Hiking vs. Backpacking: What’s the Difference?

Hiking vs. Backpacking: What’s the Difference?

For some people, hiking and backpacking mean the same thing: you’re going for a long walk through the woods or up a mountain. While that is true, there is a difference between the two activities and how you should prepare for either. We’re going to drill into hiking vs. backpacking and how they differ.


According to Trail and Summit, hiking is the most popular of the two. Most people can enjoy a hike that is done in one day. Hikes typically are done on a trail wending through a state park, a dense forest, or up a mountain.


Hikes are broken up into three levels: beginner, intermediate, or advanced. It all depends on the terrain you’ll be hiking and the type of equipment you’ll need.


1. Beginner Trail – This would be an established, marked trail and can be enjoyed by most anyone. Inclines are usually not too strenuous. As far as gear, you can probably get away with walking or running shoes, but hiking shoes or boots are recommended since they provide the best support. Also, water or sports drinks are a must to keep hydrated. Jeans should never be worn on any hike. Athletic shirts and pants are best since they breath and allow freedom of movement. You should also have your cellphone with you and a light jacket should the weather cool off.


2. Intermediate Trail – Some sections of these trails may not be easily marked and may require you to figure out the right way to go. Footing can be a little dicey at times where there could be tree roots, rocks, or unstable terrain. You may encounter streams or brooks to cross, but you should be able to just hop over them should there be no bridge. Expect some steep grades where ascent and decent could be at times a bit challenging. However, many trails have “steps” of rocks or logs to help get you up or down. Hiking boots are a definite must for this level and hiking poles may help with stability. Water and snack bars are essential. A warm jacket, flashlight, cellphone, water purification kit, and a trail map should be brought along.


3. Advanced Trail – No trails needed here! This is for the true hiker who wants a challenge. Although some advanced trails are marked, you will need to use you built-in GPS, or better, a trail map and compass, to navigate the route. You could come across deep brooks or even a river that cut across your path. Quality, waterproof hiking boots and hiking poles are a must. Bring plenty of water and snacks, a warm jacket, waterproof jacket or poncho, gaiters, flashlight or headlamp, water purification kit, first aid kit, cellphone, extra socks, an emergency shelter, and the aforementioned trail maps.


The big difference when it comes to hiking vs. backpacking is that backpacking involves camping out for at least one night; basically, a sleepover in the woods. Everything you need to get you through this high-level hike is carried on your back. Here is the gear you need:


·        A sleep system (tent, blankets, sleeping bag, etc.)

·        Food (dried berries, oatmeal, beef jerky, snack bars, dehydrated food)

·        Plenty of water

·        Fire starter

·        Warm clothes

·        Foil blankets

·        Sunscreen

·        Cellphone

·        Camp stove

·        Headlamp or flashlight

·        Map

·        Insect repellent

·        First aid kit


Choose a backpack that will fit everything you need. Backpacks come in various sizes, so be sure to pick one that you can comfortably carry. Remember, you will be carrying that backpack for many hours at a time over various terrain.


The right footwear is very important when it comes to hiking and backpacking. As mentioned, a good, supportive pair of sneakers may be fine for a light day hike, but when it comes to the more advanced trails and backpacking, hiking boots (preferably waterproof) are essential.


Just as important as the boots are the socks. Comfortable, wicking socks keep feet dry and reduce skin irritation. One of the best socks is Flipsockz. These unique socks have a flap attached to the ankle portion that “flips” over the top of the boot. This keeps out stones and dirt. Find out more at Flipsockz.