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What’s the Difference Between Hiking and Trekking?

A man trekking in the mountains.

Contrary to popular belief, hiking and trekking have some major differences, not the least of which is they require different equipment. We’ll provide you with an overview of both of these outdoor activities, as well as the gear you’ll need for whichever type of adventure you decide to take.

It’s easy to get confused between hiking and trekking as lots of people—including companies that specifically manufacture gear for both—often use the terms interchangeably. Let’s take a look at the differences, and what you’ll need for either a hike or trek (or both).

The Difference Between a Hike and a Trek

As you’ve likely figured out by now, when someone mentions they’re going on a “hike,” that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going on a “trek.”

So, what’s the difference?

Hiking is the most popular of the two activities. It involves long, often scenic walks in the countryside, forest, or on wilderness trails of varying levels of difficulty. Hikes can be short, lasting only a few hours, or overnight excursions (also sometimes called “backpacking”) that most people can handle even if they’re only at a moderate level of fitness.

Trekking is similar, but at a higher level of intensity. The main difference is a trekking expedition lasts much longer—you could be on a trek for days, or even weeks. This is because there’s always a particular mission or destination in mind, like going on a pilgrimage or to the top of one of the Himalayas.

The trails on a trek are also far less defined than those on a hike. They might include dirt roads, or no roads at all, just pure wilderness. Although intriguing and certainly adventurous, trekking isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s actually a very challenging activity that calls for both mental and physical preparedness. 

What Gear Do You Need for Both a Trek or Hike?

A man on a hike using a Suunto MC-2 compass and a map.

Now that you know the difference between the two, you can see why the packing lists for a hike and a trek aren’t going to be exactly the same. There are some essentials you’ll need for both, like the following:

A compass: You can lose your way whether you’re on a defined trail or not, which is why you should always have a compass. It’s also important not to rely on your phone, as you’ll likely be without Wi-Fi, whether you’re on a hike or trek. SUUNTO has been the brand for compasses since the 1930s. This MC-2 model features a sighting hole and notch for accurate bearings, a declination adjustment tool, and a clinometer.

A water bottle: Whether you’re hiking or trekking, you’ll need water. The 32-ounce Wide-MOnth Hydro Flask is popular with hikers because it keeps your H2O cold for hours. It’s also easy to clean and dishwasher safe.

Sunscreen: You’re gonna need protection from that mighty sun. We like La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios because it’s 60 SPF and contains natural ingredients that absorb sweat.

First aid kit: Accidents happen and if you’re hiking or trekking, the nearest hospital could be hours away. This 299-piece kit has everything you’ll need to patch yourself up until you can get home or to a medical facility.

Snacks: All that walking is gonna make you hungry, so don’t head out without packing a snack or two. We like Kar’s Sweet ‘N Salty Deluxe Trail Mix because you get 18 individual, 105-ounce packs.

A tent: If you’ll be sleeping outdoors on your hike or trek, you’ll obviously be needing shelter. This two-person tent from River Country Products weighs under three pounds when packed, so it’s easy to carry in your pack during the day.

A sleeping bag: Like your tent, you’re going to want a sleeping bag that’s as light and compact as possible, and this one from ECOOPRO fits the bill. It compresses down to just 11 inches and weighs under two pounds.

What You Need for a Hike

A woman wearing the Gregory overnight backpack with the rain cover over it, and someone packing hiking poles in the Gregory overnight backpack.

After you’ve picked up the basics you need from the list above, it’s time to think about what you need specifically for a hike. Most of these items—like boots and a backpack—you’ll need whether you’re going on a hike or a trek. However, a hiking boot is different from a trekking boot.

Below are our recommendations for hikers:

Backpack: Hikers don’t need large backpacks, as they only need a few essentials, especially if they’re only going on a day trip. Comfort is key, so you’ll want to opt for something lightweight and easy to handle, which is why we like the Gregory Mountain backpacks. They even include a rain cover to keep your pack dry.

Hiking boots: If you’re going on a hike, you need a stiff boot that will provide you with protection throughout the day, but a strong platform for steeper ground. We like these Asolo boots because they’re tough enough for any trail and comfortable enough for multiday hikes.

Walking poles: A pair of these can significantly affect your pace and energy levels on a long hike. Robust poles will make you feel safe and confident on your journey. We recommend this pair by Cascade Mountain Tech. Made of 100% carbon fiber, they’re sturdy but still lightweight.

What You Need for a Trek

The Cookware Mess Kit assembled in the pot, and hanging on someone's backpack.

Before you go on any hike or trek, it’s a good idea to research the terrain as much as possible. Check out any online resources, including advice from other trekkers about the location. This will help you figure out more specifically what you need.

We recommend the following gear for trekkers:

Cookware: This isn’t a necessity on an overnight hike, as you can always just pack some ready-to-eat food or eat at a shelter along the way. However, it’s essential on a long trek. Consider bringing a nonstick skillet or pot, a coffee percolator, a fire starter, and, of course, enough food to last the duration of your trip. If you want everything in one compact package, check out the Redcamp Cookware Mess Kit.

Trekking boots: Comfort has to be your priority on a multiday trek, so softer protective ankle boots, like these from Salomon, are generally best. Some people take two pairs of boots to minimize the risk of developing blisters and to wear on different terrain.

An expedition pack: Because trekkers have to pack a lot more stuff than hikers, they generally need a much larger backpack. Before you can decide which one is right for you, you first have to figure out exactly what all you’ll be packing. We like Osprey’s Aether and Archeon models. The Large/X-Large Men’s size can hold up to 60 pounds.

Lightweight walking poles: Long treks require walking poles that won’t tire you out after long hours or multiple days of use. This set by TheFitLife is ideal. Made of durable aluminum, they’re super lightweight and collapsible for easy packing.

Now that you’re familiar with the differences (and similarities) between hiking and trekking, it’s time to plan your journey. Oh, yeah, and definitely make room in your pack for any safety items you should take along. Your peace of mind will be worth the effort!

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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