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Soft hiking
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‘It’s about being good to yourself’: why TikTok is going wild for soft hiking

Millions of us are hooked on the online trend. So, what’s behind this slower approach to walking? And could it really boost your mental health?

Written by
Megan Geall

Treks, walks and rambles are obviously nothing new, but it’s no surprise that TikTok has come up with a way to re-brand them. ‘Soft hiking’ is taking the internet by storm – and, honestly, we’re kind of into it.

We hear you: not another TikTok term. We’ve survived cottagecore, Barbiecore, the vanilla girl aesthetic and the hot girl strutting (on a treadmill) into our lives, but now there’s a gentler trend in town, and it’s all about taking things at a slower pace. Soft hiking is pretty self-explanatory and not only does it have tons of obvious physical and mental benefits, it’s also a great excuse to take advantage of the UK’s great outdoors.  

‘It’s a hike, but softer,’ says Lucy Hird, co-founder of the Soft Girls Who Hike TikTok account. ‘It’s not about the actual activity of the walk or the hike; it’s about being soft with yourself.’

So what does ‘soft’ mean, exactly? In essence, it means understanding your limits and recognising that they might be completely different to someone else’s. It’s about getting in touch with your emotions in a healthy way, without stepping too far out of your comfort zone.

We’ve survived cottagecore, Barbiecore, the vanilla girl aesthetic – but now there’s a gentler trend in town 

Hird and her friend Emily Thornton started their soft-hiking adventures after they became sick of sticking to the pace of hiking groups. The pair have built up more than 21,000 followers on TikTok by posting videos of their relaxed hikes under the hashtags #softhike and #softhiking, which have garnered more than two million views on the platform.

‘I want to enjoy the hike,’ says Hird. ‘Some people might do a hike for cardio and other people do it for mental health or to connect with nature – that’s my “why”.’ Indeed, defining your ‘why’ is integral to the popularity of the soft-hiking trend. It’s not necessarily about pushing yourself hard in a physical sense; it’s about spending time in nature, taking a break from a busy lifestyle and boosting your mood.

@softgirlswhohike a gentle one today around New Mills including the Millennium Walkway! #peakdistrict #softhiking #softhike #softgirlswhohike #girlswhohike #hyoh #hikeyourownhike #hikinguk #foragingtok #wildgarlic #millenniumwalkway #newmills #folklore ♬ Acoustic Folk Instrumental - Yunusta

It’s no secret that escaping the city and spending a little more time in nature can be good for our physical and mental health. Researchers from the Mental Health Institute in Amsterdam have found that psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression, are up to 56 percent more common in urban settings than more natural ones.

‘Just being outside can have a significant impact on our moods,’ explains Eloise Skinner, therapist and author of ‘But Are You Alive? How to Design a Life’. ‘Hiking is great for helping with endorphin production, which can result in feeling less stressed or low.’ 

I just walked to feel connected to myself again and to give myself space to feel the sadness

It’s those connections with nature that helped Abby McLachlan, an avid soft-hiker from north London, cope with grief after losing her both parents unexpectedly last year. ‘I felt like my anchor to the Earth had been completely cut,’ says McLachlan. ‘I just walked to feel connected to myself again and to give myself space to feel the sadness.’

Thornton and Hird prioritise pausing the hike to appreciate small, silent moments over making it to a particular spot or walking a certain distance in a specified time.

‘There was no wind, no traffic, nothing: it was deathly silent,’ says Thornton about a recent trip to Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Hird adds: ‘For someone with anxiety and if your brain is just going constantly, it’s moments like that where you don’t have to do anything.’

In this case, the trail was advertised on the hiking and travel app, AllTrails, as being three hours long. In fact, it took the pair ten. But that’s the beauty of a soft hike: there’s no pressure, expectation or specific goal to reach.

Two girls hiking on a cloudy day
Photograph: Emily Thornton and Lucy Hird

‘Going on a hike without a specific “goal” or ambition in mind can bring a sense of personal freedom and autonomy,’ says Skinner. ‘Only you get to decide how your hike will look, and you can shape it according to your personal preferences.’

She advises meeting up with other hikers who might share a similar mindset to help cultivate a sense of community. One such community is the GorpGirls collective, which has gained more than 16,000 followers on Instagram by encouraging women to get outside.

Going on a hike without a specific ‘goal’ in mind can bring a sense of personal freedom

‘For me, being outdoors plays a huge part in recharging after a busy week at work,’ says Robyn Arlo, a group member. GorpGirls recently hosted a ‘soft hike’ in the New Forest, encouraging everyone to take things more slowly and talk to each other rather than to walk at speed.

Taking things at a softer pace might not be everyone’s cuppa – but a mellow, chilled-out stroll in nature, allowing time to take it all in and chat with friends certainly sounds like a trend we could get behind. Who knows? Maybe soft hiking will make it as big in 2023 as bike-packing did last year.

Find out more about Gorp Girls and their Annual General Hike with Columbia here.

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