Is Hiking More Than Just Walking Off-Road?


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The line between hiking and walking is blurry. While both activities mean exploring on foot, many people identify themselves as only hikers or only walkers. Comparing and contrasting the two activities helps distinguish the two.

Hiking vs. Walking

There are many elements that people use to judge whether they are hiking or simply walking. For example, many hikers don't want to walk in urban areas, suburbs, city parks, or even along country roads. They want a completely natural setting.

  • Surface: Natural trails

  • Environment: Natural areas, like parks, forests, or deserts

  • Gear: Hiking boots or shoes; walking stick or poles; sometimes outdoor survival gear if the hike is long

  • Calorie burn: Usually greater than walking, due to hills and uneven surfaces

  • Frequency: Varies, but sometimes limited by season

  • Surface: Concrete, gravel, sand, even indoors or on a treadmill

  • Environment: Anywhere, including streets, parks, or malls

  • Gear: Walking shoes

  • Calorie burn: Typically less than hiking

  • Frequency: Often, two or more days a week as part of a regular fitness routine

Can a Walker Become a Hiker?

Walkers can cross over to the wild side to spice up their walking routine. If you live near a natural area, you are likely to enjoy walking there at least occasionally. Before you take a hike, make sure you are up for the challenge of walking uphill or on trails where there are rocks and roots.

If you are used to walking on pavement, you need to gear up properly for a hike. There are good reasons to wear trail shoes rather than typical athletic shoes. Trail shoes protect the feet and provide stability and traction. A hiking stick or trekking poles provide extra stability on rough trails.

Researchers have found that walking in a park or other natural setting offers mental health and stress relief benefits. If you usually walk in a gym or on a treadmill, think about adding short walks in local parks to your fitness routine.

Switching from Hiking to Walking

Hikers should change to flexible athletic walking or running shoes suitable for paved surfaces. They can leave the trekking poles at home, or use fitness walking poles for an extra workout.

Learning to Hike and Trek

When you are learning to hike, along with the right footwear and gear, you'll need to learn about trail etiquette, such as the concept of leaving no trace. If you pack it in, pack it out. Teach children to be respectful of the natural environment and stay on the trail. You will probably need to carry your own water and know how to properly handle restroom needs when there are no toilets.

If you rarely walk or hike, or you only walk on flat, paved surfaces, it is wise to do some training before you go for a long hike or trek. Training to walk hills at high altitude has two goals. First, you must build your aerobic fitness in general by doing workouts that get you breathing hard and sustaining that effort for increasing amounts of time. You also must work on getting some hill workouts or increasing the incline on your treadmill so your muscles are ready.

Trekking means that your hike or walk takes two or more days and you will carry your gear along with you in a backpack. You will need to train with your gear. Walking the Camino de Santiago is an example of a trek. Although this pilgrim route is called a walk, much of the time you are going up and down steep hills on natural surfaces.

National Trails Day

Each year, the first Saturday of June in the U.S. is National Trails Day. It is an opportunity to get outside, enjoy a trail, and be a hiker, biker, or rider for the day. A trail may be in a local park, a national forest, or a state park, and many venues will have special events to observe the day.

A Word From Verywell

Hikers and walkers have much in common. Certainly, all hikers are also walkers, whether they identify themselves as that or not. And walkers can benefit from getting out into green spaces, getting a little dirt on their shoes, and seeing more of the beauty of nature.

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.