What are the best hiking songs?

Thankfully this is not a video of me singing.

Recently I was hiking with my toddler. We were having a nice time looking at trees, touching boulders, eating snacks, when for some unknown reason she was suddenly and furiously done with the hike. Food, drink, walking, carrying, warm clothes, none of it made a difference.

The problem was, we still had a mile and a half to go back to the trailhead, a short but suddenly monumental distance.

So, I stuffed her back in the carrier and speed hiked/jogged as fast as one can with 25+ pounds of crying kid on your back, while navigating a rocky, leaf-covered trail and trying to distract her with songs.

Thus arrived my second problem. Despite having 3,000+ songs on my computer and iPod (back at home), I could no longer think of anything decent to sing for longer than a single verse. I blame my initial brain freeze on the sobbing behind my ears.

I eventually managed to recall:

  • “The Wheels on the Bus” (pros: I know all the words, and my toddler was mollified; cons: I was not allowed to stop singing it);
  • “Loch Lomond” (pros: I genuinely like the song and the chorus is about walking —  “you take the high road and I'll take the low road”; cons: I have trouble remembering much beyond the chorus, and my Scottish accent needs work);
  • “The Titanic” song, despite (or because of) its morbidity factor, thanks to summer camp;
  • and my own rendition of “Val-deri,Val-dera, with my toddler on my back.”

Not my most impressive of playlists.

Back at home I Googled hiking songs and quickly found some of the worst (I'll spare you further suggestions, lest I'm guilty of planting “earworms”) and many camping/hiking/marching songs. However, there's no consensus on what, if anything, makes a song a good hiking song, versus a song about hiking (à la “The Happy Wanderer”), or just a song often sung outdoors (“Kumbaya” comes to mind here).

I think a good hiking song needs to:

  • be a good song to begin with (an annoying song will not become better due to a change of scene);
  • stand up to repetition (lest you ruin a good song forever);
  • be easy to sing (in your head or, in certain dire circumstances, out loud);
  • be appropriate for all ages (folk songs have an advantage here);
  • and, be easy to recall in full (even when someone, who you're carrying, is sobbing for you and you're descending a field of leaf-covered boulders).

I'm now working on a mental play list of good hiking songs that I can (hopefully) recall without much prompting. First up, full rounds of “Loch Lomond” and “Ob-La-De, Ob-La-Da.”

Got any other suggestions? Or am I doomed during times of duress to remember only tunes that were locked in my memory back at Grange camp?

Filed under: Kids


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November 18, 2009 at 12:25 a.m. (EST)

Hakuna Matata!!

Tipi Walter
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November 18, 2009 at 7:39 a.m. (EST)

This is a neat thread. Over the years I've memorized 3 or 4 Dylan songs to sing while I hiked. "Oh where have you been, my blue eyed son, Oh where have you been, my darling young one . . . I've been 10,000 miles in the mouth of a graveyard . . ." From the song A HARD RAIN'S A GONNA FALL. It's got a lot of lyrics and can keep a backpacker occupied for many miles.

And then there's this great song: SHELTER FROM THE STORM: "Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood, when blackness was a virtue, and the road was full of mud. I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form, "Come in", she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm.""

"I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail

Poisoned in the bushes an' blown out on the trail,

Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn . . ."

Or this one:
"There's beauty in the silver singing river, there's beauty in the sunset in the sky. Ah, but none of this and nothing else will touch the beauty, that I see in my true love's eyes." Or something like that. ALL QUOTES BOB DYLAN.

Lifer-Powderhound in UTAH!
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November 18, 2009 at 2:42 p.m. (EST)

And I thought I was wierd for rapping MC style and beat boxing with freinds on the lift, only our versions leave us laughing at the pointless and meaningless tripe we just spewed before every run!

it seems we are never too old for some song and dance.

