Hike vs Walk: How to Know the Difference?

So, hike vs walk, what is the main difference between hiking and walking? Hiking generally involves trails through nature with varying inclines and difficulty, while walking usually refers to a more casual and leisurely stroll on paved paths or sidewalks. 

With walking, you only need a pair of comfortable shoes and maybe a water bottle, while hiking requires sturdy hiking boots, a backpack with supplies, basic navigation, and possibly trekking poles for steeper trails. 

Both hiking and walking are fantastic forms of exercise, and each activity has its pros and cons.  This article will go through the differences between walking and hiking regarding the experience and equipment needed for each. 

Paved cobblestone path surrounded by palm trees.  Paved trails with no incline help decide between a hike vs walk.
The paved trail through the Bogota Botanical Gardens; I consider this a walk
tourist hiking with trekking poles along the bottom of the grand canyon.
Me, trudging through the bottom of the Grand Canyon; I would consider this a hike

Walking vs Hiking vs Trekking

While walking, hiking, and trekking are all similar in that they involve, well, walking, they are all a bit different. 

Walking is a general term that means any kind of travel on foot, whether it’s for fun, exercise, or just getting yourself somewhere.  Walking might include some of the following:

  • A casual walk in your local park or around the neighborhood.
  • Power walking or speed walking for exercise
  • Walking to run errands, visit a neighbor, or clean the house
street view with a metal sign that reads 'riverfront'
We love walking around downtown Spokane and along the paved trails through Riverfront Park

Hiking, on the other hand, is a specific type of walking that usually means being on an unpaved trail in a natural environment (a forested area or a national park).  Hiking is usually done as a form of exercise or for recreation.

The word ‘hiking’ covers activities that can range from short day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips.  Some examples of ‘hiking’ are the following: 

  • Summiting mountain peaks or walking along an unpaved trail, such as the day hikes in Utah I grew up with.
  • Exploring things like canyons, forests, and waterfalls.
  • Any travel along designated hiking trails in national parks or nature reserves, like our 48 hours exploring the trails in Banff National Park.
close-up photo of rocks and leaves on a jungle trail in Colombia
A rocky ascent we climbed while hiking to the Lost City in Colombia

Trekking is another word that is sometimes used interchangeably with hiking. While the two activities are similar, trekking usually refers to long distances (often multi-day routes) and harder hiking routes.  

Trekking often requires carrying heavy backpacks and camping overnight in the wilderness.  Some examples of ‘trekking’ would be the following:

  • Multi-day backpacking trips, like our 4-day adventure to Havasupai Falls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
  • Very difficult day hikes that cover longer distances, such as our rim-to-rim hike in the Grand Canyon.
  • Trips to high-altitude areas, like the Andes in Peru. 
three hikers with frame backpacks, walking along a dirt trail surrounded by red rock canyon walls on the way to Havasupai Falls.
Our 4-day trek to Havasupai Falls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

When Does a Walk Become a Hike?

There are definitely times when the line between a long walk and a ‘hike’ becomes blurred.  Here are some examples of walks/hikes I’ve been on that really could be classified as either.

  • Walking along the flat trails and hanging bridges while ziplining in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
  • Walking along the dirt paths through Manuel Antonio National Park to see the monkeys. (dirt path, completely flat)
  • Walking up the steep paved roads in the neighborhoods at the foot of the Wasatch mountains to get to a lookout point (paved road, but very steep)
  • Walking on a packed snow trail through Riverside State Park, one of my favorite things to do in the Winter in Spokane.  (completely flat trail, but snow-covered)
snow-covered trail with pine trees at Riverside State Park near Spokane
Flat trails like this can often be considered a hike or a walk. Riverside State Park in Spokane is one of my favorite places to explore in the winter

For me, if a route is steep, I tend to classify that as a hike (even if it’s paved).  Or, if it’s flat but I’m trekking through mud or snow, I also classify that as a hike.  

Equipment and Gear for Walking, Hiking, and Trekking

Unless you are walking a LOT of miles, you really don’t need special equipment for walking.  A good pair of walking shoes and maybe a water bottle are all you’ll need, especially if you avoid the hottest part of the day. 

