Hiking vs Trekking

Walking can be defined as movement by means of putting one foot in front of the other. Sounds simple enough. But when it comes to planning your long-dreamed-of trip to Patagonia and that once-in-a-lifetime hike… or do you mean trekhike… no, trek? What is the difference? The walking world suddenly becomes a true linguistic jungle, and those who aren’t in the know start to trail behind – so let’s try to forge (or should that be bushwhack?) a path through all the confusion! We all know hat hiking and trekking are used interchangeably as outdoor recreational activities. But are they really the same?

Hiking

Simple definition: Hiking is an outdoor activity of walking in beautiful natural environments on pre-charted paths called hiking trails. There are day hikes and overnight hikes.

Long definition: Hiking is a leisure activity which can take place over just one day, or include unlimited overnight stays at hostels, campsites or guest houses, and generally involves walking along designated paths and following trails through scenic spots. Hikes can be as physically demanding as you choose, and you might go to explore a new and beautiful area, or to improve your physical fitness and get in shape. Hiking has also been linked to stress and anxiety relief. Fresh air to blow away the cobwebs, gorgeous views, the singsong of the birds in the trees – it’s a great way to experience the outdoors and immerse yourself in the natural world around you! That is not to say that you should not be fully prepared for all possible weather conditions, bringing plenty of warm, breathable layers, medical supplies, ample food and water, and comfortable walking shoes to boot. Hikers carry everything they need for their expedition on their backs, and must be ready for every eventuality, even if they are treading well-marked paths.

Trekking

Simple definition: Trekking is a long journey be undertaken on foot in areas where there are usually no means of transport available. Trekking is not necessarily mountaineering; it is walking for a number of days, usually on uncharted paths, in challenging environments which are likely to be hilly or mountainous.

Long definition: Trekking is generally used to describe a rigorous, multi-day trip across varied terrain, which is not normally accessible by other means of transport, and which often does not have established pathways, meaning a guide is frequently necessary or at least advisable. You should always carry a compass and a detailed map, as your orienteering skills might be tested. You’ll be staying the night in tents or huts, so there is far less likelihood of home comforts than with hiking, where there is the possibility of returning home to your hotel at the end of a long day! Trekking is, as a rule, more challenging and intense as an activity, testing your physical and even mental endurance. It is vital to be in shape before starting the trek, and not to view it as a means to get fit in itself. It often takes place in tough, hilly or mountainous areas of outstanding natural beauty, like hiking, but trekking can also denote necessity, for it is sometimes an unavoidable alternative in the absence of other means of transport. Conversely, hiking is a purely recreational activity. It is absolutely crucial that all those embarking upon treks have the correct survival kit, as well as well-fitting, sturdy boots, poles, First Aid supplies, a roll of trusty duct tape for your blisters, all the essential gear you need to set up camp, and plenty of breathable layers to adjust to the frequently varying temperatures out in the wilds of nature. Treks are often supported by porters or animals to carry heavy packs and supplies, whilst a hiker will generally carry their own pack. Check out our article on what to wear on your Patagonia trek for more details, and this guide on picking the perfect pair of boots which will become your new best friends (but potentially your worst enemies if you’re not careful!).

Hiking vs Trekking Overview

Hiking Trekking
Environmental impact Hikers over many years in an area can destroy the natural environment they walk in through wood gathering, fires, fecal matter, leaving non-biodegradable matter. As treks take longer than hikes, the environmental impact can be greater.
Locations Usually in beautiful natural environments, nature trails, hills. In areas where there is no means of transport and areas of great natural beauty. Usually in mountainous areas.
Equipment Depends on the weather, day or over-night hiking. Shoes applicable to the hiking terrain, water, compass, sometimes a hiking pole. Backpack with survival kit, food and medicine for overnight hiking. Survival kit, camping gear, boots, compass, clothing applicable to changes in temperature especially if in mountainous areas.
Overview An outdoor activity of walking in natural environments often on pre charted paths called hiking trails. A long journey on non-designated paths which could last several days and could be challenging. It is more intense and energetic than hiking.
Worldwide differences Hiking is called by different names around the world: tramping in New Zealand, bush-walking in Australia, trekking in Nepal. Trekking is also known as backpacking but should not be confused with mountaineering
Holidays Day hiking or walking holidays are popular in Europe, New Zealand, Chile, Costa Rica, Hawaii and North America. Trekking is popular in the Himalayan foothills in Nepal, India and Bhutan. The Andes in South America is also popular trekking Mecca.

Equipment

Depending on the weather and if the hike is for a day, a few hours or overnight, the equipment one carries varies. For a simple hike, good hiking shoes (preferably water proof), weather-appropriate clothing (hat, sunscreen, waterproof jacket), a trail map, compass, sunscreen, water, food and basic medical kit can be carried. The weight and bulk limit the amount of equipment that one can carry. Apart from what one would take on a day hike, overnight hikes and treks require a backpack, tent and sleeping bag for camping, fire lighting tools either flint or matches, food, water, survival kit, water purifying tablets, a compass, flashlight, map, insect repellent, a trekking pole or hiking pole which look like ski poles can be used in challenging treks can also be used. Equipment carried is to mitigate the dangers associated with hiking and trekking such as getting lost, dehydration or hypothermia, sunburn or frostbite, animal attacks, internal injuries like ankle sprains.

Trekking requires all of the above and a good supply of food.

Need help choosing the right gear? Check out the best outdoor gear here.

Terminology Around the World

Hiking is known by many names over the world. What is known as hiking in the U.S and Britain is called tramping in New Zealand, and bush-walking in Australia. Bushwhacking is a term used specifically for hiking through dense forest where vegetation needs to be whacked for slashed with a machete in order to advance. Thru-hiking is a term associated with long end-to-end hiking (hiking a trail completely in sequence in its entirety) on a trail specifically, the Appalachian Trail.

Location of Trails

People usually go hiking in places of natural beauty. Hiking trails usually guide people through these areas which may be signposted so people do not lose their way. Whereas while trekking, the path is usually not marked and may not be previously charted. Trekking can take place in areas of great natural beauty but unlike hiking, not exclusively so. Trekking can also be a means of necessity in places where there is no vehicular transport. Hiking is a popular holiday experience especially in Europe, New Zealand, Chile, Costa Rica and Hawaii. Trekking is popular is the Himalayan foothills in Nepal, Bhutan and India and in the Andes in South America.

Environmental Impact

Hikers and trekkers follow a Leave No Trace policy to reduce the impact of their presence on the natural environment. A number of hikers over years on the same trail can cause unexpected damage on the environment such as wood depletion, wood fires. Fecal matter and non-biodegradable materials can contaminate the watershed. Some hikers have complained that pole use leaves a visible impact on the surrounding trail, poking visible holes in the ground and damaging adjacent vegetation. The most common complaint is that the carbide tips leave visible white scratches on rock, and make scraping sounds.

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