If you’re an adventurer who loves being out in nature, then a hiking or trekking might just be your cup of tea. However, it’s important to understand that while the two activities share a number of similarities, they’re also very different. Understanding the difference between a hike and a trek is crucial for making sure you choose an adventure that’s right for you. So, what is the difference?
What is a hike or day hike?
In simple terms, hiking is the leisure activity of walking on well-marked, man-made trails or roads. Hikes range in difficulty levels but typically aren’t too strenuous compared to treks. A hike can last a couple hours, to an entire day, and terrain varies from rolling hills to steep forested inclines. Because of this hikes are often referred to as “day hikes”.
At the end of the day, a hike is an adventure that typically doesn’t leave you carrying heavy gear or involve any overnight responsibilities. This is what the “day pack” was designed for.
What type of traveler is best suited for day hiking?
Hiking is perfect for travelers searching for an adventure that gets their blood pumping without pushing their physical limits too far. You’ll be outdoors, walking for long periods of time and a hike may also involve walking through rain, hail or shine.
So, while the physical demands of a hike are less than a trek, you still need to be prepared to push yourself to some extent.
What’s it like to go on a day hike?
Day hikes are much more involved than a typical sightseeing tour and you’re often able to experience a destination while enjoying a more in-depth experience, as you’re that much closer to nature and the environment you’re visiting. Day hikes involve early mornings, great wildlife photography opportunities while providing the chance to travel with a group of like-minded individuals who love the great outdoors (just like you).
What are the must-do hikes in the world?
When it comes to hiking, everyone has a different bucket list. But there are some hikes that stand out as the most famous in the world:
- Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan – Most people who travel to Bhutan opt to make the hike up the side of a cliff to visit the breathtaking Buddhist monastery, The Tigers Nest. Perched 900 meters off the ground, this hike is steep, but the views are definitely worth it.
- Distance: 3.25 kilometers (each way)
- Time: Two hours to get to the top, however, it is best to allow for five to seven hours for the entire hike
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand – Considered one of the best day hikes in New Zealand (and quite possibly the world), this hike boasts phenomenal landscapes and a uniquely beautiful volcanic terrain for your viewing pleasure. If you’re looking for a hike with constantly changing scenery, this could be your top pick.
- Distance: Roughly 19.5 kilometers (roundtrip)
- Time: Between six and eight hours
- Trolltunga, Norway – If you’ve seen a travel photo of someone doing a handstand on a cliff over a picturesque lake, it was probably captured at Trolltunga. Growing in popularity for its beauty and thrill-levels, this hike is both picturesque and extremely memorable for those who are game to brave the adventure.
- Distance: 23 kilometers (roundtrip)
- Time: Between eight and ten hours
- Torres del Paine Lookout, Chile – This hike will leave you wanting to hike again and again, everywhere and anywhere. The highlight of this adventure is hands down the breathtaking mighty towers of Andean granite that demand your attention. Plus, the photo opportunities are nearly endless.
- Distance: 19 kilometers (roundtrip)
- Time: Between four and six hours, however, this depends on the weather as it can turn in an instant
- Faulhornweg Bernese, Switzerland – As one of the most iconic hikes in the world, the Faulhornweg hike takes you right to some of the most iconic peaks in the world. This high-level route is definitely dramatic, showing off stunning meadows, Alpine flowers, and of course, the Faulhorn at 2,680 meters above sea level.
- Distance: 15 kilometers (roundtrip)
- Time: Between five and six hours.
What do I need to know before I go hiking?
Before hiking, there are a few vital pieces of information that you need to be aware of. It’s important to complete your research about hiking in your chosen destination and is certainly important to test your body and gear so you know what you’re capable of and what to expect.
- Test your gear. It’s better to know how things work before you start; otherwise, it might be useless on the trails. Aim to complete a trial run, even if it’s just in your backyard.
- Avoid cotton. Quick-drying, breathable fabric will be your best friend out in the elements and won’t leave you uncomfortable if it rains or gets hot out.
- Load up on food and water. Most hikers agree one pint of water (roughly half a litre) for every two hours (or four miles) of walking should suffice. For food, you’ll want to pack roughly a half-pound for a full day. Plus snacks. Never forget snacks!
