Hiking vs Backpacking vs Trekking [Differences Revealed]

Hiking vs Backpacking vs Trekking

You have probably heard the terms hiking, backpacking, and trekking.

Hiking and backpacking may look easy to start to have a guess at what they mean, but what about trekking?

Hiking is generally the term used for day hikes on a circular route across an established trail. Backpacking generally involves an overnight stay in a tent or cabin across a couple of days. Trekking is a term used for longer hikes across several days on less established trails.

In this article we will look at which of these three methods is the best, which equipment and boots will you need for hiking, backpacking, and trekking – and if you cannot decide which to do, what are the pros and cons of each.

What is Hiking

Hiking: This term involves walking on an established trail which can include steep inclines and often a day backpack with water, snacks, sunscreen, cap or hat and other essentials are required. A hike usually involves a looped trail, so the start and end of the hiking trail is at the same place.

Different types of hiking explained

As well as the generic term of hiking, you may also come across two variations of hiking which are usually cited on different hiking routes. These are:

Section Hiking: is hiking a complete hiking trail in sections, usually over several days or weeks. Section hiking involves stopping at a point in the trail, and the returning to the same point on a later date to continue the trail until complete.

Thru-Hiking: is the term used when a hike is complete in full. This can be in a single day or over several days involving overnight stays in a tent, cabins, or hotels.

What is Trekking

Trekking: This term is used for walking through a less established trail. Trekking can last a lot longer than hiking and often for a few days. More equipment, more food and more water are also required. Trekking routes usually start and end at different points.

I usually consider trekking to be routes like the Appalachian trail. The term though is interchangeable as people also say they are ‘hiking the Appalachian trail’ instead of trekking but considering this trail can take months to complete – trekking is probably a more appropriate term.

What is Backpacking

Backpacking sits in between Hiking and Trekking.

Backpacking: This term is used for a hike across two or three days across an established trail. It is necessary to take food, water, and shelter for the duration of the backpacking trip. This usually involves an overnight stay.

According to Wikipedia, Backpacking is best described as ‘…an outdoor recreation carrying gear on ones back while hiking for more than one day’

What the key differences are between hiking, backpacking, and trekking

Hiking Differences

It is always a good time to be getting out into nature and enjoying all the great things hiking, trekking, and backpacking have to offer.

There are many different styles you can do it all for any budget.

I want to explain and answer in a little more depth, the differences between them.

The first is that hiking is simply walking through the woods, while backpacking is more involved, usually includes a night away in a tent or cabin.

Hiking tends to be more scenic, taking in views of mountains, glens, lakes, rivers, or wooded areas. Backpacking is relatively simple — you go somewhere with a trail and stay overnight, traversing an area with an open fire.

Trekking, on the other hand, usually involves a more arduous journey.

Your trail may not have been trod by others often, and so routes may not be clearly defined.

What makes the differences between the terms even more confusing is that they are often interchangeable.

Hiking is probably used more than trekking for arduous trails, and thoughts of backpackers bring city hopping youngsters into mind.

What is REALLY key to understand is the equipment you need for the type of hike, trek or backpacking adventure you are about to have.

Your equipment should be based on the journey you will take, rather than the term it is given.

Which Boots are Best for your Type of Walking (hiking v backpacking v trekking)

Best Hiking Boots

There are literally thousands of hiking, walking and trekking boots on the market.

A search on Google for walking boots brings an unimaginable number of results (113 million!).

When searching for the best boots for your adventure, you should really look at the adventure you are planning, instead of whether the boots are advertised as being for hiking, backpacking, or trekking.

Here are some of the key questions to ask yourself when choosing hiking boots:

  • Do they need to be heavily waterproof?
  • Do they need to be able to withstand extreme cold temperatures, like snow and ice?
  • Will the weather on your trail likely to be very hot, and your boots need to be able to breathe?
  • Is your trail on an easy smooth trail, or will across uneven terrain – where ankle support is a real necessity?
  • The weight of your boots, and whether you are taking more than one pair and need to carry them

Your boots need to be suitable for YOUR trip, not the marketing talk on many hiking boot websites.

Waterproof and Extreme Cold Resistance

Long treks can see you walking through streams and across small rivers. Rain can lead to deep puddles, and continuously exposing boots to the elements for long periods of time have an effect.

If you are likely to encounter any of these obstacles on your journey, you need to make sure your boots are adequately waterproof.

Similarly, if you like to hike and trek in the winter, and snow is on the way, you will need good-insulated boots to withstand the temperature.

Unfortunately, unlike tents, boots do not have a waterproof rating. It would be helpful if they did.

You want to look out for sealed seams as well as an inner membrane for the highest waterproof resistance.

