The Difference Between Walking, Hiking And Trekking

hiking on Scafell Pike

Now here is a question I often get asked, and the answer is not so simple at all. Actually is there a proper answer at all? There are dictionary differences, there are geographical differences and there are perception differences. 

No answer will ever be conclusive to the question of the difference between Hiking and Trekking, and to think, both of those are walking aren’t they? The aim here is to take a closer look at what the common differences are and some personal views. You may have your own where you are. That is OK too for sure. We will also look at other terms used for a day or few days walk that also get confused with these terms.

The dictionary technical answers

So let us start with how the dictionary defines these terms. For this I am using the Cambridge Dictionary:

Walking – The activity of going for a walk, especially for pleasure.

Hiking – The activity of going for long walks in the countryside.

Trekking – The activity of walking long distances on foot for pleasure.

Well, that sure didn’t clear things up didn’t it? Hiking and Trekking are going for a walk for pleasure in themselves? Trekking is generally cross country too?

Hiking In cumbria

The perception and local terms

The name of this site is BaldHiker. I am bald and I hike, simple as that.

This comes from my personal perception that I hike a lot. That is to say I do lots of long walks in the countryside. This does sort of fit with the dictionary term too. However I have realised thinking back that I and many others interchange the terms walking and hiking a lot.

Take a walk

To someone like me, when I think about it, I would classify a walk as a shorter affair. Maybe around a park, along a flat route for an hour or two. A dog walk. But, a walk is a walk? Putting one foot in front of the other? 

Let’s use the BaldHiker Social Walks that I guide people around as an example. This is where perception comes into it. I soon learned that advertising a 6 mile hike got less interest than inviting people to a 6 mile walk. The route would be the same. The feedback was that to people that don’t do much outdoors walking there is a difference between a walk and a hike. The word hike can scare them, they think it may be out of their league. My aim on these social walks is to get more people joining in and all meeting new people, from all walks of life, in the great outdoors. Helping people find a new hobby too. Why make it sound exclusive?

hiking in winter

Fell walking and hill walking

Why do we not call Fell Walking, Fell Hiking then? After all, climbing up a larger Northern Fell in Yorkshire or Cumbria is a good day’s hiking in the countryside? I have now realised I am guilty of loosely using the term walking myself. A recent title of one of my articles, A Walk Up Fair Snape Fell.

Rambling

Let us go back to the dictionary a second:

Rambling – The activity of going for long walks in the countryside.

Hang on a minute? That is the same definition as hiking. I must admit I do not use the word Ramble myself. I suppose I was brought up believing ‘to ramble about’ was doing something endlessly and aimlessly. I love goals and targets so that wouldn’t fit me.

rambling in yorkshire

Is there a difference between hiking and trekking?

I will be sharing my own conclusions, perceptions, at the end of this post on all of this conundrum. But with the modern age of hiking and trekking holidays being sold and advertised online, these terms are getting slightly differentiated.

With a hike most people think of a walk, up to and less than a day in length, that is more strenuous than a casual walk. Climbing a UK mountain, a circular walk on the moors to give examples.

Trekking has been made more a global term for a multi day arduous hike. Especially so when travelling to Asia and South America. Take the epic 12 day Annapurna Trek in the Himalayas. It is 12 days. A full on hike each day and some climbs and descents involved. Staging in huts and hostels on the way.

So why is the coast to coast in Britain not commonly called a trek? It is almost as many days. Long hike each day. Even our very own Mel wrote a wonderful article of her solo ‘walk’ of the West Highland Way. See, it is not as clear cut as you think.

trekking slovakia

Backpacking

This word can bring up many variations of thought too. To many outdoor people it is a trek (multi day hike) that involves carrying all you need with you on your back and camping overnight. Some people say that is the difference from trekking (where you stay in bed and breakfasts and hostels etc)

Back to the modern travel world and the word has slightly been taken over by people travelling the world, yes carrying all they need in a backpack, but not necessarily being on foot, walking.

The Difference Between Walking, Hiking And Trekking 1

Equipment for each

Now then, can we differentiate between all with the equipment we might need for each activity?

Firstly I would always advocate that you take, on any walk in the outdoors, the right footwear for all terrains, enough water, and the right layers of clothing.

But if we simplify perceptions and definitions then 

Walk equipment – a bottle of water and casual footwear

Hike equipment – daysack with extra water, extra layers, waterproof clothing, proper hiking boots and navigation aids.

Trek equipment – large backpack, arduous boots, lots of water, lots of clothing and warm clothing spare, maps galore and plenty more.

Too many grey areas and crossovers for me.

hiking landscape in Yorkshire

Conclusion and my thoughts

So, what do I think after thinking about it? I could be simple and say my personal opinion is.

A walk – A casual walk that is less than half a day, not off track and not much kit needed.

A hike – A longer walk, perhaps cross country or up a mountain or hill that you need extra and spare kit in a backpack for. And sturdy footwear.

A trek – a multi day hike

But… but… I can still say ‘oh no, do I have to trek to the shops’?

It doesn’t matter – get outdoors

In the end, why split hairs over it. A walk is a walk whatever the distance. It is good for your physical health and it is good for your mental health

I will carry on using the word I like for purpose. I walk up mountains, I trek to the car. You still know what I mean.

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4 Comments

  1. Jane from the U.S. says:

    A walk: I can wear a regular bra

    A hike: I need a sports bra

    A trek: I need to pack a second sports bra

    1. Good definitions, ha, ha, ha.

  2. Glenn Manderson says:

    As always Paul, a most enjoyable read. I always used the term hiking in the past if I had a pack with me (camera, water, nutrition) and a walk if I was without but my trips to the UK have led me to talk more generically using the term walk from all the hill walking we have done. That being said, I am no snob about this and frankly if someone is outside putting one foot in front of the other and just enjoying themselve then they can call it what they want. Lastly, rambling to me seems like scrambling which almost sounds like climbing which in the end only gets you to a better place to walk or hike for that matter. Cheers, Glenn

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