Do you know the differences between Hiking, Trekking, and Mountaineering?
Hiking, trekking, and mountaineering are often seen as synonyms of each other, especially hiking and trekking. However, it is wrong to do so, as they are all different activities with different purposes.
In all fairness, the cultural and geographical differences in the usage of the terms does not make it easier to make a clear distinction between the words.
In general, the terms are used as follows:
- Hiking is the activity of long walks for the enjoyment of a natural setting.
- Trekking is the activity of walking long distances for pleasure in no particular setting.
- Mountaineering is the sport or activity of climbing mountains.
This might be the short answer you were looking for, but we recommend that you read the full article to clearly understand the differences between Hiking vs Trekking vs Mountaineering, so you will choose the right activity for your next outdoor adventure. (or prevent choosing the wrong one!)
Firstly, we will explore what hiking is all about.
What does hiking mean?
The hiking definition we think will help you understand the difference between trekking vs hiking, is the hiking definition by Cambridge Dictionary. Both the trekking definition and hiking are short and to the point, making it easier to understand the hiking and trekking difference.
What is hiking?
As explained in the intro, and the definition by Cambridge Dictionary, Hiking is the activity of long walks in the countryside for the enjoyment of a natural setting.
This definition might seem clear, yet people have different views on what hiking really is. Some think of hiking as a leisure walk in the woods nearby your house, or a little stroll where you barely break a sweat. Others see it as the entire range of activities that involves walking, as long as it is in the “outdoors”.
This does not help in identifying the differences between the terms, so what’s hiking exactly?
We collected different explanations, and perspectives on the term hiking, across different cultures and countries/continents. We filtered out the differences and came up with our own “global” explanation of hiking.
Hiking is an experience where we take on a journey, whether long or short, where we follow man-made trails, to enjoy the wilderness and immerse ourselves with nature.
This can be of several difficulty levels, from short, plain leveled trails to rough and challenging trails involving steep ascending and descending.
The main point of hiking is experiencing nature on your walk, that is why hikes take place in natural environments, like forests.
The benefits of hiking
Walking in general has proven to be beneficial for your physical and mental health. Here is where the different activities (hiking, trekking, mountaineering) overlap, as they all involve walking.
The main benefits of hiking are:
- Lower stress levels and enhanced mental wellbeing
- Reduced risks for heart diseases
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Improving control over healthy weight
- Lower body fat
- Improving bone density
- Improving osteoarthritis outcomes
- Increasing flexibility and coordination
- Enhanced relationships with friends and family (when hiking with others)
What are the must-do hikes in the world?
There are so many breathtaking (figuratively of course) hikes, that it is difficult to make a top 3-, top 5- or top 10 must-do hikes in the world.
However, we created a top 5 must-do for each activity, guaranteed to give you the urge to plan your next trip.
Our top 5 hiking trails are as followed:
1. King’s Canyon Rim Walk, Australia
This hike is a quick and easy one, yet with amazing views and sceneries.
- Distance: +/- 6km
- Duration: a few hours
2. Kalalau Trail, Hawaii
Another famous trail is the Kalalau trail in Hawaii.
- Distance: +/- 18km
- Duration: 1 day (not recommended) - several days
3. Maroon Peak Trail, Colorado
Offers arguably the best views in the state but is a difficult climb requiring scrambling over loose rock. Nonetheless, a noteworthy hike.
- Distance: +/- 18km
- Duration: 1 day
4. Kjeragbolten hike, Norway
Beautiful hike in Norway, with a giant boulder wedged between two cliffs as the highlight of the trail. During the hike you will see some spectacular views of Norway’s scenery.
- Distance: +/- 11km
- Duration: 1 day
5. The Puez-Odle Altopiano hike, Italy
This hiking trail in the Dolomites, Italy, will reward you with arguably the best views of the Dolomites.
