Backpacking Vs Hiking: Is There A Difference?

When you ask the question, “backpacking vs hiking: is there a difference?” you may hear that there isn’t a difference and it’s all a matter of semantics. That isn’t necessarily true. Sure, these activities may have some similarities, but they also different, too.

According to the dictionary, hiking is an activity where you are going on long distant walks, usually along the country sides. Backpacking is when you are traveling with your belongings in a backpack. Okay, simple enough. But, if you’re going on a long walk through the country side (aka hiking), surely you’re going to want to bring some stuff with you, right?

Two backpacks

Confused yet? Let’s first talk about how they are similar, and then we’ll get into how they are different.

Similarities Between Backpacking And Hiking

When you are hiking or backpacking, it’s understood that you are going to be doing a lot of walking through nature. The type of terrain you encounter for both activities may include steep inclines, flat lands, hills, forests, and even the need to cross water.

Make no mistake, backpacking and hiking are very popular activities because if gives you a chance to enjoy nature, enjoy the company of your companions, and get in some great exercise.

Differences Between Hiking And Backpacking

Many people often confuse the two activities because they have quite a few similarities, but if you talk to a hiker about how long they are on the trail, they may tell you they are hiking for a few hours and they’ll go home.

Backpackers, on the other hand, will often go on long walks that will take a few days. This is why they will pack a backpack that contains a variety of things like tentssleeping setup, and so forth. You can basically consider backpacking to be a cross between hiking and camping,

Backpacking Vs Hiking Gear: What’s Different And What’s Important?

When you’re going to be participating in outdoor activities like backpacking or hiking, you still want to be prepared and have the appropriate gear with you. Let’s  look at the most important pieces of gear for each activity and how they differ.


The most important thing you will need when you want to hike or backpack are your shoes. The shoes you will use for a hiking trip will not be the same shoes you’ll wear if you go hiking.

Two Woman Hands Lacing up Trekking Shoes

hiking shoe will be lightweight, feature waterproof mesh, and the soles and support around the shoe will be quite flexible. They’ll have little to no reinforcement on the side of the shoe or the toe cap.

backpacking boot will be considerably heavier and they’ll be made of tougher material like thick cowhide and a hard rubber sole and toe cap. The sole of these boots are going to be significantly thicker and have a stiff shaft to provide ample support for your arches – which is going to be incredibly important when walking on uneven surfaces or when you are carrying a heavy pack.


Other than shoes, the type of clothing you’ll wear for each activity is going to be a little different. When you go for a hike, you can wear your normal, comfortable outdoor clothing. Depending on the weather, you can wear shorts and a t-shirt to go on a hike. Maybe you’ll want to bring a light jacket if you get chilly. During the colder seasons, you may want to opt for heavier clothing.

If you are going backpacking, you’re going to want to pack a few days’ worth of clothing with you, as well as thermals, a heavy jacket, rain jacket, and the like. You’re going to be out in the elements for a few days, so you’re going to want to have enough of the appropriate clothing to last the trip.


Another important piece of equipment you will need will be a backpack. Although hikers don’t necessarily need to bring a rucksack, you may want to carry a light one so that you can store food, water, an emergency kit, compass, and other smaller items.

When you go backpacking, you are going to need a significantly larger backpack because there are going to be a lot of things you’ll need to bring with you.


Hikers can get away with a thermal water bottle that will keep about a liter of water cold. A backpacker, on the other hand, will want to bring couple bottles of water or a water bladder. You may also want to bring a water filtration straw, just in case you run out of water.


As a hiker, you aren’t going to need a shelter because you won’t be out that long. As a backpacker, you will need a tent and a sleeping bag. These are important because you will want protection from bugs and small animals, as well as the weather.


When it comes to comparing which activity is better, backpacking vs hiking, it’s all about personal preference. Both activities will provide you with an excellent workout and will give you the opportunity to get away from technology and  have the chance to fully appreciate nature.

With that said, while both activities are very similar, they are quite different. With hiking, you only plan to be walking a path or trail and you’ll be back by the end of the day. With backpacking, you’re planning to go a longer distance, which will take a few days.

Hiker watching the distance

Not only do these activities vary in how long you’ll be out and about, they also require different gear. Hiking is a very minimalist activity where you can just go to the park and go for a walk. Backpacking, on the other hand, requires planning, more gear, and foresight.

Head on over to our backpacking checklist before you backpacking trip so you don’t forget the important stuff!