and sedentary hobbies. In hindsight, I was nowhere near as happy as I am now that I’ve become active. I learned what the outdoors had to offer and it changed my life for the better.

This has helped my general thought processes greatly. I think in a much more positive, silver-linings way, and I really appreciate that I was able to discover this at a young age.

What Are The Top Benefits Of Hiking For Your Mental Health?

To wrap this post up I want to summarize some of the benefits acquired by hiking. If you have others that you’d like to see make the list next time, let me know by commenting below; or, send an email to

Happy trails!

1: It Reduces Stress

2: It Makes You Happier

3: It Will Boost Your Self-Esteem

4: It Strengthens The Brain

5: It Decreases Negative Thoughts

6: It Increases Your Endurance

7: It Delivers A Creative Outlet

8: It Harbors A Friendly Community

9: It Presents The Most Memorable Views

10: It Challenges You

This post was written by Evan

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Thanks for reading, hiker!

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Founder of HykLyt. Backpacker. Mountain biker.

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