- Distance: +/- 15km
- Duration: 1 day
More about Hiking
Secondly, for you to understand the trekking hiking difference, we need to explore what is trekking all about.
What does trekking mean?
Same as the hiking definition, we define trekking by the trekking definition given by Cambridge Dictionary. The main differences between trekking vs hiking will be clear in no time.
Although we are content with the definition, this might not define trekking as you envision trekking to be. In this case, the trekking meaning will be clearer accompanied by the definition trek.
By looking at the trek definition combined with the trekking meaning, you can derive that trekking is focused on walking for pleasure, usually through natural areas such as hills, mountains, or forests.
What is trekking?
The emphasis in the definition of trekking is on the long distances covered by foot. Trekking involves long journeys, that is why trekking is hardly just a single day activity.
Usually, trekking starts in one place and ends in a different one. Trekking can include different surroundings and is not necessarily bound to natural environments.
Trekkers usually walk through the well-built infrastructure- and wide trails with lodges and snack stops on the way.
A long trek may take you on roads/pavements, high mountains, or even unmarked terrain.
Trekking is an adventurous endeavor in which long distances are walked for pleasure, under a variety of circumstances and environments. The difficulty level also varies heavily on the trek you are planning.
The benefits of trekking.
Similar to hiking, trekking comes with a bunch of physical and mental health benefits. As the type of activity overlaps (walking in nature and such), the benefits also overlap.
The main benefits of trekking are:
- Cardiovascular strength
- Weight loss
- Builds a robust heart
- Cleanses the lungs
- Build strong bones
- Agile muscles
- Improved coordination
- Cool mind and excellent focus
- Interval training
- Lower stress levels, improved mood, and better general mental wellbeing
What are the must-do treks in the world?
Just like the hiking must-dos, we also made a top 5 must-do treks in the world. Note that these trekking adventures are relatively difficult and more challenging than your average trek.
Our top 5 trekking destinations to consider are:
This demanding trek is special due to the diversity of landscapes it traverses. Think of forests, granite moonscapes, glacial lakes, snow-capped peaks, and much more. However, this variety of natural beauty does not come easy; the path is rocky, at times steep, and includes slippery rock faces.
- Distance: +/-168 km
- Duration: 15 days
2. Everest Base Camp, Nepal
Some bragging rights are acquired when taking on this popular trek. For those who want to say ‘I’ve been to the base of the highest mountain in the world’, this difficult trek is a must. Reaching a height of 5545m, acclimatisation to the altitudes can be challenging.
- Distance: +/- 130 km (round trip)
- Duration: 12 days
3.Pays Dogon, Mali
The Dogon region of Mali is one of the most beautiful regions across the continent. Trekking here will give you an unique glimpse into local cultures, while crossing dusty arid plains and lush green onion fields, with one of the highlights being the Bandiagara escarpment.
Entire towns, mosques, and other structures have been carved into cliff faces.
- Distance: Varies on the trek you choose
- Duration: Anywhere between 2-10 days
4. Routeburn Track, New Zealand
New Zealand is blessed with beautiful nature, and the Routeburn Track will take you through plenty of breathtaking sceneries.
- Distance: +/- 33 km
- Duration: 2-4 days
5. The Inca Trail, Peru
Let’s end this list with probably the most known trail in the world: the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. There are multiple treks and expeditions you can book for this famous destination. For this list we choose the easiest/shortest one.
- Distance: +/- 13km
- Duration: 2 days / 1 night
Finally, we also explore what mountaineering is about, before we compare each activity with each other.
What does mountaineering mean?
Understanding the difference between hiking and mountaineering is easier to understand than hiking vs trekking. Same as the other definitions, we used the Cambridge Dictionary to give a short but sweet definition.
What is mountaineering?
The above definition of mountaineering might come across as vague, and you are not wrong. It is very generally explained, and quite ambiguous.
Climbing mountains can be anything, and considering all activities with the possible “climbing mountains” tag as mountaineering, I would avoid.
