Backpacking vs Hiking

Backpacking vs Hiking- What’s the Difference, and Which Gear Should You Pack?

Backpacking or Hiking?

Whether to hike or backpack is one that many people ask themselves when they plan their next adventure. It can be confusing, especially if you are new to the world of outdoorsy activities.

If you’re an avid outdoor enthusiast, there’s a good chance that you’ve considered both backpacking and hiking.

These two activities seem to be intertwined with one another- after all, they are often done in the same places.

But what is the difference between these two activities?

It can also be tough to choose what type of gear to bring when you are going backpacking vs hiking because they require different types of equipment- but don’t worry!

We’ve got you covered with this article about all the differences between these two activities, so you’ll know which gear is best for your next adventure.

Backpacking vs Hiking- What’s the Difference?

Backpacking vs Hiking- What's the Difference_

  • Backpacking

Backpacking usually involves longer trips with heavier weight loads in your pack.

It’s typically done for camping or outdoors explorations with less emphasis on leisurely walks through nature.

Backpackers often prefer to carry things like a sleeping bag, tent, stove, and cooking gear because they will be spending more time out on the trail than those who hike for pleasure do.

  • Hiking

Hiking is a leisurely activity that most people enjoy for its natural beauty and scenic views.

Hiking is more of an outdoor activity that consists of walking or running on trails and paths for pleasure while carrying gear like a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, etc.

Hikers usually have lighter packs that only include necessities such as water bottles, maps, and a compass.

Backpacking vs Hiking- Which is better for you?

Backpacking vs Hiking- Which is better for you_

In terms of physical activity, hiking is a more intense exercise than backpacking.

Hiking requires you to walk uphill and downhill on uneven terrain.

You’re often using your arms and your legs in this type of walking motion, which can help with weight loss or cardiovascular health if done consistently enough.

Backpacking involves carrying all of your equipment and walking mostly downhill on a level surface.

The backpack’s weight while backpacking is typically closer to 35-40 pounds, which can be less intense than hiking uphill or carrying an 80+ pound pack in general.

The type of environment you’re seeking also impacts what activity might best suit you.

Hiking allows you to explore more untouched natural settings, while backpacking may be better for those who want the experience of being a part of nature but still have some creature comforts.

Both activities can also be done solo or in groups- it depends on what you’re looking for!

Backpacking vs Hiking- Pros and Cons


Hiking is generally seen as the easier, more approachable form of outdoor adventuring.

It’s a great way to spend time in nature and see some sights without having to carry around all your gear on your back.

Hikes can be done day trips or even multi-day hikes where you travel from one campsite to another.

Hikes are typically done in places that don’t require you to carry your gear, so there’s less need for backpacking equipment.

Hiking also tends to cover more ground than a short day hike and can take up an entire weekend or even longer if you plan on camping out at night.


Backpacking, on the other hand, requires you to carry all of your gear on your back.

This is typically for trips that are more than a day, and it’s an activity where you’re going out into the wilderness with no idea what might happen or how long you’ll be gone.

It can take anywhere from one day to weeks, depending on the length of the trip.

How to Prepare for a Hike or Backpacking Trip?

How to Prepare for a Hike or Backpacking Trip_

The first step to any outdoor adventuring is getting your gear together.

This can be overwhelming for newcomers, but there are a few things you should know before outfitting yourself with all the right supplies:

  • Know what type of environment or terrain you’ll be in if it’s more challenging such as hiking uphill through rough terrain, then you’ll need a different type of gear than if it’s flat and easy, like walking along the beach.
  • Know how long your trip will take– this could be one day or up to multiple weeks, so plan accordingly with what kind of food and sleeping arrangements you’re going to need for that time.
  • Think about who you’re going with– if it’s just a friend or family member, that might be easier in terms of gear. But if it’s an entire group of people and all different skill levels, then one person should take on the role of “gear captain” to ensure everyone has what they need for their trip.
  • Consider your comfort– backpacking gear can be much bulkier and heavier than hiking, so plan accordingly.
  • Consider your safety– even if you’re an experienced hiker or backpacker, it’s essential to bring along a first aid kit in case of emergencies. You should also have extra clothes such as jackets for warmth or rain ponchos if you think it might rain.

