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Hiking vs trekking

Find out the difference between two popular activities

|January 17, 2024
Konstancija is a writer who enjoys long walks and hikes in nature, "hunts" for second-hand goods, and is a frequent guest in public libraries where she loves to read and roam around stacks of books.

How does hiking differ from trekking? Or maybe it’s the same thing, so both of these words are actually used synonymously? While they do refer to the same activity of going for a walk, hiking and trekking are actually different.


Perhaps your New Year’s resolution is to spend more time in nature, or you want to get all those benefits that being outside gives you. Then, you should start by checking which one of the two - hiking or trekking - suits you. And what about those who already spend a lot of time in nature and might know a thing or two about the topic? Continue reading to jog your memory about some simple but important things to remember while being outside.

To remember things better, let’s follow three simple questions that show the difference between hiking and trekking. The questions are: Where are you going? For how long? What to have with you?

What is hiking?

What is a hike? When talking about a long, elaborate walk, some people refer to it as a “hike” while others imagine that a “hike” is a strenuous walk somewhere in the mountains. Hiking is actually a rather relaxing activity carried out on well-established paths and trails. What is a trail, in this case? While walking trails are paths designed for you to easily reach your destination, for example, somewhere in the city, hiking trails help you to stay on track and not get lost in the wild.

Now, how long should a hike last? For your walk to be considered a hike, it can take a whole day or even be an overnight experience, but it only takes up to two days. If you’re curious about what a hike means to those who find numbers important, it can range from 4 to 50 kilometers. It all depends on one’s physical well-being and readiness.

Person standing on the rock, looking over the mountains

Besides preparing your body for this activity, you should also ensure you have everything you might need during your hike. What should you have? Your backpack should include a water bottle, some food as you will get hungry throughout the day, a first aid kit, and a pair of spare socks. If you’re getting ready for an overnight hike, don’t forget to bring a tent and a sleeping bag.  

One important thing to remember when getting ready for a hike is to check the weather forecast, especially if you’re planning an overnight stay. Checking the weather app should become a habit when traveling in Iceland since the forecast here tends to change frequently. If you’re curious to know when the best time to hike in the land of fire and ice, it's during summer. Find out about hiking in Iceland in June here.

What is trekking?

If hiking and trekking are different, then what does trekking mean? It’s also an outdoor activity but is known to take longer to complete and requires more preparation. But let’s get back to the three main questions that help to understand what trekking is.

While trekking is also done to have some fun and feel the freedom of nature, usually, there’s a set destination that you’ll have to reach. Trekking roads can be settled trails, including dirt roads and paths that lead off the beaten track and into the wilderness.

Backpacker hikes in the mountains

Trekking is a multi-day journey, so it can take from 2 days to weeks and months to travel by foot. Once again, it all depends on your planned final destination and how long it will take you to reach it. What’s good to remember is that if you plan right, you don’t have to rush and walk on your multi-day journey as much as you’d have to on your one-day hiking trip. The average distance one spends walking on a trail is from 13 to 20 kilometers. 

Being in nature for a longer time means you have to think about what you should bring with you so as not to feel a shortage or risk bringing too many unnecessary things that you’ll have to carry the whole time. The list here is much longer compared to a hiking trip because it includes necessities such as a tent, a larger supply of water and food, extra clothing, medication, etc. 

If you’re getting ready for your hiking/trekking experience here in Iceland and still not sure what to pack, continue reading a guide on how to prepare for hiking and trekking in Iceland.

How are hiking and trekking similar?

So, there must be a reason why we keep using “hike” and “trek” interchangeably. Both of these words essentially mean the same thing – going out into the world, exploring nature, and enjoying this adventurous type of sport.

The real question about “hiking vs trekking” and their differences become essential once we start to plan our journey. Where should we go? Where should we start? When do we get back? What to expect on our way?

Traveler standing in between mountains

What is the difference between hiking and trekking?

Duration

One of the main significant differences between hiking and trekking is that hiking is shorter than trekking. Hiking is a journey that takes up to two days, meaning that only one night (or none) is spent outside. Meanwhile, trekking can continue for as long as you planned, usually until you reach a specific stop or goal destination.

Distance

The length of your journey on a hike can be from 4 to 50 kilometers, according to the level of preparation and motivation. So, a distance you’d be able to master within a day. Trekking, in this case, requires more consideration as you’ll be gone for at least a couple of days. Some like to trek for weeks at a time, going on foot from 13 to 25 kilometers every day.

People getting ready for a hike in the mountains

Terrain

This is especially important for those who perhaps just started their long-distance walking “career.” Hiking takes place in set trails and paths. So, there’s less worry of getting lost or being worn down by rugged and challenging trails.

Level of difficulty

All of the factors discussed above suggest that hiking and trekking also differ in difficulty level. While hiking invites you to a short nature exploration with an overnight stay in the tent, trekking requires you to plan ahead. Knowing your final destination, how to get there, and all the things you’ll need for that couple of days or weeks calls for experience.

Hiking vs trekking equipment

At first, especially if you’re new to this, it might seem that you need many things. There are a few important things to keep in mind when preparing for your trip. Whether you’re going for a hike or trek, there are some items you must have with you either way. These include comfortable and durable footwear, clothing, a sturdy backpack, and necessary camping gear.

Woman looks at the waterfall in the mountains

Hiking boots are a must, no matter how long you plan on hiking or trekking, as they add a lot to the overall quality of your trip. One bad trip, and your journey can soon be over. Believe it or not, good shoes help prevent you from cutting your trip short. Don’t know where to start looking for the right pair? Check 8 best hiking boots before stepping out of the house.  

Next on the list – comfortable clothing. This is especially crucial when you hike in Iceland as the weather tends to change here drastically, so being dressed with insufficient layers can lead you to get seriously sick.

The biggest headache might be caused by the list of things you need to pack into your backpack. It’s especially important when you go trekking as you’ll have to survive with what you have for days. This is why having enough water, food, medication, clothes, sunscreen, and sunglasses is crucial. You’ll also need to sleep somewhere, so don’t forget your tent and sleeping bag.

Thinking of where to start? Check out guided hiking and trekking tours.

FAQ about hiking and trekking

Person hiking in Westman Islands

What is the difference between trekking and hiking?

While both of these activities are known as long walks in nature, they differ in duration, distance, terrain, and level of difficulty.

Can we use hiking shoes for trekking?

Hiking shoes can be used for trekking as they’re made to protect and support the foot in various weather conditions.

What is considered trekking?

What does trek mean? It’s a walk that takes place for at least two days, and that also includes traveling off the beaten path.

How difficult is trekking?

The difficulty level depends on the trip that you planned: what’s your destination, how you prepare for it, how much time you have, and the state of your physical well-being.

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