Hiking vs. Backpacking vs. Trekking – Do You Know The Trail Lingo?

hking vs backpacking vs trekking

It’s an early Saturday morning and while you are packing your thermos with your favorite coffee along with some powered creamer and sweetener, you go over all the winter hiking tips and set out to go start up your car.

As you await for the car to get warm and then drive to your favorite trailhead,

you take a once over on the map and decide to hit the trail,

hiking poles in each hand,

with your warm cup of joe waiting for you in your backpack once you reach the summit.

So, in this instance are you going on a hike or trek?

Likely a hike, and here’s why:

Take A Hike! It’s A Wonderful Way To Give Your Mind A Rest

By definition, hiking is the act of setting out on a recognized and worn trail.

Hiking, in most instances, is a leisurely process that is well charted and one that typically happens over a few hours.

Hikes are typically off-the-cuff so to speak and don’t require extensive planning ahead of time.

Now that’s not to say that a weekend hike isn’t strenuous.  Hikes can range from 0’ elevation gain to one that requires extensive technique in climbing, bouldering, steep elevation grades and so on.

But for the most part, when someone goes hiking, they aren’t bringing a tent with them, nor do they plan on spending the night at any location along the trail – they will likely always find themselves at the comfort of their car by the end of the trail.

On the other hand, if camping is involved this could be a hike too

…but with a caveat.

Hiking while camping is theoretically the same as hiking and returning to a car.

You still return to the same point of which you began when all is said and done.

Therefore if you return to basecamp, car, or any other place (i.e. lean to, cabin, etc.) its generally going to be considered a hike.

The core point of of a hike is that its often a loop and has a very small finite length of time in total duration.

Then at what point would you consider it to be a backpacking trip?

Is Backpacking Hiking? No, Not Really and Here’s Why:

If hiking is considered to be more of leisurely activity, then backpacking will likely require a bit more planning beforehand.

Backpacking is very similar to hiking, however its usually done over a few or several days – but still usually contains a loop of sorts.

You would most likely be backpacking if your setting out on one of those dream trout fishing trips.

Typically conducted along a trail, backpacking is when the routes are already pre-defined much like hiking, however the amenities can vary wildly depending on the conditions.

There are some instances where backpackers can stay in lean-tos or cabins along a trail, or perhaps less rugged conditions like hostels as well.

Reliance on maps, compasses, or even GPS watches are important in this activity, however, aren’t likely warranted given that it may be along a well-worn trail.

Another scenario that is unique for backpacking as opposed to a leisurely hike is that planning for meals is often a critical component.

Therefore, if you plan on cooking or catching your food along the way you will want to ensure that you have the properly cutlery in order to adequately prepare your meal.

Backpacking whether in Europe, along the Appalachians, or even in the Rocky’s should never be taken lightly – nature in unforgiving and therefore never taken for granted.

How Does Trekking Fit Into The Equation When Compared To Hiking and Backpacking?

Of all the outdoor activities listed above, trekking is likely going to be the most involved of the planning processes.

Trekking is usually conducted over several days and doesn’t contain any pre-set trails or blazes that you can easily follow.

This means that when trekking across the land, its up to you to determine the proper direction through use of navigation tools like compasses and such.

Now depending on the region and amenities at your disposal, the conditions of a trek can vary wildly.

If you are in some countries, a trek may involve an animal to help carry your gear in order to alleviate the burden of carrying gear.

Many may find that treks are by and far the most strenuous – not by elevation gain, but rather defined by mental strength and trekking aptitude.

An underprepared trek can make for extraordinarily tough circumstances that will leave a person stranded ultimately leaving them to rely on wit and resourcefulness to overcome any challenge the wilderness throws at them.

Another point of difference between a trek and a hike or backpack is that it often isn’t contained within a loop track – instead treks start at one point and end at a vastly different point that can span counties, states, or even countries away from each other.

Packing The Proper Equipment For Your Hike or Trek

Now if you are going on a weekend hike, chances are that your pack list will likely be pretty slim.

Therefore, you will likely only rely on your hiking poles, headlamp (in case you get lost before sun sets), map, hiking boots, trail snacks, etc.

On the other hand, for a multi-day trek your pack list will be much more extensive and will require very careful planning on weight along with proper first-aid and/or survival kits.

There are plenty of great sites and blogs out there that have outlined terrific pack lists and considerations that folks should keep in mind before setting out.

Proper research on any trail, whether it be a hike, backpack, or trek is always critical – the last thing that you will ever want when facing the elements is any hint of under-preparedness.