- Respect the trail. From other hikers to nature itself, remember that you’re a visitor. Pick up after yourself, be polite (always smile and say wave when passing other hikers), and don’t cause any harm to nature.
- Try trail sneakers. Hiking boots are okay, but depending on your hike, they can actually cause you more harm than good. Trail runners are becoming a more popular and comfortable option for many hikers.
- Share your plans. If you’re not hiking with an organized tour group or hiking team, it’s a good idea to let people know your plan – especially if you’re hiking alone. Let someone know where you’re starting, where you’re finishing, and roughly what time you’ll return. Better safe than sorry.
What should I pack to go hiking?
If you’re not sure what to pack for your hiking trip, don’t forget to do some research on your hiking location. For instance, a hike through the Swiss Alps will need different gear than a hike through the Amazon.
- Proper clothing (thermal shirt, quick-dry material, lightweight hoodies, waterproof shells, thermal leggings, convertible hiking pants, moisture-wicking hiking socks, warm hat, light gloves)
- Hiking poles or walking sticks
- A comfortable backpack, however, the size will vary depending on the length of your hike
- Hiking boots or trail sneakers
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- Baseball or sun cap
- Emergency thermal blankets, because if you get lost, this could literally be a lifesaver.
- Food and water. Remember to pack the right amount of water, and healthy food, such as nuts, seeds, trail mix, and energy bars
- Toilet paper
- Plastic bags
- Mini first aid kit
- A map
- Travel insurance. In some countries, if you do require rescue assistance, it’s going to cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
- A good attitude
Now that we have looked at the basics of day hiking let’s take a look at Trekking.
What is a trek?
A trek is like a hike, but longer, more difficult, and a lot more involved. And by longer, it’s not just a few hours longer. A trek is typically two days or more. In fact, some treks can be weeks in length. Treks are also more strenuous and require more physical and mental ability.
Because you’re walking for days at a time, you’ll need to be fit enough to make it through the entire trip and be mentally strong enough to push yourself. While hiking is a leisure activity, trekking is a challenging activity that pushes you the entire way.
What type of traveler is best suited for trekking?
Trekking tours are ideal for a traveler who’s trying to push themselves, while still experiencing an adventure. This type of traveler enjoys the journey just as much as the final destination. They stay focused and committed, keeping the final goal in mind regardless of the current situation. And while a trekker might get tired, they simply wake up the next morning ready to do it all over again.
What’s it like to go on a trekking tour?
Before one embarks on a trekking tour, they should consider what it’s like to go on one. Unlike a hiking tour, treks are long and challenging. You’ll be walking for hours, for days at a time, through difficult terrain. You’ll likely be camping, and in many cases, you’ll need to be prepared to set up and take down your camp each morning and night.
Depending on your trek, you’ll need to prepare for varying weather. Some of the most famous treks in the world start in warm climates and make their way through rain, wind, snow, and dirt. With a trek, the possibilities are endless – so be prepared to really rough it, including going to the washroom outdoors and bathing in rivers. Treks are in no way glamorous, but they’re arguably some of the most rewarding experiences in the world.
What are the must-do treks in the world?
There are dozens of treks you’ve probably heard of, but never imagined going on. Here are our tops picks for some of the must-do treks around the globe:
- The Inca Trail, Peru – This ancient trail has quickly become one of the most famous treks in the entire world. Laid by hand by the Incas, this trail leads from the Sacred Valley all the way to Machu Picchu, over 2,000 meters above sea level. The view from the top is definitely iconic but prepare yourself for long days and the risk of altitude sickness.
- Distance: 43 kilometers
- Time: Three to four days (different touring options are available, but the most common trek is four days)
- Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – At 5,895 meters high, Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest mountain and one of the world’s most renowned treks. This trek passes through nearly every ecosystem, from snowfields to deserts, and tropical jungles. It is important to note that this trek is quite difficult, and less than half of those who start the trek do not make it to the summit.