In my opinion, the term should not be used when walking up low mountains that only offer moderate challenges.
The term would be more properly used to climbing in hazardous environments, where the terrain and weather conditions prevent challenges.
That being said, I would include some form of challenge in the definition of mountaineering.
Mountaineering is the activity of climbing mountains in challenging circumstances with the goal of overcoming all hazards on the route safely and ultimately reaching the summit of a particular mountain.
The benefits of mountaineering
Although mountaineering is quite different than trekking and hiking, there are also similar benefits. However, mountaineering also provides other benefits:
- Helps to control your weight and improves general metabolism
- Improves coordination of movement between your eyes, hands, and feet and improves your sense of balance
- It improves bone density
- Improves your skin texture and tone
- Tones up your muscles and makes them more resilient and flexible
- Perfect interval training where there are bursts of extreme effort such as scrambling and rock climbing followed by mild walking
- Improves the quality of sleep
- Helping you develop as a person, i.e. build self-esteem
- Lower stress levels, improved mood, and better general mental wellbeing
What are the must-do mountaineering activities?
Same as hiking and trekking, we assembled a list of must-do mountaineering activities in the world.
For the mountaineering part, we went with 7 instead of 5. Reason being, climbing the seven summits - the highest mountain on every continent - is regarded as a mountaineering challenge.
Although some lists of the seven summits differ (e.g. some use Oceania as a reference, rather than just mainland Australia), we went with the Bass list (continental).
This will leave out some impressive mountaineering expeditions, like the K2, Mont Blanc, and Puncak Jaya.
The seven summits are:
Mount Everest, Asia
- Elevation: 8848 m
Aconcagua, South America
- Elevation: 6961 m
Denali, North America
- Elevation: 6194 m
- Elevation: 5895 m
Mount Elbrus, Europe
- Elevation: 5642 m
Mount Vinson, Antarctica
- Elevation: 4892 m
Mount Kosciuszko, Australia
- Elevation: 2228 m
Trekking vs Hiking
So, what is the difference between hiking and trekking?
Now that you know what hiking and trekking are, we can put the similarities and differences next to each other.
Often, people tend to say the difference is in the difficulty level. Nevertheless, that is the wrong approach and can be misleading.
The main reason the presumption of trekking being more challenging or difficult is the duration.
Generally, trekking involves greater distances, that is why usually a trek involves a multi-day activity, where there are plenty of single day hikes.
Despite the distances, a hike to a mountain peak through rough terrain and challenging landscape can be more challenging than a trek where a porter takes care of most of your stuff, and a guide showing you the way.
Not to speak of multi-day hikes (often referred to as backpacking) where you need to be self-sufficient and plan things more carefully in advance.
If not the difficulty level, what are the differences?
The main difference is the intention. Although the words have evolved over time, trekking is focused on migrating, or traveling from point A to B.
Trekking is focused on traveling to a certain destination.
In the commercial terms, trekking is usually (partly) through natural environments and beautiful sceneries to enhance the experience.
The focus of hiking is on immersion with nature. Hiking trails are always through natural environments and have the main intention to connect with nature and the wilderness.
Hiking is focused on immersion with nature.
In line with the intention, overnight hiking (backpacking) involves carrying your food, tents, sleeping bags and such with you in order to camp in nature.
Trekking can involve both sleeping in tents or sleeping in lodges or guest houses, as the intention is moving from point-to-point, and not immersion with nature.
That being said, trekking can be very demanding and challenging as well. Many treks involve high altitudes, which require a certain level of physical fitness.
This is also where the misconception of trekking being more difficult than hiking comes from, as the more famous treks are physically demanding.
Trekking vs Mountaineering
Now that we have cleared the air of trekking vs hiking, how is trekking different from mountaineering?
The distinction between trekking and mountaineering is less confusing. Trekking is done by following a trek. Although at times this might demand that you are in good shape, it is not as challenging as mountaineering.
