Backpacking vs Hiking

I have had the opportunity to embark on both backpacking and hiking adventures that spanned multiple days. Through my experiences, I have come to appreciate the distinct differences between the two. While a typical day hike necessitates carrying essential items like water, snacks, and extra layers, it generally does not require the transportation of camping gear or extensive supplies. On the other hand, backpacking entails carrying all the necessary equipment, including tents, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, and provisions for the entire duration of the trip.

What is backpacking?

Backpacking is an adventure that typically lasts several days, covering long distances of terrain. It requires packing a large amount of gear and supplies to sustain the hiker for the duration of their journey, which can be done by carrying it on one’s back or using an animal such as a mule or donkey.

Pros of Backpacking:

  • Longer trips allow you to explore more of the landscape and gain a greater appreciation for the area.
  • The satisfaction of completing a longer journey often outweighs that of a shorter hike, as it requires more energy and commitment.
  • Backpacking allows you to camp in areas that are not accessible by vehicle, leading to some incredible experiences.
  • It gives you the opportunity to take in the beauty of nature and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Cons of Backpacking:

  • Backpacking can be physically demanding and require a higher level of fitness than a typical day hike.
  • All the extra gear needed to sustain oneself for an extended trip adds weight and takes up space in one’s backpack.
  • Since backpacking requires more planning, it can often take away from spontaneity.
  • Poor weather conditions can make the journey more difficult and even dangerous.

What is hiking?

Hiking is a leisurely activity that usually only lasts for a few hours, covering short distances. It requires far less gear and supplies than backpacking does, but often includes items like water bottles, snacks, extra layers of clothing, and hiking poles.

The primary difference between the two activities lies in their duration and amount of equipment needed. Backpacking is more physically demanding due to the weight of the gear and supplies, but it also has the potential to be more rewarding due to its longer duration. Hiking is often a more relaxed experience since it only requires minimal supplies and takes less time.

Pros of Hiking:

  • It is a more relaxed experience due to its shorter duration and lighter gear requirements.
  • Hiking can be done with minimal planning, allowing for greater spontaneity.
  • Shorter trips are often less physically demanding, making them suitable for hikers of all fitness levels.
  • Good weather conditions make the journey more enjoyable and rewarding.

Cons of Hiking:

  • The shorter duration often does not allow for full exploration and appreciation of the landscape.
  • It may be difficult to find areas that are only accessible on foot, limiting your experience.
  • Since there is less gear needed, there is a greater risk of being unprepared for unexpected weather changes or terrain conditions.
  • Hiking can be less rewarding due to the short duration, and may not provide the same satisfaction as a longer journey.

How about trekking?

In Europe and Asia, the term ‘trekking’ is commonly used to describe multi-day hiking trips. Trekking typically requires similar equipment and supplies as backpacking but often involves more challenging terrain and higher elevations compared to typical day hikes. It is a more demanding form of hiking, often entailing traversing steep mountain passes or rugged terrain. Geographically, trekking specifically refers to multi-day hikes through the Himalayas and the jungles of Southeast Asia. However, in a broader sense, trekking is a widely recognized term for embarking on a long hike, spanning across one or multiple days. Using this term accurately allows for clearer communication. Overall, trekking is an excellent choice when describing an extended hiking adventure.

17 Key differences between hiking and backpacking:

  1. Duration: Hiking is usually a few hours, while backpacking is typically multiple days.
  2. Equipment: Backpacking requires more gear and supplies than hiking does.
  3. Weight: Backpacking entails carrying more weight due to the additional equipment and supplies needed for an extended journey.
  4. Pace: Hikes are often leisurely with the option to rest, while backpacking often requires a faster pace to cover greater distances in shorter amounts of time.
  5. Goals: Hiking is often done for recreation and/or physical activity, while backpacking usually serves as an adventure or exploration.
  6. Accommodations: There are typically no accommodations during hiking trips, whereas backpacking necessitates camping for the duration of the journey.
  7. Transportation: Hikes typically begin and end in the same location, while backpacking often includes traversing one or multiple regions.
  8. Safety: The risk of harm is generally higher during backpacking due to its longer duration and greater distance covered.
  9. Difficulty: Backpacking usually involves more challenging terrain and tougher trails than typical day hikes.
  10. Food: Packing food for an extended duration of time is typically required for backpacking, while short hikes can often be completed without packing meals.
  11. Companionship: Hiking excursions may include family or friends, whereas backpacking is usually done solo or with a small group of people.
  12. Weather: Hikes are usually planned for mild weather conditions, while backpacking often requires a more robust approach to battling the elements.
  13. Navigation: Navigating by map or GPS is typically required for backpacking trips due to their extended duration and multiple locations.
  14. 14 Scenic Viewpoints: Backpacking exposes hikers to more remote areas, thus providing spectacular views that are rarely seen on short day hikes.
  15. 15 Cost: Backpacking usually requires a larger budget due to the need for additional equipment and supplies.
  16. 16 Terrain: Hiking is often done on flat or well-marked trails, while backpacking typically necessitates navigating through more rugged terrain with few marked paths.
  17. 17 Preparation: Hikes tend to require less planning and preparation compared to backpacking. Backpackers must plan for each stage of their journey, including campsites, meals, and transportation.

