We hear the terms all the time. Our friends go out hiking, but some of them say they’ve gone out trekking. So when it comes down to hiking vs trekking, is there a difference? They seem to be used interchangeably, without much distinction.
There is, however, a major difference between the two that can clear the air in conversation and planning a trip. Before we get into it though, we need to talk about why it’s even important to have a difference. I can go out on a hike, or a trek, call it what I want, and go home, right?
Right, but also wrong. Not establishing a difference can lead to confusion when talking to your adventure buddies and people will prepare for and expect something completely different. Knowing the difference between hiking and trekking lets you show up with the right gear and lessen your chances of running into harm’s way in the wilderness.
That means that now is the time to make things clear. While hiking and trekking have a load of similarities, there are just as many big differences.
What is Hiking?
Alright, so what exactly is hiking? To get into it, we can talk about some literal definitions and some other interpretations.
Oxford Languages gives us this definition:
“The activity of going on long walks, especially in the country or woods”
The parts to take out of this definition are the “long walks” and “in the country or woods”. These are the two big identifying factors that make hiking a whole lot different than trekking.
What is Trekking?
We’ve got hiking down, but we need to figure out what we’re putting it up against. Trekking still sounds like a long walk, but there’s more to it.
Oxford Languages defines “trek” as:
“A long, arduous journey, typically on foot”
They also define it as:
“Migrate or journey with one’s belongings by ox-wagon”
You see, trekking comes from roots where moving was necessary. It was difficult, and generally wasn’t ever done for pleasure. While it is different today, it still has the same basic roots that differentiate it from hiking.
The Big Difference Between Trekking and Hiking
I mentioned earlier how hiking versus trekking can be similar but are still completely different. There are more than one areas in which you can find a difference between hike and trek. Hiking and trekking are both great activities that everyone should be out doing, but there’s a time and place for each one. To get a bit into more specifics, we’ll look at the two in different categories and see where they fall.
Everything we go out to do has a purpose. There’s something we’re after with hiking or trekking, and that’s one spot that the two stand in different categories. When you look at hike vs trek, this is a big space that it will differ in.
People go hiking for a variety of reasons but it comes down to one main thing. That is, to get out into nature, reconnect, calm the mind, and get some fun or pleasure out of it. Some people hike for exercise as well, but it’s still chosen over the treadmill in the basement. People go for the pleasure and rewards nature has to offer.
Trekking is also done for fun and pleasure, but there is most often a destination in mind. It began with historically large mountain adventures to find success from the journey. Trekking can be put on a similar level with pilgrimages, or the search for something. There is more to be had from trekking than just the enjoyment of it. It is more in tune with the soul and can provide a lot of healing.
These treks are found worldwide. They call them hikes, but these are some serious treks that are well worth checking out.
Where you are going outside matters. The options for getting out on public land are huge nowadays thanks to the great accessibility. Sometimes, it’s more about finding those inaccessible areas. But is that hiking, or is it trekking? Where do I do what and how do I choose where to go?
Sometimes going outside and having a walk around the neighborhood can be considered hiking, depending on where you live. With nothing on your back or in your hands, you’re going out to just enjoy it. Hikes can be long, but once the length gets to be an overnight trip, you are wandering out of hiking territory.
Typically anything that can be done in a single night will be considered hiking. You go out, spend the night, and come back. Enjoyable, quick, and safe.
On the other side of the spectrum is trekking. We see the word arduous in its definition. It is by definition, difficult. That means remote locations, long treks, and trying conditions. Trekking expeditions can lead to deep, deserted places that you may never stumble upon when staying on the trail while hiking. There’s an opportunity for discovery with trekking, to see something very few people have.
Trails still aren’t off-limits to trekkers. You can go out on long-distance hiking trails that take you across a country, or you can head straight into the wilderness. The more remote, the better.
Sometimes the distance of a trip is what makes it different. We can probably all agree that traveling 500 miles on foot is a quite different experience than walking the state park’s 2-mile loop on a Saturday afternoon. It’s because of this that the length of your activity is a big point of difference between trekking and hiking.
A short hike is a possibility, while a short trek is a kind of contradiction. Going for a walk in the woods will be considered a hike typically until you hit higher mileage. Higher mileage is considered to be more than what someone could do in a single day. So, hiking goes up to about 30 miles. That’s a tough mileage to hit in a day, but realistic with one night out.
Trekking, on the other hand, is a much longer trip. A trek technically has no maximum mileage, but typically you need to be out for longer than that 30 miles we talked about with hiking. The difficult thing is, you can go out for multiple days and still not travel 30 miles. The length of a trekking trip is more likely to be measured in days. It took Lewis and Clarke years to complete their trek across America and could take you just a couple of months. Both are still considered to be trekking.
Hiking and trekking both require a certain level of physical fitness before going out, but also will give you a great workout. This is one thing they have in common, but the difference is the level of intensity and the fitness level you need to have beforehand.
The health benefits of getting outside are incredible. The great thing about this one area of difference is that either activity you choose will give you a massive amount of benefit.
The cardiovascular workout that comes from hiking is great for your body and mind. You lower the risk of heart disease, your blood pressure regulates, your balance and core are strengthened, and so much more.
You start getting this workout as soon as you get out long enough for your heart rate to increase. It’s a great workout that can be overlooked because of how enjoyable it is.
Trekking is another beast. It gives you those same cardio benefits as hiking, but you get so much more. You are usually wearing a heavy pack or carrying a large load while trekking. The strength workout you receive is crazy. Days on end of hauling your gear through difficult terrain build muscle quickly.
Trekking also gives you a huge amount of mental exercises. You must overcome the difficulty of the terrain while constantly convincing yourself to keep moving forward. It’s the best way to train yourself to never give up again.
So Who Does What?
Since trekking and hiking are so different, it will draw a different crowd. Hiking is better for some people, while trekking can fit into others’ lifestyles better.
Hiking is perfect for anyone that can access the outdoors but doesn’t want to fully immerse themselves out there. You don’t have to be incredibly fit to start hiking, but it will help get you there. Anyone that wants to just add some nature into their lives will benefit from hiking.
Trekking is for people that want to become consumed by the activity. It’s for those that want to go out and live for months with the trees while hauling everything they need on their backs. It’s not for people who have never been out before. Hiking comes first, then slowly trekking will come into your life.
No matter your preference of hiking vs trekking, both can be a perfect addition to your life. They aren’t the same, but you can still do both of them. There have been countless hikes that turn into long-distance treks for me. I simply didn’t want to turn around.
The difference between hiking and trekking isn’t what’s important to focus on. I prefer to see the similarities and bridge the gap between the two. We’re all out there because we love to be out there. The specifics change from person to person, but our sole love for the outdoors stands out. Keep on getting outside and finding the activities that you love.