Backpacking and hiking are two outdoor activities that people enjoy doing. While they may seem similar, there are a few important differences between the two.
In this blog post, we will compare backpacking vs hiking to understand the differences between them.
Hiking is a recreational activity where you walk through the wilderness along trails and tracks.
It can be done for short or long periods of time, with different fitness levels required depending on the length and difficulty of your hike.
Most hikers prefer to do their hiking during Spring, Summer and Autumn as it’s more pleasant weather-wise than winter when there’s snow.
Hiking is an extremely popular pastime with thousands of people doing it daily on trails around the world, and there are also many hiking clubs that meet regularly for hikes.
Different Types of Hiking
There are 2 types of hikes for more casual people rather than backpackers.
Day hiking is where you set out for a hike on the same day and return home after completing your walk.
It’s also known as an ‘out-and-back’ hike because it involves walking to one destination, then returning back from that point. Day hikes usually last between three and six hours but can be longer depending on the distance and difficulty of your hike.
This type of hiking is perfect for beginners and people who like to spend a short time in nature, as it’s quick and convenient with no camp gear required. It can be done on any trail or mountain area around the world depending on how far you want to go.
Section hiking is basically a section of any long-distance trail.
It is chosen by hikers who have completed a specific trail at least a few times in a long period of time.
With Section hiking, you can walk at a slower pace and follow the trail from one end to another, but return home after each section of your hike.
Equipment Needed For Hiking
There are a few essentials that will help make your hike more comfortable.
- Navigation Tool Like Compass or GPS
- Sun protection items such as sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat
- Proper Clothing
- Headlight or Flashlight
- Food or Light Snacks
- First Aid Kit
- Bear Spray
- Shelter like a bivy or tent
Time / Duration For Hiking
For hikes such as section hiking and day hiking your time required will be much shorter than backpacking.
Day hiking usually lasts between three and six hours, while section hikes are usually done over a few days, with each day lasting between four to eight hours.
Clothing / Outfit For Hiking
There aren’t really any specific clothing you NEED to wear however, it is recommended you wear these on a hike:
- Light Moisture Wicking Waterproof Clothing
- Jacket depending on the weather
- Hiking Boots
Backpacks For Hiking
A backpack is essential for all hikers.
It’s used to carry your water, food, clothing and other hiking essentials that you will need during the hike.
The Size of Backpack required depends on how long your walk/hike is going to be – generally speaking anything longer than a day needs at least 40 litres capacity whereas shorter hikes can use around 20 litres.
Backpacks for day hikes are much lighter than backpacking backpacks.
Pros Of Hiking
- You get to spend time in nature and outdoors.
- Hiking is easier on the body and joints.
- Hiking is an inexpensive activity that doesn’t require any special equipment apart from the basics like sunscreen, water bottle etc.
- Great for people of all fitness levels as there are lots of easy trails you can choose depending on your preference.
- You don’t need to be an experienced hiker to go out and enjoy a hike.
- You can go hiking any time of the year no matter what the weather is like, so it’s suitable for all seasons.
- Hiking doesn’t require much planning or training as you just need some basic essentials and your gear/equipment ready before heading out on your trail.
- It’s a great way to get some exercise.
Cons Of Hiking
- You won’t have as much fun as backpacking if you are just day hiking. With backpacking you experience the great outdoors for a longer period of time.
Backpacking is a type of hiking that takes place over multiple days and requires you to carry all your supplies with you.
It’s even more strenuous than regular hiking as the weight of your backpack adds extra pressure on muscles and joints, so it’s not recommended for people who haven’t done any prior exercise or outdoor activity before.
If you’re not used to strenuous activity, you should start with lightweight backpacking first before attempting regular backpacking.
Backpacking requires extensive planning and preparation as it’s an outdoor activity that takes place over multiple days where the weather conditions could be quite unpredictable at times.
Different Types of Backpacking
There are many 3 main different types of backpacking.
Multi day backpackers
Multi-day backpackers are outdoor adventurers who enjoy camping in the wilderness for a few days.
