Getting out to explore the natural beauty of the outdoors is a popular pastime in many parts of the world and there is no better way to do it than with your own two feet. Hiking and trekking are two different terms that are often used synonymously to describe the act of stepping out onto the trails for a fun journey in a new or familiar setting, but what are the actual differences between hiking vs trekking?

At first glance, the terms hiking and trekking may seem nearly indistinguishable, but on further investigation there are a number of subtle nuances that make each a distinct experience with its own unique circumstances, requirements, and preparations. Continue on reading if you would like to learn more about the similarities and differences between hiking versus trekking, while gaining some inspiration for your next big outdoor adventure.

Table of Contents

Hiker standing on mountain ridge
Hiker standing on mountain ridge
Angel’s Landing Hike, Zion National Park
Angel’s Landing Hike, Zion National Park

Define Hiking and Trekking

To fully understand the difference between hiking vs trekking, the best place to start is with the definition of the terms themselves. The Oxford Dictionary defines the two as:

Hike: a long walk or walking tour.

Trek: a long arduous journey, especially one made on foot.

What Do Hiking and Trekking Actually Mean?

As you can tell from the definitions above, there is a blurry line between the actual difference of meaning in the terms hiking and trekking, so how can one better understand the subtle difference between the two?

Firstly, hiking (or walking as it is known in the United Kingdom) is usually used to refer to shorter journeys that are made on foot, usually within the period of 1 day. These adventures can range in length and difficulty, from a brisk countryside walk that takes 45 minutes to a gruelling uphill climb through mountainous terrain that can take 10+ hours. Usually done for exercise, leisure, or to reconnect with nature, a hike generally follows established footpaths and trails. How each hiker will prepare for their adventure can be equally varied, as challenging terrain or inclement weather might require specialized footwear or gear; however, generally speaking you will need to pack less (and lighter weight) gear and supplies for a single day hiking excursion when compared to trekking.

While it is not the focus of this comparison, backpacking is a sort of bridge between hiking and trekking, and as such, deserves a quick mention here. More closely related to hiking, backpacking can easily be thought of as a multi-day hiking expedition, where you will need to plan out several overnight camping stays and carry the appropriate gear with you as you hike.

So if hiking is a single day adventure and backpacking covers multiple days, what exactly is trekking in simple terms? Essentially, trekking is a longer, more difficult journey that is undertaken on foot and often traverses both on and off-trail terrain. Generally speaking, trekking expeditions are highly organized and require a good deal of preparation, as the locations are often very remote and the distances covered are far greater. It is not uncommon for a trekking expedition to be stretched over 6, 10, or even 20 days. As you could imagine, such a lengthy undertaking requires trekkers to carry a heavy load of equipment and supplies through rugged terrain, making physical fitness a necessity in order to safely traverse the route.

Friends hiking resting on rock lookout watching the sunset
Friends hiking resting on rock lookout watching the sunset
Trekking gear Gregory backpack hiking poles
Trekking gear Gregory backpack hiking poles

Hiking vs Trekking: Comparison

Even with a basic understanding of what hiking and trekking are, it can still be a challenge to fully nail down the specifics of what makes each of these outdoor activities unique. Beyond the overall length and level of physical exertion required to complete each task, there are a number of subtle nuances to each that range from gear and supplies to organization and planning. Let’s dive into the similarities and differences between hiking versus trekking.

Hiking vs Trekking Similarities

The similarities between hiking and trekking stem largely from the overall goal of the activity, which is to get out and explore the natural world on foot. The sole reason for setting out on either type of adventure is up to the individual traveller; however, the things experienced along the way (ie. sightseeing, wildlife watching, etc.) are more or less the same. Pleasure, both in appreciating nature and getting in some good exercise, is one of the main attractions to both hiking and trekking.

