Backpacking vs. Hiking

Young Woman Hiking with Backpack

Backpacking and hiking are two of the most popular outdoor activities available that give you widespread access to a number of beautiful outdoor areas. While they both take place on foot, there are some stark differences that separate them.

Knowing the advantages and requirements of backpacking and hiking can help you decide which is better for you, along with knowing beforehand what you should expect to get out of each one.


Ever taken an extended stroll down a mostly dirt path in an outdoor area? That’s the very definition of hiking. Hiking trails are designed to guide you through an area in a predetermined fashion, often centered around points of interest, and avoiding any hazardous terrain.

Woman Hiking Up The Hill

This isn’t to say that hiking is always an easy activity, however. Many hikes can involve long ascents in hilly area, sometimes on rocky soil that can be unstable and require extra caution. Still, for the most part, hiking trails are there to safely deliver you to and from certain points, without expending too much of your energy or time.

It’s also worth mentioning that hiking requires little preparation, and a small amount of gear, if any.

Advantages of Hiking

Hiking does present a few benefits and some unique advantages over backpacking that some will appreciate.

Less Intensive

This is probably the most obvious. Backpacking requires a lot of time, and a lot of planning. The journey itself is almost always more difficult as well, as much of it involves being in backcountry areas, or areas that aren’t designed for humans to simply pass through.

Group of People Hiking in Peru

The physical requirements of backpacking are higher as well. With hiking, you can often complete a trail or section of trail in just a few hours, and be back where you started without exerting a ton of effort. Hiking trails aren’t hard to find, and many can sometimes be found in the middle of urban areas.

Shorter Duration

Backpacking trips can take several days. Hiking trails are intended to be on the shorter side of things. This provides more opportunity and greater flexibility in your schedule, and gives you the opportunity to have an enjoyable outdoor experience without the need to plan an entire week or weekend.

The shorter length also makes hiking more accessible for younger people, and anyone who may not be physically capable of handling a backpacking trip.

Less Gear Required

Gear is one of the biggest aspects of backpacking. In addition to the actual backpack, there’s a need for a food and water supply, extra clothing, gears and tools, a tent, sleeping bag, and more. Specialized clothing is required as well.

Young Man Hiking at Crater Lake National Park

With hiking all you need are some sturdy shoes, and maybe a snack and some water. Sure, you can bring along some extra gear if you’d like, but most hiking trails don’t require anything but yourself.

More Family Friendly

Sharing family time in an outdoor setting can be a fun and rewarding experience for everyone involved. Backpacking presents more dangers, and a physical ability that not everyone in your family may possess. Hiking only requires the ability to walk, making it more family friendly for sure.


Backpacking at its core is any outdoor activity that involves traveling with all of your gear and belongings with you in a backpack. The more common use of this term refers to the action of going on a multi-day adventure on foot in a backcountry or remote area with little to no trails.

Couple Sitting on Road

When going backpacking, you bring along everything you’ll need to survive in the outdoors, such as a tent, extra clothing, food, water, tools, and safety gear. Everything is carried on your back, leaving you to be strategic with your resources. For the duration of your backpacking trip, the outdoors is your true home, with no way out until you are done.

A More Rewarding Experience

Backpacking gives you a sense of accomplishment that can’t be replicated with anything else. The process of living in the wild with only what you can carry is truly life-changing, and provides you with unique experiences and camaraderie. Most backpacking trips involve certain interest points and areas to visit as well, which is another rewarding experience in itself.

Feeling of Escape

While there are certainly some hiking trails that can be found in soe remote and beautiful areas, backpacking allows you to truly get away from it all in every sense. No TV, no noise, no crowds, just you, your party, and nature.

Couple Backpacking on Alaska

This can be therapeutic for many, allowing you to both clear your head and reset yourself in a lot of ways.

Nature Up Close

Since backpacking takes place in remote areas and away from massive crowds and frequent visitors, you have the opportunity to see nature in a more undisturbed, undefiled kind of way. This can lead to seeing wildlife you wouldn’t normally encounter, and natural features and interest points that are in the same state that they’ve been in for hundreds or thousands of years.

Who Backpacking Is Suited For

If you’ve been on plenty of hikes and camping trips, and are wanting to take your outdoor experience to a higher level, backpacking is for you. The opportunity to fully immerse yourself in what nature has to offer is an amazing experience.

Backpacks For Backpacking on Ground

Some physical skill and knowledge of outdoor survival and safety is required, and you’ll need to be able to purchase or acquire the right gear needed for the trip as well.

Who Hiking Is Suited For

Those that are wanting to take maybe a full day, or even just a few hours getting out in the outdoors can enjoy all that hiking has to offer. If you want to get out on some trails, but don’t want to feel like you have to prepare and acquire a ton of gear, hiking is your best bet for sure.

That’s not to say that you have to enjoy one or the other. There are plenty of people who do both, depending on the time of year, or their own time requirements. Whichever you choose, you are always sure to have a great experience, with some much needed quality time in the outdoors.

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