The Differences Between Backpacking, Trekking, and Hiking

When planning any outdoor activity, the way you will get around is likely a top consideration. There are a few choices that outdoors enthusiast can make if they first decide that at least part of the experience will involve walking. Despite the immediate similarities, there are distinct differences between backpacking, trekking, and hiking. While all three have the basic kinship of walking, the goals and purposes of each are very different.


Hiking is sort of the catch-all term for walking in the wilderness. If you referred to backpacking or trekking as hiking, you technically would not be wrong. However, hiking primarily refers to just walking, usually through rougher terrain than your neighborhood sidewalk. This could be a trek across a field or up a mountain, but it could also be just an hour or two of exercise or a small portion of an entire camping trip. Typically, though, hiking focuses on exploring established trails. Any equipment involved is usually short-term and includes only what you need to stay comfortable and fueled for the duration of the walk. Hiking is more about the exercise itself than the adventure.


Backpacking is a lot like hiking in that it involves walking in the wilderness with a backpack. However, the similarities stop here. This activity has more in common with camping, sans any luxury. The idea behind backpacking is to go on an adventure for days on end and only use what you can carry in a backpack. Basically, it is the ultimate form of roughing it. Of all the differences between backpacking, trekking, and hiking, the idea of having or not having a destination is the clearest defining point. For backpackers, where they are going doesn’t matter at all; it’s all about the experience of getting there. As such, backpacking is a very exciting take on fitness. However, there are considerations to take before setting out. In particular, you must consider how to stay safe in the winter and other times of inclement weather.


Finally, we have trekking. Think of this activity as the spiritual older sibling of hiking and backpacking. The idea is to traverse the land, usually on a multi-day trip. The length of the trip and whether there are trails or just rough terrain makes no difference. The goal is to pick a clear starting and ending point and complete the entire journey. It’s sort of a sojourn for physical fitness enthusiasts! Often, treks will be organized with large groups in mind, making them a lot safer than backpacking and enabling individuals to push themselves farther, knowing they are safe among friends.