And finally, don’t forget to bring along a reliable map of the area where you’re going- this should be available through your government’s website or any hiking clubs in your community.

How to Prepare Yourself Mentally and Physically Before Your Hike or Backpacking Trip?

How to Prepare Yourself Mentally and Physically Before Your Hike or Backpacking Trip_

Mental preparation is just as important for a successful hike or backpack.

You need to make sure that you’re physically and mentally prepared before heading out, so here are some ways you can do that:

  • Take time off– try not to plan your hiking adventure too soon after returning from vacation or finishing up a major project at work.
  • Plan in advance– make sure you know what type of environment or terrain you’ll be exploring, the length of your trip, and who will be joining you on it. This way, if there are any changes to these details on the fly, then you can adjust accordingly with gear/supplies (you might need more food, for example).
  • Know your limits– make sure you know your physical limitations and how far or long you can hike. And if it’s just one day trip with a friend, then maybe backpacking is the way to go since it’ll be easier on both of you.
  • Take care of yourself– before you make any plans, take time to care for yourself and your body. Eat well, drink lots of water, exercise regularly so that it’s easier on the trail or in the backcountry…
  • Lower your expectations– even if you’re an expert hiker/backpacker, don’t be too hard on yourself when trying something new.
  • Stay calm and don’t panic– if you’re getting scared or feel like something is wrong, stop, take a deep breath, and assess what’s going on to see how much help you need (maybe ask someone for directions).

Tips for Choosing Hiking Gear

Tips for Choosing Hiking Gear_

When choosing the gear that you need to pack, it’s important to consider where your hike is going.

Will there be a lot of snow? Are there any water sources along the way? You’ll also want to know how long your hike will take and what time of year you’re hiking.

Once you’ve decided that this is an activity for you, it’s time to choose your gear.

If the hike is relatively short and easy with little snow, then a daypack should suffice. These are lightweight packs designed for shorter distances and smaller loads of luggage- they’re perfect if you only plan on carrying a few things with you on the trail.

However, if this will be a long trek through snowy terrain and you want to carry more gear with you (maybe even as much as 50 pounds), it’s best to go for a larger pack that won’t wear your body down so quickly.

You’ll also need some winter-specific clothing such as insulated pants and a winter coat.

An important thing to remember is that you should always pack clothing for the weather you plan on hiking.

If it’s hot, then make sure not to bring any heavy coats- but if there may be cold temperatures or snow, then those are necessities!

It can also help pack some light reading material, a map of the area, and a compass.

If you’re unsure about which gear to pack for your hike or backpacking trip, then take a look at our checklist below.

Hiking Gear Checklist

Hiking Gear Checklist

Hiking gear is all about the essentials. When you’re out for a day hike, your bag will be around 25 pounds (11kg) if carrying water and food with you.

The lighter it is, the more enjoyable your experience will be! Keep in mind that there are some items on this list that can serve double-duty as backpacking gear.

Sleeping bag (0% wool)

Tent/shelter of some kind (tarp, bivy sack, hammock) serves as a mat for sleeping on the ground or rocks. *Tents are bulky and heavy while tarps can be pitched anywhere*

Sleeping pad (foam or inflatable)

Stove and pot to cook food. *Stoves are heavy, so consider a lightweight backpacking stove*

Cooking utensils such as spoons, bowls, a cutting board can serve double duty for preparing meals while camping. It’s also good to have some containers to hold and transport your food.

Backpack or day pack, which can also serve as a mat for sleeping on the ground, rocks, etc. *Day packs are lighter but not always big enough to carry all hiking gear*

Trekking poles (optional)

Flashlight: Best flashlight

Food of some kind such as protein bars, beef jerky, dried fruit. *Packaged food is heavy and bulky*

Extra clothing layers for warmth or rain protection. (wool socks are great)

A first aid kit can also be used in emergencies while backpacking.

