Trekking, hiking, walking – are they really so different, or are we just talking about synonyms here? Well, the answer to the question is a tad more complicated than you might think. Yes, all three outdoor activities are technically walking, but they have different connotations depending on intensity, your surroundings, and length.
In other words, you wouldn’t say you were going on a trek on a seaside promenade, nor would you call a 30-mile trail a casual walk in the woods. Read on to learn more about the differences between walking, hiking, and trekking!
I know you know what walking is – you do it every day for crying out loud! When compared to hiking and trekking, walking is categorized as low-intensity activity, usually on a paved path or a promenade. You can go for a casual stroll in the park, or walk to your favorite restaurant – you’re in no rush, you don’t need to wear specific shoes, and you usually don’t need a map to find your way.
Unlike trekking and hiking, walking is the only activity that doesn’t need to be geared towards a specific destination. In other words, you can go on a walk and switch paths in the middle of the way or just stop walking to grab a cup of coffee. Also, walking is the only activity that you can do indoors.
A walk can last however long you want – five minutes, five hours, or more. It can take place anywhere, and it’s best to describe it as a low-effort activity that is mostly done for pleasure. Walking can also be done for exercise but it’s not as effective as jogging or even hiking.
Also, walking is usually done on flat and easy terrain whereas hiking and trekking generally take place on much more rugged terrain. Sure some hiking trails are flat for the most part, but the vast majority will take you over at least one hill.
Hiking is a term used to describe activities that are more intense than walking. It’s done in nature, so you can’t go on a hike to your favorite restaurant. Hiking needs to be done on a marked hiking trail that can be a dirt path, a paved path, or pretty much anything other than concrete between buildings.
Hikers often need specific gear, especially if they are hiking on rugged terrain. At the very least, hikers need good hiking shoes that offer enough grip and traction so they can stay stable and hike confidently.
There are three main types of hikes – loop hikes, out and back hikes, and point-to-point hikes. Loop hikes take place on circular trails that begin and end at the same trailhead and make a circle around a specific destination. Out and back hikes are trails that begin at a trailhead and take hikers to a specific destination, after which they must return to the trailhead following the same trail.
Point-to-point hikes are pretty much out and back hikes without the “and back” part – this term is used to describe a hiking trail that starts at point A (trailhead) and ends at point B (destination), without a return hike.
In addition to that, hikes can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several months. Some people argue that all long-distance hikes are actually treks, while others consider everything longer than a few days a backpacking expedition.
It’s a matter of personal preference and the terms are similar enough that you can get away with using them synonymously in this case. Just don’t say you’re going on a trek if you’re doing a 30-minute loop around a lake in the city park and you’re fine.
Trekking is often used synonymously as hiking, but the term does carry different connotations. Treks are usually more difficult than hikes and they often take place on more rugged terrain. Trekkers will often need more gear than hikers – you can set out on an easy loop hike wearing clothes you’d wear to the gym, but for a proper trek, you’d need a big backpack, some trekking poles, and some great hiking shoes.
The term trekking is usually used to describe high-intensity, long-distance hikes. More often than not, treks take place on rough and rugged terrain that is usually rocky and steep.
Trekking can also be done off the beaten path and away from marked trails, which is rarely the case with hiking. Because of that, challenging long-distance trails are usually called trekking trails – the Annapurna Circuit, the Everest Base Camp trek, the Bhutan Snowman Trek, etc.
All of these trails are extremely difficult and suitable only for the most experienced trekkers. Some require years of preparation and calling them hikes just doesn’t do them justice.
Also, the term trekking has a much narrower meaning than the term hiking. If someone tells you they’re going on a trek, you already have some idea of what to expect.
The journey is going to be long and arduous, and most likely they’ll be gone for several days or even weeks. If they tell you they’re going on a hike, you still don’t know what to expect without more information. Maybe they’re doing a quick loop around the city park, or maybe they’re going to try and hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
Walking is different from the other two activities because it’s low-effort and it can be done anywhere by anyone. Hiking and trekking, on the other hand, are two terms that can be used interchangeably. The major difference is that the term trekking carries a connotation of a long and difficult journey, whereas hiking is usually associated with easier and shorter trails.
Although there is a semantic difference between the two terms, it’s not entirely wrong to use them synonymously. Call it whatever you want – as long as you’re having fun and enjoying life while you’re exploring the great outdoors, the exact term you use to describe what you’re doing couldn’t be less important!
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!