The first written account of a European climbing a mountain merely for pleasure appears to be by Petrarch in 1336. Why was such an account so long in coming? Historians tell us that from the Judeo-Christian tradition came a view of mountains and wilderness as an embodiment of evil to be conquered and subdued. Mountains were likened to the Land of Canaan: filled with dark savagery and ungodly immorality. Clearly the historians have missed the point. People didn’t climb mountains for fun because so few of them thought to do it Nude!
I have become an unabashed advocate of nude hiking. I’ve been day hiking and backpacking all my adult life, but when I started doing it nude a few years ago, I was changed forever.
There is not much that can beat the physical and psychological satisfaction of hiking nude up a long, hot, sunny alpine trail, of finding an icy, glacier-fed lake, of quickly jumping in, of leaping out even faster, of bragging to any Gray Jay that will listen of your superhuman ability to withstand the most Arctic of water temperatures, and of baking dry on a nearby flat piece of warm granite. Such activities were meant to be enjoyed nude, and I encourage all men and women to experience them.
I’m repeatedly amazed at the quizzical responses I get when I tell people that I–or my wife and I–just got back from a nude hike up a river trail to a distant peak. “Don’t the bugs get to you?” “Don’t your `privates’ get scratched by the brush?” “You must have one nasty sunburn!” “What if somebody sees you?” “Couldn’t you get arrested?”
I tell these people that in ten years I have had only one person go so far as to voice a brief objection, and that I have never had any more problems with the flora and fauna than I have had when dressed. Try it, I tell them, you’ll like it. If nothing else, hike clothed out to the middle of nowhere. When you get there leave all your clothes in a secluded spot and bravely walk naked 100 yards in any direction. By the time you return you will have had an epiphany that will change your life.
To encourage naturists to get out into the great alpine outdoors au naturel, I offer the following twelve suggestions. My goal when hiking nude is to have a good time, and to do so safely, lawfully, without any lewd behavior, and in such a manner that I and my companions will most likely be alone. My experiences arise primarily from hiking in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, but these suggestions should apply to hiking nude in any alpine setting.
(1) Hike on weekdays, if you can. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have weekdays off to go hiking, but the crowds are smaller then and it is much easier to get out by yourself. If you are limited to hiking on weekends, then select trails that are seldom used.
(2) Avoid trails that normally have plenty of children. Parents are going to be protective and cautious. People who might normally respond with a chuckle when you pass them by with a “howdy do?” can get downright surly if they think that their children are somehow threatened. It’s best to avoid the confrontation if at all possible. Besides, the best trails are not going to have many kids on them anyway. If young children are common on the trail, then the trail is not likely to be much of a wilderness experience.
(3) Select trails that have only one trailhead. Usually trails that go to a peak have only one route to the top and “dead end” there. If there are no cars at the trailhead, you can be fairly sure that there is no one on the trail yet.
(4) Get an early start in the morning. If you are the first one on the trail in the morning, you will probably be alone for at least the first part of the day. Ascending the trail in the morning is the best part of a nude hike, since you get to see more animals in the early part of the day, the sweat from the uphill climb can evaporate pleasantly off your skin, and as long as you have a good pace you can relax knowing that no one will come down to meet you and no one will be catching up to you.
Coming down in the afternoon, of course, you might meet up with some people. Keep in mind, however, that they are hiking uphill and are probably tired. They will not likely have the energy to do anything but return your cheery greeting as you scamper down the trail. You’ll be gone before they realize what they just saw. Play it by ear, though; some people will actually envy your freedom and won’t mind a brief conversation.
(5) Know the area in which you are hiking. Know where the trails are going. Know if there are houses, active fire towers, logging operations, or relay stations on the trail. It can be awkward to blithely walk nude down a trail only to abruptly find yourself at the door of a Lutheran retreat house. Worse is to run into a work crew of loggers who associate outdoor nudity with a sexual orientation they are not particularly tolerant of. Get to know your trail system first, then you can choose the appropriate place to hike nude.
An option nude hikers (and mountain bikers!) have in abundance in the Northwest is clearcuts. Many clearcuts are gated and are not presently in operation. If you can determine that such is the case, either by calling the timber company who will usually be glad to provide the information or by scouting the area out ahead of time, you will have miles of lonely roads to explore. With the gate locked shut motorized vehicles are not likely to be in the area; and since clearcuts afford less than ideal scenery, you are not likely to meet any other hikers. I have many times been able to hike and ride my mountain bike nude all day long in clearcuts and only rarely have met anyone out there. And just in case someone is wondering: no, there is no distinctly male problem guys face while biking even the roughest of logging roads nude.
