Hiking vs Trekking vs Backpacking: Which One Is Right For You?

Walking and spending time outside is great for your physical and mental health. It can be intimidating if you don’t have much experience, however, so not every trail or camping session is for everyone. So, backpacking vs. hiking vs. trekking, what is the difference?

Trekking involves hiking and camping for weeks or months and backpacking is when you hike and camp for at least a few nights. Hiking is simple and easy as you simply walk the trails for the day and go home afterward. You must get a permit to camp at many national parks when trekking or backpacking, so make sure to apply for one in advance.

Trekking and backpacking are not for the faint of heart as they are quite difficult and require lots of preparation. Follow as we highlight the differences between hiking, backpacking, and trekking.

Backpacking Vs. Hiking Vs. Trekking

Backpacking

Backpacking is hiking for more than a day and camping overnight for at least one night. As the name suggests, you must pack a backpack full of essentials like water, food, hiking gear, and at least a sleeping bag. Not only must the content of your backpack get you through a day of hiking, but it must also get you through a night of sleeping in the wilderness.

Whether it be a makeshift hut or tent, there is nothing like sleeping with as little creature comforts as possible after a day of hiking. The low-cost nature of backpacking has made it a popular cheap vacation alternative that puts backpackers in touch with nature.

Hiking

When it comes to backpacking vs. hiking, hiking is the much easier option between the two. That’s not to say there aren’t difficult hiking trails that will challenge your skills. However, hiking doesn’t involve hauling camp gear, setting up a campsite, and camping overnight like backpacking.

You won’t have to carry nearly as much when hiking as you would when backpacking. Because of that, your movement won’t be as limited, and you can put all your energy into hiking. You also won’t have to worry about preparing meals, that is unless you want to. It’s important to pack hiking essentials, but there’s no reason to go overboard.

Image by stokpic from Pixabay

Trekking

Trekking is more similar to backpacking than hiking, but it’s much more intense than either of them. While backpacking entails camping for several nights, trekking sometimes entails camping for weeks or even months. Trekkers typically traverse vast distances and countless trails spanning cities and even states over a long period.

This requires much more preparation, gear, determination, and experience than backpacking and hiking. It’s not for the faint of heart, so trekking is only practical if you have lots of backpacking experience.

Image by Devraj Bajgain from Pixabay

Key Differences

Distance

There isn’t always a huge difference in distance when it comes to backpacking vs. hiking. Backpacking doesn’t necessarily refer to hiking long distances. For example, a day of hiking and backpacking may include the same amount of walking trails.

The key difference is that after a day of backpacking, you will typically spend at least one night at a campsite. You could walk the same distance while backpacking vs. hiking, but it becomes a backpacking trip once you camp overnight. However, trekking typically entails hiking for longer distances.

Because trekking can take place over several days or weeks, you will walk much more than if you were hiking or backpacking. You may not hike long distances for each day of hiking while trekking, but the combined total throughout your check is much more than hiking or backpacking.

Preparation

Hiking requires much less preparation than backpacking and trekking. When hiking, you may only be out on the trails for a few hours, or even less depending on how you feel that day. Because of that, you only need to bring essentials like water, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, your phone, and a compass if you aren’t familiar with the trail.

Backpacking and trekking entails camping overnight, so you must put a lot more thought into preparation. You must pack a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food, lanterns, gear to start a fire, and lots of water. Not only can this be overwhelming, but it also means that you must carry around a lot more weight than you would when backpacking.

That is especially true when trekking because of how long your journey may be. You can simply go on a day hike without any thought, but failing to prepare for backpacking and trekking is quite dangerous.

Location

When it comes to backpacking vs. hiking, you will typically traverse similar locations. There is no limit to where you can go when backpacking and hiking, that is if the trails you choose are public. However, the main difference is that people typically choose locations with plenty of available campsites when backpacking.

Some backpackers simply stick to common hiking trails during the day and stay in hostels, hotels, or camping RVs overnight. Trekking involves backpacking through several trails and campsites over several weeks, so your location will frequently change.

Because of that, it takes more time to figure out the perfect trekking route. That’s because you must make sure you can find an area with access to several hiking trails and campsites within a reasonable distance. This is easier when you have a vehicle, but many trekkers set off on foot for days or weeks on end.

Difficulty

The difficulty of backpacking vs. hiking vs. trekking ultimately depends on the trails you choose. That said, trekking is typically the hardest of the three options because it entails weeks and even months of hiking in some cases. This is quite physically demanding, and it’s not for everybody.

