There is nothing more freeing than being out in nature. Except, perhaps, being out in nature...completely naked?
This somewhat niche activity encourages hikers to shed their skivvies and experience nature in its purest form, unrestricted by the burden of clothing and peer judgment. What’s more, it has its own informal holiday to celebrate the joys of hiking Adam-and-Eve-style: Naked Hiking Day.
Survey - Attitudes Towards Naked Hiking
Before I get into details of why you might want to shed your clothes on the trail and how you might best go about it, I was really curious about public attitudes towards nude hiking. So in May 2019 I asked America the following multiple choice question:
June 21st is "Naked Hiking Day". Which of the following statements best describes your attitude towards naked hiking:
- It's fine, I have no problem with it
- It should only be allowed in specific places
- It shouldn't be allowed anywhere
- It sounds fun!
I polled 1,505 adult Americans between 24th and 27th May 2019 through Google surveys, weighted to account for Age, Gender and Region, with the answers displaying in a random order.
Here’s the result:
35m People Think Naked Hiking Sounds Fun!
The first thing I noticed was, although the least popular option, nearly 15% of Americans think naked hiking sounds fun. That equates to 35 million people!
25% of Americans Think Naked Hiking Shouldn't Be Allowed
On the flip side, nearly 25% of people think it shouldn’t be allowed anywhere. When I broke that down by demography, there wasn’t much difference based on Gender. The Midwest and the South were more inclined to ban the activity than the North East and the West. The biggest indicator however, was age: nearly 35% of over 65s thought it shouldn’t be allowed, while just 18% of 18-24 year olds felt the same way.
75% of Americans Do Not Have A Negative Attitude Towards Naked Hiking
With 25% of the population outright against naked hiking, that means that 75% are at least relatively accepting of it. This aligns fairly closely with the regular polling conducted on behalf of the Naturist Education Foundation which consistently finds strong support among Americans for those wishing to pursue “clothing optional” activities.
On one hand, given the high-profile convictions for women sunbathing topless in recent years, these attitudes might come as something of a surprise. And yet, the idea that nudity is viewed as a personal right is perhaps less of a surprise in a country that places such a high value on individual choice.
And while I’m certain we won’t see 35m bare bodies on the trail come Naked Hiking Day, I hope the following article might prove useful to those who would like to experience the freedom of being au naturel in nature...
What is National Naked Hiking Day?
Each year, Naked Hiking Day is observed on June 21 - the mark of the summer solstice. This holiday is just one of the many offshoots of the nudist tradition that include biking, rafting, rock climbing, and even skydiving.
Touted by outdoor enthusiasts as “one of the best ways to free the soul,” naked hiking is an experience you’ve got to try. And no, it doesn’t have to be on the official holiday, either!
When Did It Start?
Naked hiking is not a new concept, and while it’s more common in Europe than in the United States (Germany, for example, now has several trails that are designated specifically for birthday suit wanderers), it has unclear origins. Outdoor writer Colin Fletcher wrote about his experiences hiking naked in the Grand Canyon and along the Pacific Crest Trail, an experience that gave him a lot of respect among fellow hikers.
There are rumors that this holiday may have originated in Europe - possibly the United Kingdom, based on the highly publicized experiences of The Naked Rambler, Stephen Gough, in 2003. However, this is unlikely as German and French nudist tradition has a history dating back way, way further than the early noughties.
In the US, most naked hikers agree that this tradition probably has origins on the Appalachian Trail.
How Many People Participate?
It’s hard to say exactly how many people participate in Naked Hiking Day each year, mostly because it’s one thing many naked hikers choose to keep under wraps for fear of being stigmatised. Some groups, like this one reported on by the Bangor Daily News, have over two dozen members and advocate for Naked Hiking Day in earnest.
There are other groups on Facebook, like the Naturist Society, that have well over 20,000 members. You can even find meetup groups all over the country whose sole purpose is to connect you with fellow naked hikers.
It is believed that National Naked Hiking Day originated as a tradition for thru-hikers embarking on multi-month treks cross country. As a result, some of the most popular places to engage in this tradition include the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Cascade Mountains in Washington, and most trails in Southern California.
Why You Should Try Naked Hiking
There’s no better feeling than that of the sun shining down on your skin. Hiking naked will increase your body’s absorption of vitamin D, which will in turn reduce your risk of diseases like heart attack and stroke.
In addition, hiking without clothing reduces the constriction of your garments, which can be itchy, hot, and difficult to walk in. You’ll be more comfortable in your own skin - which in itself will be less likely to have clogged pores, rashes, and irritation because your sweat evaporates rather than saturating your clothes and chaffing. (Reducing friction like this is relatively commonplace with Atlantic rowers, for example).
You might sleep better and you’ll definitely feel a closer bond with your hiking buddy!
Mental Health Benefits
If you’ve ever struggled with body image (which - face it - most of us have) naked hiking can be a great way to boost your self-esteem. You can connect with nature and better appreciate your body by seeing how it functions and supports you. Even more importantly, you’ll feel a greater sense of reverence for nature.
Wait...Isn’t It Embarrassing?
Many people decry the idea of naked hiking out of a fear of public humiliation. However, the reality is that people aren’t afraid of being naked in front of strangers per se, they are frightened of being judged. (Perhaps the findings of my survey suggest this is less likely than one might imagine).
