If you’re new to the outdoor scene, you’ve probably heard the term trek before. It seems like hiking, trekking, and backpacking get thrown around a lot and even used interchangeably sometimes!
While you can usually tell from the context of a conversation or website, it isn’t always so simple. A little clarification is in order. My goal with this article is to shed some light on the difference between hiking and trekking, so there’s less confusion going on out there.
Let’s start with the actual definitions of the terms, from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
It’s very easy to see how these terms can be used interchangeably. They almost mean the same thing!
The main difference is referring to the length and difficulty of the trip. I know you can read, but for the sake of breaking it down: a trek will typically last at least a few days, with a hike usually being a day or less.
Now you’re probably wondering: what is backpacking?
Back to the dictionary, we go!
Backpacking, as seen above, refers to carrying your equipment in a backpack. Seems a little vague.The example even refers to hiking directly, so that’s that, right?
Not so fast! Backpacking is usually seen as a multiple day trip (at the least) so that almost makes it a synonym for trekking. I would highly suspect that what word you hear for the activity will depend on your location. Online or even physical locations probably differ significantly in the slang they use.
From personal experience, though, I’ve heard and seen “backpacking” used way more often.
How to Prepare for a Trek
Preparing for a trek is something that takes a lot of experience to do correctly. Out in the wild, you’ll run into a lot of unexpected situations and often problems you can avoid with proper planning.
If you’re interested in trekking, I highly recommend starting with going hiking and camping in parks to get a feel for the basics. That’s a guaranteed way to get your bearings and get the newbie phase out of the way before going out with experienced folks. Plus, you get to find out if its something you enjoy doing.
Now, if you’re past that beginner stage and want to start learning the ropes, I would instead suggest joining a trekking group!
How to Find a Group to Trek With
One of the easiest ways is to use Hiking Project’s clubs and organizations page. There’s a group in every state in the US and even international groups listed.
Another way to find a group is meetup.com, and there’s always the tried and true method of searching Google for “trekking group”. The benefit of going with a group is that they will help guide you and teach you the ropes in a safe and controlled way.
That’s actually one of my favorite ways to go into the wild – it’s a different experience than going alone. Both have their place, though. Not only will you learn with a group, but you can also socialize in one of the most fun and real ways out in nature.
A group may even have gear that you can rent instead of purchasing outright. Let’s face it: hobbies typically aren’t cheap, and outdoor gear is no exception to that rule. Renting will help you fully experience nature while you buy your gear / find out what you need.
A typical trekking gear checklist might look like:
- Backpack (Up to 40 liters)
- Food supplies
- Water container (bladder / canteen)
- Appropriate clothing (UV blocking is important)
- Hat (I’ve reviewed the best hats for hiking)
- Sunglasses (UV protection)
- First Aid Kit
- Headlamp / flashlight
- Camping mattress
- Trekking poles (I wrote an article on how to use them!)
- Toothbrush / toothpaste
- Waterproof clothing (Jacket / Pants)
- Ultralight tent
As you can see, even on this minimal list – everything you need adds up quickly. A good rule of thumb is not to exceed 30 pounds (13.6 KG)
Otherwise, you’ll get tired REAL fast lugging all of your supplies around.
Now you know the definition of trekking
Also, the definitions of hiking and backpacking as well! Hiking typically refers to a day trip, while trekking and backpacking refer to multiple day trips.
It’s really that simple. I’m a huge fan of casual hiking because it’s way easier to get up and go for a day rather than be gone for three days or more!
That’s probably true for most of us, with busy schedules and bills to be paid.
Getting involved with it
All of that being said, trekking is a great experience that really takes going out in nature to a new level.
If you’re considering getting into it, I think you’ll enjoy it a lot. The friends you can make and the experiences don’t happen outside of those longer trips as often.
Just make sure you go into it prepared, even if you’re with a group to help cover your gaps in knowledge and gear!
When it comes to preparation, having the right attitude is essential.
I can’t tell you how many trips I’ve been on where it took one person so long to come around on their attitude!
If you’re pleasant to be around, your group will be more than happy to have you and show you the ropes.
Otherwise, you’ll be making the experience drag for yourself and everyone else while also being less likely to go on future trips.
Everyone has their moments, and that’s to be expected. It’s challenging! As many survival experts have noted, a positive attitude can make or break your experience.
Putting it all together
I hope that this article has been clear in showing the difference between hiking, trekking, and backpacking.
There’s a lot of slang to learn whenever you get into the outdoor world, but you get used to it. I feel like almost every hobby/activity has those terms that you learn in the beginning.
Now the next time someone asks what trekking is, you’ll be locked and loaded to break it down for them on the spot!
Just be prepared that if they’re not into outdoor hobbies, they probably won’t find it nearly as cool as we do.