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Hiking vs Trekking: What is the difference?

Are you going on a hike or a trek? We settle the differences once and for all!

Hiking and trekking have lots of similarities and the terms are often used interchangeably. When we picture a trek, we might picture athletic people, geared up and ready to climb Mount Everest. But a trek doesn’t have to be climbing the world’s largest peak, and one person’s hike might be another person’s trek.

Regardless of whether you call your expedition hiking or trekking, if you identify your trip in the correct category, you’ll be more prepared for what is to come. Here we have gathered some important differences.

Hiking versus Trekking

Hiking, in comparison to trekking, tends to be shorter trips on trails that have been purposefully cleared for hikers, or at least cleared due to the frequent passage of hikers. This makes walking and navigation easier. Hikes can be day or multi-day trips but often tend to have multiple stops at a base.

Trekking, on the other hand, tends to be out in untamed nature where anything goes. This might mean harsh weather conditions or a grueling natural environment with a high altitude or steep slopes. These trips are longer than hikes and consist of camping every night, walking all day, and not stopping until you reach your destination.


Hiking:

The conditions: A long, brisk walk that takes you through beautiful, scenic nature on hiking trails. It can be challenging, but some areas have trails with different difficulty levels.

How long it takes: 5-7 hours in a day, either in one day or over a couple of days.

How far you go: Anywhere from 3 to 50 km (2 to 30 mi) and there are trails with different difficulty levels.

What to bring with you:
  • For a day hike bring a day pack with water, food and snacks.
  • If you are staying overnight or longer, bring a larger backpack with extra clothes, food, water, a tent and sleeping bag. If you have set up a camping base and go for day hikes from that base, you can also opt for a backpack with a day pack attached. That way you can bring your essentials without having to lug your entire bag around with you.
How big your backpack should be:
  • For a day hike you’ll need a backpack of about 15-20 liters that is lightweight with lots of compartments to keep your things close at hand.
  • For overnight hikes, look for a backpack of about 25-35 liters with good ventilation and padded hip belts for extra support.
  • For multi-day hikes, you’ll want something from 40-50 liters with more space for camping gear and cooking equipment. Read our guide on how to choose a backpack to find the right backpack for your trip.

Famous examples:
The Grand Canyon National Park in the US is famous for its hiking trails that weave around the beautiful, rustic landscape. The Bright Angel trail is one hiking route within the park that gives you spectacular views of the Canyon and the Colorado River. It covers about 13 km (8 mi), and hikers can opt to stay overnight at campgrounds along the way.

 

Hiking Boots:

What to look for in hiking boots for your next trek or hike:
  • Ankle support
  • Comfort
  • Lightweight
  • Good ventilation
  • Breathable materials that dry quickly if water comes in

 

Tips for hiking with kids:

Keep it simple!

Hiking trips might be challenging for young kids, but you can opt for easier, shorter hiking trails for a simple day trip with your toddlers. Just in case they get tired you can bring a stroller equipped specifically for harsher terrain. These strollers have suspension so that even when you are bumping around on rocks or grass, your child is secure and comfortable.


Carry your kid!

If you are planning a long expedition, you can also bring your child along on your back in a child carrier. On a long hike a child can start to feel heavy quickly, so it's important to find one that has an adjustable back panel so that it fits you snuggly and gives you good support, as well as a hip belt to relieve your back of the some of the weight.

 


Trekking:

The conditions: Challenging journeys that might take you through harsh terrain, bad weather, steep slopes and maybe even low oxygen levels due to high altitudes. Unlike most hikes, a trek usually takes place out in the wilderness rather than a specified path. Treks are expeditions that you might even need training to do.

How long it takes: Treks can take anywhere from a week to several weeks. You camp along the way and finish when you have reached your destination (or earlier, of course, if conditions get too challenging).

How far you go: Anywhere from 50 to 1,000 km (30 to 600 mi). The round-trip trek to the Everest base camp at Mount Everest in Nepal, for example, is about a 130 km (80 mi) trek and can take 14 days. On some treks you might walk about 10 km (6 mi) per day.

What to bring with you: Since you are out in wild nature, you must bring equipment that is specific to your location and conditions. Snow might require ice axes and deserts will require extra hydration. Most treks need the same essentials: water, food, cooking equipment, tent, sleeping bag, clothes, medication, trekking poles, compass, satellite communicator (since you will be far from human civilization).

How big your backpack should be: Look for backpacks from 60-85 liters with space to store all the food and clothing you need, plus cooking gear, a tent, sleeping bag and more. You want to look for something that is lightweight, well-ventilated, and has padded hip belts to stop your back from doing all the heavy lifting. Read our guide on how to choose a backpack to find which one is right for your next trek.

Famous examples:
Trekking to Mount Everest (or at least the Mount Everest base camp) is a famous trek in Nepal. Trekking with a local guide, or Sherpa, is common in this area since the terrain can be dangerous to someone unfamiliar with walking in high altitudes. No one knows more about trekking than Apa Sherpa, a Nepalese Sherpa who has reached the summit of Everest 21 times.

 

Trekking poles:

Trekking poles are important tools that are popular with older hikers but can be useful for hiking enthusiasts of all ages.

Why use trekking poles? Trekking poles are used for distributing the weight of your body and backpack on the poles, rather than just your legs. This takes pressure off your knees and joints, and can be good in the long run for joint health. In the short-term, trekking poles are good for making your hike lighter and more efficient.

How to use trekking poles: If you put your poles at your feet and your arms bend at a 90-degree angle, then you are holding your trekking poles correctly and have adjusted them to the right height.

Your trekking poles should have a strap attached. To hold the pole correctly, slip your hand into the strap from below. Then, hold onto the grip with your thumb wrapped around in your direction, and the rest of your hand wrapped away from you.

When you are using the trekking poles, your left leg should move forward as your right arm moves forward and vice versa.

How to transport your trekking poles: Trekking poles can be secured on some backpacks when not in use, just look for a backpack with dedicated loops that are made to perfectly fit your trekking poles.

 

No matter whether you will be hiking or trekking, it is important to come prepare for your specific adventure and bring all the proper gear to keep you safe and content during the trip. There is so much beauty to see in the wild and sometimes traveling by foot is the best way to see it!


 
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