Recent years saw a swift rise in popularity of trekking and hiking. Many people enjoy packing a few essentials, dressing in comfortable clothes and durable shoes, and heading out into the wild. However, there is still some confusion between these two terms. What exactly is the difference between trekking and hiking?
According to trekking and hiking experts:
- Trekking is a challenging journey that requires substantial effort and preparation.
- Hiking is an outdoors walking activity, usually done as a pleasurable pastime.
Despite the differences, both trekking and hiking are enjoyable physical activities that involve walking for a long distance. Each one requires certain approach, preparation, and equipment, which we will explore in this article.
Trekking VS Hiking – Quick Comparison
|Purpose||Adventure, sometimes pilgrimage||Fun and exercise|
|Physical requirement||Ability to walk for at least 7-8 hours a day, for several continuous days||Ability to walk for 1-5 hours without long rests|
|Duration||From 3 to 30 days||Several hours, can be an overnight activity|
|Terrain||Frequently unexplored trails, can include mountains||Marked trails, usually not higher than hills|
|Gear||Navigational tools, tents or sleeping bags, waterproof clothes||Backpack with mostly water and some food, season-suitable clothes, comfortable shoes|
|Lodging||No permanent place, but several campsites, hostels, or lodges along the trekking path||If hiking overnight without camping outdoors – a permanent hut or hostel|
Trekking VS Hiking – Detailed Comparison
People usually hike because it’s a fun hobby. You enjoy the view, breathe fresh air, and get a good exercise. In fact, many doctors and researchers strongly recommend hiking, since it boosts your physical health and mental state.
Trekking’s purpose is quite different from hiking. Trekking is usually an adventurous endeavor. While it’s also fun and beneficial to your health, it demands a long and sometimes arduous journey. It’s almost like a pilgrimage or an expedition. It’s a higher-level challenge that involves serious time investment.
Unless your physician is strongly against it, hiking can be done almost by anyone. If you can walk for up to 5 hours without taking a long break, then that’s all the physical requirement that hiking needs.
If you attempt trekking, you must be in much better physical shape. You could be walking for up to 8 hours per day, for several days in a row. I’m not saying that you have to be an Olympic-level athlete, but you must be able to endure constant physical effort.
As mentioned earlier, trekking is like an adventure or a long expedition. Serious trekking takes days, sometimes almost a month. There are adventurous souls who wish to conquer trekking routes that range from 100 km to 2000 km, and this cannot be accomplished over the weekend.
Hiking is a shorter activity, both in time and distance. You can hike without taking a long vacation from work and your regular life. Normally hiking takes a few hours, at most two days.
Since hiking is an easier and fun challenge, it usually takes you through familiar, marked routes. Don’t expect climbing a steep cliff while hiking. The main focus is to enjoy the scenery and the pastime, without risking injuries or getting lost.
Trekking, on the other hand, can take you to a road less traveled, so to speak. Expect to cross mountains, ravines, and forests. This will give you the feeling of walking on an unexplored land, discovering it for the first time.
Hiking is the shorter activity between the two, which means there is less gear and equipment to pack. You will mostly need comfortable hiking clothes, which also include hiking boots and hiking hats. If you’re a lady, then you also need women’s hiking pants. I strongly suggest you visit all the linked articles to see the top recommendations for these hiking items.
In addition, you will need food to keep up the energies. This does not have to be a food that requires cooking, but rather snacks packed with nutrients. In addition, you need enough water for the entire hike. Read my article on the right amount of water to drink when hiking for more information.
Trekking requires more advanced equipment. Your clothes should be able to withstand harsher conditions. You will need to pack a sleeping bag or a camping tent. A first aid kit is a must. You will also need navigation tools, such as a compass. Again, please check all linked articles for the recommendations of the best and most necessary trekking gear.
When you hike overnight, or even for 3-4 days, you have two options. Either pack a sleeping bag and rest under the stars, or, if you don’t want to carry too much, plan your route nearby a permanent lodging. A lot of parks and hiking trails have huts and hostels, and you can choose one as your permanent base for the night.
Trekking, on the other hand, cannot reply on a permanent lodging. As you continue your journey forward, you can’t walk back to sleep at the same place. Plan your trekking so that at the end of each day you can find a roadside lodge, hostel, or campsite.
The following video summarizes trekking vs hiking:
Important Trekking Tips
- If you’re a beginner, plan an easier route for your first time. This is your introduction to trekking, and you’d want this experience to be welcoming and encouraging. Don’t go through extreme terrain, especially if it demands a lot of climbing. Additionally, avoid facing extreme weather for your first trekking route, you might not be mentally and physically prepared to face it, for now.
- Plan your trekking adventure carefully. Calculate how much water and food you may need, what clothes and equipment you should pack. Make sure you can carry this weight for hours. This is similar to planning a camping trip, which is another article you need to read before heading out.
