What’s The Difference Between Hiking And Walking? 
Have you ever considered the sheer amount of walking that we do in a lifetime?
We learn to totter as early as 9 months old, only getting off our feet as late as in our 90s. Walking, despite the convenience of cars, has always been the dominant mode of human movement.
And some of us take walking to the next level – turning it into the hobby we call ‘hiking’.
But what’s the difference between hiking and walking? The fundamental difference between hiking and walking is where and how it happens.
Walking is casual and typically for leisure, done in urban environments or via paved trails. It’s an everyday activity that lasts short distances. Hiking is a form of long walks that take place in nature, often with elevation changes and dynamic terrains. You experience physical exertion over a longer period of time, sometimes over multiple days.
Continue reading for more little-known facts and expert tips.
How Is Hiking Different From Walking?
We can define walking and hiking as:
An ‘at your pace’ physical exercise that doesn’t require equipment or skill,
done with minimal exertion.
Walking and hiking might both require moving our feet but some factors set them apart.
- Energy and effort – One of the biggest differences is that hiking demands a lot more energy. Not only are you walking longer, you’re also carrying weight on your back while navigating inclines and declines.
- Fitness level required – Anyone can walk! We all walk every day. Hiking is a lot more strenuous; you should establish a fitness routine to train up your muscles before trying steep hiking trails.
- Pace – Walking is fairly consistent whereas hiking pace depends on elevation and terrain.
- Location – Walking tends to happen in urban spaces such as neighborhood parks or well-indicated country roads, while hiking takes natural paths through mountains and reserved parks.
- Paths – Walking trails are generally concrete roads or asphalt, while hiking trails are uneven dirt trails.
- Distance – Walking routes are usually a mile or two long while hiking can span days.
When does a walk become a hike?
Here’s your immediate answer: When you’re walking past the one-to-two-mile mark, on an elevated and strenuous path.
Hiking VS Walking: Comparing The Benefits
Both activities come with their own sets of physical and mental benefits.
- You don’t need any special gear or preparation. Super budget-friendly way to exercise or explore! You can comfortably wear jeans when walking while jeans are not recommended for hiking.
- Just 30 – 45 minutes every day contributes to higher life expectancy.
- Safe from insect bites, dehydration, dangerous falls, and other outdoor risks.
- Can be done indoors (on a treadmill) or outdoors, even if it’s just around your neighborhood park.
- Based on numerous studies, walking reduces risk of diabetes, heart disease and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Your self-esteem also benefits.
- Exposure to sun boosts your immune system.
- Consistent and repetitive movement helps tone muscle and strengthens muscle endurance without bulking.
- Let’s you open your senses to nature! Take a break from your busy urban lives. Read more about the mental perks that hiking provides here.
- Appeals to your sense of adventure – no forests are the same.
- Looking at greenery and far distances helps relieve stress on the eyes and hence reduces headaches.
- Decreases anxiety level as being outdoors slows down brain’s processing center, especially if you hike every day.
- Improves cardiovascular and respiratory health, thus increasing life expectancy.
- Significant weight loss as hiking exercises all muscle groups to burn over 250 calories per hour.
- Tones your entire body as more muscles are needed for balance, doesn’t just target legs.
- Better health and fitness means increased self-esteem.
While both walking and hiking increases our physical strength and boosts mental health, hiking grants bigger benefits for those who want to lose weight.
Hiking burns more energy due to several factors such as steeper inclines, carrying weighted backpacks and longer duration.
Make sure to watch the inspirational video below. It's a about a hiker who managed to lose weight while hiking for 6 months in the Colorado mountains.
That said, we recommend people who don’t exercise often to start with walking first. Build strength in your muscles and joints before challenging harder trails to reduce chance of injury.
If you’re determined to hit up the mountains, start with easier and shorter trails before moving onto hillier terrain.
Typical Places to Walk
Like we’ve said above, walking can happen anywhere. Typical places include parks, certain areas in the city, on a beach or simply around your neighborhood.
