It’s kind of interesting because even though there are a lot of similarities between hiking and walking, most people don’t interchange the two terms as most everyone specifically refers to both hiking and walking as such.

You’re either going for a walk or going for a hike, and virtually everyone has a good understanding of what the two activities entail. The reason it can get kind of foggy, though, is technically, when you’re hiking, you’re also walking. Well, unless you’re running on a hike (though that’s not usually what hiking entails).

However, when you’re walking, you might not necessarily be hiking. You can almost say that you’re always walking when hiking, but not always hiking when walking. Again, unless you’re crazy enough to run while you hike. Gee, it took us all of 20 seconds to make this confusing.

Yet, breaking it all down, what is THE difference between hiking and walking? The biggest difference is that a hike tends to be longer and harder than a traditional walk and is usually performed on trails through nature. Meanwhile, a walk typically occurs on smooth surfaces without too many obstacles in the way and can involve many different locations (from the city to nature walking trails to inside buildings).

As a bonus, you also hear some people refer to a trek. Consider a trek a multi-day hike or a walk where rugged terrain and crossings can be encountered. Basically, it’s a hike or a walk on steroids. We just thought we’d make mention of that real fast.

But back to hiking versus walking as the whole story hasn’t been told yet. Let’s take a deep dive into what makes each of them distinctive terms. In the end, we’ll detail the various benefits of both of them too.

What’s the difference between hiking and walking?

Photo by Dmitry Schemelev / Unsplash

We’ve already established the idea that when you’re hiking, you’re technically walking. “Walking” is the much broader term here as most of us do various types of walking daily. Even just getting up to go to the bathroom can be considered walking.

“Hiking” is the more specific term as, again, when someone says they’re going on a hike, most people understand what that entails. And, speaking of which, what the activity entails goes a long way in explaining why it’s considered different than just walking.

Difference 1: The purpose

When you go hiking, the purpose can be for a few different reasons. Perhaps it’s an enjoyable activity for you, maybe you like the exercise, or maybe you just enjoy getting out into nature and getting away from the city life. It even could be a combination of all three.

Walking, on the other hand, is more or less mandatory. Those who are unable to walk find different means of transporting around, but most of us use our two legs to get from place to place. Even just grocery shopping involves walking. Though, as with hiking, walking can be used as a leisure activity for both exercise and pleasure.

Difference 2: The terrain

When answering the question of what is the difference between hiking and walking, this here may be the biggest one of all. The terrain. No one is claiming that a trip to the grocery store is a quick little hike.

A hike takes place in nature. Dedicated hiking trails will go through the forest, mountains, the wilderness, and just through the beauty of nature, in general. Sure, you can go for nature walks, but that typically involves some sort of stable terrain (such as concrete).

Hiking trails will involve dirt, rocks, grass, and sometimes water. It’s one of the primary reasons that dedicated hiking boots are typically used for better comfort and protection. In general, walks take place in more developed environments such as in the city or even at a park.

Difference 3: The distance

Admittedly, this one’s kind of subjective. It can be an answer to what is the difference between hiking and walking, but it’s not the main one. We bring it up because generally speaking, a hike is defined as a long walk. However, walks can vary in distance too. Someone could go on a long, one-hour walk through the city. That same person could also go for a quick, 10-minute walk to a friend’s house.

The thing about hikes is that they usually entail multiple miles of terrain, such as if you attempted to hike Mission Peak. Then again, we guess you could go on a quicker hike if you wanted to, just to get out and get a little exercise.

Hiking is more of a devoted activity, however, as you usually wear specific gear and bring specific items with you on the journey. Plus, you usually have to drive to a certain destination for where you want to hike.

It’s not crazy to end up going on a 10-mile hike, but, again, hiking and walking distances can vary quite a bit.

Difference 4: The gear

We kind of spilled the beans early on this one as we just mentioned that hiking tends to involve wearing specific gear and items, and walking doesn’t. Well, we guess you could say depending on the climate and terrain, you’d need shoes and either warm or cool clothing to actually enjoy the walk, but we digress.

Hiking, in general, brings about the need for specific equipment, even though you don’t need a ton of items to start hiking. However, specific footwear to protect your feet that also balances comfort and breathability, a backpack (potentially) to carry supplies such as food, water, navigational devices, clothing, and even sleeping items (if you’re hiking or backpacking for a few days, though we guess that could be considered a trek), and possibly even hiking poles could all be items that hikers bring.

Walking, in general, can typically be done with little to no prep at all. You may bring a water bottle or something with you, but depending on where you walk, you might not even need shoes.

Difference 5: The exertion level

Another way to answer the question of what is the difference between hiking and walking is by saying that the exertion level is different. Hiking typically entails going up and down hills on terrain that isn’t always optimal.

Not to say walking can’t be a good exercise or anything like that, but it tends to occur on mostly flat terrain. Still, walking uphill and downhill is still possible on a normal walk. With hiking, though, it’s way more common to encounter altering terrains that can make your body work harder.

What are some benefits of each of the activities?

This shot was taken during a roadtrip with a couple of friends in the Dolomites. This pretty much sums up the lovely adventures we had over there – just us (and some beers) in the mountains for one week. Although it is just a snapshot, it captures a true, precious moment of togetherness and friendship.
Photo by Felix Rostig / Unsplash

General benefits of walking

  • It’s such a simple activity but doing so for 30 to 45 minutes every day can go a long way for your health.
  • Special gear or preparation isn’t required. From walking around town to doing so on a treadmill to going for a walk on a nature trail, there can be little to no prep involved when walking.
  • It can be done both indoors and outdoors and even with special equipment if you don’t want to go anywhere.
  • Walking can have a positive impact on those with mental health issues, heart disease, and diabetes.
  • It can be a great excuse to get some exposure to the sun.
  • It can be a nice way to relax on stressful days or during times when you need to just get away from everything.
  • From parks to cities to walking trails to the country, walking can literally be done anywhere and everywhere.

General benefits of hiking

  • As with walking, hiking is a great form of exercise that can even help to boost self-esteem.
  • Enjoying the beauty and peace of nature can do a lot for mental health, stress, and anxiety.
  • It can provide you with a true sense of adventure, especially if you hike areas that are new and unknown to you. You never know what you may encounter.
  • It can be a great bonding activity with friends and family.
  • Can help to improve respiratory and cardiovascular health.
  • It can help to tone your entire body as though you’d think hiking would just be working on your legs, it works many muscles as you try to balance yourself on sometimes uneven and rugged terrain.

Final thoughts

It’s pretty crazy that we spent so much time covering a topic that we’re sure most of you kind of already knew before you even came here. Most people completely understand what’s entailed when someone says they’re going on a hike or if they’re going on a walk.

Going on a hike gets the mind thinking about going out into the wilderness, “walking” on trails made of dirt, loose stones, grass, and maybe even some standing water, dealing with hilly terrain, and possibly even carrying a backpack to hold essential items for the trip.

Meanwhile, going on a walk can mean a bunch of different things from doing so leisurely to get out of the house to doing so to get to a destination such as a store or work.

We guess that’s the best way to answer the question, “what is the difference between hiking and walking.” But lest we forget that when you’re hiking, you’re walking but when you’re walking, you may not be hiking.