Hiking vs Trekking… not that easy to tell the difference at first. These days, the two words just seem to be used interchangeably. After all, both involve walking, and both involve doing so in a natural environment, most of the time. So are hiking and trekking exactly the same?
Well, not exactly. There is a difference between hiking and trekking that go beyond the dictionary’s definitions. These differences involve different preparation needs and possibly different gear as well. So let’s take a look at the key differences between hiking and trekking!
Hiking vs. Trekking: Key Differences
First things first. Let’s start with some official definitions from the Collins Dictionary. According to the dictionary:
Hiking is the sporting or leisure activity of going for long, often strenuous, walks in the country.
Trekking is the act of making a long journey across difficult country on foot, usually for pleasure.
Indeed, hiking is a nature walk that can be strenuous or take place in a difficult environment, but usually doesn’t last more than a day. On the other hand, trekking involves following a whole itinerary over the course of several days. As a result you often get to camp in nature.
Once you know that distinction, you realize that many people, including tourism professionals, use the words wrongly. I believe it is sometimes intentional. When a travel agency wants to sell you a tour, “day hike to the waterfall” sounds fun, but “day trek to the waterfall” sounds like a whole adventure. It’s more impacting. But technically speaking, it’s a hike.
A hike usually follows a well-marked trail, and lasts half a day or a full day, in general. It’s the least difficult exercise in comparison with trekking, but it doesn’t mean it’s always easy!
Sometimes, the elevation gain, the condition of the path, the climate, the altitude… can make some hikes petty hard. You need to adapt your physical preparation to the type of hike you are planning. If you are planning to go in high altitude places, make sure to read our guide: How To Prepare for High Altitude.
A hike involves walking for shorter distances, and you usually come back to the starting point at the end of the hike. You also don’t need to sleep in the wild.
Trekking basically means hiking everyday for several days, following a much longer itinerary in the wilderness. You often follow a trail, but it is not always the case.
Trekking is more challenging than hiking, because of the time and distance walked of course, but also the terrain that is often more difficult. This difference between hiking vs. trekking also means big differences in your physical preparation.
It is often enough to be reasonably in shape to survive a day of hiking, but you do need to be trained to complete an 10-day trek in the mountains, the desert or the jungle.
While trekking, you usually either sleep in lodges or camps along the way, or pitch the tent in nature.
So we saw that hiking and trekking differ in several aspects like walking conditions or physical preparation. As for the equipment, it is easy to see that it won’t be the same either!
Hiking means being out in the trails for a day or less, so you can easily pack what you need in a smaller backpack.
→ You can read our complete guides to the Best Hiking Daypacks and the Best North Face Backpacks.
Trekking however, means being out in the wild for multiple days. You will definitely need a larger backpack to put all the clothes and gear you will need.
→ Check our Budget Backpacking Backpacks guide.
Footware and Clothes
Of course, the kind of clothes you will wear depends on the environment you plan to hike or trek in. For a hike, you will be away at most one whole day, so you don’t need to bring any extra clothes.
For a trek you do need extra clothes. If you trek in the tropics, you will be sweating like crazy or face a sudden heavy downpour. Your clothes will be drenched, and they won’t dry so easily. That’s why you need extra clothes.
As for the footware, I am more in favor of trekking boots for both treks and hikes. But for hikes that are not too difficult with an easy trail, small hiking shoes can be enough.
For trekking, you will often need a lot of camping gear, and of course food and water. Most of the time, it isn’t really a problem. Most treks around the world are made through travel agency that take care of the logistics for you and provide essential equipment. Sometimes they even have porters to carry all the bulky stuff and the food.
But of course, if you are going for your own independant trek you will have to carry all of this in your backpack.
Another small piece of gear that i very easy to forget but incredibly useful on a trek is a headlamp.
→ Make sur to read our Best Hiking Headlamps guide if you don’t already have one.
My Experience With Hiking and Trekking
As an avid traveler and nature, outdoors lover, I often took the opportunity to go for hikes and treks. And really, these are often the most beautiful memories I have of my trips. That’s why I focus on them a lot on this travel blog. And if you are reading this, we probably are on the same page 🙂
Here are some examples of hikes and treks I have done, for your inspiration:
- Coast-to-coast jungle hiking on Koh Chang Island, Thailand
- Climbing the Rucu Pichincha Volcano, Ecuador
- Hiking on the bog of Soomaa National Park, Estonia
- Countryside day hike to the Tad Sae Waterfall, Laos
- Climbing the Merapi Volcano, Indonesia
- Climbing Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountains, Peru
- Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru (5 days)
- Mount Roraima Trek, Venezuela/Brazil/Guyana (8 days)
- Lost City Trek, Colombia (4 days)
I hope that this page will have helped you see clearer in the in the difference between hiking vs trekking. They may sound synonymous at first but now you know they are not.
If you haven’t tried hiking or trekking yet, by all means, get started on your next trip! You can start with a day hike, see how it goes, and prepare for a multiday trek next time. But be careful, once you start, you do get addicted.