Hiking vs Trekking: What’s the Difference?

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If you love being outdoors, surrounded by mountains, prairies, plains, oceans or any other part of this majestic world we live in, you may already be familiar with the terms hiking and trekking. While the two words are often used synonymously, there are a few key differences between hiking vs trekking.

Understanding the differences and similarities of each will prevent you from going on a trek with friends when you anticipate a hike or gearing up for a trek when it’s really a hike. Let’s take a look at what each is, the similarities, differences and a few more key factors to make either a successful day in nature.

What Is Hiking?

Hiking is defined by leisurely walks on well-marked trails, roads, other pathways or unmarked trails and usually lasts a few hours to two days. A hike can be on flat land, rolling hills, mountainous terrain or anything in between. Since the longest hikes you’ll take are typically one night and two days, hiking is done with no pack or with just a small pack that holds some of the everyday hiking essentials, like a snack, water and a first-aid kit.

While hiking can be done on overnight trips, any hikes that last two or more nights are then technically considered treks. However, I’m a huge proponent of the synonymous nature of each until you start hitting the five- to seven-day journeys, which are then treks by definition.

What Is Trekking?

Trekking is when you take multi-day hiking trips that usually go through much more difficult terrain, potentially needing the skillsets of canyoneering, base jumping or other adventure activities. Trekking is usually far more strenuous than hiking due to carrying a heavier backpack for multiple days or weeks with everything you’ll need to survive.

While hikes don’t last more than a day, treks can last months at a time. For instance, everyone who completes the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails, two of the most notable thru-trails in North America, is actually trekking. But it’s all semantics.

Everyone going on multi-day hiking or trekking journeys needs to know the essentials of hiking and camping in order to safely survive the trip.

Similarities Between Hiking vs Trekking

Hiking and trekking are similar because they’re both completed by walking a set distance over a set period of time. Since there are many difficult hiking trails in the world, similar essential equipment is used for each, such as hiking boots and poles. Due to the trails, there may be cases when hiking is much more labor-intensive than trekking.

One similarity is for certain, both hiking and trekking have tremendous health benefits attached to the exercise, including better heart health. So whether you’re trekking a 20-plus-mile, mostly flat section of the Florida Trail or you’re going on a 7-mile hike through the Colorado Mountains up to a glacier lake hanging in the sky, hiking and trekking are both incredible activities that will boost your mental health.

The Main Differences Between Hiking and Trekking

The biggest difference between hiking and trekking is the time factor. If you don’t have more than one day to hike, or just aren’t willing to schlep it out camping for the night and make coffee from lake water, hiking will be your outlet.

However, if you have a few days to hike and want to take on more challenging terrain, trekking is going to be up your alley. As I said earlier, figuring out what trekking vs hiking means is somewhat semantics. While every trek can be considered a hike, not every hike can be considered a trek.

How to Start Hiking and Trekking

The best way to start hiking and trekking are to start with short hikes through moderate terrain, applying yourself for a few hours per hike. Once you feel your fitness levels start to build, graduating to longer, more intensive hikes will help prepare you for trekking.

After you believe you’ve mastered the art of hiking and are ready for multi-day trips, I recommend you test the waters and go on a few overnight hikes with a friend. Once you feel comfortable packing in and out everything you need to survive for a few days — and after you’ve purchased your 10 hiking essentials, learned how to read a topographic map, learned how to make a campfire in the wild and put it out, you’re ready to start trekking.

Since anything can happen on hiking trails — you could get lost or injured — it’s best to hike with a friend. That way if something does occur, you’ll be in good hands knowing they can go for help or help guide you back to the trailhead.


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