Couple days ago I went hiking with my baby daughter up in the redwood-forested slopes of Marin County, California. She sat in a backpack and tried to grab passing branches, displayed her new trick of waving to amused passersby, and fell asleep and snored. This is an activity we do a few times a week. We both love it—well, she seems to, anyway. Hiking with her is radically different from hiking by myself, or trail running, or riding a bike. I pay far more attention to my fellow trail users with my daughter in tow, not out of suspicion, but because behind me, there’s a huge pack with a writhing kid in it who will grab your hair at the first chance she gets. So I’m making sure you see us and that I give you room. Observation antennae pointed directly ahead of us.

And my goodness do a whole lot of you have headphones on. Air pods (or whatever they’re called) are the most common, with regular wired headphones clocking in second. Occasionally, I’ve seen pairs of runners trot by listening to music over a small Bluetooth speaker, I suppose so they can run according to the same rhythm. Or maybe they hate talking to each other.

Point is, at least on my local trails which are admittedly popular with hardcore trail runners who are just trying to sneak in some dirt laps after their jobs as orthopedic surgeons and tech execs, or whatever it is they do to afford living in Marin County. They’re apparently using nature as a gym, which, hey, fine, so am I a little bit with 20-something pounds of kiddo strapped to my back as I huff and puff uphill.


Personally, I’ve never really enjoyed listening to music on trails, or hiking around deep in the backcountry. I’ve tried it mountain biking, but was terrified I wouldn’t hear somebody approaching or my chain rattling off. Plus, I use my ears for sensory awareness that makes me faster on the bike, I’m sure.

I like the sound of wind in trees, of water rushing over rocks, of the crunch crunch crunch my boots make on a trail. I can totally also see the appeal of those sounds being joined by some kind of slide guitar-heavy soundtrack that evokes wide-open spaces and contemplation.

There are endless products devoted to making sure you can listen to your tunes or your podcasts while on the trail, so, clearly, a whole bunch of you are.

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Photo: Matt Gross

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