Did you know there are multiple different hiking types? I always thought that if someone asked me to go for a walk it wouldn’t last more than an hour or two but if they said let’s go for a hike, it would be as long as a whole day.
Little did I know, there are actually lots of different types of hiking and each one describes the hike in a different way in terms of length, distance, and more.
Join me as I explain the main 10 different types of hiking so that you can understand them and play your hikes based on types and progress from one to the next.
Thru-hiking is the most challenging form of hiking as to successfully complete a thru-hike can take up to 2 years, depending on the trail, and it must be done in one go to count as a thru-hike.
Thru-hiking is an immense physical and mental challenge. Any thru-hikers who want to complete a thru-hike have got to be ready for it and have planned their route exceptionally well.
A good example of a thru-hike is the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail is 2,181 miles long and will take a thru-hiker between 6 and 8 months to complete depending on how fast they are going.
When taking on something like the Appalachian Trail, a thru-hiker has to be very prepared. One has to plan where to sleep each night, where to top up on food and water, plus carry a lot of gear for every eventuality along the way.
Thru-hiking is most certainly the toughest form of hiking but what a feeling it would be to simply walk for 6 months and see the amazing sights along the way.
Everyone reading this has most likely been on a day hike. In fact, any walk you have completed in a day trip, meaning between the sun rises and sets, is considered a day hike.
Day hiking is the easiest form of hiking and it doesn’t have to take up a full day either, day hikes can be a half day or even less if you want it to be.
Day hikers can take advantage of the relaxed nature of day hiking as you don’t need to do much planning on a day hike, nor do day hikes require much gear either. When day hiking, a small day pack is all you need with some water, extra layers, food, and snacks.
In fact, going on a day hike is so chill that some people even enjoy some walking meditation while they are doing it. It is a great way to refresh and relax the mind with very minimal planning.
Long-distance hiking refers to any hike that follows a long-distance trail and takes at least two or several days to complete. Long-distance hikers will follow a long-distance trail and simply hike for 2 days or more, staying overnight as they go.
This is more than a long walk as one will be carrying a backpack with all their supplies from food to tents, water, sleeping bags, mats, and lots more too!
Doing a long-distance hike isn’t for the faint-hearted as usually it entails doing a long trail quite quickly in order to make it challenging. But, you don’t have to choose harder long trails and can start off with easy ones you can complete in 3 days with ease.
Long-distance hiking is a vague term though and a hiker wouldn’t call themselves a long-distance hiker and would probably identify as a section hiker or thru-hiker.
Section hiking is what I would define as the precursor to thru-hiking as it is all about completing sections of a long trail, like the Pacific Crest Trail, that you don’t have time to do in one go, by thru-hiking.
Section-hikers will therefore choose sections of the trail they want to complete and do them one at a time. A section hiker might choose the sections they feel they are capable of completing on the trail or do a section hike with awesome features like waterfalls or glaciers.
Others section hike every part of a long trail so that they complete the entire trail over say 2 years by section hiking, instead of in 6 months by thru-hiking it.
Section hiking often involves multiple nights on the trail which means carrying a heavy backpack and being physically fit! This is an example of long-distance hiking as I mentioned above.
Base camping is an awesome form of hiking, and perhaps the best in my eyes. When you base camp, you literally hike into the wilderness and set up camp with all your supplies.
This becomes your base from which you hike on a different hiking trail every day but return to your same campsite every evening.
The advantages of this are that you get to explore an area of wilderness really well and see lots of different hiking trails at the same time, without having to carry all your supplies each day either.
You can vary your hiking terrain each day, see different features, and lots more. The key to enjoying this type of hiking is picking an excellent base camp with a lot of trail options.
Loop trails are also great when base camping as you can work your way back to camp without doubling back. It is also best to stay in the wild and not at an organized campsite when doing this.
You can probably guess what an overnight hike is from the name, and no, it is not walking through the night on a trail. Overnight hiking is a step up from day hiking where you leave one day, stay overnight on the trail, and return the next day having completed your hike.