- Distanced: 51 – 72 kilometers (depending on which route you take)
- Time: Five to eight days
- The John Muir Trail, California, USA – Considered one of the most famous trails in America, the John Muir Trail lies nearly entirely in the wilderness. This trail covers a lot of ground, passing through Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park – arguably some of the most beautiful landscapes in America. Brace yourself, however, this is a long trek and you require a permit to hike this trail, so be prepared.
- Distance: 340 kilometers
- Time: Three weeks if you complete the entire trek
- W Circuit – Torres del Paine, Chile – Located in Chile’s Patagonia region and tucked between the Andes Mountain Range and the Patagonia steppes, this trek is perfect for anyone who really wants to experience natural wonders. Known for its glaciers and golden lowlands, this trek showcases nature at its finest, including the always adorable guanacos.
- Distance: 100 kilometers
- Time: Four to six days depending on the route
- Everest Base Camp, Nepal – The epitome of success for any mountaineer, Mount Everest is one trek on every adventure seekers bucket list. However, you can explore the Himalayas without going all the way to the top of the world’s highest peak with the Everest Base Camp Trek. Taking you to the top of the world and regarded as one of the best treks in the world, this one should definitely be on your bucket list.
- Distance: 62 kilometers each way
- Time: 13 days
What do I need to know before I go trekking?
Before trekking, it’s important to do your homework. Unfortunately, it’s not something you just wake up and decide to do. It takes some planning, preparation, and research. Consider the following before your next trek:
- Prepare your body. Treks are long and arduous; your body needs to be prepared. Hit the gym, go for plenty of short hikes, and eat healthy foods to prepare for your trip. You’ll thank yourself later on.
- Do lots of research, especially if this is your first trekking tour. You need to know about the weather, language, food… with so much to consider, leave yourself with lots of time to figure it all out.
- Plan for AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Lots of treks hit some pretty high altitudes and your body won’t be prepared. It’s important to give your body at least two days for acclimatization, so make bookings with that in mind. On top of that, Diamox tablets should be on your packing list in case sickness does strike.
- Get travel insurance. Treks are much riskier than a hike. If anything goes against your plan, you might find yourself in a tricky situation. Avoid the risk and make sure you’re covered – especially with traveler’s health insurance.
- Know your tent. The last thing you want is a faulty tent or lack of knowledge on your gear. You’ll be setting it up every night, so know it inside and out… literally.
- Review the hiking tips. For the most part, what to know before hiking also applies before trekking. From sharing your plans to avoiding cotton, the tips for hiking should also be reviewed before a trek.
What should I pack to go trekking?
As with hiking, the gear for trekking is very dependent on your location and your tour. If you’re travelling with a tour company or guide, they often provide a lot of the camping gear. However, there are some treks that need it all. Do your research and know what to bring. Here’s a place to start:
- Nearly everything on the hiking packing list. Seriously, you’ll want all of those items too.
- The proper medication for AMS (talk with your doctor)
- Trekking Poles
- Sleeping bags – invest in a good one, it’s hard to sleep when you’re freezing!
- Sleeping mat
- Toiletries including shampoo, soap, toothpaste – remember, you’re out there for days
- A great tent
- Quick-dry towel
- Stove and fuel
- Bowls and utensils
- Water purification
- Lots of extra socks
- River shoes or flip flops because after a long day of waking, you’ll want to put on different shoes to give your feet a break
- Lighter and matches
Regardless of which adventure you decide to embark on, hiking and trekking are both amazing and unique ways to experience a country, its culture, and its landscapes. You’ll see amazing wonders, experience new things, and challenge yourself like never before. If it’s your first time hiking or trekking, you might just find yourself with a new and amazingly rewarding hobby.
Phrases and words
Blaze – A colored mark, painted or nailed to a tree, about 4 inches tall by 2 inches wide.
Cache – A place where you store gear, food and other supplies before a long trip.
Cairn – A mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline. Mostly used as a mark to guide travelers in the right direction.
Col – The lowest point on the ridge between two peaks.
FKT – The “Fastest Known Time” is the record for completing a section of trail in the shortest possible time.
Hut – A permanent backcountry shelter with four walls and roof that can sleep any number of backpackers, depending on the size.
NPS – The National Park Service in the United States.
SAR – Search and Rescue service.
Scree – A field of loose rocks smaller than the size of your head. It can be very tricky