Last updated: November 7, 2023
Hiking vs trekking – is there a difference? They’re both outdoor activities that involve walking long distances in nature. I have been hiking and trekking for many years now and love them both equally.
Hiking and trekking are both the kind of sport you can do individually or with a group. And both are a great form of exercise that can provide many health benefits, physically and emotionally.
And that’s generally where the similarities end.
Hiking vs Trekking – What’s the Difference?
The main difference between hiking and trekking is that trekking is essentially more challenging than hiking. In a number of ways. Here are 11 of them.
1. Time Commitment
The two are different in terms of how much time you spend for each one. Hiking is usually only a half-day or a day long adventure. Sometimes you stay the night at the end of your journey, turn around and hike back the next day.
Trekking involves multiple days, sometimes weeks and or even months. The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,653 miles long and often takes several months during the summer to complete.
I find it more difficult to plan for trekking for this reason alone, yet the energy and effort is always worth it to me.
2. The Trail
Hiking is generally done on well-marked, well-maintained trails from beginning to end. Tipsoo Lake is one of many trails at Mount Rainier National Park is considered an easy hike of less than a mile and while the summer trail is dirt, it’s clearly visible at all times.
Trekking on the other hand, sometimes but not always, takes you along unmarked trails. The Kalalau Trail in Kauai is unmarked in places, making experience and navigation skills a primary concern for most hikers.
3. The Destination
The destination is also a significant factor in designating a long walk as either a trek or a hike. Hiking often has an out and back style, or a loop, which makes it easier to return to your car. The state of Washington has many hikes to Fire Lookouts, for example and you return along the same path you arrived on.
Trekking is generally to a specific destination and usually one way only. The GR20 for instance, is a 112 mile long journey from Calenzana village in the north to Conca in the south of France.
4. The Distance
Hiking is rarely more than twenty miles at a time, at least not intentionally. Trekking alternatively, is usually between 5-10 miles a day for more than a day, so you cover more distance. The distance you cover in trekking is determined by your body and endurance, as well as how far between individual campsites, huts or lodges.
5. The Terrain
With hiking, it’s easier to choose the terrain and the terrain choices tend to be easier, though not always. Hikes are often rated as easy, moderate or difficult, letting you choose the type of trail you are looking for.
Trekking involves more of a variety, often in more remote areas like the Himalayas and is often considerably more challenging. The Zion Narrows trek for instance, involves hiking in the Virgin River.
6. The Difficulty
Hiking, while it can be strenuous, is never so for long. There is a finite number of miles to make and knowing that is half the battle. Generally, the return trip is the opposite in difficulty. If you went uphill on the way in, you will go downhill on the way back.
Trekking can be difficult in many ways – physically and mentally. Between navigation, isolation, total reliance on only yourself and the grit to keep going when you’re completely exhausted, it can be a challenge to all of your capabilities.
With hiking, you bring your ten essentials with you just in case; your navigation tools, sun protection, headlamp, first aid kit, fire source, knife, emergency shelter, extra water, extra food and extra clothes. While you bring all of these with you hiking, you are unlikely to actually use most of them. In addition, hiking doesn’t require special equipment.
With trekking, you will likely use all of your ten essentials and may also need more advanced equipment. Certainly you will want a back-up battery as well layers of clothing for every environment you might walk through.
Hiking can be done safely by people of any skill level, from beginners to advanced. While you should have experience using your ten essentials, it’s not required to complete a hike.
Trekking on the other hand, is done by or with experienced hikers. You should have considerable experience using all of your equipment in all kinds of weather and environments.
Hiking requires less organization and planning. You don’t need to be extremely organized and remember absolutely everything you may need if you’re just going on a day hike. The ten essentials are all you really need.
Alternatively, if you’re leaving for a week-long trek through nature, you need to be absolutely positive you have everything you might need. If you’re trekking, you must be self-sufficient for the time you are in between stops.
10. Mental Strength
Trekking tends to lead more to mental growth or a change in perspective, not just because there is more freedom involved in the route but because you’re often going through territory that rarely sees humans. Spending time alone has a way of inviting positive self-reflection. It also demands a higher level of endurance and mental toughness just to get through on your own.
