Hiking vs Trekking vs Mountaineering: What’s The Difference?


Many 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.

what's the difference between hiking, trekking, and mountaineering? The differences between these 3 adventures are explained hereIt’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.

 

Hiking

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, like these hikes in the German Alps or these hiking trails. The terrain varies from relatively flat to steep. Although hiking is easier than trekking or mountaineering they can still be challenging.

hiking in pacaya volcano guatemala

Courtesy of Edgar Betancourth

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 .

See our recommendations for a day hiking packing list

Trekking

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). A good example of this is the Trilogy. It’s a series of three volcanoes in Guatemala.

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 than hiking because you will be walking for multiple days in a row.

trekking in cuchumatanes mountain range guatemala

Courtesy of Edgar Betancourth

Treks usually start in one place and end in a different one. The distance can vary anywhere from ~40 km to several hundred kilometres away. Some of the most popular treks can take a couple of weeks to complete.

The Tour du Mont Blanc, for example, takes you around the second highest mountain in Europe. You’ll trek through France, Italy, and Switzerland. It’s typically done in 7 to 10 days.

Mountaineering

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.

mountaineering in aconcagua argentina

Courtesy of Edgar Betancourth

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’ll also need to know how to use it properly.

For example, you must know how to climb on ice with crampons. You also need to know how to use an ice axe. And how to safely cross huge cracks on the ice. Not to mention how to survive snowstorms, and how to walk on glaciers. And if you slip, how to rescue yourself with an ice axe.

In addition, in some locations, you need to be strong enough to be able to endure long hours of ascending with low levels of oxygen.

Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills is a good introduction to mountaineering if you’re looking to get started. I also recommend Into Thin Air, which is a personal account of the Mount Everest disaster of 1996.

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 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 favourite 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 Profile

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. You can also find her on facebook, twitter and instagram.

2017-10-08T20:36:34+00:00

5 Comments

  1. Raymond Carroll January 27, 2017 at 11:49 pm - Reply

    Nice post. I love hiking and trekking. I live in Scotland and hike our ‘Munros’ (a mountain in Scotland over 3000 feet); I trekked the Annapurna Circuit in October 2012, and I’m going back to Nepal this October (2017). Can’t wait! Happy travels…

    • Laurel January 30, 2017 at 3:36 pm - Reply

      @Raymond, Lucky you, I love hiking in Scotland, hiked the West Highland Way in September and love it. Great to hear that you’re going back to Nepal, beautiful country with kind people. Enjoy!

  2. John Parker February 2, 2017 at 11:40 am - Reply

    I love more adventure so i choose to mountaineering . I would prefer trekking also. Nice post… Thanks

    • Laurel February 6, 2017 at 10:11 am - Reply

      @John Respect! I’m very interested in mountaineering but have only scratched the surface of it.

  3. Owen November 20, 2017 at 4:22 am - Reply

    Thanks for the clarification between trekking and mountaineering! Just to let you know, I linked to it in my post about my first time mountaineering: https://myturntotravel.com/nevado-mateo

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