Difference Between Hiking and Backpacking

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Hiking and backpacking may seem similar, and in many ways, they really are. However, if you are new to the world of outdoor adventuring, you may have some questions, such as the difference between hiking and backpacking.

Of course, both involve being outdoors for extended periods and walking through some fantastic scenery.

However, hiking and backpacking are not the same, and there are some significant differences you should know about. Let’s discuss the differences between hiking and backpacking.

Differences Between Hiking and Backpacking

There are significant differences between hiking and backpacking, and first, we’ll start by giving you basic definitions of both.

The Basics

Hiking generally involves walking through nature, which could be an uncharted path through the woods or an established hiking path. Hiking consists of walking at a decent pace to get fresh air, exercise, and experience the outdoors. You can hike through the woods or even in rural areas.

Backpacking involves many of the same elements as hiking, like walking through the woods. However, the difference is that backpacking generally involves several days spent outdoors. So, backpackers will carry essential items such as tents, food, and other supplies for a few nights outdoors.

The Duration

One of the most significant differences between hiking and backpacking is that hiking takes place over a single day. You can go hiking for one hour or spend all day outside. You will need some equipment for a day outdoors, but not that much.

On the other hand, backpacking generally lasts for at least two or three days. So, generally speaking, you can think of backpacking as a mix of hiking and camping. For this reason, people who go backpacking require more equipment, especially overnight stays.

Required Clothing

Another difference between hiking and backpacking is that you will require different clothes. You’ll need hiking boots for hiking, as well as clothing that is suitable for the conditions.

If you are backpacking, you will want to bring more clothing, especially for inclement weather. If you go hiking and the weather forecast is good, you probably don’t need rain gear. However, high-quality rain gear is essential if you plan to spend several days outdoors.

Another difference is that backpacking boots are often a bit heavier and sturdier than hiking boots because they have to last for many days, and they should keep your feet dry.

Moreover, you’ll need a good sock liner when you go backpacking to keep your feet in good condition for the duration of your trip. Finally, you will need more clothing for backpacking to deal with various weather conditions.

Your Pack

Hiking backpacks are smaller and more compact than backpacking packs. However, the former are large and well organized enough to hold the essentials you will need for a day outdoors.

However, backpacking packs tend to be much larger, have more organizational features, and provide better support. A good backpacking backpack will come with sternum, shoulder, and waist straps and other support features you can adjust.

A backpacking backpack may also have more compartments with zippers and pockets, a panel-loading facility, lockable zippers, a robust frame, a high weight capacity, and even a small day pack that fits over the main pack.

Difference Between Hiking and Backpacking

The Types


Something else to consider is that there are different types of hiking and backpacking. Hiking includes day hiking, base camping, section hiking, and hiking. However, the defining feature is that they take place over one day.


There are two main types of backpacking, including ultralight backpacking and flashpacking. Ultralight backpacking involves the lightest and least amount of gear. Some hikers consider ultralight to mean under 4.5 kg.

Flashpacking is essentially backpacking, but not on a budget. It’s for adventurous backpackers who have “graduated” and want comfort in their backpacking and camping experience.

Required Gear and Equipment

The next difference concerns the essentials you take along. Since hiking is all about being outdoors for a single day, you won’t need as much as if you go backpacking.

For hiking, you will need a map, a compass, sunscreen, a hat, warm clothing, a flashlight, first aid supplies, a firestarter, knife, rope, extra food and water, and an emergency shelter.

However, if you go backpacking, you will need a few more things, especially when it comes to camping outdoors overnight.

You will need a proper backpacking backpack, a backpack cover, a pillow and sleeping bag, a tent, a compression sack, trekking poles, a signaling mirror, a whistle, a multifunctional watch complete with an altimeter and a GPS, a full camping cook set, food, and water, hanging bags with bear canisters, a lantern, etc.

Final Thoughts

Hiking and backpacking involve walking outdoors, but they are different in several aspects.

Hiking involves being outside for a single day, whereas backpacking involves spending a few nights outdoors.

However, if you plan on backpacking, ensure you have all the essentials you need to be safe and comfortable when spending the night outdoors.

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