Hiking vs Trekking Differences

Whereas similarities between hiking and trekking may be more subtle, the differences are a bit more distinct. The overall length of the journey – usually within 1 day for hiking and multiple days for trekking – and remote nature of the landscape are two of the main differentiating factors. Oftentimes hiking trails will be very distinct, whereas trekking routes will utilize trails, but will also require periods of route finding across open or difficult to navigate terrain.

Additionally, trekking will require sturdier gear to handle the rigors of successive days of use, as well as more gear and supplies to support life on the trail (more on this below). Aside from this, planning and logistics will be more of a factor, as you will need to meticulously plan for all eventualities along the trail and the remote nature of the route will likely require extra time and planning to reach. Due to all of this, a trekking expedition is often a much more serious undertaking that will require added time, money, and organization in order to successfully execute when compared to a hiking excursion.

Hiking toward mountians with camera
Hiking toward mountians with camera
Couple with backpacks walking through the forest toward cabin
Couple with backpacks walking through the forest toward cabin

Hiking vs Trekking: Equipment Differences

Arguably one of the biggest differences when it comes to comparing hiking versus trekking is in the gear, as trekking generally covers much longer distances and a longer period of time; the result of which is a need for more and sturdier gear. As the main focus of either activity is walking, you will need to ensure that you choose the right pair of footwear. Depending on the terrain and length of the hike, you will likely be able to get away with a lighter pair of hiking boots or trail runners, while a longer and more serious trek will require sturdier boots with a thicker sole and good ankle support. Two other critical pieces of equipment that you will need for either type of journey are a compass and a first aid kit that contains a variety of supplies to keep you safe on the trail.

When setting out for a hiking excursion, there are some essential pieces of gear that you will need in order to safely, comfortably, and successfully traverse the trail. You will want your gear to be fairly lightweight, but still cover you for every eventuality, so be sure to bring a lightweight day pack to carry everything. Obviously food and a large water bottle will be critical in keeping you fueled along the route, but spare socks and extra layers will aid you if you run into any inclement weather. Hiking poles are also a great idea to provide extra stability, especially if you will be traversing uneven ground.

In regards to preparing for a trekking expedition, much of the same advice above applies, except for the fact that you will be spending more time along the trail. Make sure to choose your gear wisely, as the remote nature of the route means that you won’t simply be able to head back to the trailhead in the event that you run into some trouble. In order to carry your extra gear and supplies, you will need a larger pack, ideally one that is 60L. Sleeping along the trail will require a tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag, in addition to extra clothing to stay dry and warm for the duration of your trip. As you will need more than just a day’s worth of water, you will need to think about some sort of water filtration or purification system, as lugging around bottles of water will create unnecessary weight. And lastly, you will need extra food supplies, as well as cookware, fuel, and a camp stove to cook on.

While it may seem like a lot to arrange, all of the extra items that are required for a trekking expedition when compared to a day hike really do reflect the fundamental difference between the two activities, namely that trekking is a much longer, arduous, and serious affair that will require extra organization and planning.

Trekking group backpackers walking through misty foggy forest
Trekking group backpackers walking through misty foggy forest

Hiking and Trekking Benefits

So, if they are such physically demanding and strenuous activities, why are hiking and trekking good for you? As with many different outdoor activities, hiking and trekking both offer a number of great benefits to your health that are the direct result of putting the different systems of your body to work. The most obvious are the physical benefits; however, less well-known to many people is the great impact that they have on other aspects of your wellbeing, such as mental and social health.

Prolonged periods of physical activity that feature natural intervals (think climbing and descending hills) offer a great number of benefits to your bodily health that include weight loss, reducing the risk of stroke, and general body maintenance. As weight bearing exercises, hiking and trekking will also serve to build bone density, strengthen muscles in the core and lower half of the body, as well as build endurance levels.

In terms of mental health, the exposure to vitamin D that comes with outdoor exercise can also help provide a mental boost that increases your creative capabilities and allows you to clear your mind. Additionally, a 2015 study from Stanford University found that increased exposure to the outdoors resulted in less activity in the parts of the brain that are associated with mental illness. As such, many people find that feelings of anxiety, stress and depression can be alleviated through hiking and trekking, as they are able to detach from the worries of the outside world and connect with nature. This focus on the beauty of what is in front of you will allow you to forget about your troubles and come up with problem solving strategies that will help you in your everyday life.

