Are you hiking, trekking or backpacking? These are the fundamental differences

What’s the difference between hiking, trekking, and backpacking?

As a layman, we all use hiking, trekking, and backpacking interchangeably. There are some similarities, but you can’t categorize them all as one. Yes, all three activities take place in the outdoors. But in each of these activities, a different kind of journey is undertaken.

Need to have a clear vision of all these activities, then you are in the right place. Let’s have a look into the philosophy behind each of them from different vantage points!

Hiking is the Granddaddy of them all!

According to the US dictionary, hiking is a long walk that you take for exercise or pleasure. On the other hand, the UK dictionary becomes more specific in defining it by saying it is a long walk that you take, particularly in the countryside. In any other source, you will find the meaning of the word hike is to walk a long distance in the wilderness or country.

So basically, hiking covers everything when you talk about walking in the wilderness. Other walking activities in the wild or countryside include backpacking, trekking, section hiking, and thru-hiking. These are all functional classifications of hiking.

Hiking vs. Trekking

Trekking is a specialized class of hiking. It is more strenuous physically as well as mentally if you compare it with hiking.

According to the US dictionary, trekking is an arduous journey that involves difficulties. Trekking is a trip that you take over hills, forests, and mountains (UK dictionary).

So both the meanings suggest that trekking is a long and hand hike, and it will be over steep terrain. Hiking might not involve any uneven terrains, and you can do it on flat and smooth grounds in the countryside.

Some geographic nuances are matter as well. For instance, trekking is a term quite popular in Asia. The Asians use the term trekking for long walks in the jungles or the mountain area. On the contrary, backpacking is the term that is commonly used in North America.

Hiking vs. Backpacking

Trekking is something that North American people know as backpacking. Trekking is more frequently associated with walking through the jungle or in the mountains. In Asian countries, there are trekking services available where porters may carry the equipment for the trekkers.

But backpacking is something totally different.

A backpacker carries all the equipment in his/her backpack and carries it him/herself. This equipment may include sleeping accessories, shelter, cooking apparatus, water, food, and so much more. Basically, everything is there in the backpack for survival out in the wilderness.

Backpacking is a multi-day hike, and the trips’ lengths vary dramatically because some of these trips can last for only a few days, while others can last more than several months.

Backpacking is all about the simplicity of your existence because you can’t pack luxury items in your backpack due to the limited space. This is valid for long hikes because you won’t be returning to the luxuries of your daily life by the end of the day.

Trekking & Backpacking

As you can see, there are some situations where you can use backpacking and trekking interchangeably. In both these hikes, you will be carrying your gear for long distances. The term that you choose only relies on what is the region where you are going for a hike.

For instance, if you are hiking in the Southeast Asian forests or in the Himalayas, then it is trekking. If you are hiking in a US wilderness or British countryside, then it is backpacking.

Backpacking Subclasses

If you are reading some North American content associated with backpacking, then you will also come across a couple of other terms.

To make sure that we don’t leave any stone unturned, let’s see what these subclasses are:


A person who attempts a very long hiking trip based on months. Due to the length of thru-hiking trips, you need to carry lightweight backpacks. Thru-hikers significantly minimize what they carry, and innovatively make use of the items they have.

Section hiking

A section hiker is a thru-hiker that completes the trip in sections. Between each section, the hiker will go off and do any other activity that is not related to hiking. In simple words, the long trip broken into small parts.


What type of hiking is Tramping?

Tramping is a term more frequently used in New Zealand, and it is unique to that region. It is hiking in the dense Kiwi bush and is ideally used for long and overnight hikes. However, some people also use it to describe a tough day-hike.

Are Rambling and Bush-walking subclasses of backpacking?

They are not the subclasses of backpacking. These terms describe hiking trips in different geographic regions. Rambling is a British term used sometimes (very rarely now) to describe hiking. On the other hand, bush-walking is an Australian term that Aussies use interchangeably with hiking.

What doesn’t include hiking?

From the definitions that we have elaborated above, there are three situations when we are not hiking:

  • When we are not in the wilderness.
  • When we are not in a long distance.
  • And we are not walking.

The activities in such scenarios are Rock-climbing, Bikepacking, and Mountaineering.

Do I need the same kind of gear for every type of hike?

It varies based on the type or length of the trip, as well as your overall hiking experience. Trekking and thru-hiking are two intense activities. These types of hikes will require you to bring along a variety of gear with you because they are pretty long trips, especially thru-hiking.

In section hiking, you might not need all types of equipment with you because the trip is not very long. With experience, you will understand what you need the most out in the wilderness!

We would like to mention here the name of a legendary thru-hiker, Grandma Gatewood, who became famous for hiking the Appalachian Trail (2168 miles) just with a small sack containing the necessities. Talking about ultralight backpacking! It all depends on how innovative can you get with the equipment at hand.

Final thoughts

So there you go! The broad category is hiking, and everything falls under its umbrella. The terms vary based on geographic nuances and the person describing them. It’s all about taking a long walk in the wilderness with your survival gear.

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