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What Is the Difference between Hiking and Trekking?

Hiking and trekking both take you into the beauty of the outdoors, but they differ in intensity and duration. Hiking generally refers to day-long walks on well-marked trails, while trekking is a more rigorous multi-day journey, often in remote areas. Each offers unique rewards and challenges. Curious about which adventure suits you best? Let's delve deeper into the wild differences.
Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

In terms of physical movement, there really is no difference between hiking and trekking, but the activities do differ rather significantly in other ways. Both are activities in which one walks or hikes through the woods, but hiking is done more for leisure on man-made roads or trails, while trekking is done over a variety of terrain as a means of transportation, adventure, or challenge to the body and mind. Both hiking and trekking can be done over short distances in a day or two, or over a longer distance over the course of several days, weeks, or even months, but the day to day routines and activity associated with hiking will be different from that of trekking.

The biggest difference between hiking and trekking is the intensity. Hiking is generally easy to moderately paced activity, though some backpackers would argue that hiking is just as strenuous and difficult as trekking. Trekking, however, takes place over varied terrain; a trekker may travel on roads and trails for part of his journey, but he may also bushwhack through undeveloped terrain. He will often have to use maps and orienteering skills to find his way, and he must have first aid and survival skills at the ready for his trip. Hikers generally stick to established trails and do not travel over unmarked terrain.

A hiking backpack.
A hiking backpack.

When trekking is defined as a long-distance trip supported by porters or pack animals, the difference between hiking and trekking becomes even more vast. Trek adventures often feature people specifically hired to carry equipment, cook meals, set up tents, and so on over the course of a multi-day trip through a challenging terrain. A trekker in this case does not have to carry his or her own gear, and the activity is much less strenuous on the trekker. Compare that situation to a backpacker on a multi-day trip who has to carry his own food, clothing, safety gear, and shelter, and the difference between hiking and trekking becomes apparent.

Hiking boots.
Hiking boots.

The equipment one will need for hiking and trekking will vary according to the activity, as well as according to what type of trekking is being done. Trekkers who travel via unmarked paths will need durable equipment, and they will often need skills necessary to find or build shelter. Trekkers will most often have tools like Swiss knives, matches, ropes, and more both for safety and convenience. It simply is impossible to think of trekking without these essentials in your backpack. Hikers and backpackers will need a sturdy backpack and hydration system and the physical fitness to travel the distances they have planned out beforehand.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between hiking and trekking?

A hike may include a leisurely trip along a scenic route.
A hike may include a leisurely trip along a scenic route.

Hiking generally refers to day-long walks on well-marked trails, often in a circular route, and is suitable for a range of fitness levels. Trekking, on the other hand, involves multi-day journeys through more challenging terrain, which may require a higher level of physical fitness and often includes camping or stays in lodges. While hiking is a leisure activity that can be done spontaneously, trekking usually requires more planning and preparation due to its duration and potential remoteness.

Do I need special equipment for trekking that I wouldn't need for hiking?

The Inca Trail, which overlooks the ruins of Machu Picchu, is a popular choice for guided treks.
The Inca Trail, which overlooks the ruins of Machu Picchu, is a popular choice for guided treks.

Yes, trekking often requires additional equipment compared to hiking. For trekking, you'll need a reliable backpack, a sleeping bag, and possibly a tent if you're not staying in lodges or huts. You should also have a water purification system, as access to clean water can be limited. Trekking poles are also more commonly used in trekking for stability and support during long ascents and descents. Proper footwear is crucial for both activities, but trekking boots are typically more robust to handle rougher terrain.

Is trekking more dangerous than hiking?

Hiking is relatively easy compared with trekking.
Hiking is relatively easy compared with trekking.

Trekking can present more risks than hiking due to factors like remote locations, longer distances, and more challenging terrain. The potential for altitude sickness, extreme weather, and navigation challenges increases with trekking. However, with proper preparation, equipment, and awareness of one's limits, both hiking and trekking can be safe activities. It's important to always inform someone of your itinerary and to check weather and trail conditions before embarking on any outdoor adventure.

