Hiking vs trekking: what’s the difference, and what gear do you need?

Hiking vs trekking - two beautiful ways to see the world on foot. We take a look at the similarities, the differences, and what gear you need to take on either pursuit...

Hiking vs trekking
(Image credit: Future)

The difference between hiking vs trekking can seem like a very slim one at times, especially when the two terms are regularly used interchangeably by product manufacturers. Indeed, on many levels the two are similar, in that they involve walking adventures in stunning scenery. 

Traditionally though, trekking involves long, multi-day routes, such as the many hut routes in New Zealand, the trek to Everest Base camp, the Inca trail,or alpine hut-to-hut summer treks. Although the distances are large, and can add up to intense experiences, the infrastructure is usually in place to support trekkers, from water stops to food, overnight lodges, huts or bunkhouses, so the demands on self-support are usually lower. Indeed, hut to hut treks in the alps can become something of a gastronomic experience as well as an adventure. As a result,  the most popular treks need little expertise and stress in terms of navigation, and often very little heavy equipment such as tents or sleeping bags. 

Hiking, meanwhile, might also involve long days out in the hills, but usually a ‘hike’ would be single day or overnight, and not necessarily in an area with support. This means that the onus is on the hiker to carry everything needed for the duration, as well as potentially navigate off-trail with map, compass or GPS. Overnight hikes might involve a stay over in a mountain hut or bunkhouse, campsite, or a self-supported wild camp, which all call for slightly different combinations of sleeping and cooking equipment or tents.  

There is plenty of crossover between hiking vs trekking in terms of equipment, with good-quality wicking base layers, walking trousers, waterproofs, buffs, water bottles, hiking socks and small first aid kits just a few examples that will switch between the two at the drop of a hat.   

However, there are some things that vary between trekking and walking, let’s dig into them in two kit lists: 

Best Hiking Gear

Best women's hiking boots: Anatom Q2 Ultralight Women’s Hiking Boots

(Image credit: Anatom)

Boots

Hiking boots come in many flavours, but unless you’re planning a pretty short summer hike, then stiffer boots offer much better protection on longer days, as well as a better platform on steeper ground. Meanwhile, if you’re hiking in the winter mountains crampons are a must, again needing a stiff enough boot such as the Mammut Kento or the Jack Wolfskin Wilderness Peak

(Image credit: Osprey)

Rucksack

While light is right, a hiker also needs to carry everything they need for the day, and possibly an overnight stop too. When you add all that up, it can get bulky, so a 45l to 65l rucksack is on the cards. The Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 50 not only looks different, but weighs in super light thanks to the tough but thin Dyneema fabric. 

Best head torches: Silva Headlamp Trail Runner 4 Ultra

(Image credit: Silva)

Head torch

If you’re on a day hike in winter or spring, when the days are shorter, carrying a head torch is an essential, and even more so if you become benighted by an accident. You’ll want a decent all-rounder for this, something bright enough to navigate by at night, but not super-weighty for the daytime, like the Black Diamond Storm 375 headlamp. 

Best sleeping bags: Vango Nitestar Alpha 350 in blue

(Image credit: Vango)

Sleeping Bags

The best hiking sleeping bag for your trip will vary by season and by location, but in general lighter is certainly better, and pack-size is something to consider too. For damper UK climes an artificial down bag is the easiest to manage, such as the Mountain Hardwear Lamina, while colder but drier locations will need something like the Thermarest Hyperion 32 for super-warmth and low weight. 

(Image credit: Costway)

Walking poles

Walking poles come into their own when hiking on rough ground, and for saving the knees on long descents. They’re also handy for river crossings and pointing out the scenery, as well as powering up long tiring inclines. A robust yet light pair is best, like the Leki Tucson or Leki Cressida

Best Trekking Gear

Best hiking boots: Danner Arctic 600

(Image credit: Danner)

Boots

As with hiking, the best trekking boots will vary according to time of year and terrain, but the key thing is multi-day comfort on the trail. As treks tend to follow more established trails it’s more likely that a softer yet supportive boot will fit the bill, such as the T3 Award winning Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX or the Merrell Zion.

(Image credit: Thule)

Rucksack

Trekking might require a wide range of equipment, but keeping it lightweight is the key. With the logistics of food and shelter planned out in advance, and requiring minimum emergency equipment, a lighter and smaller bag is always best, although personal fit is essential. The 32l Thule Capstone is a good option, or the Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 35.

(Image credit: Black Diamond)

Head torch

Trekking tends to be pretty organised in terms of overnight stops, so you’re unlikely to be needing a head torch except for emergencies, and casual faffing around the teahouse/campsite of an evening. An ultralight emergency-only option is the tiny Petzl e+LITE, while a heavier but with easier-to-replace batteries is the Lifesystems Intensity 230 headlamp.

(Image credit: Leki)

Walking poles

Trekking poles are pretty similar beasts to hiking poles, although trail use means that lighter and less tiring to use over multiple days beats robust and heavy. Carbon fibre poles tend to be the lighter option, such as the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ, although the bargainous Enkeeo Ultralight Trekking poles will do the job admirably.  

(Image credit: Wakeman Outdoors)

Sleeping Bags

As with hiking, the best trekking sleeping bag will vary with conditions, especially as trekking may well involve bunkhouses or huts, so a much lighter bag can be used. The Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Flame is a great all-rounder that’ll keep you toasty in any hut or tent, while the synthetic insulation won’t let you down in a wet-weather emergency. 

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