Hiking Vs. Trekking: Everything You Need to Know

Over the years, India has seen a boom in the number of hiking and trekking enthusiasts. From Leh to Tour du Mont Blanc, Indians are pushing their limits and stepping beyond their comfort zone. However, many people interchangeably use hiking and trekking and consider them more or less similar adventure sports. If you too, were just about to look up the difference, read on to know everything about hiking, trekking and what makes them distinctly similar.

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Overview of Hiking and Trekking

Be it the famous Brigu Lake trek or a hike to the Everest Base Camp, most of us are familiar with hiking and trekking. Among all outdoor activities, hiking and trekking are perhaps the most popular among people of varying age groups. They are perfect for people who love exploring nature and physical exertion.

Hiking and Trekking

These activities are perfect for most people due to their versatility and low cost. People of various ages and abilities can undertake these activities as they come in varying ranges of difficulty. These excursions can be as easy as walking and extremely challenging depending on the trails opted for.

What is the Difference Between Hiking and Trekking?

The first difference between hiking and trekking is their duration and complexity. Hiking is usually done for pleasure on established footpaths or hiking trails. Trekking is often done with a destination in mind, but the roads to these destinations are often longer and across wild natural environments. Simply put, hiking is easier than trekking.

Hiking is perfect for beginners who wish to start with their outdoor activities and exploration. All they need to do is pick an easy, established hiking trail and pursue it. These can be barely 4-5 km

Let's look at some lesser-known differences between hiking and trekking:

Criteria Hiking Trekking
Purpose Fun or leisure Leisure, pilgrimage, spirituality, exploration
Path & Difficulty Usually done on established paths & trails More unexplored trails, wilderness, across mountain trails, dirt roads, etc.
Duration Usually, a day or overnight hike (4 km - 50 km) Lasts multiple days, anywhere between 50 km to 1700 km (more in cross-country mountain ranges across Europe)
Equipment A light backpack with essentials, first aid, food, water etc. Tent and clothes if going for a night hike. 50-60L backpacks with essentials, tent, sleeping bag, trail mix and other nutritious options. Cookware, compass, meds, power source, emergency supplies, sturdy boots and other trekking gear.
Famous Locations (India) Gudalur Loop, Avalahalli Forest Loop Markha Valley, Chokramudi Trek, Beas Kund Trek
Famous Locations (Abroad) - Trans-Bhutan Trail (Bhutan), Rakiura Track (New Zealand)

There's a common misconception that trekking is always done on mountains. It is not to be confused with mountaineering or used interchangeably. While trekking can be done in the mountains, it can also be done in any undiscovered area where no other modes of transportation are available.

Now that the difference between hiking and trekking is clear let's learn about some of the most popular places in the world for these activities.

Best Hiking & Trekking Trails in the World

Here is a list of 10 of the best hiking trails in the world. We have also provided the estimated time taken to complete the hike, along with other quick facts:

The Great Himalayan Trail

Starting close to home, this incredible trail is among the most popular ones in the world. Encompassing plateaus and valleys, it has both well-mapped routes as well as lesser-visited tracks on earth.

  • Time: Several months (depending on the section)
  • Country: Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan
  • Length: Approximately 2,575 kilometres

Appalachian Trail

Also known as the AT, this trail passes through 14 states and is the longest hiking trail in the world.

  • Time: 5-7 months
  • Country: United States
  • Length: Approximately 3,524 kilometres

Pacific Crest Trail

One of the hardest, remotest and most dangerous trails, PCT is for advanced trekkers and hikers who have plenty of experience in the unexplored. Authorities suggest that you don't go there alone and take all necessary precautions before undertaking this trail. Among important trekking and hiking gear, don't forget to buy travel insurance with adventure sports cover. The option is available in India, and you can ensure significant safety in case of any mishap.

  • Time: 4-6 months
  • Country: United States
  • Length: Approximately 4,265 kilometres

Camino de Santiago

More popularly known as the Portuguese Way among English speakers, this is an important spiritual path among Christians. It has been a major pilgrimage since the 10th century and attracts over 200,000 pilgrims annually.

  • Time: 4-6 weeks
  • Country: Spain and France
  • Length: Various routes, the most popular is the Camino Frances at around 800 kilometres

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Also known as the Camino Inka, this stunning trail is located in the Andes Mountains. The trail passes through several settlements, cloud forests, Incan ruins and alpine tundra. Advanced booking is mandatory for this trail, and only 200 trekkers are allowed.

  • Time: 4 days
  • Country: Peru
  • Length: Approximately 42 kilometres

Nepal's Annapurna Circuit

This popular trail lies in central Nepal and crosses two different rivers, the Tibetan plateau and the highest point at Thorung La Pass. It is among the best long-distance treks in the world and has many suspension bridges.

  • Time: 15-20 days
  • Country: Nepal
  • Length: Approximately 206 kilometres

'O'Circuit in Torres del Paine

Situated in the Torres del Paine National Park, this spectacular trail is located in the extreme south of Chilean Patagonia. It is extremely popular among nature and trekking enthusiasts for its spectacular views and formidable mountains. Its unpredictable weather makes it a very challenging place to trek and hike through.

  • Time: 7-9 days
  • Country: Chile
  • Length: Approximately 84 kilometres

The Haute Route

The Walkers Haute Route is about 221 km long walking trail across the French and Swiss Alps. This is often confused with the Classic Haute Route, which is for skiing or mountaineering across the glaciers.