- Select the right season for your trekking. In many regions, winter can turn a trekking route into a harsh ordeal, with snow, rain, and low temperatures preventing even the most experienced trekker from progressing. In other regions, summer can also make trekking too challenging, with heat and strong, dry winds. Learn the climate of your destination and avoid unnecessarily facing extreme conditions.
- Notify people before you’re leaving. Let your family, friends, and co-workers know exactly when you are planning to leave, what is your destination, what it your exact route, and when you are expected to return. This way, should anything bad happen, the people who care about you will know where to send the rescue party.
- Know your company. If you’re trekking as a part of a group, do some research on other people. Are they reliable and supportive? Do they have sufficient trekking experience? Did at least one of them receive first aid training? After all, you are going to spend several days with them, walking through challenging terrain.
Important Hiking Tips
- Research your hiking trail before you start. Observe it on the map, read reviews and significant information. For instance, is there a nice spot along the trail, where you can relax, watch the view and eat your lunch? Is the trail a loop or a line between two points? If it’s a line, you might need to either backtrack or call for a car. Are there other trails crossing yours, which can cause you taking the wrong direction? Find this out beforehand and avoid any confusion and surprises.
- Use a steady pace. You’re not on a march to conquer an unknown territory. Don’t exhaust yourself in the first hour, otherwise you will feel depleted toward the end of the hike. Saving energy is essential for a good hiking activity, particularly if your trail includes going up the hill. Use a pace you can steadily keep throughout the entire day, even if it feels slow at first.
- Check the weather forecast. You don’t want this enjoyable activity to quickly turn into a disaster once the clouds start gathering above you. Make sure that the weather is going to be comfortable. If it’s too hot, then either wait for a nicer day or dress accordingly and pack plenty of water. If it’s going to rain, postpone the hike for another day.
- While you enjoy the walk and the scenery, remember one important rule – don’t leave any traces! Nature should remain as pristine as possible, for many others to enjoy hiking in the future. Don’t throw any trash, but rather take it with you in a bag and dispose of it only when you’re done hiking. Don’t disturb the wildlife and don’t pluck any flowers. Whatever you find in the nature – you should leave it there, untouched.
- Always be aware regarding where you’re stepping! You can be easily distracted by music in your headphones, by conversation, or by the scenery. However, this is not a pavement you’re stepping on. There are roots and stones beneath you, which can easily trip you or twist your ankle. So, enjoy the walk, but remain aware of the environment.
Most Popular Hiking and Trekking Trails
If you’re unsure where you should or shouldn’t trek and hike, contact the management of the nearby national park. There are quite a few well-known and impressive trails, both in the USA and around the world. Here are a few examples.
- Appalachian Trail, Georgia to Maine, USA: Probably the most friendly and famous trail of all. Besides the amazing views, there are tons of restaurants and hostels along the trail. So, if you choose not to camp in nature, then you don’t have to bring a lot of food as well as tents or sleeping bags – the trail-side businesses have you covered.
- The Hayduke Trail, Arizona and Utah, USA: This trail goes across an unusually beautiful desert in the South West. The desert inspired the famous book by Edward Abbey, “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, and the trail was named after one of the book’s characters. This hiking trail starts at the Arches national park and continues through several other parks.
- The Ice Age Trail, Wisconsin, USA: This lengthy trek covers a unique landscape created by the retreating Ice Age. The ice left behind numerous lakes, boulders, planes, and tunnels, much to the delight of modern hikers and trekkers. Not only is this a trail across a large distance, but also a journey back in time.
- West Coast Trail, Canada: This is a breathtaking maritime route along Vancouver Island’s coast. Unlike the previously listed trails, this one is “only” 46 miles / 75 km long and can be covered in a few days. The trails’ views are astounding, with rain forest on one side and blue Pacific Ocean on the other side.
- Tour du Mont Blanc, Europe: For a true European experience, you have to try Tour du Mon Blanc. It’s challenging, but it’s also a lifetime experience. The trail takes you across Italy, France, and Switzerland, while introducing you to picturesque Alpines passes and villages. This hiking trail takes about 12 days to complete.
For the complete list of best hiking trails, I would like to recommend the highly popular book, 100 Hikes of a Lifetime: The World’s Ultimate Scenic Trails by Kate Hiber. If you’re looking for the ultimate hiking and trekking experience, this guide has everything you need. Astounding photography, expert reviews, and top 100 hiking routes in USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, Egypt, and other countries around the world. Use this guide to plan your next adventure, and even take it with you on your next journey.
So there you have it, a thorough review of both trekking and hiking. Whichever you choose, remember to be prepared and have the right mindset for the activity of your choice.
I have additional related resources that you might find useful.
If you plan on hiking solo, there are a few important things you should know before heading out. I encourage you to take a look at my article on hiking alone.
Hiking at night can be just as fun as hiking during daytime. However, some precautions should be taken, which you can read about in my post about how to hike at night.
And finally, whether you’re trekking or hiking, you need to pack a few essential items, which are listed on the article about backpacking for beginners.
Stay safe out there, and happy trails!