An Unapologetic Defense of Listening to Music on the Trail

Holy crap. Hiking is so boring. I'd never finish a hike solo if I wasn't listening to something on the way up.

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August 9, 2017

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I've always been confused about articles that rail on people listening to music outdoors and on trails, and never really got how people I talked to were so against being made aware of another group's presence by a small speaker. To be fair, I've never really put much effort into understanding their point of view because they're wrong. Like, so wrong. There are certain objective truths out there, which kind of lead me to believe that there are objective falsehoods. Granted, there are probably a lot more objective falsehoods out there, so it's not surprising that so many people have stumbled upon this one.

 "I had to use the thesaurus to find out what the opposite of truth is." - James Hueser, 8 August 2017


It's probably best to start this off with a list.

Already I can hear people screaming at the top of their lungs about how terrible of a human being I am. That's really too bad: I can't hear them over my music. I don't know how I'm going to convince the world that listening to music on the trail isn't the second-worst act you can commit against a human-being (first being asking if they've ever heard of TED Talks), so I might as well channel my inner BuzzFeed and create a list. Too bad I already used the heading format before this paragraph, so forgive me. 

"Your Only Options for Entertainment While Hiking"
- Talking to hiking pals (unless you have zero hiking pals like me, please skip to point number 4 if this is you)
- Singing (obnoxiously, obviously) with hiking pals
- Making any kind of noise with hiking pals 
- Listening to nature (silence)
- Listening to the storm that's rolling in (run)
- Walking in silence (this is like listening to nature, but super important so I wanted to list it twice)
- Think about your life (HARD. PASS.)
- Fail to not think about your life (specifically every single regret)
- Think of dank memes to post when you're back in service
- Daydream about that perfect Snap selfie (extra points if you can think of a caption to use for Snapchat and Instagram)
- Walk in silence
- Resent people you walk by who are listening to music (they're obviously not in touch with nature enough)

Hiking. Is. Boring. Full stop. And I hike a lot. I might even say I love hiking. This is how you can tell I'm being truthful.

 @shotgun_jim on Snapchat and @backby5 on Instagram (extra points) 

Let's get real: is hiking with partners really so great?

As mentioned in my thorough list which has undergone extreme vetting (that was a shot, Americans), I've done a ton of hiking solo. This means I can leave when I want, hike what I want, set the pace I want, and also gives me the satisfaction that I'll probably leave whatever animal eats me hungry since I'm not even 1 full portion - half at best. The other good thing about hiking alone is that it has really opened my eyes to how boring I am, how dull hiking can be, and particularly how much harder hiking is when I have nothing else to preoccupy myself with.

This is where hiking partners come in - obviously the answer to me being as dull as a rock is to hike with people. I may not be the best conversationalist, but I like to think I can keep a conversation going by asking just the right thought-provoking questions ("and how did that make you feel?"). This part of the hike is great. And then I realize just how hard walking up hill FOR HOURS ON END is when you're also trying to use your mouth hole to inhale and exhale around any conversation.

 "Any conversation" is just code for which hikes you've done recently - or ever - because we're all just trying to be cooler than everyone else. 

I've had a lot of really good moments when the group I'm hiking with (never more than 5 total - too many cooks in the kitchen) suddenly breaks into song (basically anything by The Killers), and we all jam out. Until I lose my breath. Or the song ends. Or sometimes we keep singing whatever comes to mind. It's actually really fun. But CAN ANYONE TELL ME HOW THAT'S BETTER THAN LISTENING TO ACTUAL MUSIC? ACTUAL RECORDED-BY-PROFESSIONALS MUSIC? If your answer is that it's better because it's just a bunch of people having fun, if you hear these people in the woods, you should hate them. I hate myself when I'm one of them. It's ok, we know we're loud. We know you'd prefer not to hear it. But we'll also be gone and out of earshot within a few minutes.

 This is Perry. Perry hates people who listen to music on the trail. Perry is misguided. Perry is wrong.


So I actually just made my point, probably too early and now I can't figure out how to incorporate the rest of what I wanted to say, but... my point being that no matter how much artificial or natural sound that a group is making, they're going to be in your life for mere minutes. And it might make their trip a bit more fun, or a bit less monotonous. It might even spark your stoke for your hike (again, anything by The Killers will get me AMPED). Why can't we all just chill out and let people enjoy nature the way they want to? Whether I'm washing dishes, editing photos, or out hiking, music gets ingrained on every aspect of my life. I associate memories with songs, and often use music to set the mood for a hike or to fuel my psyche. 

I'll end with one major disclaimer: if you find yourself being genuinely disturbed by a person's music and not just curmudgeonly (I've been a member of the Young Curmudgeons since 2006, so I'm allowed to say it), just ask them to turn it down or turn it off. If they don't want to, just passive-aggressively start speaking louder and louder until you end up shouting and driving them off. Works best if you're alone.

And obviously I can't end without an actual list, so here are some of my personal favourites to listen to while sucking air and trying not to give up for 7+ hours a day.

7 Things to Listen to to Drown Out the Noise of Wheezing

1. Anything by The Killers

This isn't an album or track name - if you've made it this far, you know I'll tear it up to The Killers. The best part about The Killers is that everybody loves The Killers (again, please queue up for any complaints). I'm pretty sure it's because When You Were Young was on Rock Band and quickly cemented itself as one of the Top 10 songs in the universe ever. 

2. Explosions in the Sky

No secret that I'll listen to an album or 4 during a hike or car ride. Maybe the people who don't like hearing music on the trail (are evil) don't appreciate the (how do I format` sarcastic ostentation?) lyrics ruining the ambience. Not only do Explosions never have lyrics, there are so many beautiful tracks that have only added to the experience for me.

3. James Vincent McMorrow or Bon Iver

Do people still use the word "hipster" as an insult? Show them that you DGAF about what they think and drop some sweet, sweet jams on them. Groove to some mellow and emotional beats of JVM, or let Bon Iver paint a picture of the landscape in your mind - these smooth falsettos will add layers and layers to the sonic landscape.

4. Soundtracks

Kind of on the same wavelength as post-rock, if soundtracks are good for studying, why can't they be good for extended periods of silence as well? Not only will people think you're a nerd when they hear Concerning Hobbits coming out of your pants pocket, but they'll A. get psyched, B. sing along, and C. give you a glance as you pass that can only be described as someone realizing just how cool strangers in the mountains can be. All in all, a win-win

5. Classic Rock

Now, another disclaimer: I don't trust anyone who just listens to classic rock, but that doesn't mean I don't dig it when I hear it either. The only reason I bring this up is that I was at a crag on a hot summer morning, and I started to hear CCR echoing through the canyon. While not ideal to blast music when you need to be communicating with someone 30 metres above you, it really got me stoked. It was the perfect addition to a chill (but hot) summer day. It was shut off, like, 2 minutes later - likely by people who asked it to be shut off or turned down. See? People can be nice and respectful if you just ask!

I already kind of regret putting this one down, but I really made my point too early and this article was lacking anecdotes.

6. Podcasts

I tend to listen to podcasts when I'm hiking alone and just keep one earbud in, but if you're listening to it out loud, all the power to ya. It's basically like talking to a hiking friend, except if the conversation was interesting.

7. Anything you want

I think a lot of people get triggered when they hear the Biebs in the forest (probably because they think he's actually there and they forgot to bring along their life-sized cardboard cutout for him to autograph), but - again - those people are just wrong. Music is music is music and it's part of being human. Make sure that you're kind and respectful to people you meet on the trail, but most importantly, you do you.

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.