Lifer-Powderhound in UTAH!
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November 18, 2009 at 2:47 p.m. (EST)

as for hiking songs, I prefer the man in black himself, Jhonny Cash, his Train songs are inherently time passing and effortless to repeat, and enjoy a bad rendition of Delia on occasion, but I supose that is when being alone is preferential for the entire expereince, I wouldnt sing those songs to my child once they can understand what I am singing..

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921 forum posts
November 18, 2009 at 3:46 p.m. (EST)

It's always seemed to me that the second verse of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" is really about rock climbing:

They say every man needs protection
They say that every man must fall
But I swear I see my reflection
Somewhere so high above this wall

And then of course there's the Band's "Up On Cripple Creek" for those bad weather days when you just want to go on home:

"When I get off of this mountain
You know where I'm gonna go..."

And then I have a favorite by a little-known New England folk singer named Cormac McCarthy (no relation to the novelist):

"You can travel anywhere in any land
But you got to live there to understand
Instead of just passing through
Drink the local beer

Here in the blue mountains
A bird sings his own song we can't understand
Here in the blue mountains
The feeling isn't human here
But here is where we stand"

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14 forum posts
November 18, 2009 at 7:49 p.m. (EST)

The best hiking songs have the same qualities as military marching cadence (also called Jodies or Jody calls). There's a steady rhythm to match your steps, a recuring chorus, and/or call-and-response lyrics. That being said, look up several marching jodies to sing to if you can't think of any music that fits those criteria. You can buy this marching music (probably have to go online if you don't have military base access). Also chat with cadets at college ROTC or military schools (AF Academy, West Pointe, etc). Yes, there can be sometime dirty lyrics, but they would be a wealth of knowledge. We used to march around to "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog" and "Margaritaville!"

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415 forum posts
November 18, 2009 at 10:24 p.m. (EST)

A few years back I was showing some Bay Area trails to a Chinese gent who was attending management training at San Jose State. He was about to leave and another was taking his place, a Tibetan guy we took along for the hike. Along the way he started singing a Tibetan love song -- I seem to recall the main verse's translation being something like "your love is like snow."

That's the coolest hiking song I ever heard.

5 reviewer rep
47 forum posts
November 19, 2009 at 2:45 p.m. (EST)

My favorite song for hiking is Jerry Garcia's 'The Loser'. 'If I had a gun for every ace I have drawn, I could arm a town the size of Abilene." However on one long hike on the AT things went terribly wrong. Somewhere in the flats of PA the theme for Gilligan's Island popped into my head. And it would not leave. However all long days end and so did this one. Unfortunately the next day when I started out it reappeared. "Sit right down ............." All day it went. On and on for the rest of the day. I was nearly mad from the repetitive lyrics. I would start another song, get into about 2 lines when it would morph into Gilligan. Finally in desperation I came up with plan to rid myself of that cursed song. It was my 2nd to last day on the trail and I was heading south. A north bound thruhiker appeared and we chatted. Since I had extra food I gave him a couple of extra dinners I had but made him take the song in return. I warned him it might be dangerous but he started to hum it and agreed, the food for the song. It worked the song was gone and so was the northbounder. To this day I don't know if he made it or if he is still wandering around the rocky wilds of PA with Gilligan in his head, but I can tell you that to this day some 15 years later I do not dare to let that song creep into my head. Nor should you! You have been warned.

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November 19, 2009 at 7:03 p.m. (EST)

Man tentman.....I have sung that song before, I didn't realize how close to danger I was!

Also had this one stick around for a couple days:

Hi Ho - Hi Ho...up the hill I go.....From Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, sorta.

Tipi Walter
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1,369 forum posts
November 19, 2009 at 9:24 p.m. (EST)

My latest trail "earworm" that wouldn't go away was an old 60's song about Custer:

"Please Mr. Custer, I don't wanna go!"

"A brave young man with a trembling word rang loud and clear

What am I doin' here?"

