Hiking vs Trekking: What’s the Difference Between?

Adventurers use many words to describe walking through nature. Strolling, wandering, exploring, and—my personal favorite—coddiwompling. Two of the most popular terms are hiking and trekking, often used interchangeably. Even though they share qualities, hiking and trekking aren’t the same. It’s critical to understand the difference so you can plan your adventures accordingly. Let’s dive into the differences between hiking vs trekking.

Hiking vs Trekking

Hiking

Hiking is walking on shorter well-marked trails that take less than a day. Most trails are near popular areas (like cities and parks)

Trekking

Treks are long hikes through rugged backcountry terrain that take a few days or more to complete. While there may be trails, most treks are deep in the wilderness without marked paths or camping facilities.

Chart going over the differences between hiking vs trekking

What is Hiking?

For hundreds of years, adventurers have favored “hiking” to describe nature walking. Strictly speaking, hiking is going for long walks in the woods, on marked trails or footpaths. Most hiking trails are out-and-back or loop routes.

Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities, second only to running. It’s an accessible sport, making it popular for individuals, couples, and families. In the United States alone, over 50 million people identify as hikers. Most people go hiking to get exercise, enjoy nature, or spend time with loved ones.

What is Trekking?

Trekking is a type of hiking. Originally used to describe multi-day hikes through the Himalayas, the definition has expanded to long, arduous journeys through remote backcountry. It’s also referred to as backpacking. Most treks are point-to-point routes. Hikers often trek to see pristine natural areas and challenge their athletic ability.

Many treks are referred to as “long-distance” trails or “thru-hikes.” Popular examples include the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, or Continental Divide Trail.

Types of Trekking

Camping Trekking

Camping trekking is the most common type of trekking. Trekkers hike through the day and set up camp at night. Most hikers carry their supplies in a pack on their back. Some hikers prefer to trek with guides who carry supplies and provide camping. Camping trekking offers hikers a more rugged experience.

Teahouse Trekking

Teahouse trekking, or lodge trekking, is when hikers sleep in lodges placed along the route. Some lodges provide meals, while others serve as shelters.

The Difference Between Hiking and Trekking

The easiest way to distinguish between hiking and trekking is the investment—time, cost, skills, and preparation.

Time

Hiking requires less time investment. Most hiking trails are close to home and only take a few hours to complete.

Trekking, however, takes days to months. A trekking journey involves hiking several miles a day in remote locations.

Cost

Hiking costs less than trekking. You need gear and supplies, but the list is short: the ten essentials, shoes, apparel, snacks, and water. 

Trekking requires more equipment. Besides hiking gear, you need a camping tent, survival gear, athletic gear, and enough food to make meals.

Skills

Hiking comes naturally to most people. A good hiker knows trail etiquette and Leave No Trace principles, but hiking skills are fundamental.

Trekking requires more advanced skills. Hiking in the backcountry involves knowledge of remote camping, survival, first-aid, and navigation.

How to Prepare for Hiking vs Trekking

The advantage of distinguishing between hiking and trekking is that you can better prepare for your adventure.

Preparing for a Hike

Hiking is easier to plan. Most hikes are on established trails in highly-visited areas. It’s easy to find trail information and directions online. The following steps will help you prepare for your hiking adventure.

1. Find a hiking trail, and gather data like trail length and difficulty. Tell someone where you’re going. Most trails are suitable for hikers with basic athletic abilities. Some are also equipped for disabled hikers.

2. Pack gear appropriate for your hike. Bring a hiking backpack to carry your essentials, first-aid supplies, basic navigation tools (like a map and compass), extra apparel, snacks, and water. Always pack the ten essentials. You may want to bring gear to make your hike more enjoyable, like hiking poles or a camera.

3. Dress for the weather. Wear comfortable layers made from moisture-wicking materials. Bring clothing to protect you from harsh conditions like extreme cold or heat. Pack extra clothing, should you need to change or add layers.

4. Wear the right shoes for your adventure. Depending on your hike, the best options are trail runners, approach shoes, or boots. Your shoes should match the terrain—trail runners are breathable, versatile, and comfortable. Climbing approach shoes have supreme grip. And hiking boots are water-resistant and durable enough to withstand uneven terrain.

Preparing for a Trek

Trekking takes a little more planning. Since you’re self-navigating, you’ll need to map your route and familiarize yourself with weather patterns and other dangers. The following steps will help you prepare for your trekking adventure.

1. Find a trekking adventure with enough information for you to plan your route’s logistics—the best way from point A to point B, where to camp, and what to expect from the environment. You’ll need to know how to read a map and plan for contingencies. Be aware of potential dangers, like weather conditions or wildlife. Trekking requires endurance and stamina, so you may want to train your body before embarking on your adventure.

2. Pack enough gear for the duration of your trek. You’ll need the ten essentials, hiking gear, advanced navigation tools like a GPS device, backcountry camping gear, and plenty of food. 

3. Since most treks are several days (or longer), you may not be able to pack enough water to last the entire route. Scope out potential water sources and bring a water purification system.

4. Bring enough apparel to last the trek (or environmentally safe soap to wash clothing). Most trekkers face varying weather conditions, so pack for any situation. It helps to know how to read clouds so you can predict rain, snow, heat, floods, or lightning. Since you’re carrying your gear on your back, try to find lightweight clothing.

5. Most trekkers prefer hiking boots for longer trips. They’re durable, protective, and suitable for a range of conditions. Make sure you break your shoes in before your trek to minimize blisters and accidents. If you’re trekking in the summer, you can use lightweight trail runners for speed and agility.

Conclusion

If you’re new to nature walking, start with hiking. You can choose a trail near home and hike for a few hours. It’s a great reprieve from daily life and the perfect introduction to all kinds of hiking.

Skilled hikers can upgrade to trekking. It’s a good idea to take courses in first-aid, wilderness survival, navigation, and backcountry camping. Trekking is a great way to challenge yourself and get to know more remote wilderness areas.