On the other hand, for hiking, there are a few essentials you’ll need to have. The most important thing is a sturdy pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots. These should have ankle support, a grippy sole for traction, and be waterproof or water-resistant. 

side view of a pair of brown-leather Columbia Newton Ridge hiking boots
My favorite Columbia hiking boots are durable, waterproof, and have great heel support

The other basics you’ll want to have with you are the following: 

  • Backpack: A durable backpack to carry things like water, food, and a small first aid kit.
  • Large Water Bottle or Hydration Bladder
  • Navigation Tools: You’ll want a downloaded map (I use Alltrail’s premium service to download all my maps)
  • Trekking Poles: These are optional but help take pressure off my knees and ankles, and are a great way to work your upper body ‘hiking muscles’. 
  • A Jacket: I always bring a lightweight jacket, even if the weather is warm.
  • Headlamp or Flashlight: This is another thing I always carry with me, even if I’m not planning on hiking at night.  You never know when you’ll be delayed on the trail. 
  • Sunscreen: I keep a travel-sized tube of sunscreen with me all the time.
  • Whistle and Emergency Blanket: I’ve never had to use either of these, but they are lightweight and always a good idea to take along. 
purple water bottle against a rock background
A good water bottle or hydration bladder is a must for any hike
sideview of a forearm holding a trekking pole
Trekking poles are a life-saver for my knees and I use them on any steep incline

Besides good boots and your backpack essentials, hikes usually require some extra thought on appropriate clothing. 

A good hiking shirt, especially if hiking in hot weather, is a lifesaver.  Hiking in jeans isn’t usually a good idea (unless it’s a really short/easy trail); we always recommend wearing some kind of moisture-wicking pants.

If your hike or trek involves overnight camping, you’ll want to have the following with you in addition to all the equipment needed for general hiking:

  • A Frame Backpack: We love the Teton 55L Scout Internal Frame pack
  • Lightweight Tent: For your overnight stays in the wilderness.
  • Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad
  • Portable Stove and Fuel: For cooking meals and boiling water.
  • Cooking Utensils and Cookware: Includes pots, pans, and utensils for food preparation.

Difference Between Hiking and Walking Shoes

So, what are the differences between hiking and walking shoes?  Hiking shoes or boots are usually made with more durable material, have ankle support, and are heavier.  This enables them to withstand many miles of trekking over rocks and through mud without tearing apart.  

overhead view of a pair of brown Newton Ridge Colombia Hiking boots
Hiking boots are generally heavier and more durable
side view of a pair of Hoka One One turquoise blue walking/running shoes
Walking or running shoes focus on breathability and being lightweight

My absolute favorite hiking boots are my Columbia Newton Ridge Plus waterproof boots.  They are comfortable, have great traction, and come in a wide range of colors.  Here’s a full list of what to look for in a pair of fantastic hiking shoes or boots:

  • Ankle Support: I recommend boots with ankle support if you do a lot of hiking on uneven terrain.
  • Good Traction: This is a lifesaver for any rock-scrambling
  • Waterproof: This makes all the difference on hikes with mud or river crossings. 
  • Reinforced Heel and Toe Cap: These will be the most battered parts of your hiking shoes. 
  • Weight: While you want your boots to be sturdy, you’ll also want to find a pair that isn’t overly heavy. 

Walking shoes, on the other hand, tend to prioritize breathability and being lightweight over durability and ankle support.  They are usually less heavy and are designed to be most comfortable during your natural walking stride.  Walking shoes often have cushioned midsoles and shock absorption to make for a more comfortable walking experience on flat surfaces.

overhead view of two pairs of walking shoes side by side
My two favorite pairs of walking shoes (Altra and Hoka One One) are both much lighter and breathable than my hiking boots

I love my Hoka One-One shoes as well as my Altra running/walking shoes.  Both of these pairs are great for my plantar fasciitis and are super comfortable for day-to-day wear.  Here’s what to look for in a pair of fantastic walking shoes: 

  • Breathable: You’ll want your walking shoes to be breathable. 
  • Lightweight: Because you generally won’t be walking through mud or rocks with your walking shoes, go for walking shoes that are lightweight and breathable.
  • Arch Support: Make sure that your walking shoes have good arch support or a removable insole that can be replaced.  This is especially important if you have Achilles tendon problems or plantar fasciitis.
  • Roomy Toe Box: Especially if you have problems with bunion pain, make sure your walking shoes have plenty of room for your toes. 

Hiking vs Walking Calories Burned

Both hiking and walking are a great low-impact workout and can help with weight loss, but hiking tends to burn more calories, especially if hiking uphill. And of course, the number of calories burned during hiking or walking depends on other factors like your weight, speed, and hike incline.  

overhead view of a dirt hiking trail, a metal shack can be seen in the background
A steep incline (like climbing these terraces in Colombia) will burn far more calories than a flat trail

Calories Burned Walking

Here’s a table from Healthline on calories burned per hour based on weight and walking speed.  As you can see, walking at a brisk pace burns more calories than a leisurely walk. 

