Hiking vs Trekking – What’s The Difference?

To a novice, it may seem that there is no discernible difference between them. But that is not the case!

There are a few specific distinctions that separate each of these outdoor pastimes. In this article, we will give you a clear understanding of what makes each of these activities alike and unique.

We are going to cover the differences between all the major types of hiking: Hiking vs Trekking vs Backpacking vs Thru-Hiking vs Mountaineering – What’s the Difference?

hiking vs trekking

What is Hiking?

Most people have an understanding of what hiking is and may be more familiar with this word compared to the other terms on our list.

Consider hiking to be any walk that takes place over a significant distance. If you want to be more specific, you could say that a hike generally takes place for pleasure and in rural or wilderness areas.

At times, hiking can have some implication that the course will have some sort of elevation change. But that is not always the case, as the true definition does not preclude a flat landscape.

Hiking is a very common hobby, and there is a reason that we have addressed its definition first. The reason is that hiking is somewhat of a catch-all term. The definition of a hike is very general. But as you will soon see, there are several varieties of hiking with individual defining characteristics.

What is Trekking?

Trekking is a type of hike that is often longer and more intense than other forms of hiking. A typical trek can last multiple days and may cover some challenging terrain. Those who go on treks often use trekking poles to keep their footing. (Michelle uses her poles on every single hike she takes, short or long.)

Treks can take place over a certain geographic landscape and can come in many forms. The unifying feature of all versions of trekking is that the activity is difficult and involves travel on foot. This term also happens to be more common in Asian countries.

Knowing the difference between trekking and hiking can be especially useful if you are traveling to one of those countries. That way, you will have a better idea of whether the excursion you booked will be a casual stroll through the countryside or a strenuous climb through the Himalayas.

What is Backpacking?

Backpacking is very similar to trekking in that it is a strenuous hike that transpires over multiple days. Unlike trekking, backpacking is a term that is much more common in North America. However, the activities themselves are nearly identical.

One of the most defining features of backpacking is the presence of a backpack or daypack. In that backpack, the backpacker will carry the tools and supplies that they need to complete their trip. That can include a form of shelter, such as a tent, as well as first aid kits and food.

Compared to traditional hiking, backpacking requires more skill and forethought. Backpacking trips involve at least two days of hiking, during which time the backpacker needs to carry all their essentials on their back.

The fact that backpackers spend nights in the wilderness means that they should have some basic survival skills as well. Such wilderness knowledge is by no means a prerequisite for a casual hike.

What is Thru-Hiking?

If backpacking is essentially an extended version of a hike, consider thru-hiking to be an extended version of backpacking. Thru-hikers, like backpackers, carry all of their supplies on their backs. But they hike for a much longer distance.

A thru-hike can last for several months and can cover thousands of miles. This term is most popular in the United States, where there are a few thru-hiking opportunities such as the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail.

Since thru-hikers cover such remarkable distances, they make serious efforts to keep their packs as light as possible. Unlike the average backpacker, a thru-hiker will evaluate every piece of gear to ensure that it is as light as possible.

Because a thru-hike can last so long, it is common for thru-hikers to make pit stops in towns to restock on food or replace some of their equipment and clothing. But other than those brief moments, thru-hikers spend the rest of their trip in the wilderness.

There is a type of hiking that is related to thru-hiking called section hiking. Section-hikers usually carry lightweight packs and endure long hikes. But they don’t complete the entirety of a thru-hike in one attempt. Instead, a section hiker will cover specific sections of a larger thru-hike as they please.

What is Mountaineering?

Of all of the activities on our list so far, mountaineering is different from them all. Mountaineering is not technically a form of hiking, but it may take place at some point during a hike.

The official definition of mountaineering suggests it is simply the act of climbing a mountain. But in the context of our article, mountaineering has a more precise meaning.

Compared to hiking, mountaineering involves scaling rocks and cliffs rather than simply walking up an incline. Mountaineers use ropes, picks, and pulleys to attach themselves to a rock face and scale their way up.

Mountaineering calls for specialized skills in using certain equipment and must-know techniques that will save them from falling while they climb. This added danger makes mountaineering a far less accessible activity compared to the types of hiking we mentioned earlier.

As we also alluded to, it is common for people to combine hiking and mountaineering to reach remote peaks. Many of the tallest mountains in the world can only be submitted by using some form of mountaineering.

But mountaineering stands along as its own sport as well. There are now mountaineering competitions, and many people enjoy it as an exciting hobby as well.


While it is initially hard to distinguish between hiking, trekking, backpacking, thru-hiking, and mountaineering, hopefully, the differences are clear to you now.

Each of these activities is slightly different from one another, and each one calls for different skills and equipment. We hope that this article has introduced you to each so that you can find the one you like most.