  • Time: 10-14 days
  • Country: France and Switzerland
  • Length: Approximately 221 kilometres

The Overland Track

This famous Australian bushwalking track is among the most popular sections in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Visited by more than 9,000 people annually, it crosses a temperate rainforest, alpine plains, rivers and glacial mountains.

  • Time: 5-6 days
  • Country: Australia (Tasmania)
  • Length: Approximately 65 kilometres

The Kalalau Trail

Among the most beautiful but scariest trails in the world, the Kalalau Trail is an 18 km long trail in Hawaii.

  • Time: 1-2 days
  • Country: United States (Hawaii)
  • Length: Approximately 18 kilometres

Hiking and trekking are among the most popular activities to do anywhere in the world. However, they come with their own risks and mishaps. You can easily go for these activities while ensuring your safety by buying travel insurance with adventure sports coverage. In fact, many countries require you to have mandatory travel health insurance for trekking or hiking before they allow you to participate in trekking or hiking.

Benefits of Trekking & Hiking

Venturing outdoors in nature is a rewarding experience alone; however, there are plenty of benefits of trekking and hiking. If you've been looking for some motivation to pick these activities up, take a glance below:

  1. Lower risk of Heart Diseases

    Hypertension and other coronary health issues plague a lot of people in India. With longer sitting hours and lesser movement, heart diseases are on the rise. Walking even an hour daily can lower this risk substantially. However, you can make hiking or trekking a weekly habit and tremendously improve your workouts. Doing this regularly will help improve your blood pressure and minimise the chances of getting a stroke.

  2. Improved Fitness

    Walking is a full-body exercise. Trekking and hiking involve a lot of walking across different terrains. Irregular gradients, inclines, slopes and steps come naturally in your path while you hike or trek. Doing this regularly will build and tone your muscles, especially your hips, legs and hamstrings. Bonus points if you're carrying heavy backpacks, as the weight will boost your core strength and overall stamina.

  3. Burn Calories

    This one is a no-brainer, and we can't stress enough on how much more effective hiking and trekking is for losing weight. Especially if you can't go to a gym or don't want to slog on treadmills, you are better off on a trail. Simply pick a short trail and stick to it daily. Plenty of parks, sanctuaries and local gardens are available for you to hike and lose any stubborn fat you may be struggling with.

  4. Improved Mental Health

    Nature and sunlight play a significant role in your overall mood. Being cooped up indoors or not moving your body often can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. Routine workouts can help with this, but spending time in nature can work miracles for a lot of us. Hiking or trekking releases endorphins which are essential for coping with pain and stress. Not just this, exploring new and familiar trails may take your mind off worries and present fresh perspectives.

  5. Low-cost Adventures

    Do we need to clarify this one? It costs almost nothing to trek or hike. Initially, you may have to invest in good trekking or walking shoes, comfortable clothes, and a few knick-knacks. But the long-term cost of hiking or trekking regularly is almost nothing compared to the huge gym fees that you end up paying (and not going!).

Safety & Preparation for Trekking & Hiking

Trekking and hiking can be fantastic outdoor activities, but they also come with inherent risks. Proper safety and preparation are essential to have an enjoyable and safe experience. Here are some travel tips to help you prepare for trekking and hiking:

  1. Plan Your Trip

    Choose a trail that matches your skill level and physical fitness. You must research the trail, including its length, elevation, difficulty, and current conditions. Moreover, let someone know your itinerary and expected return time.

  2. Check the Weather

    Always check the weather forecast before heading out. Be prepared for sudden weather changes, especially in mountainous regions.

  3. Fitness and Conditioning

    Ensure you are physically fit for the trek/hike. Start with shorter and less strenuous hikes if you're a beginner. Build your endurance and strength with regular exercise.

  4. Pack the Essentials

    Carry a backpack with essentials such as a map, compass, GPS device, headlamp/flashlight, extra batteries, and a first-aid kit. Dress in moisture-wicking, layered clothing suitable for the weather.

  5. Invest in Footwear

    Invest in high-quality hiking boots with good ankle support. Break them in before the hike to avoid blisters.

  6. Food and Water

    Bring enough food for the trip, including energy-rich snacks. Carry more water than you think you'll need or a portable water filter to purify natural water sources.

  7. Learn Navigation

    Learn how to use a map and compass, or bring a GPS device. Mark key waypoints and know how to follow trail markers.

  8. Sun Protection

    Wear sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses. Protect your skin from UV radiation.

  9. Safety Gear

    Carry a whistle, multi-tool, and a fire-starting kit. Consider a personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger for remote areas.

  10. First-Aid Kit

    Create or buy a comprehensive first-aid kit that includes bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and blister treatment.

  11. Be Environmentally Conscious

    Follow the Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash, staying on designated trails, and respecting wildlife and nature.

  12. Know Your Limits

    Be aware of your physical limits, and don't push yourself too hard. If you feel unwell or the conditions worsen, turn back.

  13. Emergency Contacts

    Save emergency contact numbers in your phone and carry a physical list as well. If hiking in a group, stay together and have a designated leader and sweep. Communicate clearly and frequently.

  14. Wildlife Awareness

    Learn about the wildlife in the area and how to respond to encounters with animals. Have a clear plan for what to do in case of an emergency, such as getting lost or injured.

  15. Permits and Regulations

    Check if the trail requires permits and follow all regulations in the area. Some places require mandatory travel insurance for hikers or trekkers, such as Nepal EBC.

Wrapping it Up,

Remember that preparation is key to a safe and enjoyable trekking or hiking experience. Always prioritize safety, and never underestimate the challenges of the outdoors. Stay informed, plan ahead, and be ready to adapt to changing conditions.

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