Hiking vs Trekking — What's the difference?

8 min read

Jargon gets confusing, especially if you're looking to start hiking or trekking. In this trekking vs hiking face-off, we'll take a look at the key differences to help you decide which activity suits you best.

It's plain to see why there is confusion between the two. We have an abundance of information readily available at our fingertips. So maybe you popped in a quick search about hiking vs trekking and you start seeing very close similarities. What gives? Is there a difference between hiking and trekking?

To better understand the differences between hiking and trekking, let's park apart each activity and get a clear definition.

What's The Difference Between Hiking and Trekking?

To clear things up a bit, trekking is also used as a synonym for hiking. However, for many, the differences are great enough to break them up into two different activities.

Trekking, according to the conventional outdoors aficionado, is a more physically-demanding and time-consuming sport.

On the flip side, hiking is less demanding than trekking. Though, you can take on some hikes that leave you battered and ready for bed, so don't let that be a determining factor for what you choose.

With either activity, you'll definitely be exerting physical effort that requires an energy surplus. Always make sure you pack the right foods and needed amounts of water for your journey.

What is Hiking?

hiking vs trekking

Hiking involves navigating the terrain of various inclines for a day or a half-day.

The difficulty level for hiking is considered easy to mildly challenging, and can usually be completed without a surplus of gear.

Going for a hike will involve visiting a state park or trail and navigating through marked paths to take in the scenery.

While both hiking and trekking are done in groups, hiking can easily be completed alone. It's also very common to run into other hikers fairly often on a hike. (Related: Hiking Etiquette For Beginners — What Are The Rules of Hiking?)

Physical strain is still a factor. However, hiking isn't known to be completely exhausting, unless you've chosen a difficult trail.

Just because hiking isn't usually viewed as a massive effort when compared to mountaineering, you should still make sure you're picking the best snacks for a day hike. It's also vital to know how much water you need for a day hike.

What Gear Is Used For Hiking?

trekking vs hiking - backpack

Hiking gear can be very similar to trekking gear. On the other hand, packing for a hike will usually require far less gear than that needed for a trek.

To keep things simple, let's take a look at what gear is used for hiking:

  • Hiking Boots/Shoes
  • Lightweight Backpack
  • Hiking Pants
  • Properly layered shirts depending on the weather
  • Gaiters if you plan on going through tall grass or brush
  • Hiking Sticks/Trekking Poles (optional)
  • Basic food supplies like hiking snacks
  • Water 
  • GPS is not required, but it comes in handy if you don't have a map
  • Water Purification System — Not required, but a good choice if you plan on hiking near creeks and bodies of water and want to save space in your backpack

Because hikes can vary in length, gear will vary, too.

Weather conditions also affect how much and what kind of gear is used. But prepping for a day-long hike involves less gear prep than, say, a two or three-day trek does.

What Terrain is Involved In Hiking?

The terrain for hiking is usually pretty mild in intensity.

The most common terrain for a hike is naturally made or man-made trails that have been refined and properly marked for hikers.

Hiking trails usually do have hills and some occasionally steep inclines, but they're not as intense as, say, a week-long trek through a valley of peaks.

Most hiking trails will contain markers giving hikers directions for different trails. These markers usually also indicate the distance for each trail and your current distance from the beginning of the trail.

How Long Does Hiking Take?

Most hiking is completed anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day.

Don't let that time frame fool you, though: hiking, as with trekking, is gauged by distance and not necessarily time.

Having said that, most hiking trails are able to be completed by the average person within the previously mentioned day-long timeframe.

What Is Trekking?

people trekking

Alright, now that we combed through what hiking is, let's take a look at trekking.

Although trekking is often used as a synonym for hiking, the effort involved with a traditional trek separates the two entirely.

Trekking involves a very strenuous effort, usually over the course of at least a couple of days. This requires hardcore trekkers to pack more gear, food, and water. It also calls for camping, most of the time (unless you're an absolute monster who treks non-stop!)

