Walking Information

Insider Info

dotWalking can provide as much of a boost in adrenaline levels as any sport or physical activity. Interest in recreational walking has been on the rise in recent times, as shown by the spread of volkssport associations throughout North America. In early 2001, all 50 states had active volkssport clubs.

dotVolkssport clubs originated in Europe. The word has a German root -- from volks, which means people. Volkssport clubs are groups that encourage popular participation in sports and other activities. Walking features predominantly on their programs.

Volkssports are designed to be appealing to everyone. Volksmarching (walking), like all volkssports, is meant to be a non-competitive recreational activity. Volksmarching takes walking to a whole different level by trying to make the activity as interesting and as adventurous as possible. Volksmarchers are guided by the pursuit of the three Fs -- fun, fitness and friendship!

dotLionel Conrod is president of a volkssport federation. He says there are generally four main types of volksmarching events.

dotThere is a guided walk. The whole group, numbering between 30 and 50 people, travels together and stops occasionally. The walk may be through forests, city streets or parks.

dotThere is also a map walk. Groups or individuals are given maps that chart the route to be taken. With a map walk, participants don't need to begin at the same time and may be spread out along the route.

dotThe third type is an international volksmarch. This is a bigger event that clubs hold about once or twice a year. There are three different routes of, say, three miles, six miles and nine miles. The routes are all marked with instructions for the walkers -- on telephone poles and trees, for example.

Walking starts in the morning and the routes remain open till about 4 p.m. International volksmarches usually have a festive atmosphere. Walkers bring food and there are other forms of entertainment throughout the day.

dotThen there are year-round events. As the name suggests, these are available throughout the year. People visiting a city, for example, could join in. There is a start point, which could be a local hotel, where walkers can sign up and pick up maps. The route for this event is usually at least six miles and it's a big attraction to tourists.

dotAll these events are organized by local clubs. You can participate alone, with family or friends. And hey, you can even bring your pet where permitted!

dotConrod says his organization has about 4,000 members. "There's often other people that tag along when we have events, so we really don't know the number of participants we have each year. But that's about the number of actual members."

Brandi Deemer is the special projects coordinator for the American Volkssport Association (AVA). She says the group oversees the activities of over 500 clubs.

dotAccording to Deemer, a 1997 survey revealed that about 70 percent of walk participants were between 35 and 60 years of age. To encourage younger participants to take up the activity, the AVA established a special youth program, working with groups like the Girl Scouts.

Youth teams, with at least one adult, participate in 12 or more sanctioned volkssporting events during the school year. Each member of the team receives a certificate and a medal. Girl scouts receive a special AVA patch.

dotVolksmarching is meant to be non-competitive. But walkers do like to show off their distance logbooks and other forms of recognition they've earned. For example, the AVA has an individual achievement award program that allows walkers to enter the distance they've walked into special distance and event record books.

After major milestones, you can redeem the book for a certificate, a hatpin and a patch and get your name included in a list published in the association's magazine. But it is important to remember that volksmarchers consider anyone who completes an event, regardless of distance, a winner.

dotDeemer, 22, encourages more youth to take up walking. "Walking is a healthier alternative to running in the long run," she says. "You can have fun while you are doing it, be with your family and friends and really be able to experience and appreciate the majesty of the outdoors."

Graham Fawcett is the director of a volkssporting organization. He would like to see more youth participation in recreational walking. His association does not have a youth program, but he says young people are more than welcome.

"It's not a very sexy sport and we don't have an international star who makes $150 million a year from endorsements," he says. "But people who are also heavily into jogging tell me that they get every bit as much of a physical high out of walking as they do out of jogging. It's a great stress reliever, a way of getting out into the fresh air and of meeting people."

dotConrod also says the way volksmarching events are organized makes them far from boring. "Actually, walking can become addictive and it's not boring," he says. "If you are walking by beautiful scenery and walking with your friends and enjoying yourself, that's not boring!"

Getting Started

dotYou can join a local club in your area or start off walking alone, depending on your preference. "If you join a club or association, you'll find a lot more interesting places to walk than you'll find on your own," says Conrod. "But if you want to walk on your own, you can now find an awful lot of trails by surfing the Internet."

If you join a club, you can get good tips from seasoned walkers regarding how difficult or dangerous a trail is, for example. Trails are rated according to difficulty. Trails with a one rating are easy, have no hills and may be suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. Trails with a five rating are very difficult and could involve a walk through rough fields or woods or up steep hills.

dotIf your walk takes you through an area with wildlife, it's best to be in a group. "We've never heard of any problems with animals," Conrod says. "Usually, people walking in groups make sufficient noise that they very seldom encounter animals. But there are times when we see a bear. But they usually leave quite quickly."

dotDepending on the severity of their condition, people with special physical mobility needs may be able to do a trail with a one rating. Fawcett recommends that people in poor health, say with diabetes or a heart condition, talk to their doctor first.

dotMany walks are open to all, free of charge. You may need to pay a small fee for some special events. And some clubs may have a membership fee.

dotHere's a list of some of the things experts suggest you get:

  • Layered clothing -- remove outer layers when it gets hotter
  • Shoes -- make sure they are comfortable and the right type for the terrain and climate
  • Socks -- get special double-layered socks, and go for a fabric like polypropylene
  • Hat -- choose a type appropriate for the weather
  • Pack
  • Water -- drink some water before, during and after the walk
  • Sun protection
  • Route plan
  • ID and money

dotVeteran volksmarchers have suggestions on how to make the activity as smooth and injury-free as possible. They suggest you take short strides rather than long ones. Use your arms, not just your legs. And look up!

dotAfter you've become an experienced walker, you may want to start coaching others. Walking coaches help new walkers improve. They also train professional marathoners.


American Volkssport Association
101-1001 Pat Booker Rd.
Universal City , TX   78148

American Walking Association
P.O. Box 20491
Boulder , CO   80308-3491

North American Race Walking Foundation
P.O. Box 50312
Pasadena , CA   91115-0132

American Hiking Society
1422 Fenwick Ln.
Silver Spring , MD   20910


American Wanderer,
Official publication of the American Volkssport Association
Walking Magazine,
Published by the Reader's Digest Association
101 Essential Tips: Hiking,
by  Hugh McManners


Run the Planet
Where to run and walk worldwide

Who Wants to Be a Volkssporting Millionaire?
Try this volkssporting quiz based on the format of the popular television show

Almost everything you ever wanted to know about walking

Find a Club
Volkssports clubs in the U.S.