Debating Backpacking as a Sport: Exploring the Pros and Cons

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

Spend a few days backpacking and you will quickly learn that it is not for the faint of heart. I have enjoyed many trips abroad with nothing more than just the backpack on my back. While grueling (it is definitely an excellent workout and exercise), backpacking is actually a lot of fun. With that being said, I got to thinking after my most recent trip and a pertinent question came to mind: “is backpacking actually a sport?”

Should backpacking be considered a sport?

Six compelling reasons for and against

Why Backpacking should be a sport:Why Backpacking should NOT be a sport:
1. Backpacking is on-the-move weightlifting.1. There is no need to physically train to go backpacking.
2. You need to be fit to backpack.2. There are no official backpacking competitions.
3. Team spirit is rife when backpacking.3. Backpacking doesn’t require a healthy diet. 
4. Personal bests can be beaten every time.4. You can take it easy when backpacking (there is no rush).
5. Specialized gear is required for backpacking.5. Backpacking is largely considered a holiday activity.
6. Each country is a type of trophy to a backpacker.6. There are no physical medals, trophies, or awards for backpacking.

Before you can decide if you think backpacking is a sport or not, you need to think about what a sport truly is. When you think of a sport, what comes to mind? Does backpacking fit into that particular category in your head, or doesn’t it? In order to make the decision easier for you, let’s take a closer look at each of the reasons for and against backpacking being a sport so that you can decide for yourself.

6 Reasons Why Backpacking is a Sport

Let’s define what a “sport” is to you and most people. To me, the definition of a sport is something that gets my body moving, my heart rate soaring, and connects me with people of the same mindset. If backpacking does not fit this description perfectly, I do not know what does. Below is a breakdown of each of the 6 reasons why I think backpacking should be considered a sport. Check them out:

1. Backpacking is on-the-move weightlifting (I think so at least).

If you do not think that backpacking is anything like weightlifting, you have probably never backpacked for very long. As a backpacker you will quickly learn that the backpack seems to get heavier with each passing hour – at least mine does. And what’s more is that you will have to put it on and take it off at multiple points throughout the day. You can expect a good workout while backpacking; trust me!

2. Backpacking demands fitness.

You do not have to be fit when you start backpacking, but you will have to become fit if you want to keep backpacking in the future. Backpacking can be quite demanding physically, especially if you are traveling with a large group that enjoys a fast, steady pace. It is even more demanding if you haven’t been able to master the art of traveling light. The good news is that the more you backpack, the fitter you will get and the easier backpacking will become. Which sounds very similar to a sport, doesn’t it?

3. Team spirit is rife.

Team sports are all about camaraderie, togetherness, and being in a squad. If you want to be in a team that is working hard towards a common goal, backpacking could be it. Whether you’re backpacking with a group of friends or touring with a group of strangers, you can expect there to be a strong sense of team spirit, which is very similar to team sports.

4. Backpackers can always beat their personal best.

Backpacking presents a few challenges that provide opportunities for self-improvement. When backpacking, you can always try to beat your personal best in all areas. For instance, you can try to beat your personal best for:

  • The speed at which you can pack and unpack the backpack.
  • The most distance that you have covered in a single country.
  • The number of friends that you make on a trip. 

The list of potential “personal bests” seems endless.

5. Backpacking requires specialized gear.

As all sports do, backpacking requires the correct shoes, clothes, and protective gear. As a backpacking sportsman, you will need the following items (this is just a basic list): 

  • Hiking boots/trainers
  • Map or map app
  • Water bottle
  • Food 
  • Waterproof backpack
  • First Aid Kit
  • Tent if you plan to camp
  • Sleeping bag
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Light, breathable clothing

6. When backpacking, each country is a “trophy”. 

Just like sports pros are proud of their achievements, so are backpackers proud of their travels. Sports professionals are proud to earn the medals and trophies they receive when competing in competitions, tournaments, and matches. Backpackers are proud to pass through and explore each country on their travel list. 

To a backpacker, each stamp in their passport is a type of trophy or medal to be showed off and remembered. Some backpackers collect items in each country as a type of trophy too. These items include anything from coasters to postcards, bottle caps, and hotel pens, to name a few.

6 Reasons Why Backpacking is NOT a Sport

Of course, there are also some pretty compelling reasons why backpacking is not considered a sport. Some of these reasons are below:

1. Backpacking requires no physical sports training. 

Before you go backpacking, you do not need to go for lessons or do any training sessions. There is no real need to be in peak physical condition when you go backpacking. Being fit will be highly beneficial to the comfort and ease of your trip, but it is really not essential. On the other hand, official sports require a participant to learn the rules, practice, and maintain a certain level of fitness training.

2. There are no actual backpacking competitions.

The Oxford Dictionary defines sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment“. In this regard, it is a little clearer why some people do not consider backpacking a sport – there are no actual competitions involved. 

3. Backpacking does not require a healthy diet.

Any sports pro will tell you that a healthy diet is absolutely essential to overall performance. While a sport requires its players to be as dedicated to the diet as they are to playing the game, backpacking requires no dedication to a healthy diet or dietary adjustments. You might prefer to eat a healthy diet and be fit enough to get around with ease, but it is not a requirement.

4. You can take it easy while backpacking.

Backpacking does not involve any strict guidelines like sports do. When playing a sport, there are rules to consider and stick to. It’s quite different when it comes to backpacking. In fact, backpackers are prone to wandering destinations at their own pace. Backpackers are often considered to be “happy wanderers” and this is one of the best things about backpacking as it allows you to really take it at your own pace. You can backpack as slow or as fast as you want to and there is absolutely nobody to answer to regarding that. 

5. Backpacking is considered a holiday activity.

When you think of backpacking, what is the first thing/thought that pops into your mind? If you ask a group of people what backpacking is, they will probably tell you that it is a type of holiday activity. No matter which way you look at it, a holiday is not a sport. Backpacking is often thought of as a holiday travel style and that does not really fit into the definition of a sport either. 

6. You will not get an actual medal for backpacking.

When playing a sport and doing well, you are provided with a medal, trophy, or some sort of award. While most travelers view their passport stamps as trophies, there is nothing quite like getting the real thing (a trophy). No matter how many countries you travel to and how good you get at traveling them, you will not receive an actual in-the-flesh trophy or medal. That, too, makes it very different from a regular sport. 

Backpacking: Sport or Not?

When it comes to determining whether backpacking is a sport or not, the reasons for and against can be quite compelling. While I would personally say that backpacking is not a sport in the traditional sense, there is no denying that it can put the body through its paces. The best way to determine whether backpacking is a sport or not; is to decide what it is to you. Do you backpack as a sport, or are you merely backpacking for cost savings and a sense of adventure? What is backpacking to you?

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He covers topics like spirituality, philosophy, finance, sports, games, and food. JC earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business with a Marketing Concentration at Mercyhurst University. He is a certified USPTA professional who teaches tennis in the New York City Metropolitan area. He has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.