Camping vs. Backpacking vs. Hiking vs. Trekking

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There are a variety of activities that many people engage in when they visit the great outdoors. Things such as camping, backpacking, hiking and trekking are very popular forms of recreation for people who like to go out into the woods. Many individuals have a tendency to think of all of these recreational events as one and the same but the truth is they are very different. The following information will explain how unique each of these activities are when they are compared.

This is one of the most popular questions we get so we’ll try to get draw some lines between them to clarify them from one another. Specifically we explain the difference between camping, backpacking, hiking and trekking.


Camping Explained

Camping outdoors

Camping is the most well known of the four outdoor recreational activities. This is not to be confused with camp or summer camp where you send the kids to during their breaks from school. Instead we are referring to camping outdoors where you travel to a location, set up your campsite which often included pitching a tent.

Camping takes place in an outdoor environment and it requires participants to sleep inside a tent or cabin. It is often an event that spans a day or more where you will spend the night in the camp site of your choice.

Some people go camping inside of crudely built shelters or with no shelter at all. On the other hand, some people will go “camping” at their cabins by the lakeside where they have all the amenities like electricity and plumbing. Camping can also involve the use of vehicle’s such as campers, motor vans, RVs or caravans.

People usually camp at a site but they also set up camps in outdoor terrain as well. State parks, open territories and public owned lands are all places that people use for the purpose of camping.

Camping is most often confused with backpacking but there are a number of differences between the two. In camping you stay overnight at a location. Backpacking may or may not entail setting camp overnight.

For a more detailed look, this guide book, Basic Essentials Camping gives a great look into camping and the things you need.




Backpacking on the other hand, is an activity that involves an extended journey with a backpack. All their equipment, including food, sleeping bags, and possibly overnight tent are packed inside their backpacks.

People who typically engage in this form of recreation typically wear a backpack and walk for miles, which can be a single day or over the span of multiple days. Backpacking as opposed to camping require walking with your pack on your back. Whereas campers can get to their campsite via car, RV or even kayak or canoe.

During their adventure, night time typically means backpackers camp outside in a tent or under the stars. But this isn’t necessarily the case as many backpackers will also reserve rooms at cheap hotels or hostels for the night. This is another difference it has from camping where campers will live in their tents.

When people backpack they take gear in their packs so that they will have the necessary equipment and/or supplies they need for their journey. Typically, campers have more space for equipment and can bring a lot more amenities and luxuries to camp compared to backpackers.

To learn more about backpacking, The Backpacker’s Handbook, 4th Edition, is a good book to start with.


Hiking Defined


Of the four outdoor activities, hiking is more recreational. It involves walking outdoors to enjoy nature and the fresh air. Typically, hikers will follow a pre-defined path or trail. They might also hike on long stretches of paved pathways.

Hikes also often cover shorter distances compared to backpacking and trekking. This enables then not to bring any extra equipment or a smaller daypack for their belonging and supplies. There are some hikers though that hike for multiple days which does require them to pack a larger backpack.

Hiking is often a form of recreation and exercise which people use to get healthy, relax or stay fit. Some hikers also integrate their hobbies into their walk, engaging in photography and bird watching along the way.

A good book to learn more about hiking is The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools and Techniques to Hit the Trail.



TrekkingTrekking is similar to backpacking and sometimes compared to hiking. What defines it from the two is it often entails traveling on foot where there are no means of transportation available. This makes it more rigorous compared with the two.

Trekking also usually involves a longer amount of time and the journey is a lot more difficult to complete. It is more challenging and often used by individuals to test their physical and mental toughness. You’ll often find people taking treks through mountainous and hilly terrains instead of flat land.

Trekkers typically carry supplies while they are traversing certain terrain and they usually move through dense forested areas, rugged hilly terrain or through hundreds of miles of wide open ground. Trekkers could take weeks, months or even years to complete a journey.


A Matter of Semantics

While for many of us the difference of the terminology can matter, I’ve met a number of outdoor enthusiasts who think that an outdoorsman is an outdoorsman. The activity doesn’t matter that much because to a degree they overlap. I would say they are right and it is a matter of definition only and you can choose to do a number of different things together.


Get Out There and Have Fun

Keep in mind that people engage in these leisurely pursuits as a form of fun and in some cases for spiritual reasons. For some individuals these activities represent a connection to the nature and the Earth. Before a person engages in these activities they should make sure they have the resources and physical ability to complete these tasks.

Camping and hiking are two activities that are fairly easy to engage in and require little expense other than the equipment and travel costs. Many recreational camp sites are set up for families and groups that enjoy doing this type of thing. Backpacking and trekking should be performed for more experienced people. These activities are relatively inexpensive but they require a greater amount of mental toughness, discipline, knowledge and physical endurance to complete.


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