A lot of people tend to use the words hiking, trekking, and mountaineering as if they were synonyms. They’re all similar in that you go out and walk in nature. However, there are important distinctions between them as well.
It’s important to know the difference between hiking, trekking, and mountaineering so that you can choose the right adventure for you.
The easiest way to explain how these three activities are different is to distinguish each term is to categorize them by difficulty.
The easiest of the three is hiking. You walk on well-marked trails of easy to moderate difficulty, although this depends on where you’re hiking. These are usually half-day to one-day tours. The terrain varies from relatively flat to steep.
Most hiking tours take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours round trip. You usually finish in the same place that you started, either from hiking a loop or returning the same way. Some hikes have a different start and end points, so always check before you start. For hiking tours, you need minimal equipment compared to trekking and mountaineering. You can find a list of what you need for a day hike here. Always be sure to bring lots of water! You can find 5 Day Hikes in Guatemala that I recommend and Laurel’s favourite hikes in the German Alps .
Trekking is between hiking and mountaineering regarding difficulty, although it’s more similar to hiking. The difference being that treks are longer than hikes. When I say longer, it doesn’t mean that they take a couple more hours. These trips usually take two or more days. This means that you will either have to camp (and bring all your food and equipment), like when you trek the Trilogy, a series of three volcanoes in Guatemala (fortunately, we can also rent you with the gear if you don’t have it). Alternatively, when trekking in some locations, you may have the option to stay at small lodges, mountain huts or even bed and breakfasts along the way. For example, accommodations are available when you trek the Tour du Mont Blanc, West Highland Way in Scotland and the Wicklow Way in Ireland. Trekking is more challenging that hiking because you will be walking for multiple days in a row.
Treks usually start in one place and end in a different one. The distance can vary anywhere from ~40 km to several hundred kilometers away. Some of the most popular treks can take a couple of weeks to complete. The Tour du Mont Blanc, for example, which takes you around the second highest mountain in Europe and through France, Italy, and Switzerland, is typically done in 9 to 10 days.
Of the three, mountaineering is by far the most challenging. It’s a more technical variation of trekking that takes you to higher peaks, often to ones that are over 5000 meters above sea level.
These are also multi-day trips that require a lot of previous physical and technical training. You need more equipment than with hiking or trekking and you need to know how to use it properly. For example, how to climb on ice with crampons and an ice ax, safely cross huge cracks on ice, survive snow storms, walk on glaciers, be able to rescue yourself with an ice ax. Also, you need to be strong enough to be able to endure long hours of ascending with extremely low levels of oxygen.
So far I have gone hiking and trekking all over Guatemala and some other places in Central America. I love it so much that I’ve decided to start getting preparing for mountaineering. I can tell you that all three of these outdoor adventures are amazing I love each of them for different reasons.
Hiking is my favorite getaway for those days when I don’t have much time. I enjoy trekking on long weekends when I want to go to a nearby volcano (or trek to three of them like I did with the Trilogy Tour) and do some camping. Mountaineering is already proving to be quite an exciting challenge, even the preparation for it is a lot of fun.
Which do you prefer, hiking, trekking or mountaineering?
Let me know in the comments below.
Lourdes is a soon to be lawyer from Guatemala with the mission to explore each corner of the country. Her favourite activity is hiking along with exploring mountains, forests, caves, volcanoes and all that the region has to offer. Her goal is to reach as many summits around the world as she can.