Backpacker Magazine posted an interesting poll on their website: If indoor hiking were possible, would you be interested? Apparently the answer was a pretty clear NO with about 80% of respondents saying it was a horrible idea. Indoor hiking may sound far fetched but in fact there are indoor analogs for most other outdoor sports including mountain biking, rock climbing, and even kayaking and golf.
Mountain bikers have embraced the idea of indoor riding, naming Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park an International Mountain Bike Association “Epic Ride.” Of course mountain biking requires both skill and stamina but indoor tracks are mostly geared toward building only the skill side of the equation.
Rock climbers have long used indoor climbing walls to hone both skills and strength but I’m sure if you asked them most would agree they prefer climbing natural rocks outdoors. Parents recognize that indoor rock climbing surfaces are much safer than shifting natural rocks so for many young climbers indoors is the only option.
Kayakers also use indoor facilities to practice their water moves but I’m sure most kayak enthusiasts would agree outdoor kayaking is much more interesting. After all, kayaking is all about getting where you’re going and in a pool, that’s no where.
Golfers do hit balls at indoor screens showing virtual courses though you don’t see too many outdoor course owners worried about the competitive threat 🙂
All of this leads back to the original question: does indoor hiking make sense? Is it even possible to capture some part of the hiking experience with an indoor facility? What would it look like? Here are three ideas:
- Most REI stores have small faux rock ramps in their shoe departments for customers to test new hiking boots. Although I wouldn’t call this indoor hiking, it does replicate a small part of the hiking experience. Although skills are not overly important in hiking, an indoor course could teach the basics or allow buyers to put products through their paces.
- Virtual reality. Indoor mountain biking and rock climbing are pretty low tech affairs where participants stare at the walls and ceiling while doing their thing. But what if, instead, indoor hikers were treated to full wrap around, moving outdoor scenes? Hook up a treadmill with a bumpy tread and vary the incline, blow a little air and/or mist and watch the screens to be transported to say, Kilimanjaro or the Amazonian rain forest. This vision would be more like a ride than an outdoor experience so perhaps this is would be better suited to theme parks…
- Caving is hiking in 3D but it’s also basically hiking indoors, especially in caverns with commercial tours, snack bars, and artificial lights. Most commercial caves do in fact have doors on their entrances so *technically* spelunkers are hiking in-doors 🙂
Now, back to the original question: would I try indoor hiking? I’d probably say no to the idea of virtual reality hiking and hiking skills courses but then again I never say never!