How Hiking has changed in the last century

The black and white pictures of tired people in the mountains wearing heavy woolen-skirts and breeches are a big contrast to today's vibrant plethora of people wearing Gore-Tex in every possible color combination, large backpacks with the fanciest gear and the quickest shades. But there must be a lot more than just our clothing that has changed over the last century?

Words and images by Alice Asplund

I often wonder if people back then had the same type of motivation to hike as we do today. Did they appreciate the amount of physical gain you could have from traversing woods and mountains? Or was it only a means to an end to get from A to B?

There was a big class distinction between those who traveled the mountains one hundred years back. Wealthy townspeople could travel, afford vacations and hikes. Unlike the country people that had to run their farms. Their focus was much more targeted at keeping the wheels turning at home. 

Nowadays, more people now have the opportunity to get outside, and the difference is not what it used to be. 

It is more accessible since our everyday life looks more or less the same regardless if you’re from the city or from smaller towns.

In Norway, outdoors and hiking is a big part of a lot of people’s culture and identity. For some, when they think of Norwegians, they easily draw a parallel to nature and outdoor activities. 

We’re often considered to be a nation that loves the outdoors.

The amount of people in the mountains has increased a lot the last couple of years, be it after nature-driven reality shows like «71 grader nord» where you compete against each other to reach a destination before the other team. To do that you leave behind many kilometers and miles on foot. The interest did not dwindle as social media like Instagram and Facebook became a part of our everyday life. A lot of incredible and beautiful pictures are shared, and they are all a part of influencing us off the couch and into nature and mountains.

Before it was likely more common to do walks in close vicinity to where you live, or at the cabin for those that had one. But nowadays, we can often drive several hours from our home just for one day of hiking without sleepover.

We carry a change of clothes that we swap into before our trip back home, and often carry a lot of equipment in our bags. Every day you can find new equipment, just a little bit lighter, with a bit more robust material, and at the blink of an eye, your backpack is filled to the brim. I personally always have a very specific basic kit that is with me on every trip I make, as a “just in case” kit. Although I almost never actually use it. 

The threshold for jumping on the shopping bandwagon for hiking gear is pretty low. I bet that if the people using the mountains a century ago accidently stumbled upon a time machine and met us on a mountaintop we would have looked like “aliens” to them at this point. 

If people from the 50s-60s suddenly saw us now, it would be a big contrast from their leather satchels compared to our high-tech “infinite” bags of storage. Our Gore-Tex backpacks with rooms and zippers everywhere, water sealed bags and gadgets. Adjustable straps to reduce unwanted pressure when carrying a heavy load of equipment. We really have evolved a lot when it comes to gear, gadgets, and motivation for our hikes, but has it gone a bit too far?

"Perhaps there is a chance to repair the tear in your Gore-Tex jacket instead of throwing it away or buying a new one?"

Maybe we can take a look at what they previously had to appreciate what we have now? They didn’t have nearly as many gadgets as we have today, yet they managed extremely challenging hikes in any form of weather. 

One thing I think we can take from this, and could get better at is, perhaps there is a chance to repair the tear in your Gore-Tex jacket instead of throwing it away or buying a new one? Maybe you don’t have to replace your entire backpack because one of the straps broke, but rather replace that specific part.

A lot of brands offer repair, and I hope people use this service as often as they can instead of purchasing all new equipment.

It all boils down to the fact that today’s gear helps us to get outside, regardless of physical attributes. 

You can repair all your Norrøna products, just click here

Another factor I think has changed a lot over the last years is the trash we carry and how we treat it. 

Around the 90s, a saying emerged in Norway that calls for “Sporløs Ferdsel” and it goes something like: “Leave nothing behind” or “When we leave our campsites, the nature should be as we found it” that probably made a lot of people more aware about littering in the nature, as well as trying to leave no traces when traveling in nature. 

Fortunately, nowadays, we are more aware of the environment, pollution, and what effect this has on our planet. This also involves food that nature can not process and break down on its own. 

The fact that people pick up litter they find on hikes, even though it is not their own, I think is a very nice gesture.

The most obvious thing that hits me when we compare hikers before and now is the amount of gear we bring. 

Our clothes are in general supposed to protect us from all kinds of harsh weather, as well as to help us regulate body heat. 

Before, hiking clothes were crafted from more natural materials, for example knitted wool, sweaters, and wool tights. They used cotton jackets and shoes, belts and backpacks made of leather. Everything you wore in nature, came from nature. 

Adventurous Norwegians crossed Greenland only wearing this type of clothing, that ought to say something about the effect of nature made clothes. Though this must have been a heavy load for them to carry.

Nowadays a lot of the clothes we wear on hikes are made of oil and membranes that make our clothes weather and water sealed. 

We have everything from shell-jacket and pants, ultra-light mountain shoes, super wool, technical underwear, fleece, hats, and gloves in oil textiles such as acrylic, polyester, and polyamide. 

Our clothes are light, and we rather dress up in several layers instead of hiking with one thick wool-sweater that would probably make us sweat and get cold as soon as we stop. 

Our gear load is less, sits more neatly on our body and therefore makes our hikes an easier goal for everyone. We also know from research that to be outside in nature gives us more energy, a better mental health and more quality of life, something I believe is a large motivator for a lot of people to spend more time in nature.  

And with that in mind, I will strive, and hope you will strive as well to re-use what gear we can and keep our nature as clean as it can be for the generations to come.

Alice Asplund

Alice is a Norwegian “outfluencer” whose main goal is to inspire others to get out into nature and try new activities to achieve better self-esteem. She does different activities, though her main sports are splitboarding, hiking with her dog-buddy Aria, climbing and trail biking. 

Follow Alice on Instagram

1 thought on “How Hiking has changed in the last century”

  1. What a great article! I really think that more and more people become aware of the effects consumerisem has on our planet and on our mental health. We don’t have to buy the newest Gore tex jacket to have a great hike. The hike can be just as good in our old jacket. Connecting with nature takes us back where we belong.

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