Be prepared with sunblock, bug repellent, and water. Most of all, feel confident that you are genuine and unique, that there is nothing to hide; we are all works of art in nature’s garden...
Here’s the solution to your mental holdup. Just about any naked hiking enthusiast you find will argue that hiking in a group of naked hikers is more freeing and less stressful than hiking naked by yourself. Why? Strength in numbers.
Joining a group, like the American Association for Nude Recreation, can help you break free of the mental blocks that have you eschewing naked hiking. These groups have agreements with local authorities and also have plenty of insight on the best places to unwind outdoors (in the buff, of course).
Is Naked Hiking Legal?
If you really think about it, at one point in time, clothes were nonexistent in any kind of outdoor activity. Our ancestors weren’t worried about modesty and wandered around all day completely nude.
However, today’s laws about naked hiking are a bit less clear. Neither the United States Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management have any specific laws regarding public nudity, nor do the national parks. That being said, most states do have laws about indecent exposure.
But wait - when it comes to indecent exposure laws, there’s even more ambiguity. While every state has a law about indecent exposure, the terminology for each is cloudy. While some states ban indecent exposure outright, others have more specific wording that ban nudity only if it has sexual undertones.
The bottom line here? County and local officials have the authority to deal with public nudity as they will, and usually only issue citations if your nudity presents some kind of a hazard to others. Still, it’s worth a call to your local jurisdiction just to make sure, as some areas’ penalties for indecent exposure can be quite serious.
1. Go in a group
2. Hike a trail you know will not be busy
3. Stick to public lands like National Forests & Parks and certain state lands where nudity is not illegal (like Oregon)
4. Carry shorts or other cover-up for trailheads and crossing roads
5. When you encounter textilists don’t panic! Smile and say hello.
How To Do Naked Hiking Properly
Tips for Comfort
If you’re cautious about hiking naked, you’ve probably got some pretty valid reasons. However, there are some simple tips for comfort that you can follow to help take some of the pressure off. After all, naked hiking should be fun and enjoyable - not stressful.
Make sure you wear plenty of sunblock and cover all of your parts with sunscreen. Even on a cloudy day, sunburn is a real risk. You might also want to consider carrying some clothes with you in case the sun gets to be too much, or in case you need to traverse public areas like road crossings or trailheads.
If you do encounter “textiles,” or people hiking in the “traditional” clothed sense, don’t panic. Your objective in naked hiking isn’t to offend anyone, so you don’t need to worry about doing so. Instead, just smile and say hello before carrying on your way. That being said, if you’re concerned about encountering (and potentially shocking) others, it might be best to hike a trail that you are fairly certain will not be busy.
And remember, hiking naked is a great way to free yourself - but you shouldn’t be totally free. You still need to hike with supplies like plenty of food and navigation gear. As with hiking fully clothed, you should bring at least one other person with you for help if needed.
[EDIT: I'd originally assumed that chafing might be an issue. But according to Dave Smith, President of AANR-NW, participants in the annual "Original Bare Buns Fun Run" say clothing is much more likely to be a cause of chafing].
1) Timing is everything. A trail that may be a perfect choice on a weekday or late in the day may be a terrible choice on a weekend or in the middle of the day due to the number of textiles you can anticipate running into.
2) Sometimes out-and-back trails are safer than loop trails. If you get to the only parking lot of an out-and-back trail and yours is the only car, you can be pretty sure that you will have the trail to yourself in the outbound direction. But you need to be more careful on the return trip. .
3) Choose a remote trail (or wait to strip off until you are quite far from the trailhead). People who have made the effort to get that far from civilization are often more tolerant.
Controlling Bugs and Insects
Naked hiking isn’t meant to be unsafe. Hiking boots are more than allowed, and sunscreen is emphatically encouraged, as is bug repellant and plenty of water.
While you’ll want to remember that certain hazards are more pressing with naked hiking, such as the increased risks with exposure to poison ivy, you’ll be more aware of other risks. Ticks, for example, are easier to detect when you’re wearing fewer clothes (which don’t do much to keep ticks out, anyway).
Insect repellant is a must, because you don’t want to find yourself itching in awkward places. Clothing can help keep out mosquitoes, so removing that extra layer will expose you to additional bites. However, a little bit of bug spray can go a long way here.
Joining a Group
You can find naked hiking groups all over the country, particularly in well-traveled areas like the Grand Canyon and various national parks. It’s recommended that you join a group that is well-versed in the ins and outs of naked hiking, and that you stick to public lands like national parks and forests.
Other safe hiking spots are state lands where nudity is not illegal, such as Oregon. Avoid destinations like Arkansas, which is one of the most restrictive places to be in the buff. It’s a good idea to hike during the week, as there are usually fewer people on the trails on a Tuesday than on a Saturday. Early morning is another prime time.
And, of course, you can always travel abroad. In Europe there are loads of naturist clubs. You can always touch base with local chapters of national organisations, or you can connect with the community through websites run by enthusiasts (like NudistUK in the UK).
We’re all unique, and there’s no better way to showcase that individuality than by heading out for Naked Hiking Day this year.
After all, at one point in time, we had nothing but ivy leaves to cover us up, and we certainly didn’t have clothes weighing us down in the hot summer sun.
You’ll be able to enjoy the feeling of the sunlight and cool breeze on your bare skin -and to finally relish your freedom outdoors- as you experience this once-in-a-lifetime event.