How Smoking Affects Your Hiking Performance, And What to Do


Smoking’s detrimental impact on hiking performance is not often discussed despite the habit having far-reaching consequences for both physical and respiratory abilities. Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, out of which at least 69 are known to cause cancer. Moreover, these chemicals damage lung tissue and lead to inflammation, narrowing the airways and triggering chest tightness and wheezing.

Below is a deeper look at how smoking affects your hiking experience, as well as some practical steps to mitigate its influence.

Table of Contents

How smoking Affects your hiking performance

Let’s start with how lighting up can sabotage your strength and endurance on the trail, even if you only smoke occasionally.

When you inhale cigarette smoke, harmful chemicals like tar, arsenic, and cadmium enter your lungs. This causes inflammation and constricts your bronchial tubes and airways.

Restricted breathing delivers less oxygen throughout your bloodstream. For hikers, this quickly leads to:

Reduced lung capacity

Many hikers monitor their oxygen saturation during physical exertion because it’s a helpful indicator that tells you how efficiently your body is absorbing oxygen. For optimal performance, research suggests maintaining oxygen saturation levels above 90%.
Smoking damages lung tissue and reduces lung capacity, making breathing more difficult during strenuous hikes. One study has even established that smokers experience a progressive decline in muscle strength as cigarette smoke exposure increases, as well as a parallel decline in the maximum volume of oxygen consumed. This can lead to increased breathlessness and reduced endurance, limiting your ability to tackle steep inclines or high-altitude trails.

Decreased cardiovascular function

After your lungs take in oxygen, it’s delivered to the heart to be pumped throughout the rest of your body. As you breathe in cigarette smoke, the chemicals are also absorbed into your bloodstream, damaging your heart and blood vessels. This results in impaired cardiovascular health and, in the long term, can lead to cardiovascular disease.

In terms of how this impacts your hiking performance, poor cardiovascular function can elevate your heart rate and blood pressure, making it a challenge to maintain a steady pace during hikes. In addition, this can contribute to fatigue and a higher risk of cardiac arrest.

What you can do to improve your hiking performance

Switch to smokeless options

Ultimately, the best way to avoid the damaging health effects of smoking and its impacts on your hiking performance is to simply quit. However, that’s easier said than done, and 25 years’ worth of research has shown that quitting cold turkey is inefficient for 95% of people.

What can help bridge the gap to being completely smoke-free is by switching to smokeless options. Nicotine pouches are tobacco-free and smokeless alternatives that can be used as a smoking cessation tool. Unlike cigarettes, they don’t contain numerous toxic chemicals and don’t require combustion, both of which are the main causes of the effects mentioned above.

Nicotine pouches are placed between your gum and lip to deliver nicotine to your system, easing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. This means you can use them even in places like national parks that usually ban cigarettes. Various nicotine pouch brands such as ZYN, On!, and VELO offer pouches of different nicotine strengths so you can tailor them according to your smoking cessation journey. Alternatively, you can opt for nicotine gum like Nicorette or any similar smokeless nicotine replacement therapy.

Quit smoking entirely

The good news is, if you’re an avid hiker, you’re already halfway in your journey to quitting smoking since regular exercise is associated with a significant reduction in withdrawal symptoms. A good place to start your quit journey is by setting up a quit date and letting your friends and family know so that they can be there to support you.

If you choose to use nicotine pouches or other smokeless options to help you quit, it’s critical that you gradually lower the nicotine strength until you can wean yourself off nicotine completely. Studies also show that counseling in conjunction with smoking cessation tools can more than double the chances of quitting successfully. For this, you can reach out to a therapist, seek proactive counseling from a quitline like the National Quitline Network, or use online cessation interventions.

5 Hiking Workouts to Aid Smoking Cessation

Ready to start hiking toward a smoke-free you? Try these 5 smoker-friendly workouts to boost quitting success:

1. Take Regular 30-Minute Power Walks

Brisk walking provides moderate cardio to release feel-good endorphins and brain chemicals. Staying non-sedentary also minimizes cigarette cravings. Shoot for 30 minutes daily.

2. Join a Weekly Hiking Group

Enjoying fresh air and camaraderie on group hikes gives you a meaningful activity to replace solitary smoke breaks. Connecting with fellow hikers builds support.

3. Schedule Weekend Trail Sessions

Plan short two-hour hike sessions on local trails each Saturday and Sunday morning. Make them rewards for achieving smoke-free milestones all week long.

4. Train For a Hiking or Climbing Challenge

Sign up for an upcoming summit hike, mud run, or climbing competition. Having a challenging long-term goal boosts willpower and physical conditioning.

5. Take Hiking Mini-Breaks Throughout Your Day

Short 10-minute walks mid-day oxygenate the body and provide a “scratch” for cigarette cravings. Gradually increase the duration for training benefits.

Regardless of program type, exercising 30 to 60 minutes daily has been shown optimal to reduce cigarette cravings by up to 50% in studies. Hiking and walking are more enjoyable ways to hit this sweet spot.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does it take for a smoker’s lung function to return to normal?

It can take 1 to 9 months after quitting smoking for lung function to substantially improve. However, the effects of long-term, heavy smoking may never fully reverse. Still, quitting at any age improves life expectancy and lung function. Sustained aerobic exercise such as hiking also aids healing.

Can moderate smoking affect hiking performance?

Even occasional “social” smoking impacts lung capacity, oxygen circulation, and heart function in ways that decrease hiking endurance. While heavy smoking causes the most drastic effects, light smokers may have up to 10% reduced lung capacity. Kick the habit fully for the biggest performance gains.

Why do smoker’s lungs heal after quitting?

When you stop smoking, cilia (tiny hair-like cells) regrow in the lungs and sweep out toxins. Swelling decreases, and alveoli air sacs can fully re-expand – increasing oxygen absorption. Circulation also improves as new healthy blood vessels grow.

How can I handle cigarette cravings on a long hike?

Practice healthy distraction by focusing on your surroundings or chatting with fellow hikers. Frequent hydration and snacking on nuts or fruit helps too. For intense cravings, stop to do 10 pushups or deep breathing exercises. The intensity will pass within 3 minutes.

Conquer the Trail Smoke-Free

By taking steps to overcome this habit, your future hikes will be marked not by breathlessness but by the triumph of reaching new summits and exploring new landscapes free from the constraints of smoking. Embrace a smoke-free path to maximize your hiking adventures and improve your overall health.

Commit to quitting, and let the trail support you through the process. With each smoke-free step, your performance will surge. Soon you’ll hike with strength, optimism, and a new lease on life. The view from the summit never looked so clear.

Now grab your gear, hit the trail, and leave those cigarettes behind!

John Smith

John Smith

John has been an avid hiker for over ten years and has explored some of the most challenging trails across the USA. He has completed multiple long-distance hikes, including the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. John is also a certified hiking guide, leading several hiking trips for groups of all ages and skill levels.

John Smith

John Smith

John has been an avid hiker for over ten years and has explored some of the most challenging trails across the USA. He has completed multiple long-distance hikes, including the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. John is also a certified hiking guide, leading several hiking trips for groups of all ages and skill levels.

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