Weekend Warm-Up: Why Do I Hike?

The documentary Why Do I Hike? tracks Croatian filmmaker Nikola Horvat as he tackles the Colorado Trail and attempts to answer that existential question.

A veteran thru-hiker, Horvat has walked from Canada to Mexico, completed the Pacific Crest Trail, and established the Croatian Long Distance Trail. After collaborating on two documentaries during the PCT and CLDT, he decided to go back to school to study video production.

Throughout the course, other students asked him time and again: “Why do you hike?” He realized that over time, his reasons have changed. He set out to learn other hikers’ reasoning.

A one-man effort

Though the film features many hikers, this is a one-man endeavor. He walked, shot all the footage, and carried all the equipment. His backpack included a camera, tripod, two lenses, a GoPro, and a drone. Once he had completed all the filming, he edited everything himself.

“I wanted this movie to look like a million-dollar film with at least 15 people involved. The truth is, my budget…was $0,” he told The Trek.

On the trail, he reflects on what he learned during previous long-distance hikes. Walking from Mexico to Canada, he gained self-respect. By creating the Croatian Long Distance Trail, he made something for others while “discovering secrets of my own abyss.”

Photo: Nikola Horvat


Horvat splits the film into five chapters. Each chapter is an answer to his film’s question. The first chapter is nature, followed by time, community, and mental health. The final chapter is a summary of Horvat’s thoughts and what he wants from his life.

This is not a documentary trying to convince others to hike. It is purely one man’s thoughts. In each chapter, Horvat intersperses his narration with comments from other hikers. What soon becomes clear is that there is a common thread of reasoning that brings hikers back to the trails each year. In the first chapter, Horvat says “every time I venture into the wilderness, I feel as if I am returning to the place I belong.” Other hikers mirror his sentiments.

A hiking community

Although many hike alone or in small groups, everyone featured has a similar community mindset. They are kindred spirits, who bond through their love of the outdoors. This community helps them become the best version of themselves. “In the wild, people respect and listen to each other more,” says one hiker.

On the topic of mental health, many hikers comment on the therapeutic value of hiking. “A bad day hiking is probably one of the better days of your life,” says one. It is a form of escapism where you can once again find joy in the small things.

At one point, you see Horvat overcome with excitement over a bottle of sugared water. He has been looking forward to it for three days.

Occasionally, the documentary tries to tackle more deeper questions about life, and meaning. Horvat muses that humanity is “an assemblage of molecules that unite the chaos of the Big Bang.” This may not resonate with everyone, but most of the film will.

Set to a backdrop of beautiful landscapes and music, the documentary might give you one more reason to get out there.