Hiking in Korea is a national pastime. Forget baseball (although that is popular here as well). Hiking is king. Bukhansan National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the world. This could have something to do with the sheer number of people in close proximity to it - 25 million people by the last census.
Almost without fail the Koreans we encountered on any trail we hiked in Korea - be it a small trail on a sunny day, or a longer climb up Bukhansan National Park - were well prepared. Almost to the point of insanity.
We took the train to one small trail 30 minutes from our hotel in Seoul. Just before the trailhead was a small little cluster of high end outdoor shops including Black Yak. You know, just in case you forgot something. But it seems that Koreans don't forget things on their hikes.
After hiking on Jeju and in a few parks in and around Seoul, we've observed more than a few Koreans on the trails. Which of course means we are totally qualified to write a blog post called "How to Hike Like You Are From South Korea".
Dress for the Occasion
This was mentioned above in the intro, but we didn't see many Koreans hiking in flip flops or high heels as we have in other Asian countries. Nope. Those we saw hiking were dressed for a blizzard. Huge boots, wind and waterproof pants, lightweight trekking poles, the whole nine yards. While none of the hikes we undertook in Korea (at this writing) were technical climbs, people were READY for the event that they were automatically transported to say, Nepal.
On more than one occasion we encountered a hiker carrying a small portable jam box kicking out the K-Pop for all to hear. These people were almost always alone, which in and of itself was a little unusual. Other solo hikers wore headphones to keep their music to themselves.
Most of the hikers we found on the trail were faster than us, so we found ourselves politely stepping aside to let them pass. Only to find that there were about 12 more people behind them, all in the same group, all talking loudly and happily. This is so different than hiking in the rest of the world, where silence is generally preferred should you want to see any wildlife.
Bring a Picnic
This isn't a requirement, of course, but we did see a fair number of Koreans sitting just off the trail raising their tiny glasses of soju and taking a break from the hiking. There were blankets, thermos action and enough food for a through hike. These are the people you want to hike with! Although I'm not so sure I would have much energy after a bottle of soju.
After one arduous morning of walking up a thousand (or more!) stairs, we were greeted with a full on outdoor gym. There were free weights, bench press and various other "adult playground" activities, including weighted hula hoops. Honestly the only thing I was looking for was a bench and a sign telling me that I was almost there. But instead I did a round of dead lifts and bicep curls and then moved on.
From what we can tell, hiking in Korea is a very social event. You aren't necessarily out to enjoy the peace and quiet of the wilderness. You are there to have fun, hike hard and to have a few drinks.
This is a very different way of thinking and it takes some getting used to if you approach hiking in Korea with a western mindset. So be open and try to enjoy the cultural differences. This is why you travel in the first place, right?