In the case of trekking vs mountaineering, it is safe to say that mountaineering is more challenging by definition. The same would apply to the difference between hiking and mountaineering.
Mountaineering demands more than just physical fitness. It requires much more technical expertise, as it involves crossing crevasses, climbing glacial walls, steep slopes, roped together, and so on. It presents a series of challenges, and the main goal is conquering a summit of a certain mountain.
Side by side: Hiking vs Trekking vs Mountaineering
Finally, it is time to put the three definitions together, to see how Hiking vs Trekking vs Mountaineering differs.
|What?||An experience where we take on a journey, and follow man-made trails, to enjoy the wilderness and immerse ourselves with nature.||An adventurous endeavour in which long distances are walked for pleasure, under a variety of circumstances and terrain.||The activity of climbing mountains in challenging circumstances with the goal of overcoming all hazards on the route safely, and ultimately reaching the summit of a particular mountain.|
|Basic - Intermediate||Basic - Intermediate||Intermediate - Advanced|
|Skill level||Beginner - Experienced||Beginner - Experienced||Experienced - Expert|
|Activity Specific Skills (excludes the essentials and basics)||- Crampons and ice axe|
- Rope techniques
- Advanced navigation skills
- Technical and mountain specific skills
|Unwind, connect with nature, enjoyment of walking in nature, physical and mental health benefits.||Bonding with others, enjoyment of walking long distances, physical and mental health benefits.||Extreme personal challenges, intense bonding, building self-esteem, enjoyment of overtaking challenging obstacles.|
|Activity Specific Equipment (excludes the essentials and generic equipment)||- Shoes applicable to the hiking terrain|
- Hiking poles
|-Hiking / Trekking pole||- Rope|
- Ice axe(s)
- Belay device
- Ice screw
|Locations||In beautiful natural environments, nature trails, hills, and so on.||Areas with infrastructure focused on walking, often in areas of great natural beauty.||Mountains with challenging summits to conquer.|
What activity suits me best?
If you have a basic or above level of physical fitness, you can both look for interesting hiking trails or treks. With less time, look for single day hikes. If you have more time to spare, you can look at longer distances; trekking would be a good option.
If you look for some extra adventure, and enjoy carefully planning your outdoor activity, a multi-day hike will do the trick. Or a longer trek, where you will travel from point A to point B.
As explained before, the decision of whether you should go hiking or trekking depends on what you want to get out of your activity. Hiking to connect with nature, trekking to challenge yourself personally, and bond with your fellow travelers.
However, if you feel like challenging yourself, and exploring your limits, mountaineering is something you should look into. You should not take this lightly, though.
If you are a novice trekker or hiker, you will need additional training, gain technical expertise and be in good physical shape.
For mountaineering, you should get a guide, and/or an experienced team if it will be your first time participating in such an activity.
If you are already an experienced mountaineer, I can not give any additional advice.
Also, it is very likely that you would choose this activity over the others, although if you only have a weekend off, you will probably be able to enjoy a “casual” hike as well.
As you have noticed, there are many different interpretations of the terms, especially when looking internationally. Both the terms hiking and trekking have been evolved in their own way, mainly depending on the surroundings of different geographical locations.
This means, that there are grey areas, and there is no universal definition of the three topics of discussion. I would recommend that you always ask additional questions when traveling to new and (to you) unknown areas.
For example, contact a local guide if you need extra technical skills when going on a trek through mountain areas.
That being said, you should now know the differences between hiking, trekking and mountaineering. If there is anything additional you would like to know, trekking questions, or if you have a different view on the topic of discussion, please let us know.
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Stefan is a design thinker, with a passion for photography and the outdoors. Just like most designers, he is a life-long learner, interested in everything that moves the world. He's driven when it comes to research, branding, writing, travel, strategy, psychology, and entrepreneurship.