These routes are outfitted with concrete roads, asphalt, gravel or sand. You might also take strolls in gardens and reserves with boardwalks.
Typical Places to Hike
Hiking takes you outdoors. You’ll be exploring trails that lead through mountains or along the coast.
These can be mild treks through flatter forest areas or challenging uphill terrain. Most hiking trails are rough, earthy, uneven and unpaved.
Types of Walking
Your walking trail is decided by your purpose for walking. You might form a walking group for companionship or are seeking a light, post-meal activity.
Walking for leisure includes urban exploration or nature expeditions in the forest. Another type is seasonal walks where you take in landscapes that are only available during certain periods of the year.
Types of Hiking
Hiking is a lot more dynamic when it comes to range and type. The term ‘hiking’ actually encapsulates different kinds of activities!
It includes nature walks, trekking and backpacking. Nature walks are classified by gentle sloping trails, whether you’re on a boardwalk, paved road or dirt trail with directions. Trekking is a more engaged and challenging form of mountain hiking where you tackle uphill and downhill landscapes – in a single course.
While hiking and camping might not always go hand-in-hand, longer treks may keep you out overnight.
You might even camp for the night. Backpacking is multiple-day hikes that take you through challenging routes, undertaken by more experienced and fit hikers.
Gear Required or Recommended For Hiking
While equipment for hiking is noticeably more specialized than for walks, what you bring along will depend on shared factors: seasonality, weather conditions, and duration.
- Seasonality – Being outdoors in the winter or summer requires very different sets of equipment. Make sure to layer up with waterproof and cold-appropriate clothing for winter hiking. Bring extra water supplies and ample sun protection during the summer.
- Weather conditions – It goes without saying that raincoats are advised when skies look grey, but winter and sunny weather may also decide how many layers you’re wearing. I recommend checking the weather forecast before embarking on any type of walking. In many instances, when you hike at high altitude, you need oxygen. But that's in the realm of the mountaineering.
- Duration – If you’re spending a single day out, you hardly need a change of clothes, sleeping tent, and a sleeping bag that you often carry attached to your pack. For those spending multiple days in the wild, however, your hiking backpacks will be loaded with camping gear and extra tools.
Single-day hikes don’t require too much gear but must-haves include:
Overnight or intensive treks demand much more preparation. On top of the essentials listed above, plan for protection against the elements!
You’ll also want to pad up the first-aid kit with any personal medications.
Here are some proven tips on how not to spend a fortune on outdoor gear.
And since a lot of folks are asking "can you hike in sweatpants?", we've written an entire post about it. In brief, avoid sweatpants on long technical hikes, especially in rainy weather.
Gear Required For Walking
Casual walks in the city hardly require gear, but for safety purposes we recommend the basics.
Do check the weather forecast before you leave the house and consider other gear-deciding factors such as when you’re taking a walk. You may also need:
The good thing is that when you're just walking, you don't need expensive and bulky gear such as a sleeping bag, for instance.
To summarize, all hiking is walking, but not all walking is hiking. Walking can be done anywhere, anytime. Hiking requires more preparation and experience.
The benefits of hiking and walking overlap when it comes to bettering our bodies and minds, except hikers experience more weight loss while walkers enjoy an easy way of muscle toning.
Regardless, a short walk every day will help you rediscover the world while paving the road to a healthier lifestyle.
The most important thing is to be prepared whether embarking on a walking trail or a hiking trail. Choose a path that is suitable for your fitness level and don’t be embarrassed to start with an easy walk first.
Wear proper walking shoes and limit pack weight. Only go on a serious hiking trip when you’re ready.
Whichever of the two you choose, approach it on your own terms! Walk, hike, trek, all you like – being outside is guaranteed to make you happier.
Founder of this website, Asen is a passionate hiker and writer who is also a gear nerd. He’s been featured on many established hiking websites where he gives hiking advice & tips. When he is not trekking with his family or friends, he is writing articles and product reviews. Asen spends most of his time in Bulgaria but he constantly travels the world in seek of more unforgettable experiences. Read more about Asen here.