You should also become familiar with the kind of people that you are likely to find on the trails. There are some wonderful hiking trails along dirt roads near where I live but when I repeatedly explored the area with an eye to future nude hiking I decided that it would not do. The people I encountered there were more interested in getting drunk and throwing trash around. They did not seem like the type of people I would feel safe meeting on the trail if I was nude.
On the other hand, there are areas that are roadless and thus open only to folks who are willing to exert some energy to enjoy the outdoors. Here, if I meet people on the trail, it is more likely that they will be more understanding of someone who just wants to enjoy nature fully. Since they have been walking all day, they will probably be pleasantly tired, and will not have the energy to be too offended. They will more likely be in a frame of mind to appreciate the satisfaction you are experiencing hiking free of sweaty clothing.
(6) Know the law for your hiking area as it pertains to nudity. Fortunately, if you are on a remote alpine trail, the chances are high that you are breaking no law by hiking nude. The responsibility is yours to determine whether hiking nude is illegal or not, but as long as you are in a remote area you are not likely to find a ticket-wielding ranger, let alone a police officer.
(7) Know the bothersome plants and animals in your area. Go to a bookstore and buy a field guide. Ask people who really know the area you wish to hike. Occasionally there will be a plant or animal that is worth knowing about. In the Cascades we have plants called Stinging Nettles. They are not dangerous, but if you brush one with your bare skin it can give you a severe irritation for a couple of hours. I have never been “stung” by them because I know what they look like and have successfully avoided them.
Perhaps you have a particularly nasty ant, spider, or wasp in your part of the country. If you know what they look like and where they are likely to be found, they can be avoided. Over the years I have been stung a few times while hiking by various bee-like critters, but it has almost always been while I was dressed. The one time I was stung nude was when I inadvertently grabbed a bumblebee and squeezed. The sting to my hand hurt, but soaking it in an icy cold pond took most of the discomfort away.
I do have a friend who was bitten right on the tip of his penis by a horsefly. We had just come out from a swim and he was relaxing on a rock. His ensuing gyrations left me in hysterics. Unfortunately this was not the worse part of the day for him. After putting some clothes on he later tripped, fell, and broke his glasses. While blindly trying to get around another lake he slipped, fell into the water, and impaled his thigh on a branch. I had to pull a chunk of wood the size of a large finger out of his leg and bandage it up with a bandanna. Just before we reached our car we were comforting ourselves by noting that we had at least not been stung by yellow jackets. At that very moment we began to feel an odd tickling on our legs. Looking down we saw that we both were standing in a nest of the very beasts spoken of. We couldn’t help laughing later as we counted the dozen or more mild stings we each had on our legs.
(8) Take what you need. On any hike you should be sure to take along enough supplies to be safe. Any decent hiking book can give you advise on this score. Hiking nude requires a bit more thought. You will need extra sunscreen, and since you will not have a shirtsleeve to wipe your forehead or clean your glasses, you might want to carry a bandanna to use as a sweat rag. You can also dunk the bandanna in a cool stream and wear it on your head for some natural refrigeration if the day gets too warm.
I often carry my cotton shorts in my hands as I walk. If I’m in an area where there may be people, sometimes it is more convenient to quickly slip the shorts on when I hear them coming. Be sure that the shorts slip over your boots easily or you will look truly foolish hopping around on one foot buns to the wind. By carrying my shorts I can also use them in lieu of a bandanna.
I suggest that you carry a small tube of Vaseline if you go on a long hike. Even if you are a seasoned naturist, walking nude for five or more miles can be a new experience to the tender skin inside your upper legs. Once it’s rubbed raw, the rest of the day is likely to be unpleasant.
Two years ago I went for an 18 mile nude hike and found that after ten miles a small portion of my thighs was beginning to burn from the constant rubbing. I applied a bit of Vaseline and that seemed to help matters considerably. It mattered not that my legs were in good hiking shape; the skin was usually protected by pants and was not used to a long bout of abrasion.
(9) Hike smart. Avoid prolonged exposure at high altitudes. If you spend too much time nude at 10,000 feet (and the temptation is certainly there in the Sierra, if not the Cascades), you are asking for a dangerous burn. Likewise, be cautious of nude travel across snow or glaciers. Those late spring days are gloriously warm and the footing may be stable, but an hour on sunswept snow can ruin a great trip.
Another temptation is to continue to hike nude once you get to a difficult spot on the trail. If you have an icy traverse to make, or if you need to walk on steep, loose talus, ask yourself this, “Can my bare butt survive a fall here?” Be sensible and put your shorts on until you get to easier walking. Everyone takes a tumble from time to time, and nude friction descents are simply no fun.
