You pack your backpack, you head to the mountains with your friends, you tell your family you’re going hiking. Or trekking? Or… Both?!
If you’re confused about what’s the difference between trekking and hiking, you’re not alone. The terms trekking and hiking are often used as synonyms and many people think that they mean the same thing. Although they are essentially quite similar, they have some differences that divide them into two sports. So, they are the same but not really the same? Confused? Let’s dive into it.
Trekking vs hiking: Definition
When it comes to defining the terms, an expert on the subject is Oxford Dictionary. We all know it, we all use it. According to Oxford Dictionary:
- Trekking means to make a long or difficult journey, especially on foot.
- Hiking is the activity of going for long walks in the country for pleasure.
Looking at these definitions you can see that there is not much to distinguish between the two activities. They both essentially mean long walks. However, with trekking, the difficulty is accented which is indeed one of the biggest differences between trekking and hiking. Also, hiking is described as a “walk” whereas trekking is described as a “journey” which also indicates that trekking is something more than a simple walk.
Trekking vs hiking: Differences
1. Duration of activity
This is one of the biggest distinctions between these two activities. Trekking usually lasts at least two days, but more likely longer than that. People that go trekking usually have a destination in mind that they aspire to reach and they can walk thousands of kilometers per trekking trip. On the other hand, hikes are normally much shorter in duration compared to trekking. When somebody goes hiking, they are talking about a few hours walk in most cases or even a whole day of hiking. Hiking can also be an overnight experience, but it won’t take several days as trekking would usually.
2. Type of terrain
Another very important difference between trekking and hiking is the type of terrain that falls under these categories. Hikers are commonly using hiking trails that are clearly marked and go through mountains, forests, hills, or other natural environments that people want to explore. In comparison, trekking journeys are not always on marked trails and are most usually going through unexplored nature consisting of different terrain that can include mountains, roads, beaches, forests, and much more. Trekking has more freedom in this aspect because people that go trekking are not conformed by trails and markings and often see untouched nature.
Hiking vs trekking terrain.
As previously mentioned, hiking can also be an overnight experience. Even in that case, the base is usually one place. For example, people are staying in a certain mountain hut and go hiking each day to a different peak, always returning to the mountain hut as their base. People that practice trekking never return to the same location since their journey is focused on a specific destination. Each time they stop, they stay in a different accommodation which can include hotels, lodges, mountain tents, or other types of accommodation depending on the trekking route and the weather conditions.
The equipment necessary for hiking and trekking can’t be the same logically. For hiking, you will only need the basics like good shoes or boots suitable for mountain terrain, suitable clothing that can handle sudden changes in weather conditions or temperatures, a backpack where you will have water, food, and other necessary things you may need. With hiking, there is not a lot of need for compasses or maps because commonly as we concluded, hiking trails are clearly marked and there are signs indicating where you should go and how far it is from the point you’re currently at. This is not the case with trekking. For trekking, you would need a bit more equipment. Starting with a map or a compass, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, waterproof jacket, walking poles, multi-purpose clothing that’s breathable and fast-drying, etc.
By now, you should be aware that trekking is a different level of effort which not everybody can just do. It takes physical preparedness and training to be able to trek for days on end without stopping. It’s an activity that takes a lot of time, goes through different terrains, and requires great mental and physical preparedness. Hiking on the other hand is considered to be a leisure activity that a lot of people can do even if they are not into hiking per se. With hiking, it’s also easier to choose the right trail for your physical abilities. Usually, the trails are marked down with a difficulty level, or they at least state how long the trails are so you can more or less be aware of how difficult it will be. You can choose a trail that is easy in difficulty or moderate, if you are not hiking often and feel like that is your threshold.
A fun fact is that the Guinness' World record for the fastest trek to the North Pole took 41 days, 18 hours, and 52 minutes. The length of the trek was 785km.* This explains perfectly how demanding and difficult can trekking become if you’re willing to push your limits.
To sum up
If you read this article until here, you already have a good idea that there isn’t only one difference between hiking and trekking. Starting from the length of the activity, then the difficulty, the equipment, the accommodation, the terrain which you’re walking on- there are more differences between hiking and trekking than people are initially aware of. Hiking is a shorter, easier journey, commonly walked on marked trails which can be looped, to-and-back, or even destination hikes. Trekking always involves a destination and goes through different, often rough terrains, requires more equipment and preparedness of the person doing it.
If you are interested in starting with trekking, read our step-by-step Trekking 101: beginner's guide to get you started.