If you want to progress in hiking from day hikes, then overnight trips are the best place to start. You will learn to plan a route, and what gear you will need in your backpack, plus build your fitness and organizational skills too.
Once you have done a few of these, you can progress multiple night trips and try out section hiking as it is the same as doing one overnight, but planning for three in a row.
Summit hiking is all about hiking to the summit of a mountain or hill which means a lot of uphill walking. This is an excellent way to make your lungs and legs extremely strong and build up fitness to tackle say a bigger trail in sections or a thru-hike like the Continental Divide Trail.
But, once you have reached the stop you are going to have to come down at some point, and going down steep terrain can be as treacherous as going up. You are going to need some good hiking boots with excellent grip and ankle support to make these types of hikes a lot easier.
Summit hiking doesn’t have to be going up and down in one day either. It can take multiple days to reach a summit, or once you are up a mountain, you may want to summit three different peaks before going back down, a great time to employ some base camping.
When summit hiking, be sure to pack well for weather changes as it turns quickly at high altitudes and can get very cold. Base layers, down jackets, and waterproofs are needed, even in summer.
Bushwhacking is, as you might have guessed, hiking off trail with no marked paths. Imagine hacking your way through the jungle with a machete to get from A to B and you have the idea.
When doing this form of hiking, you are going to need some excellent navigation as there is no path to follow and you won’t be able to see very far with the dense vegetation. Small axes and machetes are required to get through the bush so don’t leave without at least one of these.
When hiking through the bush, you are very much open to wildlife and the trail will most likely demand more than just walking or backpacking. You will need some survival gear and some survival skills to feel confident in this.
Bushwacking can be a day hike or a multi-day hike, the choice is yours. It does take a lot longer hacking a new path through the wild than following an already laid out one though. It is wise to carry a GPS and satellite communion so you can navigate with ease and contact rescue teams if required.
Naked hiking is literally hiking naked with no clothes on. It would be advised to do this in warm weather and you will find naturalists around the world doing it to celebrate days like the Summer Solstice.
But, walking naked doesn’t come without its risks, which one should be prepared for. Thorns, stings, prickles, and bites can reach every part of your body when naked hiking so be sure to hike with care.
Also, be sure to carry a very breathable backpack with you as having it on your bare back is going to cause a lot of heat and sweat.
Backpacking is more of a hiking category than a hiking type as lots of hiking types fall under it.
When you are going backpacking, you are carrying all the gear you need in a backpack in order to be autonomous and spend as many nights as you need in the wilderness to complete your trail.
The key to backpacking is learning to pack well as you want to make sure you have everything you need but want your backpack to be as light as possible.
Buying lightweight gear like tents, sleeping bags, and mats is a great way to start, and having a water bottle with an inbuilt filter means you can drink from streams and not carry water.
All of the multi-day hikes described above are forms of backpacking.
Peak bagging is pretty much summit hiking with an obsessive side added to it.
If you are a peak bagger you want to tick off as many summits or peaks in a specific time frame, for example, 4 peaks in a few days in the Alps, but it doesn’t stop there. Peak bagging can become a big addiction and the number of peaks that need to be climbed can never end.
Peak bagging requires a lot of fitness and energy and you may have to learn a lot of new skills in order to accomplish your goals. For example, some peaks aren’t accessible unless you know how to ice climb, rock climb, or mountaineer.
The weather also plays a challenging role since it is so changeable and very cold, especially at night. You will have to carry a lot more gear and equipment than usual when peak bagging!
Fastpacking is a form of ultralight backpacking and trail running rolled into one. Imagine trail-running for a day but carrying everything you need to say overnight on the trail and continuing the next day, and even the day after that.
When you are fastpacking you are running, jogging, or hiking fast in order to cover long distances as quickly as you can. You are doing all of this with enough food, layers, clothing, and sleeping equipment on your back.
This is the most fitness-demanding form of hiking and one that can take you deeper into the wild and further away from people than any other. It is a serious physical challenge though and you will have to push yourself mentally too.
It is an incredible feeling to accomplish and you will be the fittest you have ever been in your life while doing so.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!