How do I prepare for my first trekking trip?

While hiking may not require a pole, trekking will likely require a trekking pole to help navigate steep terrain.
While hiking may not require a pole, trekking will likely require a trekking pole to help navigate steep terrain.

To prepare for your first trekking trip, start by building your endurance with regular hikes and cardiovascular exercises. Research your trekking destination thoroughly, including climate, terrain, and altitude. Invest in good quality trekking gear, including boots, clothing layers, and a backpack. Practice using your equipment on shorter trips. Consider a trekking course to learn navigation and survival skills. Lastly, plan your route, book accommodations if necessary, and ensure you have necessary permits and insurance.

Can beginners go trekking, or is it only for experienced adventurers?

Treks often take place over varied terrain, as opposed to established trails.
Treks often take place over varied terrain, as opposed to established trails.

Beginners can certainly go trekking, but it's important to start with less challenging routes and gradually build up to more difficult treks. Beginners should choose well-traveled paths, consider hiring a guide, and possibly join a group trek to gain experience. It's also crucial for beginners to be aware of their physical limits and to prepare adequately in terms of fitness, equipment, and knowledge about the trekking environment.

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Discussion Comments

discographer

@chivebasil-- I agree with you. I think that hikes have a goal and destination just like treks do, the main difference is the gear that is required.

You will need little or no equipment and gear for hiking but quite a few gear, in fact- heavy gear - for trekking.

This difference is because of the terrain though. If the terrain in trekking weren't more difficult, there would be no difference between hiking and trekking.

I would sum it up as hiking being walking through easy terrain and trekking as walking through difficult terrain.

cloudel

I have a friend in advertising sales who makes a lot of money. He decided that for his vacation, he wanted to hire a crew to carry his stuff and go trekking through a mountainous area alongside a beach. He would climb these mountains to reach the peaks of steep cliffs with ocean views. He invited me to come along.

The trekkers carrying the gear never complained once, because I’m sure he paid them very well for their trouble. We saw lots of palm trees, exotic flowers, and brightly colored birds. The gear carriers had tools with them that they could use to kill poisonous snakes if necessary. They also had some anti-venom in their emergency kits.

Reaching the cliffs made the tough journey worthwhile. We camped out at the top of one that looked out as far as you could see across the ocean and to the horizon. The spectacular sunset served as our reward.

seag47

I got invited on a trekking adventure once, but I declined. I know that my fitness level is not high enough to go climbing mountains and whacking through tall weeds. I did, however, accept an invitation to go hiking.

It was just a one-day trip. We traveled three hours one way and three hours back. I packed very lightly. I carried two water bottles, a pack of beef jerky, and some dried fruit.

We stuck to the cleared paths of the national park. At many points in the journey, we had a great view of a huge lake. Though I was tired and sore for a few days after the hike, I know that it was nowhere near the fatigue and pain I would have experienced had I gone trekking.

orangey03

In college, a group of friends and I went trekking through some uphill woods to a lake. To decide who got to lead the way and clear the paths and who had to carry the gear, we drew straws. This was the only fair way to determine our individual jobs.

The friends who got the responsibility of hauling the load were not happy, but they knew the process was fair. The journey would take three days, but once we arrived, we would have an air-conditioned cabin, a stocked fridge, and a beautiful lake to enjoy.

During the second day, the carriers became frustrated and jealous of the team leaders. Their muscles ached, and they were very weary. We decided to switch jobs. I was very happy that the other leaders were willing to take the load off the carriers. I think it showed great teamwork.

kylee07drg

When we turned eighteen, my friend and I decided to do a combination hike/trek adventure. We had no money with which to hire anyone to carry our equipment, so in carrying our own load, we were hikers. However, we often left trails for more steep climbs and scenic views, and in that sense, we were trekkers.

