Hiking vs. trekking: the essential gear you’ll need for both


April 5, 2023


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Trekking vs Hiking

Your gear is ready, and you’re just about to head off on a hiking adventure; or is it a trekking adventure? Isn’t it all the same?

While the terms are often used interchangeably, these activities do differ. There are major differences in the type of terrain you’ll be exploring, the level of difficulty you should expect and the gear you need to take with you. The experts at SAIL are here to help you de-muddle it all and ensure you are fully prepared for whichever activity you decide to take up.

In this article, you will learn:

  1. What’s the difference between hiking and trekking?
  2. The equipment you need for hiking
  3. The equipment you need for trekking
  4. Choosing hiking shoes or hiking boots
  5. FAQ

What’s the difference between hiking and trekking?

Both activities entail walking in the wild to reconnect with nature. However, a hike is usually much shorter than a trek, and done on groomed trails. Trekking, on the other hand, is a more strenuous journey which can take you through some pretty remote areas. Here are other key differences.

What’s hiking?

Hiking involves walking in a natural environment, usually a park, national park or reserve, on groomed and defined hiking trails or footpaths. It is usually a shorter outing (a few hours), but can sometimes stretch to an overnight stay. Hiking is done for pleasure, to reconnect with nature and to disconnect from the world.

As it isn’t as long or technical as a trek, a hike can be undertaken with less gear. Therefore, hikers don’t necessarily need to invest in ultra-light, minimalist equipment to get started.

What’s trekking?

Trekkers usually have a particular destination in mind as they set off. Described as a journey, trekking involves walking from point A to reach point B. It is often a longer undertaking, stretching from several days (at least two) to several weeks. As such, more gear is needed as walkers are required to be autonomous throughout their entire adventure into the wilderness.

Trekking over many days with a heavy backpack on your back does mean you’ll need a much better level of fitness, as well as careful planning. A trek is much more challenging than a hike and involves going over rougher terrain, up and down mountains and sometimes wild, unexplored nature. Those taking up this activity should be ready for a sizeable challenge!

Hiking Trekking
Duration A few hours, potentially overnight Several days to several weeks
Terrain Groomed trails or footpaths Remote or rougher terrain, unexplored wilderness
Gear A day pack usually suffices Everything to be autonomous for several days
Footwear Hiking shoes or boots Hiking boots
Level of difficulty Variable, accessible to all Strenuous

The equipment you need for hiking

A day hike doesn’t require much gear. A light day pack filled with snacks, a bottle of water or water system (such as a hydration pack, including those offered by brand Camelbak), a first aid kit, sunscreen, spare clothes and rain gear should do the trick. A 15 to 25 litres backpack should be big enough for a summer hike, although a winter hike may require a bigger 20 to 30 litres backpack to fit additional layers.

Hiking poles are also a great idea as they can give you more stability on wet or tricky terrain, and reduce force on your knees as you head down. Opt for telescopic poles so you can adjust them to your height for optimal support.

For a complete list of gear for a day hike, have a look at our article.

If your hike stretches overnight, you’ll also need to take a change of clothes, a sleeping bag and enough food and water. Depending on whether you are spending the night in a refuge at the top of a mountain or sleeping under the stars, you may need to add a tent and a sleeping pad to your gear kit.

To choose the best sleeping bag for your needs, have a look at the article here, or browse the selection of brands The North Face, Marmot or RAB.

The equipment you need for trekking

Trekking Backpack

Here, the main criterion to consider is weight. You’ll be carrying all your gear, food and water on your back over a period of several days, so you will need to invest in ultra-light, minimalist equipment that’s sturdy enough.

Start with a 50 litres to 60 litres backpack, a map and a compass. A GPS navigation aid may also be a good investment. You’ll need a sleeping bag that packs light and keeps you warm enough, so look at mummy-shaped down options first of all. A light sleeping mat will also complete your sleep system.

When it comes to hydration, you’ll have to find water sources as you go along. A water filter or purification system is a must. Have a read of the article here to find the best water system for you. You’ll also need to carry cookware, enough warm clothing, a camping stove, your health and safety gear (whistle, first aid kit, etc.) and rain clothes. When it comes to trekking, hiking poles are not really optional! Find out how to choose the best ones in the article here.

Choosing hiking shoes or hiking boots

Salomon hiking shoes

Salomon Outpulse hiking shoes,

Your choice of footwear is probably one of the most important decisions you will make ahead of your hike or trek, so you should choose wisely. There is nothing worse than walking for kilometres with blisters or wet or cold feet, particularly if you are in the middle of the wilderness with no outdoor store in sight!

Hikers can choose between shoes or boots, depending on the weather and the level of difficulty of the walk. For easier summer walks without too many obstacles (such as roots or rocks poking out from the trail), hiking shoes are your best option. A breathable model with a mesh upper shoe will ensure your feet don’t overheat. On steeper or rockier trails, you may want additional ankle support, so opt for a hiking boot. Waterproof models can be quite useful on rainy days or for winter outings.

Trekkers do not have the luxury of choosing between shoes and boots: a hiking boot is a must to take on the more challenging terrains faced by those who forego groomed trails.

Whether you are looking at hiking shoes or hiking boots, brands Merrell and Salomon offer a wide range of models. Come in store for some advice on which one to go for!

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