Difference – Hiking, Trekking, Backpacking & Mountaineering

So, you go trekking very often but have you been curious in knowing what’s the difference between trekking, hiking, backpacking, mountaineering etc.? The ABCs of the outdoor world! How not to seem lost in a conversation about wilderness.

Difference Hiking Trekking Backpacking Mountaineering
Difference Hiking Trekking Backpacking Mountaineering

The world of outdoors is extremely inclusive. You and I or anyone for that matter is welcome to explore the way they wish to, when they want to, with who they want to. How amazing is that? This inclusiveness is even seen in the terms or nomenclature followed by outdoor enthusiasts around the world. Like you may wonder what is the difference between ‘Hiking’ and ‘Trekking’? Let me tell you there isn’t much difference but there IS a difference. That is what prompted me to write this article to explain to the readers how insignificant some differences might be yet how significant they are in the larger scheme of things.

Hiking and Trekking mean different things in various parts of the world. But are these differences really important? Apparently not. I would say, the purpose of all these terms is to just let you explore the outdoors.  

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Trekking & Hiking – What’s Common?

Even though there are subtle differences in the terms hiking and trekking, it is safe to treat them as synonymous. They both mean being in the back-country or wilderness and travelling on foot. They are the super set of anything that includes both back country and being on foot. In that broader sense backpacking, mountaineering, canyoning and even caving are sub sections of hiking aka trekking.

Trekking vs Hiking – What’s the Difference then?

The difference is purely regional. In the UK, a walk in the park or through a paved path is termed as a hike; it is still a kind of trek; an easy one though. Some “blokes” might say “hiking is not real trekking!” while making weird faces.

So this basically means Trekking and Hiking are umbrella terms and can be used interchangeably as you deem fit.

Hiker posing with a hiking daypack
Hiker posing on a rock during a hike. Please note the daypack

Backpacking

Backpacking is a multi-day trekking. So, it involves the hiker camping out in wilderness for one or more nights. Backpacker usually carries all the necessary gear needed for the duration of the multi-day trip in a backpack. Hence the term backpacking. The gear includes food, tent, sleeping bag, clothes, water, footwear, medicines, weather appropriate gear etc.  

Hikers Backpacking on a beach trail
Hikers Backpacking on a beach trail

In the outdoor context, it is the wilderness backpacking that we are talking about; not to be mistaken with the backpacking travel because, in Europe, backpacking also means, packing a bag and traveling across the city for more than a day using cheap modes of transport and staying in places such as a hostel or motel. It is also called as Urban backpacking or backpacking travel.

Mountaineering

Trekking and/or backpacking at a high altitude usually above 10,000 feet is termed as mountaineering. This might be technical because it involves the use of specialized skills and gear such as crampons, supplemental oxygen, acclimatization to high altitude, rope skills, navigation skills etc.

Mountaineering Snow ice axe
Mountaineering

Some Extra Trivia

Did you know hiking was called Bushwalking in Australia?

Bike packing – When someone travels in a bicycle for multiple days carrying all the necessary gear it is called bike packing. This is not hiking though.
Canyoning – Technically speaking, canyoning is a trek through a canyon. You might have to use technical gear like rope, harness, helmet etc. Will also need to have technical skills like rappelling, knots, rope rigging etc.
Caving – Caving is technically, a “trek through a cave”. In caving also you will need technical gear and skills.

Related pages

Please visit the following pages
1. Wilderness Trekking Course (WTC)
2. FAQs on Wilderness Trekking Course (WTC)
3. Wilderness Backpacking Course
4. Mountaineering Course
5. Trek Leader Course

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