Hiking Vs Walking – What’s the Difference in Simple Terms?

Written by Gareth Chapman
hiking vs walking

These days everyone’s social media profile says something like “love hiking and nature”

But what actually is hiking? How does it differ from walking, and why should you care?

What's the difference between a walk, a hike, and a trek?

Walking, hiking, and trekking may all sound like the same thing, but there are distinct differences to each. Let’s take a look at what separates these seemingly similar forms of exercise.

What is walking?

There are several definitions for walking. Some focus on the physical movements of the body, others the pace, and others still the evolution of the action.

To keep things simple, you can think about walking as the most relaxed form of transportive movement; that is, it gets you from point A to point B. Non-transportive moment would be something like fidgeting.

When you are walking, your gait is usually leisurely and your strides comfortable. You do not take large steps, your legs are not moving quickly, and you always have one foot touching the ground.

From a physical standpoint, the movement of walking is referred to as an “inverted pendulum” by Arthur D. Kuo. When one leg sets down ahead of the body, the body follows by swinging over the leg, using it how a pole-vaulter uses their pole.

What is hiking?

Hiking is, in essence, just walking, but it is defined by where and why it takes place.

When you walk, you are trying to get from point A to point B. When you go for a hike, you may have a point B in mind, but you always return to point A.

While hiking is the same in movement and pace as walking, it takes place for a very different reason. People hike for leisure, pleasure, and exercise. Hikes tend to extend longer than walks, and take place in natural and scenic landscapes.

The terrain is often uneven and requires more conscious navigation than walking. The point of hiking is not to get anywhere in particular, but to enjoy the action of walking.

What is trekking?

Trekking involves dressing up in sci-fi gear, pointy ears and telling everyone to “Live Long and Prosper”…

…..But in this context….. You can think of trekking as the extended vacation version of hiking. Trekking trips last more than one day and usually take place even farther off the beaten path than hiking trips.

Unlike walking and hiking, trekking is done with the express purpose of taking in the scenery and appreciating nature.

While hiking is a form of exercise and leisure, trekking tends to have a more spiritual, community, or self-discovery aspect to it. People often undertake treks to get away from their day-to-day lives and step back into the beauty of nature. It is also a popular activity for tourists that want to avoid overcrowded cities and tourist traps.

Benefits of walking and hiking

Walking and hiking have numerous health benefits that most people don’t even know about. Let’s compare the two to get a better understanding of what each offers. Both walking and hiking:

  • Lower the risk of heart disease
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve bone density
  • Improve balance
  • Build muscle
  • Improve mood and reduce stress
  • Help manage weight
  • Help alleviate and manage some medical conditions such as chronic pain, high cholesterol, and diabetes
  • Boost immune system

As hiking is a more vigorous activity, it tends to promote these benefits more than walking. Walking is still an excellent form of exercise and will grant all these benefits, but hiking will burn more calories, target more muscles, and have an overall higher impact on your health.

Is hiking better for you than walking?

Generally speaking, yes, hiking is the more beneficial option. Obviously, not everyone that can take walks can also go for hikes. If you have a heart condition, mobility issue, or other medical problem that prevents you from hiking, don’t sweat it. Walking is an excellent way to improve your health, anyways.

When you are hiking, however, you spend more time walking, traversing uneven ground, and climbing steeper surfaces.

During a hike, you may engage your arms more, get breathing harder from tougher portions of the hike, and spend longer just moving.

The mindfulness aspect of hiking is not to be overlooked either. When you go for a hike, you are there to take in the scenery and enjoy the fresh air. There is no deadline to get to point B like there is with walking, so it can help ease and relax your mind as well. You may find you feel more creative or motivated upon finishing your hike.

Is hiking a good way to lose weight?

Hiking is a fabulous way to lose weight. Hiking and walking are often overlooked forms of exercise. Simply moving your body around can burn a tremendous amount of calories.

Hiking is a higher intensity workout than walking, but lower intensity than running. It is easier on your joints, but will burn more calories than walking.

Hiking offers the perfect combination of high and low-intensity actions for your workout. Most of the hiking trip will be low intensity, but running or climbing uphill, walking slowly downhill, or adding in a couple of exercises along the way will add an element of high intensity.

The reason you want this balance of high and low is that getting your heart pumping can significantly increase the number of calories you burn, but only for a short time. If you perform high-intensity workouts for too long your body will go into stress mode and may start retaining more fat.

The low-intensity sections of the hike keep your heart pumping, but give it a break that lets it know there is no reason to get stressed.

Comparison of calories burned walking vs hiking

You can see the calories burned walking for a 160lb person walking 3 miles in 1 hour is 267 calories.

Conversely, the calories burned hiking for the same person hiking 3 miles of slightly hilly terrain for the same duration and at the same pace, would be 437 calories.

If you are a heavier person, to begin with, you will burn more calories. Using the same metrics for a 250lb person means they would burn 417 calories walking and 683 calories hiking over the same period.

You can artificially increase your calorie burn by carrying more with you when you go out. If you are hiking, you will most likely have a backpack, water bottle, and first aid kit anyways.

Ideal places for walking and hiking

The first thing you should do is find a map of hiking and walking trails in your area. Most towns have some form of maintained path system and it can be the perfect place to get started. Trail systems usually go by parks, bathrooms, public areas, rivers, and natural beauty. They are simple to navigate and pose a low risk of getting lost or exhausted.

If you want to take it up a notch, try exploring national parks, glaciers, lakes, mountains, and forests.

Depending on how far you’re willing to travel, you can explore places all over the world. Nepal, Peru, Iceland, Greenland, and New Zealand are some of the most popular countries to visit for hiking and trekking trips.

According to Stephanie Pearson, professional hiker, there are at least 25 great places you can go to try out your legs and stamina.

What walking or hiking gear will you need?

Proper footwear is the most important part of any walker or hikers ensemble. Though both forms of exercise are relatively low impact, the ground is never as forgiving.

As long as your feet are protected, everything else is superfluous. Depending on the weather, where you plan to go, and how long you will be out, you should also use the following:

  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Water bottle
  • Phone or emergency contact method
  • First aid kit
  • Snack like a granola bar
  • Jacket for wind or rain
  • Extra socks if the first pair get wet
  • Walking pole or stick
  • Gloves either for grip or weather
  • Backpack to put it all in
  • Map

Are hiking shoes and walking shoes the same?

Walking shoes, to start, look a lot more like running shoes than hiking shoes do. They are smaller, softer, and have significantly more padding. Walking shoes are made to cushion each step and support the arches of the feet. They have enough grip on the soles to hold onto relatively smooth ground.

Hiking shoes, often called hiking boots, on the other hand, are more durable shoes. They have significantly better grip for rough and slippery terrain. The shoe is more likely to be made of leather or more durable and waterproof fabric.

Both shoes are made for comfort, but hiking shoes have a much stronger focus on grip and durability than support.