Should You Wear Earbuds While Hiking?


Hiking / Monday, September 30th, 2019

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I don’t often hike alone anymore, but when I did I’d often listen to music or a podcast through my earbuds. But, is it really that safe to wear headphones or earbuds on a hike?

Obstructing your ability to hear your surroundings on a hike is not the safest bet. The sensory deprivation that results from headphone or earbud robs you of auditory cues to dangers while hiking. For your safety on the trail, be fully aware of your surroundings.

A study published in the journal Injury Prevention concluded that pedestrians using headphones were at greater injury or death, especially in environments with moving vehicles.1 Now, there shouldn’t be motorized vehicles on most trails you’ll hike but there may be runners, bikers, and horses. It’s hard to move out of the way of something barreling down the trail if you can’t hear it.

True Life Earbud Example:

Harold, a buddy of mine, took a breather from his day hike on a bench along the trail. He was fully engrossed in the music that played through his earbuds and the view that stretched out before him. Little did he know, something approached from behind. It waited. Watching… When Harold stood to resume his hike, he was startled by a bobcat sitting just feet behind the bench.

A bobcat isn’t threatening like a bear or a rattlesnake, but I think you get the point.

Pros And Cons Of Hiking With Earbuds

Let’s face it. Sometimes we’re in the mood to fully immerse ourselves in nature and other times we’re hiking to exercise and burn off energy.

There are times when it’s nice to use earbuds while hiking and all hikes aren’t equally as dangerous, so let’s look at the pros and cons of hiking with earbuds.

The Pros of Wearing Earbuds While Hiking

There are some benefits to wearing earbuds while hiking that might outweigh the risks on certain safer trails.2

1. Music is Motivating

Hiking is exercise and music can improve the quality of workouts by increasing stamina. Need a little extra motivation to make it up the next hill? Music could be that extra push you need… Yep, that’s a good time to play Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”

2. Earbuds Provide Escape from Boredom

Let’s face it. Some trails aren’t that exciting. Listening to your earbuds while hiking can help you escape the boredom of those monotonous trails or that really boring hiking buddy.

But, why hike those boring trails, to begin with? Do a little trail research first. What keeps your attention on hikes? I prefer hiking near bodies of water. The sounds of water. Love’em!

3. Music Improves Mood

Hiking improves mood. Music does too! The combination can be exhilarating!

4. Escape from Loneliness

Listening to earbuds while hiking can help you escape the loneliness of hiking by yourself.

Related content: Solo Hiking: 12 Things To Consider Before Hiking Alone

The Cons of Wearing Earbuds While Hiking

These cons to wearing earbuds may deter you from wearing earbuds on your next hike, especially if it’s a remote trail that you don’t know.

1. Auditory Deprivation from Possible Danger

Being unaware of your surroundings or being startled can lead to injury.

On trails close to urban areas and other well-traveled trails, you should be aware of other hikers, runners, bikers, horses, and possibly even motorized vehicles.

On remote trails, you should stay alert to sounds along the trail… The rustling in the bushes or the howl, growl, or rattle… Wild animals, the crack of the limb before it falls, the falling rocks from the cliff above… There are many possible dangers in remote areas.

2. Auditory Deprivation from the Sounds of Nature

The sounds of nature can be relaxing. If you’re looking to escape and unwind, the soothing sounds of nature may be better than your favorite workout tune.

3. Earbuds Can Keep You From Being Present

If you’re zoning out… Too focused on that podcast, audiobook, or Backstreet Boy song? It might be best to turn off the earbuds before you miss your next trail marker and get lost.

4. Anti-Social Behavior

If you’re hiking with others, listening to earbuds is very anti-social behavior.

5. Technology Use is Out of Balance

Too many of us are addicted to technology. Overuse of technology is a behavioral addiction that affects the brain in similar ways to substance abuse. Earbuds contribute to technology addition.

Nature is a perfect place to unplug for a while. Take advantage!

6. Earbuds Confine Thought

Too often, earbuds confine thought and prevent the expansion of our understanding. We need time to reflect.

It’s healthy to let your mind explore. Doing so helps form clarity, promotes healing from emotional wounds, and promotes creativity.

The constant bombardment of technology prohibits us from realizing opportunities and from discovery both within and without.

Earbud Compromises To Consider

Single Earbud

Using only one of your earbuds may be an option worth considering. However, the use of one earbud can still keep you from hearing danger on the one side or from accurately hearing the direction of approaching danger.

Bone Conduction Headphones

Say what?

Bone conduction headphones don’t fit in or over your ears. They sit in front of them. Instead of speakers, these headphones send vibrations through your cheekbones to your cochleas. This way your eardrums are free to take in your surroundings.

BTW, your cochleas are the spiral cavity containing your Corti. The Corti is the organ that allows you to hear by producing nerve impulses in response to vibrations.

For the best-sounding and most feature-rich bone-conduction headphones, check out the AfterShokz Open-Ear Wireless Bone Conduction Headphones at Backcountry.

Conclusion

All hikes aren’t equally as dangerous. If you’re leisurely strolling along a safe, easy trail. Earbuds are probably a fine choice. If it’s a difficult trail where nature poses a threat or a trail with bikes, horses, or motorized vehicles, it’s probably best to forego those headphones.

Have you weighed your pros and cons?

A huge, white wolf following along a hiking trail. The image asks... Hiking with earbuds? What's behind you?

References

  1. Richard Lichenstein, Daniel Clarence Smith, Jordan Lynne Ambrose, and Laurel Anne Moody. Headphone Use and Pedestrian Injury and Death in the United States: 2004–2011. Injury Prevention. 2012; 18:287-290.
  2. Zann Anderson and Michael D. Jones. Mobile Computing and Well-Being in the Outdoors. September 2019 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing and the 2019 ACM International Symposium.