With hiking you bring enough food for the duration of the hike and some extra just in case. Food for half a day, or an entire day at most. With trekking, you can but often don’t make stops along the way for it, which also requires more planning.
If you do stop, you need to coordinate who will get the food to your next stop and what kinds of foods will be in it. You can bring all of your own food, depending on the length of hike, but food tends to weigh a lot.
Generally people who go backpacking for a day or two will bring their own food. It’s easier to bring and eat healthy food on a hike than on a trek, where you’re more reliant on what’s available than what you bring with you.
Trekking vs Hiking – Which is For You?
The most beautiful thing about these activities is that you actually don’t have to decide. You can do whatever suits you and your lifestyle at the moment you are in. They compliment each other perfectly.
You can hike for short or long distances whenever you have time or a specific place you want to go. I love to travel just for the hikes. Arizona, California, Oregon and of course Washington are some of my favorites.
And I love to trek as well, though this requires significantly more preparation, training, money and time commitment. I’ve trekked to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail and have a long list of others for one day, such as the Camino de Santiago and the trek to Everest Basecamp.
I dream about my next trek with every hike I do and it makes it easier to wait until that day comes around. The more often you hike, the more prepared you will be for trekking. And the more trekking you do, the easier hiking becomes.
If you love hiking, you’ll probably love trekking as well. If you’re thinking about getting into trekking, you should definitely start by hiking and build up your endurance and strength so that you are physically and mentally capable of a long trek.
There are different kinds of treks, those where you sleep in a tent at night and those where you go from hut to hut. Those that are guided and those that are self-led. But all of them require commitment, strength and stamina.
What are the benefits of trekking and hiking?
The physical benefits include improved cardiovascular health, stronger bones and muscles and increased energy. In addition, they both often lead to better weight management, which plays a significant role in reducing chronic disease.
Mental health is also greatly improved by this type of exercise. Studies have shown that regular exercise boosts mood, self-esteem and reduces stress. It improves sleep and cognition, enhancing your creativity and reducing your risk of cognitive decline.
What is the difference between backpacking and trekking?
Backpacking can be a form of trekking, if you you go for several days maybe weeks depending on the itinerary. Trekking is staying the night in a new place each time, while backpacking can be but doesn’t have to be. You almost always carry your own backpack when backpacking, but aren’t necessarily doing so when on a trek.
Backpacking is bringing everything you need with you while trekking is less defined. While you carry your own gear trekking, you may not carry all the food you will need. You can stop at huts and get food along the way.
Some Famous Hikes Around the World
- Inspiration Point in the Grand Teton National Park, which is only 2 miles long and takes less than two hours.
- The Queen’s Garden Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park which takes approximately 3 hours to complete.
- Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, which takes approximately 3 hours to complete.
Treks that will Challenge Your Endurance
Some great treks to consider if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to prepare for them.
- Everest base camp, Nepal is an 80 mile round-trip and takes about two weeks.
- The Inca Trail, Peru is 20 miles long and takes four or five days.
- The Haute Route, Switzerland is 125 miles long and can take two or three weeks.
Hiking vs Trekking FAQs
Trekking typically involves longer, multi-day journeys in remote or mountainous regions, often with overnight stays and carrying heavier packs. Hiking refers to shorter, day trips on established trails, usually with lighter gear. While there is overlap, trekking generally implies a more challenging and extended adventure compared to hiking.
No, trekking is typically more physically demanding than hiking. Trekking involves longer distances, often in rugged terrains and at higher altitudes, requiring greater endurance and stamina. Hiking, while still a good workout, generally refers to shorter and less intense walks on established trails.
The purpose of trekking is usually to embark on an adventurous journey, exploring remote and scenic locations on foot. It allows you to experience nature, challenge yourself physically and mentally, immerse yourself in different cultures, and gain a sense of accomplishment while enjoying the beauty of the outdoors.
The most important things for trekking are a water bottle for hydration, a backpack to carry your essentials, shoes that have a good grip and are comfortable, a flashlight in case you need one, hand sanitizer to keep yourself healthy, snacks for nourishment and a first aid kit in case something happens.
Final Thoughts: Hiking and Trekking
While there are many similarities between hiking and trekking, the two are different enough from each other that they should be considered separate sports. Both of them are truly enjoyable and worthwhile sports, for your mind and body!