Although not necessary, there are some hikers that also spray their boots with a waterproof spray. This can help provide a layer between the boots and the elements and can help even waterproof boots last longer.


All boots need to breathe.

One of the most important factors in a boot is the way they breathe.

Even if you have already bought a pair that fits perfectly, they need to be on your feet when hiking and trekking, constantly.

The way your boots breathe can dictate how comfortable they are and how well they protect your feet from the elements.

When hiking in the dessert or very hot temperatures it is even more essential to get a good breathable pair or hiking shoes or boots.

Dessert hikers often opt for shoes than boots as they are more lightweight and breathable – perfect for a hot sweaty day.

Hiking Boots and Ankle Support

If you are going off terrain when hiking, and likely to tread heavily uneven paths, then a good pair of solid ankle-supporting boots can be the difference between a successful hike, and an injury.

You NEED a good pair of ankle-supporting boots when scrambling over boulders and mountain hikes.

We are all careful when hiking but you just never know when your foot hits an unexpected angle or dip in the floor. It is for these times the ankle support can come to our rescue – and avoid any other type of rescue!

Different Gear Needed

Hiking Gear Needed

Whether you are going hiking, backpacking, or trekking you will need the right gear and equipment for your journey.

Travelling light as well as prepared is a tough balancing act.

Taking too much equipment can spoil your adventure, but not taking the right items can make for a very uncomfortable hike.

Here is a list of the most common gear and equipment needed for your hike or trek:

  • Backpack – may sound obvious, but you won’t get far without one
  • Water – enough for your trip
  • Food and snacks
  • Tent
  • Tent pegs and fasteners
  • Small hammer for the tent pegs (or you may find a rock nearby if not)
  • Light and whistle
  • First Aid Kit
  • Power Bank – in case you run out of power on your cell phone device and need battery backup for emergencies

These are considered the essentials.

Of course, if you are not planning an overnight stay, you will not need the tent, but the rest could be used on even just a day hiking trip.

Prepare for the best, plan for the worst.

Hiking and Trekking Adventures

The word “hike” means many things to many people.

There are also different types of hikes, including day hikes, overnight backpacking trips, and multi-day treks.

You may also come across middle-distance hiking.

Middle-Distance Hiking: This is also known as moderate length hikes which usually are between 5 and 20 miles, but can be longer depending on the terrain, amenities, and levels of difficulty.

As I said – there are lots of different hiking types, which is why many people simply call them ‘hikes’.

Depending on your level of fitness, the weather, and your own physical condition, you will get to enjoy varying experiences.

The type of ‘hike’ needs to be right for you.

The great thing about hiking is that it gives you the perfect opportunity to explore and discover the world around you.

Hiking and Camping

Hiking and Camping

Camping and hiking are two things that go hand in hand. These two outdoor activities can be combined to give you unique experiences.

If you are comfortable in the woods, then you should really consider combining the two.

I use ‘hiking’ in the more common generally used term, but often backpacking and trekking are better ways of phrasing this.

If you plan to hike and camp you will need a tent of course.

The aim of overnight hiking and camping is to travel as light as possible, whilst you make sure you have all the right equipment with you.

If you have the option, and luxury, of a campsite along your trail you may find the campsites amenities give you space saving options with your gear.

Not all campsites have onsite shops, so make sure you check out your options before you head out.

Your tent needs to be lightweight but suitable for the elements.

The better the weather, the more lightweight your tent can be. In harsher and more troublesome environments you’ll need shelter that will protect you.

Readers Asked: Hiking, Backpacking and Trekking Questions

Hopefully, we have covered and answered all your questions, but here are some of the questions raised on hiking, trekking and backpacking, that you may find helpful:

Are trail runners, light hiking boots, or heavier backpacking boots best for backpacking?

It really depends on the terrain. Backpacking is usually done using established routes. This can include marked, ‘softer’ tracks worn down by regular hikers making the experience foot friendly.

It also depends on the weather. If you are likely to encounter high levels of rain or snow and ice, you will need heavier waterproof boots.

For hot conditions on marked even trailer, you may get away with trail runners or light boots.

Differences between thru hiking vs backpacking?

Thru-hiking is the term used to complete a trail in one continuous journey. Backpacking usually involves walking or hiking for two or three days, and often involve an overnight stay in a tent or cabin along the trail.

The terms are interchangeable depending on your trail, route and length of time taken.

Hiking v Backpacking v Trekking – Wrap Up

Here is a summary of everything we have covered:

  • Hiking is generally a term used for day hikes on an established well marked route, and the route starts and ends at the same point
  • Backpacking is a term used for a couple of days hike, on an established route, where an overnight stay in a tent or cabin is often required
  • Trekking is usually a term described for a longer hike, often across a number of days, and generally through less established routes – and where you need to choose your boots and gear wisely

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