They usually carry all their equipment and supplies with them, so they have to cover longer distances each day as well as be completely self-sufficient.
You can choose from different trails around the world depending on your experience level and preference of terrain or environment.
Yo-yo hikers are backpackers who walk the same trail in both directions.
They typically do this by starting at one end of a long-distance trail, then walking to the other end before turning around and backpacking all the way back home again.
While it’s not considered an extreme form of hiking or backpacking, it does take a lot of time, effort and planning.
It’s also another form of backpacking that will help you to become more experienced in the world of outdoor activities before starting your next project.
Thru-hiking is when you hike an entire trail in one continuous journey, usually from end to end.
It entails walking the same path for a long period of time – sometimes months or even years – depending on how big your trek is.
- Appalachian Trail
- Continental Divide Trail
- Pacific Crest Trail
Ultralight backpacking is a type of hiking where you reduce the weight of your backpack as much as possible.
You only carry the bare essentials with you, which makes travelling easier and saves time on lengthy trips or hikes.
It’s not recommended for beginners due to its ultralight equipment that requires experience in outdoor activities before attempting this type of backpacking.
Flashpacking is basically a form of Backpacking where you tend to seek out experiences of backpacking but, you have a much bigger budget to spend on things.
Typically Flashpackers will have a ton of expensive equipment like cameras, laptops and other technologies.
Equipment Needed For Backpacking
There are a few additional things to the hiking equipment that you need for backpacking.
- Sleeping Bag
- Whistle & Signaling Mirror
- Hiking / Trekking Poles
- Cooking Utensils
- Heavier Food
Time / Duration For Backpacking
Backpacking usually lasts more than one day. So, you have to dedicate more time to backpacking than just regular hiking.
This type of hiking is the most strenuous and difficult, so it may take a few days for you to get used to carrying a heavy backpack on your back.
Some experienced backpackers can complete a multi-day hike in just one day.
It all depends on your fitness level, hiking experience and how much time you have available to dedicate to the activity.
Clothing / Outfit For Backpacking
With backpacking, you wear much more heavy-duty clothing such as:
- More Insulated and Waterproof Clothing
- Thicker Jackets / Pants with more pockets
- Backpacking Boots (These are much heavier than your typical hiking boots)
Backpacks For Backpacking
Backpacks for backpacking are much bigger and heavier than a regular hiking pack.
You’ll also need extra equipment such as things to cook with, spoons etc. depending on how long you’re going for.
You will need to account for:
- Lockable Zippers
- You Might Carry Additional Packs inside your backpacking backpack
- More compartments with zippers and pockets
- Much heavier than a hiking pack/backpack
Pros Of Backpacking
- Much More Fulfilling and Fun
- You Get To Experience More
- Allows You to Connect With Nature on a more personal level.
- It’s also more challenging and strenuous but, in our opinion just that much better!
- Since you spend time outdoors more, you typically tend to burn more calories which is great if you are trying to lose weight.
Cons Of Backpacking
- Backpackers need more strength to carry extra weight
- Backpackers need to look out more for conditions of the trail, weather, navigating the terrain, and safety of course.
Should You Go Hiking Or BackPacking?
We think you should definitely try both!
Hiking is a great way to get started with outdoor activities. It’s also the best option if you’re on a budget and don’t want to spend too much money initially, or are looking for something that doesn’t require as much planning.
Backpacking requires more planning but, once you have everything, the experience is just so much more rewarding.
It’s also more challenging in many ways.
So, what’s the difference between backpacking and hiking?
It really depends on your budget, experience level and overall goals.
If you’re looking for a more difficult outdoor activity that requires planning but offers many rewards, then go for Backpacking!
Hiking is cheaper to get started with since it doesn’t require as much equipment or supplies and is a great way to get your feet wet with outdoor activities.
Do you want an easier activity that gets you outdoors but requires less planning? Then stick to hiking!
It’s important to try both so you can see which one best suits your goals.
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Hey, I am the founder of Outside Origin! I love hiking in my spare time and have gone to various different hikes. You can check out our about us section to learn more about what our team and I do over at Outside Origin.