(10) Look for signs of recent trail use. To decrease your chances of running into people be alert for fairly obvious signs of recent travel along the trail. You do not have to be Daniel Boone to determine that if you are breaking quite a few spider webs across the trail (I know, but just don’t think about it), then there has not been anyone along that trail hiking in your direction for quite a while.
Look at the still puddles. Would they be muddy if someone recently had walked or drove over them? Are they muddy now? Test one by stepping in it. How long does it take for the water to return to the way it was? Draw some reasonable conclusions.
As you walk up to the peak, are there only two sets of identical footprints in the dirt or snow, one set going up the trail, the other going down? Probably someone has gone up and has already returned: you’re alone.
Check the trail register if your trail has one. It won’t guarantee that someone is not ahead of you, but it can tell you that someone is.
As you hike clothed up a trail you can always ask the people you meet who are coming down whether they saw anyone else up the hill. Everyone understands the desire for solitude and will readily let you know if you are about to face a crowd or not. The information can tell you whether it’s a good opportunity to continue on nude.
(11) Whenever possible hike in a group of mixed gender. It is frustrating but true: too many people think that a lone nude woman must want sexual attention and that a lone nude man must be a pervert. I think that as more people meet confident, cheerful nude hikers, this ridiculous delusion will slowly fade.
Part of the advantage to hiking in a mixed group is the security that comes with numbers. But the guys gain an extra advantage. Nothing makes it easier for a nude man to inadvertently run into people on the trail than having a woman–clothed or unclothed–with him. Somehow the response people have is radically different. Once they see that his female companion is cheerfully enjoying her hike with him their initial apprehension dissipates. They see a woman who they think should appear nervous in the presence of a naked guy, but who in fact is relaxed. Perhaps, they begin to wonder, their initial response is unwarranted.
Whenever I am hiking nude with my wife the few chance meetings with other people have always been cordial. Upon encountering people we quickly greet them lightheartedly, perhaps even making a joke about my being nude, and start talking about something else: the length of the trail, suggestions for a good swimming hole, or whatever comes to mind. Before they realize it they are having a perfectly comfortable conversation about perfectly normal things with a perfectly nude man and his relaxed companion.
(12) Retain a cheerful and relaxed attitude. Put yourself in the textile’s place. You are walking along, not expecting to see anyone, and a naked stranger appears in front of you. This is a weird situation. The best thing that you, as the naked hiker, can do is to smile, look like it’s the most ordinary thing to be walking nude, and be congenial. I always have an opening line prepared. I might chuckle and claim that it’s too nice a day to be wearing clothes way out here. One hiker I know says that laughing and telling people he is hiking nude on a bet usually disarms people’s apprehensions. If you are of college age you might try grinning and saying that you are on some kind of nonsensical fraternity or sorority stunt.
Attitude is everything. The few times when my encounters with clothed hikers were strained were when I made the mistake of appearing nervous. The hikers I met justifiably thought that I was up to something. It is not easy staying relaxed while acknowledging the possibility of an uncomfortable encounter, but having your shorts in your hand and something upbeat ready to say can help you to stay relaxed so you can enjoy your hike. Again, if you are in a mixed group of two or more, this all becomes much easier.
Do what you can to avoid looking threatening or confrontational. For instance, leave your political activist hat at home. Do you want to have pleasant experiences with the few people you meet, or do you want to increase your chances of antagonizing others? Your nudity will be enough for people to handle; don’t make life harder for them and yourself than you need to.
I’ve grown to trust these twelve rules of thumb for nude hiking. They will not guarantee an ideal naturist experience, but they can give you some guidelines to consider. If you are completely ignorant of any place to go hiking nude, you can do a number of things. Hook up with an organized naturist group and ask around. Buy a copy of Lee Baxandall’s World Guide to Nude Beaches and Resorts or Dave Patrick’s California’s Nude Beaches (which includes Hawaii, Washington, and Oregon). These texts can direct you to sites used regularly by naturists. The best thing to do is to buy a good trail guide and a topographical map of your area and start looking for seldom used trails that go to peaks or that take you deep into the wilderness.
If nothing else, hike clothed to an alpine lake and throw off the annoying togs there. Most everyone can accept a skinny-dipping hiker when the day is hot. The more non-lewd nudity the hiking public is exposed to, the sooner we can all freely enjoy the satisfaction of hiking naked.
This article first appeared in Nude & Natural 15.4 (Spring 1996):97-101.