Lastly, and closely related to the mental health points above, hiking and trekking will help you to form better social and relationship connections. Hitting the trails with friends, family, or even new acquaintances is a great way to bond and learn about one another in a new setting that is removed from the outside world. Even setting out for a solo adventure has its benefits in this regard, as some alone time is often a great way to alter your perspective and grow as a person, so that you can strengthen your relationships with others.

Regardless of your intentions when setting out on a hiking or trekking expedition, the benefits to your physical, mental, and social health are an undeniably positive byproduct that will certainly serve you well in your everyday life.

Mountain top ridge walk climbing rocky peak above the clouds
Mountain top ridge walk climbing rocky peak above the clouds
Group of women hiking Helvellyn Walk UK
Group of women hiking Helvellyn Walk UK

Recommended Hikes

No matter where you find yourself in the world, you will almost always be in close proximity to a hiking route of some form or another that will enable you to get out and enjoy the beauty of nature, while getting some decent exercise in the process. Whether you plan on exploring the countryside around your hometown or are travelling further afield, there are a number of fantastic hiking routes that are suitable for a wide range of ages and skill levels.

For anyone making their way through the picturesque landscapes of Europe, the Matterhorn Glacier Trail in Switzerland offers a chance to explore the stunning terrain of the Alps, while the Lago di Carezza is a charming hike to a gorgeous lake that is set within the Dolomite Mountains of Italy. Similarly, the Helvellyn Walk is a rugged adventure in the United Kingdom that will showcase the natural beauty of the Lake District.

For those adventurers looking to explore North America, the crystal clear waters and rugged mountain peaks within Banff National Park, Alberta can be experienced along the Skoki Lakes Hike, while the winding rivers and breathtaking canyons of Zion National Park, Utah can be witnessed along the Angel’s Landing Hike.

These are just a few of the popular and awe-inspiring routes that can be found around the globe; however, there are countless other hiking regions that are ready and waiting to be explored, so why not strap on your boots and get ready to hit the trails!

Hiker standing on top of tall rock peak looking out to mountains
Hiker standing on top of tall rock peak looking out to mountains
Friends with backpacks camping gear hiking with dogs
Friends with backpacks camping gear hiking with dogs

Recommended Treks

Similarly to the many amazing hiking routes that can be found worldwide, there are countless treks around the globe that are set within near-magical locations, featuring famously scenic landscapes and world-renowned highlights. While there is generally a good variety of hiking routes for all skill levels, the challenging nature of most treks limit their usage to more experienced outdoor enthusiasts that are familiar with navigating remote and rugged landscapes or to those willing to hire a guide.

Known for the mountainous terrain of the Andes and the fascinating culture of the Quechua people, the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu is a fantastic trek that will lead you up to this world famous mountain top historical site on an adventure that sounds like the inspiration for an adventure novel. Similarly, the Picos de Europa Mountain Trek is a stunning 12-day journey through the mountains of Picos de Europa National Park that will allow you to take in the picturesque landscapes of northern Spain, while the Grand Yosemite Traverse Tour With Horsepack Support is a fun way to explore the gorgeous terrain within the most well-known national park in the United States.

For anyone looking to explore some of the most iconic mountain landscapes in the world, the Mount Kilimanjaro Northern Circuit Route is a breathtaking 8-day journey to the summit of the highest mountain in Africa, whereas the Annapurna Base Camp Trek will see you experience the jaw-dropping panoramic views of Nepal’s Himalayas on a 16-day adventure near the top of the world.

While these examples of famous treks will require you to travel around the world in order to begin your adventure, they – and countless other treks – can also serve as a source of inspiration for you to plan your own multi-day trek somewhere nearby.