Just like hiking, treks are completed in groups. However, you're less likely to run into many fellow trekkers on your adventure, unless it's a popular trekking path/trail.

With that in mind, always be sure to bring the proper supplies and take the best safety measures possible. You may be more likely to encounter wildlife, so always remember to respect wildlife and keep your distance; a selfie in front of a grizzly or wild cat really isn't worth it, trust me.

What Gear Is Used For Trekking?

gear used for trekking

As with hiking, the type of trekking gear you choose will vary depending on weather conditions, terrain, and altitude.

What gear is used for trekking?

  • Bigger backpack
  • Camping gear like a basic tent, stove, and gas.
  • Trekking poles
  • Change of clothes
  • Hiking Boots
  • Steaks and Climbing gear (depending on terrain)
  • Gaiters
  • Weather-appropriate clothes
  • Oxygen (if done at high enough altitudes)
  • Maps & GPS Device
  • Water Purification System

Depending on the distance of your trek and the location, some of the listed gear isn't always required, though it's still good practice to prepare properly.

You can expect your backpack to weigh more on a trek than it would during a hike, so proper packing is essential for your journey (we don't want you gassed out halfway into it!)

What Terrain Is Involved In Trekking?

Trekking involves more intense inclines than hiking, for a longer period of time.

If you're going for a trek, expect narrower paths and trails that are seldom marked for guidance.

Though inclines are usually more intense on a trek, don't expect to scale up the rocky ridges of Everest—this isn't mountaineering! Climbing gear isn't typically required, though it may be needed at certain points.

The terrain of a trek is also more "wild", meaning the paths chosen are typically more sprawling with shrubs and brush, making it difficult to search for a "defined" trail. This is where packing a good GPS for trekking comes in handy.

How Long Does Trekking Take?

Unlike hiking, trekking covers a lot of distance.

We're not talking about a breezy 5-mile journey here. Completing a trek can take days.

Trekking vs Hiking: Which Works Best For You?

So you want to know if trekking or hiking is better for you. Well, I'm going to hit you with the golden, ever-vague answer:

It depends.

To best figure out if you should take up trekking or hiking, take a look at your goals and what you want to accomplish.

Trekking will, obviously, burn more calories and involves far more physical exertion depending on the terrain, so if you've mastered some hikes and are looking for a new challenge, trekking is a great choice.

It's probably best to start small with a series of hikes that gradually build up in distance. That way, you can get used to bringing the right amount of gear and planning properly.

However, I don't recommend trekking to someone who hasn't completed a few hikes yet. Because of the longevity involved and careful planning needed for trekking, you need to make sure you're bringing the right gear and supplies.

On the other hand, if you've completed some pretty intense hikes, it wouldn't hurt to consider a small trek.

Use the same rules as you would with hiking: start small and build up from there.

Your well-being should always be the number one priority, so make sure you plan accordingly with whatever activity you choose.

Hiking vs Trekking: A Simplified Comparison

Did you take notes? No!? No worries. I've got a simple chart for you!

Trekking vs Hiking Comparison Chart:

DurationTypically completed in a dayCan range from one-to-several days
Gear RequiredA lightweight pack, hiking boots, pants, and clothing will do fine.Trekking often requires more gear like poles, GPS, different types of clothing.
Difficulty LevelHiking difficulty ranges from easy to difficultTrekking is often more challenging to difficult
TerrainTypical environments are hilly with marked and manSteeper
Supplies RequiredDepending on the trail, hiking can be done with just the essential suppliesBecause of the duration and difficulty, trekking requires planning ahead. Consider water purifiers for extra water.
Physical DemandsHiking ranges from easy to difficult in terms of physical activityTrekking involves more rigorous activity, thus being challenging to difficult.
Price PointsLess gear can make hiking a little more affordableTrekking requires more gear, thus can be a bit more pricey

In conclusion, both hiking and trekking are great physical activities that will whip you into shape and give you the gratification of completing a goal.

Taking a hike or a trek is also a killer way to disconnect yourself from the noise of everyday life and better fully connect with yourself.