Hiking VS Backpacking: Difference Between Hiking And Backpacking


Hiking and backpacking are two activities that many people enjoy. Many may think that they are the same, when in reality, while they both involve having fun outdoors, they are different. Looking at their definition from a dictionary is the easiest way to tell how one is different from the other.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, hiking refers to “the activity of going for long walks in the countryside.” Meanwhile, backpacking is defined as “the activity of traveling or going camping while carrying your clothes and other things that you need in a backpack.”

Want to know more about the difference between hiking and backpacking? Read on and learn from the insights we’ll share.

Defining Hiking vs Backpacking

To start with, let’s talk about the definition of the two words. In the introduction, we gave you a glimpse of how the Cambridge Dictionary defines the two terms. From these definitions, there is one thing that sets each other apart – the use of a backpacking backpack. Backpacking often involves carrying a backpack that carries all the must-haves. Nonetheless, this does not necessarily mean that you don’t need a bag when hiking.

The difference, however, goes beyond the use of travel backpacks. For a better understanding of the difference between hiking and backpacking, let’s also look at the other definitions of the two words.

Hiking is walking in nature as a form of recreational activity. It is a type of natural exercise. For most people, it’s a hobby. Hikers walk across a long distance, usually of trails, and often done in the mountains. The duration can be as short as an hour to a couple of days depending on the difficulty of the terrain. It refers to a long or vigorous walk, although, if it is longer than a couple of days, it is already called trekking.

Backpacking may be used to refer to someone who travels independently, often with a low budget. However, that is not the type of backpacking that we are talking about in this article. Rather, we are talking about backpacking in the wilderness. It is like a tougher version of hiking since you have more items in your backpacking checklist compared to a hiking checklist.

Duration of Hiking vs Backpacking

As a hike is defined as a leisurely walk, it often lasts only a couple of hours. If it is long and physically challenging, this is already called trekking. Meanwhile, trekking only involves lightweight gear and could mean that you will be sleeping in huts or lodges. If it is an extended period of hiking that requires the need to bring essential survival kits, this is already backpacking.

To make things simple, if a hike lasts more than a day and if you have to bring a lot of things to ensure wilderness survival, we can safely classify the activity as backpacking.

Gears You Will Need


When it comes to hiking vs backpacking, the difference also lies in the equipment you will need. As we earlier mentioned, hiking is a leisurely walk, so this does not require you to bring a lot. In contrast, backpacking has a long list of must-haves depending on how many days you will be doing it and how comfortable you want the activity to be.

Hiking is all about minimalism, so you will need less gear. When hiking, the goal is maximum protection at minimum weight. A hiking tent is usually only good for one person and made of a lightweight and thin material. On the other hand, the best backpacking tents prioritize comfort over convenience. You will most probably be backpacking a couple of days, so you need a sturdy tent.

The backpacks that you will be using are also different. Since you carry less when you go on a hike, a hiking backpack is usually smaller. In most cases, the capacity is anywhere from 40 to 60 liters. On the other hand, because there is more stuff to bring when you are backpacking, you will need a larger bag, which is often more than 60 liters.

Your hiking backpack is usually just filled with the essentials you will need for a couple of hours, including a big bottle of water, trail snacks, a first aid kit, compass, and ropes. If you will not return on the same day, you will need things to help you settle through the night, including a lightweight sleeping bag.

Meanwhile, you will need more advanced gear for backpacking. Your bag is bigger, so you have the luxury of space to spare for more stuff. A backpacking sleeping bag is usually larger and thicker, which will be more effective in keeping you warm during the cold months. However, for some people, whether it is hiking or backpacking, they often survive a night without a sleeping bag. This is all a matter of personal preference.

Hiking vs backpacking is also different in terms of the footwear you will use. When hiking, you can use trail running shoes. The best hiking shoes are comfortable and lighter. You might also be passing along bodies of water and it can rain, so make sure that it dries quickly.  Meanwhile, for the backpacking shoes, it is best to go for boots instead of trail shoes. You will be bringing more weight in your bag and walking longer, so your footwear must handle the demands of the activity.

For your comfort, pay attention as well to what you will wear, regardless if you are hiking or backpacking. For the two activities, you can wear almost the same clothing as long as you are comfortable. It would be best to avoid cotton as it can absorb sweat and will be uncomfortable. Choose thinner and breathable fabrics.

When you are hiking, you don’t have to bring cooking gear. Packed meals are enough to keep you satiated during your hike. On the other hand, for backpacking, you must have the cooking essentials, including portable grills or stove and backpacking cookware, especially if you intend to go backpacking for a couple of days.

Does the Difference Even Matter?

Now that we discussed hiking vs backpacking, you are most probably wondering if they matter. To be honest, we don’t think that they matter. There are technical differences, but they are both fun outdoor activities. Call it hiking or backpacking, if it is enjoyable and when you do it with the people you love, the terms don’t matter.

Globo Surf Overview

This post about hiking vs backpacking explored the key differences between the two popular outdoor activities. They differ in terms of the activity involved, duration of the trip, and the equipment needed. At the end of the day, they are both all about enjoying nature.

More Backpacking/Hiking Reviews:


  1. The Great Mystery: What’s the Difference Between Hiking, Trekking, and Backpacking, MountainGuides.is
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!