The backpacks did get heavy, but the advantage of traveling on our own was that we rested as often as we wished. Our goal was a gorgeous waterfall two days away. We had to use a machete to get through some tall grassy areas. We took some steep climbs on natural stone.

Once we arrived at our destination, we stayed there a full day to enjoy swimming and relaxation. We knew that we needed a recharge before heading back.

tolleranza

@Sinbad - Vagabonding, if your friend liked to travel a lot might have been what your friend aspired to do eventually, but if he had a permanent place a residence then he wasn't quite a vagabond yet.

Vagabonding is not like trekking in where trekking is more taken the off-beaten path, but it is like trekking in a semantic sense because vagabonds take a "off the beaten path" of lifestyle.

People who go vagabonding travel in a variety of terrains including cities which is different from trekkers (who stay more in woodsy type areas or mountainous regions).

But the main thing that makes you a vagabond by definition is that you have no consistent place to call home so you are traversing from place to place and finding a place to stay at the same time.

Sinbad

I thought I was being adventurous when I agreed to go hiking and camping in a tent off the trails we were hiking (as opposed to what I am used to - campgrounds).

This trekking stuff sounds even more adventurous, and if all goes well with hiking I will definitely be thinking of working my way up to trekking.

I don't know if this is the same thing as trekking, but I had a roommate who loved to travel and I noticed he had books on vagabonding.

Has anyone heard of this type of travel and is it like trekking?

lonelygod

For those who are just starting out as trekkers do you think it is a good idea to sign up with a group and try it with them first?

My friends and I have been hiking the local trails for a few years now but are really looking for more of a challenge. We don't really feel confident about heading into the wilderness by ourselves so are considering joining up with a club that does regular treks around our area.

Also, we have been reading about some travel groups that take treks to famous wilderness sites. Has anyone ever tried one of these trips before? If so, what was your experience like?

popcorn

Making the move from hiking to trekking can be a big one when you consider how much longer treks can last. My friends and I went on our first trek a few weeks ago and I am glad we had in so much in hiking in as practice.

For our first trek we found an area of a national park we wanted to explore and gave ourselves a week to do it. We loaded up on all the essential gear we would need to survive and took to the forest. It was an amazing experience and I would really recommend trekking to anyone who is into outdoors survival and an intense adventure. Being out in the woods with just your gear and maybe a friend or two is really something else.

truman12

My grandfather was an accomplished outdoorsman and he used to have a saying about this difference. I can't believe I remember this but the article triggered my brain. He used to say "You hike when you are just out for a walk, you trek when you are trying to get somewhere." I guess to his mind hiking was just a leisure activity but trekking had a real purpose. I have never done much of either so I can't comment. I will have to deffer to grandpa on this one.

chivebasil

For me the difference mostly comes down to the gear involved. I usually think of hiking as using only a small satchel with water, first aid and a little food. I think of trekking as carrying with you all the materials you will need to eat, sleep and live for several days. Obviously the difference in gear changes the nature of the activity significantly. Hiking is fast and light weight, trekking is slow and methodical. Maybe this is all just semantics though.

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    • A hiking backpack.
      By: Sergey
      A hiking backpack.
    • Hiking boots.
      By: MP2
      Hiking boots.
    • A hike may include a leisurely trip along a scenic route.
      By: Dudarev Mikhail
      A hike may include a leisurely trip along a scenic route.
    • The Inca Trail, which overlooks the ruins of Machu Picchu, is a popular choice for guided treks.
      By: Bryan Busovicki
      The Inca Trail, which overlooks the ruins of Machu Picchu, is a popular choice for guided treks.
    • Hiking is relatively easy compared with trekking.
      By: alada333
      Hiking is relatively easy compared with trekking.
    • While hiking may not require a pole, trekking will likely require a trekking pole to help navigate steep terrain.
      By: ARochau
      While hiking may not require a pole, trekking will likely require a trekking pole to help navigate steep terrain.
    • Treks often take place over varied terrain, as opposed to established trails.
      By: Dudarev Mikhail
      Treks often take place over varied terrain, as opposed to established trails.