Hiking is the least difficult option, but there are many hard trails out there that can challenge your skills. Backpacking isn’t always physically demanding, but you must carry more gear than you would when hiking. That’s because you must pack all your camping gear which can weigh you down on your journey.

Luckily, it’s easier than ever to find hiking trails and campsites that suit your experience level. Apps like AllTrails make it easy to find trails in your area so you can go hiking or backpacking prepared.

Backpacking Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Backpacking gives you several days to enjoy your surroundings. You can take in your surroundings when backpacking much easier
  • It’s a cheap alternative to a traditional vacation. Besides the cost of your backpacking gear and food, you won’t have to spend nearly as much when backpacking compared to staying at a hotel or resort.
  • You can lose weight and cleanse your body when backpacking. Backpacking requires a lot of exertion, so you will undoubtedly burn lots of calories and rid your body of oxidative stress. Make sure to pack healthy food, snacks, and electrolyte packets to replenish yourself.

Cons

  • Backpacking requires lots of planning. It can take time to plan a backpacking route based on desirable trails and available campsites. Because of that, there is lots of trial and error involved which can be irritating if you’ve never been backpacking before.
  • It can be physically exhausting. This is especially true if you go backpacking for several days and hike long and difficult trails. You must pace yourself when backpacking because it’s easy to overexert yourself and run out of energy early on in your trip.
  • You must carry a lot of gear. Backpacking requires lots of gear, and this can make it difficult to hike the trails you traverse. It can be quite taxing to carry extra items that you wouldn’t need for a standard hike, such as camping and cooking gear.

Hiking Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You don’t have to bring too much gear when hiking. All you need for a hike is some appropriate clothes, water, snacks, and a compass if you’re not familiar with the trail.
  • Hiking trails are available nearly anywhere. Most cities, towns, and states have countless hiking trails to choose from. This makes it easy to plan your next hike.
  • It doesn’t require much experience. Hiking doesn’t require lots of experience with the outdoors or physical activity.

Cons

  • There isn’t much time to explore when hiking. Since you won’t stay overnight after a traditional day hike, you must make the most of your time and avoid lingering.
  • You will likely encounter lots of other people if you hike on a popular trail. That’s not a problem if you’re inexperienced, but it can be annoying for seasoned hikers.

Trekking Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You get the chance to explore a wide variety of terrain, trails, and wildlife. Trekking takes a long time, so you will get to see much more than you would on a hike.
  • There is no rush when trekking. Trekking takes days, weeks, and even months, so you have plenty of time to see everything you want.
  • Trekking builds your endurance. There is no doubt that you can build your physical and mental endurance while trekking. It takes lots of motivation, skill, and gumption.

Cons

  • It is hard to pick out a time for trekking. Trekking is a huge time commitment, so it’s hard to find an ideal time when you can commit to it. This is especially true if you have a job that is stingy with vacation time.
  • Trekking is quite difficult. Not only will your feet and legs hurt, but trekking will also test your will and mental endurance. This can be great for many people, but it can be a lot to handle.

Difference Between Hiking and Backpacking Backpacks

Hiking and backpacking backpacks are quite similar, but the key difference comes down to their designs. Backpacks meant for backpacking are typically narrow and tall to make the load easier to carry. They also typically have bigger carrying capacities than hiking backpacks because backpackers must pack camping gear.

That said, hiking backpacks are quite durable as well. Hiking backpacks are typically made of strong materials like nylon and polyester. Avoid hiking and backpacking backpacks made of leather and canvas as they aren’t waterproof and can easily become damaged.

Do You Need a Permit for Backpacking?

You don’t typically need a permit for backpacking when you hike public trails and stay at public campsites. However, you must obtain a permit if you plan to camp in the backcountry after backpacking. The National Park Service can provide a permit if you apply for it early enough.

It ultimately depends on the state and park you plan to visit. Research the backpacking route you plan to take to see if permits are required. Ideally, you should stick to backpacking routes with plenty of public campsites available in case you need to change your course.

Permits are required for backcountry camping at most national parks in the United States. Illegally camping at national parks carries fines and legal penalties.

So, What is the Difference Between Hiking, Trekking, and Backpacking?

Hiking entails walking trails for the day, backpacking involves camping for at least one night, and trekking is hiking and camping for weeks or months. Trekking is the most difficult of the three options, but backpacking is difficult as well and requires lots of preparation. Hiking is the best option for those with little outdoor experience as you can find plenty of easy trails to hike.

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