Preparing for hiking vs backpacking vs trekking:

Hiking generally requires the least amount of preparation, as it only necessitates packing essential items like water, snacks, and extra layers. Backpacking requires more specialized gear and supplies to sustain the hiker for the duration of their journey. Trekking also typically entails carrying similar equipment and provisions as backpacking but may involve navigating more challenging terrain or higher elevations. It is important to plan ahead for each stage of the journey, including campsites, meals, and transportation.

Other terms;

Bushwalking, a uniquely Australian term, is synonymous with hiking or backpacking. This outdoor activity can be enjoyed over the course of a single day or stretched across multiple days, allowing adventurers to immerse themselves in nature’s wonders.

Rambling, another term for hiking, is commonly used in the UK. Although it may be considered old-fashioned, you might still hear it among the older generations.

Embark on an adventure in New Zealand with tramping. This term encompasses challenging hikes through the lush New Zealand bush, often spanning multiple days. However, it can also include intense day hikes. Immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes and embrace the physical demands of tramping.

Hiking in Kenya:

Below are my favorite hiking trails in Kenya;

  • 1. Oloolua Nature Trail, Karen
  • 2. Karura Forest (Easy Trail for Hiking in Kenya)
  • 3. Mount Longonot (The Most Popular Trail for Hiking in Kenya)
  • 4. Ngong Hills, Kajiado
  • 5. Mount Kilimambogo (Ol Donyo Sabuk)
  • 6. Mount Satima (The Dragon’s Teeth), Aberdares
  • 7. Elephant Hill, Aberdares
  • 8. Rurimeria Trail, Aberdares (Hardest Day Hike in Kenya)
  • 9. Table Mountain, Aberdares
  • 10. Kijabe Hills, Kijabe
  • 11. William Hill Trail
  • 12. Eburru Forest Trail
  • 13. Menengai Crater and Caves
  • 14. Ragia Forest Trail
  • 15. Mount Kenya

Backpacking in Kenya:

Below are my favorite backpacking trails in Kenya;

  1. Chyulu Hills (The Best Backpacking Trail in Kenya)
  2. Aberdares (Backpacking & Camping on Mount Satima)
  3. Amboseli National Park (Great for Wildlife Spotting!)
  1. Lake Bogoria (Famous for Its Flamingos)
  2. Lake Nakuru (The Perfect Place to Observe Rhinos and Pelicans)
  3. Maasai Mara National Reserve (One of the Best Game Reserves in Africa)
  4. Mount Kenya (Ideal for Experienced Climbers & Adventurers)
  5. Tsavo West National Park (Excellent for Eco-Tourism)
  6. Mount Longonot (Perfect for the Adrenaline Junkie)
  7. Oloolua Nature Trail, Karen
  8. Hell’s Gate National Park (The Most Legendary Landscape in Kenya)
  9. Rurimeria Trail, Aberdares
  10. Ngong Hills, Kajiado
  11. Baringo- Bogoria Ecosystem (Beautiful and Unique)
  12. Menengai Crater and Caves (Explore the Rift Valley!)

Tips for Safely Hiking or Backpacking:

  1. Always tell someone about your route and expected return time.
  2. When hiking, bring a map and compass or GPS and know how to use them.
  3. Dress in layers appropriate for the weather conditions you are likely to encounter on your hike.
  4. Pack plenty of water and snacks for energy during your trek.
  5. Bring along a first aid kit with basic supplies like bandages, antiseptic, and tweezers.
  6. Wear good shoes with good grip and ankle support for the terrain you are expecting to encounter.
  7. Make sure to carry a flashlight or headlamp in case you get stuck after dark.
  8. Be aware of your surroundings and watch out for potential danger signs like wild animals or unstable terrain.
  9. Be mindful of the environment and the wildlife you may come across during your hike. Respect all plants, animals, and other hikers on your path.
  10. Have fun and take plenty of photos – you’ll want to remember the beautiful sights you encountered!

Backpacking vs Camping:

Backpacking and camping are two popular activities that involve spending time in the outdoors. While there are many similarities between these two pursuits, they also have key differences to consider before you decide which one is right for you.

Backpacking requires specialized gear to be worn on your back, like a tent, sleeping bag, stove, food, and clothing. The goal of backpacking trips is usually to explore an area that can be reached in a few days or longer. Camping, on the other hand, requires minimal gear and is best suited for shorter stays at a single location.

When camping, you don’t need to carry as much weight on your back and can instead transport heavier items like tables and chairs in your car or pick-up truck. Both activities offer an opportunity to connect with nature and make lasting memories with family and friends. Whichever you choose, be sure to plan ahead, practice safety measures, and leave no trace behind!


Q. What is the difference between hiking and backpacking?

A. Hiking refers to short walks or day hikes, while backpacking typically involves extended journeys over multiple days, sometimes lasting weeks or months. Backpackers usually carry all of their supplies and equipment for extended periods, whereas hikers typically just need a few basic items to complete a single-day hike.

Q. What are some of the most important items to bring on a backpacking trip?

A. It is important to pack essential items like shelter, sleeping bags, and food for extended backpacking trips. Other important supplies include a first aid kit, maps and/or GPS, flashlights or headlamps, sturdy hiking shoes, and plenty of water.

Q. How can I stay safe when backpacking?

A. It is important to always tell someone your route and expected return time before setting off on any backpacking trip. Additionally, make sure you are well-prepared by carrying the appropriate supplies and gear, dressing in layers appropriate for the weather, and being aware of your surroundings. Lastly, respect all plants and animals you encounter along your journey, as well as other hikers on the trail.