Lac Blanc, Chamonix, France
Lac Blanc, Chamonix, France
Lago di Carezza, Nova Levante BZ, Italia
Lago di Carezza, Nova Levante BZ, Italia

Geographic Variations

It’s safe to say that there are a fair number of similarities and differences that can be seen when comparing hiking vs trekking; however, there are also some geographic variations in the naming of each activity that can make distinguishing the two even more confusing. Here are a few alternate terms that are used around the world to describe hiking and trekking:

Walking: As mentioned above, any journey in the United Kingdom that is made on foot is referred to as walking, whether it is a quick stroll to the shops or a lengthy adventure into the mountains.

Bush Walking: Used throughout Australia, bush walking is a term that is interchangeable with hiking.

Tramping: A term only used in New Zealand, tramping is more akin to trekking than it is hiking, as the distances are often longer and the terrain is more rugged and remote. Tramping is also sometimes used when referring to a particularly long or difficult day walk; however, it is mostly reserved for multi-day treks and the region’s famous “Great Walks”, such as the Kepler Track, Abel Tasman Coast Track, and the world famous Te Araroa Trail.

Rambling, Hillwalking, Fellwalking: At one time used in various regions of the United Kingdom, these terms are now largely used by older generations, as they reflect the terminology from a previous era of outdoor exploration and invoke nostalgia.

Mountaineers hiking trekking walking with poles in low light
Mountaineers hiking trekking walking with poles in low light
Inca Trail trek in Peru leads to Macchu Pichu ancient stone village
Inca Trail trek in Peru leads to Macchu Pichu ancient stone village

Frequently Asked Questions About Hiking and Trekking

Is hiking better than walking?

While the question is fairly subjective, the simplest answer is yes. Hiking will burn more calories than walking.

Is trekking more difficult than hiking?

Yes… sometimes. Trekking often involves covering greater distances, over a longer period, in more remote and difficult terrain; however, an extreme day-hike through technically challenging terrain that features a large elevation gain can be equally difficult.

Man with backpack and camping gear standing above canyon
Man with backpack and camping gear standing above canyon
Steam rising from small pot on camp stove backcountry camp kitchen
Steam rising from small pot on camp stove backcountry camp kitchen

How do you prepare for a hiking or trekking excursion?

Strength, cardio, and endurance training are all great ways to prepare for a hiking or trekking excursion. Check out these training guides for hiking trips and longer backpacking trips to get started.

Is it OK to hike every day?

Yes… depending on how strenuous of a hike it is. Anything in excess is ill-advised, so if you plan on hiking daily, try mixing in some low-intensity hikes to allow your body to rest.

Family crossing river along hiking walking trail
Family crossing river along hiking walking trail
Sunrise sunset camping gear tent on mountain top lookout
Sunrise sunset camping gear tent on mountain top lookout

Is hiking good for losing weight?

Hiking is a great cardio workout that will help you to burn calories and lose weight, although per half hour it will burn less than running.

Does hiking tone your body?

Similar to using a stair climber in the gym, uphill hiking will help to build muscle; however, the downhill portion is what will tone your muscles the most, as your glutes and quads will be working in overdrive to help stabilize your body.

Hiking boots on mossy rocks crossing stream creek
Hiking boots on mossy rocks crossing stream creek

Final Thoughts on Hiking vs Trekking

In short, although the definitions of hiking and trekking may be nearly indistinguishable, there are similarities and differences that make these two outdoor activities unique, yet closely related. At the base level, the easiest way to distinguish between hiking versus trekking is the overall length of time needed to complete the activity, with hiking being the shorter of the two.

It is up to the individual to explore the subtle nuances of each in order to fully understand which type of excursion best suits their needs. Whether you are looking for a life-changing multi-day adventure in some far-off, mythical land or simply to get in better shape while exploring the outdoors, the worlds of hiking and trekking can be found along the same spectrum, and you just might find that your involvement in one will lead you to realize a passion in the other.