Review of Naked Hiking (Richard Foley, ed.)

No mystery about the subject of the book. It’s a quick but interesting read – only about 155 pages of actual text, with good color photos on roughly half the pages, plus notes on the 25 authors/photographers and credits for the various photos. There are 22 essays, 1 poem, and a Foreword. The editor, Foley, himself contributed 4 of the essays and the Foreword. He’s well qualified for the task, as he has led week-long naked walking tours in the Alps every year since 2005 – with another planned for 2020. These treks are known as Naked European Walking Tours (NEWT). More information on the tours is available at the given link.

Each essay is an individual perspective on the subject, and many topics are covered. Mostly they deal with subjective accounts, with little information on the practical aspects of naked hiking. However, the practicalities are mostly the same as for any sort of hiking in natural places, with few special considerations for a hiker’s nudity. The practicalities include things such as adequate water, insect repellant, sunscreen, good footwear, first aid kit, maps and compass (perhaps), and so on. Anyone who’s done trail hiking should already know the basics.

The main issue likely to concern people who might want to try naked hiking is what to do when encountering non-naturist people, including families, on the trails. There’s an interesting division among the essay writers on this topic. Most of the writers are European, except for one from Australia, one from New Zealand, and three from the U. S. Almost all of the writers except for those from the U. S. indicate there’s little problem with encountering non-naturists while hiking naked. On the positive side there were a number of friendly encounters. For example: one group of older hikers “were clearly surprised, but did not seem in the least upset by the unexpected meeting, and in fact were quite friendly.” (p. 18) And: “We were passed by a number of people, all walking faster than we were, with many a wave and a smile exchanged. We observed that being naked seemed to exude an implicit air of friendliness towards everybody.” (p. 21) And one more example, of a naked hiker who occasionally met another man who “is used to me by now so I never cover up for him and we always have a little chat before I move on. It makes me feel so good when I have encounters like this; it makes naturism feel normal even amongst those who choose not to remove their clothes.” (p. 102)

However, among the three writers from the U. S., two of them give advice on how to avoid meeting non-naturists on the trail. One U. S. writer goes on for several pages with tips like “Hike on weekdays.” And “Select trails that have only one trailhead.” And “Get an early start in the morning.” (pp. 28f) But just in case one meets non-naturists “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.” (p. 33) The same writer also recommends to “Know the law for your hiking area as it pertains to nudity.” (p. 30) This, of course, is good advice anywhere – but especially in the U. S. where nudity laws can vary largely and unpredictably from state to state and even from county to county.

The legality of being naked outdoors is an issue of concern for naked hikers anywhere. It just seems that in much of Western Europe and places in Australia and New Zealand the law is a lot more tolerant than in most of the U. S. – which makes it especially important to avoid meeting non-naturists on the trail when the legality of nudity isn’t well established.

Another issue that people who aren’t experienced naturists may wonder about is why go to the extra risks of hiking naked (even if minor) in the first place. Several essays address this. Foley actually begins his Foreword with as good an explanation as any:
Naked hiking is good; it is also nice, fun, pleasant, relaxing, refreshing, exhilarating, exciting, enjoyable. Many activists also believe that naked hiking is a way to get closer to nature, it can be a way to rediscover and relate to your own body, and even used as a medium by which to discover yourself.

Another essay makes several excellent points. One is simply that it’s difficult to explain subjective feelings to people who haven’t experienced them. “This difficulty in communication applies to social nudity and especially to nude walking; unless the audience have experienced it, expression of the sheer joy it can bring is difficult or impossible.” (p. 150) The writer goes on to make a very important point: “One problem with naturism is the habitual secrecy employed by naturists themselves. This is to avoid any possible conflict with those who still cling to their irrational body shame.” (p. 154)

The fact that many naturists – especially in the U. S. – go out of their way to avoid being seen naked by non-naturists, even when hiking, only adds to the general perception that nudity is not “normal”, and indeed should be kept hidden.

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