Weight2.0 mph2.5 mph3.0 mph3.5 mph4.0 mph
130 lbs.148 cal.177 cal.195 cal.224 cal.295 cal.
155 lbs.176 cal.211 cal.232 cal.267 cal.352 cal.
180 lbs.204 cal.245 cal.270 cal.311 cal.409 cal.
205 lbs.233 cal.279 cal.307 cal.354 cal.465 cal.
Table from Healthline

Calories Burned Hiking

Hiking, on the other hand, tends to burn more calories, especially with steep trails, and can really get your heart rate up. The calories burned hiking will very much depend on your weight and the incline.  A steep incline will greatly affect how many miles you can hike in a day, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.  

Weight1–5% grade6–15% grade
120 pounds (55 kg)292440
150 pounds (68 kg)360544
180 pounds (82 kg)435656
210 pounds (95 kg)504760
240 pounds (109 kg)578872
270 pounds (123 kg)652984
Table from Healthline

Pros and Cons of Walking and Hiking

Both hiking and walking are a great low-impact workout that will increase your fitness level, and both are associated with health benefits like reduced blood pressure and decreased risk of heart disease.  However, there are some distinct pros and cons to each.  

Pros of Walking:

  • Accessibility: Walking can be done almost anywhere, from the sidewalks in your neighborhood, to park pathways, to exploring urban areas.   
  • Low Cost: Besides a decent pair of walking shoes, you don’t need any specialized gear for walking. 
  • Low Impact: While both hiking and walking are lower impact activities than other things (like running), walking is lower impact than descending a steep hiking trail. 
  • Social Interaction: Both walking and hiking can be fantastic social activities and great for your mental health (Kendall and I go on hiking dates all the time), but it’s easier to chat while on a walk than on a steep hike.

Cons of Walking:

  • Less Intense: Walking doesn’t provide the same level of cardiovascular workout and muscle engagement as hiking, especially on a flat path.
  • Less Variety: some of the coolest mountain peaks and canyons are only accessible via a hiking tail.

Pros of Hiking:

  • Adventure: I love the adventure of hiking.  You’ll be able to discover incredible peaks, canyons, and natural wonders, that often aren’t reachable via a flat walking path. 
  • Physical Challenge: Hiking is a more intense workout, especially if you choose a steep trail. 
dirt trail winding through a green mountainside
Hiking tends to involve bigger elevation changes, and walking on unpaved trails

Cons of Hiking:

  • Equipment and Preparation: Hiking often requires specific gear, like sturdy boots, backpacks, and a downloaded map.
  • Physical Demands: Hiking can be more physically demanding, especially on challenging trails, and might not be suitable for everyone.

Hike vs Walk? The Bottom Line Difference Between Walking and Hiking

So, what are the key differences between walking and hiking? Both hiking and walking are great outdoor activities.  They are fairly low-impact, are great cardiovascular exercise, and give you a chance to interact with others. 

Walking paths are generally flat, paved, and have less incline.  Walking is a better option for those who don’t want to invest money or time in hiking equipment, want a very low-impact activity, or just want something more accessible and closer to home.

Hiking usually involves trails with an incline or trails that involve mud, snow, rocks, or other natural terrain.  These can be part of a national or state park or just a mountain trail near your neighborhood.  

man walking up a stony path in the forest
A dirt trail with rocks and an incline is usually considered a hike
a red-brick walking trail alongside a colorful building
Pathways that are paved with no incline are generally considered a walk

Hiking is best for those who want more of a physical challenge, are looking for adventure, and don’t mind spending a little money on basic gear.

Finally, trekking is similar to hiking but usually involves more difficult trails or multi-day hikes.  Trekking is best for experienced hikers and those willing to invest more money in specialized hiking equipment.

Whichever activity you decide, you’re bound to have a fantastic outdoor experience with Mother Nature and build some great memories.  So, grab a friend, plan a time, and get ready to experience some fresh air. 

Hiking vs Walking FAQ:

How is a Hike Different From a Walk?

A hike typically involves more challenging terrain and longer distances compared to a walk.

How Long of a Walk is a Hike?

The length of a walk considered a hike can vary because the difference between a hike and a walk more depends on the terrain and elevation changes than the length.

Is Hiking a Form of Walking?

Yes, hiking can be considered a form of walking, but it usually involves longer distances and more varied terrain than a casual walk.

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