24 reviewer rep
41 forum posts
November 20, 2009 at 12:18 a.m. (EST)

With the kids in tow, This Land is Your Land, Puff the Magic Dragon, any of the Schoolhouse Rock songs (although Albert Andreas Armadillo can get you winded if you're on a steep pitch). Sans kids go with John Prine, Kingston Trio, and maybe some early Dylan.

3 reviewer rep
57 forum posts
November 20, 2009 at 12:55 a.m. (EST)

"Wheat Kings" or "Bobcaygeon" by The Tragically Hip...."Dust in the Wind" by Kansas or "Dreams" by Van Halen or even better..."Country Road" or " Rocky Mountain High" by Mr. John Denver...

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November 20, 2009 at 1:44 p.m. (EST)

Lots of great stuff here, everybody! Thanks for all the suggestions so far. I'll be considering every single one and adding to my iTunes library to fill in gaps.

My son already loves Johnny Cash, especially any train songs, so that's a great suggestion for us. I've also always liked "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog" among a number of others mentioned, especially all the Dylan.

I actually made a "mountain music" playlist years ago. It isn't designed so much for sing-a-longs and I don't bring it along on hikes or backpacking. Rather, it's a series of songs that speak to me about being outdoors, summiting mountains, and the journey.

1. Hero in Me (Jeffrey Gaines)
2. California Stars (Billy Bragg & Wilco)
3. Fly Away (Lenny Kravitz)
4. Send Me on My Way (Rusted Root)
5. Travelin' Light (Widespread Panic)
6. Walk On (U2)
7. Mile by Mile (God Street Wine)
8. Elevation (U2)
9. Beautiful Day (U2)
10. Back On Top (Van Morrison)
11. Breathless (The Corrs)

Tracks 8 and 9 are excellent hiking "earworms," in my opinion. I think it's time I make a second playlist and work on my recall skills though.

I've also had the "Hi Ho" song stuck in my head. My most frequent earworm is "clang clang clang goes the trolley, ring ring ring goes the bell." This happens after my trekking poles hit each other or something else and make a metallic clanging noise. Then I'm stuck with that verse in my head forever. It's maddening. I don't think I've ever even listened to that song.

Thanks again! It's been fun to read everyone's suggestions.

Tipi Walter
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1,369 forum posts
November 20, 2009 at 5:42 p.m. (EST)

On my last long trip I had my little Sangean radio and the headphones on when Stevie Nick's EDGE OF SEVENTEEN came on and ZAP! I was dancing up the trail. Crank it up.

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November 21, 2009 at 8:38 p.m. (EST)

Anything with a rhythm (time signature) divisible by 2 could work well for hiking and marching. That doesn't preclude time in 3 or 5, but walking with two legs seems to make it easier to relate to a 2 or 4 beat pattern. More often than not, I choose to listen to my breathing and work something out from there. Sometimes, mostly when I'm alone I prefer to sing John Cage's 4'33" ;-)

Tipi Walter
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November 22, 2009 at 7:44 a.m. (EST)

Silence is golden. In fact, I used to sing SILENCE IS GOLDEN too:

"Talking is cheap people follow like sheep/Even though there is no where to go"

And . . .

"Mind your business, don't hurt her, you fool."

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November 23, 2009 at 3:54 p.m. (EST)

What about the "classic" hiking song from Earnest Goes to Camp? - "Happy Together" by The Turtles

Mountain Dog
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December 18, 2009 at 3:35 p.m. (EST)

Walkin Jim Stoltz, "The Long Trails" . Walkin Jim has done all the major trails and he has written songs about most of them. His song about hiking will touch you of you are a serious hiker.

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50 forum posts
December 19, 2009 at 9:53 a.m. (EST)

Your all wrong!!!!

You MUST now pull out that old CD "Paint Your Wagon", then listen to:

- Hand Me Down That Can (substitute with 'freeze-dried bag') O' Beans

- They Call The Wind Maria

- I Talk To The Trees

- Wand'rin Star

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