Tips for Choosing Backpacking Gear

Tips for Choosing Backpacking Gear

Please familiarize yourself with the different types of backpacks and their features.

Some packs are more appropriate for specific needs, so find one that suits your budget, lifestyle, and trip duration.

Consider how much weight you’re willing to carry to consider what size pack is suitable for you.

The larger-sized backpack will provide more space for extra gear but will make you weigh a lot more.

Pick out the right sleeping bag to keep you warm at night and dry in rain or snow.

Think about what season of camping is appropriate for your trip so that you can choose clothes and footwear accordingly; summertime backpacking clothing doesn’t need to be insulated.

Pick up some great backpacking food to enjoy along the way, like freeze-dried meals that are easy and nutritious!

Backpacking Gear Checklist

Backpacking Gear Checklist

Choosing the right gear before a backpacking trip is important for both your safety and convenience.

There’s not much worse than spending an hour searching for that one extra item you forgot to pack! Here are some tips on what kind of equipment you should bring with you:

Backpack: Best budget backpack

Walking shoes– Make sure they’re comfortable, well ventilated, and waterproof.

Backpacking tent or tarp– If you’re going for the day, then it might be better to pack a small portable shelter like these instead of bringing an entire tent with all of its extra weight and space. A light nylon or plastic sheet will work in a pinch if there’s time to set up camp before darkness falls on you!

Map and compass or GPS navigation device. If the unit malfunctions, it’s always best to have a backup plan for getting back on track: maps should be updated with your current location before heading out on any trekking adventure.

Water bottle or hydration bladder with a water storage capacity of at least 100oz. Nalgene bottles have an excellent reputation for durability, but there are many other good options.

A first aid kit– Make sure this has all the essentials like bandages and gauze pads and pain relief tablets or ointments for aches and pains from a long day of backpacking (or in case of an accident happens).

Sun protection– Remember to pack sunscreen and wear a hat if you are out in the sun for long periods.

Backpacking clothes– Pack clothes appropriate for different weather conditions like rain, snow, or heat waves. Clothes made from wool hold heat well and dry quickly, so they’re perfect for hiking in wet climates.

A sleeping bag– Choose a lightweight, down-filled mummy style with synthetic insulation that’s rated to keep you warm at low temperatures.

Sleeping pad or ground cloth– You may find the ground is too rough on your body when setting up camp, so a sleeping pad or ground cloth will provide some extra comfort.

Cookware– Choose pans and pots that are durable, lightweight, and easy to clean if you need them for cooking once on the trail. Aluminum is a good material for cookware because it distributes heat evenly and resists corrosion better than other metals do.

Bear spray (if you’re in bear country).

Tips on How to Backpack/Hike Safely

Tips on How to Backpack_Hike Safely

Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to arrive at your destination. Keep in touch with them throughout your trip, so they can track progress if needed.

Inspect trails before departure for evidence of bear activity or other dangerous signs such as slippery rocks, fallen trees blocking a path, etc.

Always be aware of your surroundings and stay on the lookout for any sudden changes in the landscape.

Be mindful of how much food you’re carrying so as not to attract raccoons or bears. If they smell an easy meal from a distance away, they’ll come searching. The best way to avoid this is by storing food inside your tent and in airtight containers.

Be mindful of how much water you’re carrying so as not to attract raccoons or bears. Again, store it safely away from the scent range of these animals by using a waterproof container.

Never travel alone: always go with at least one other person no matter the distance.

If you’re hiking, bring a first aid kit and know how to use it in case of an emergency. 

If backpacking, keep the number for your local ranger station or animal control on hand and any other necessary numbers such as hospitals or doctors’ offices close by when traveling to new locations.

Don’t hike in the dark.

If you’re backpacking, take a map of the terrain with you. You can purchase maps from online retailers such as National Geographic Maps or bring one along with you that someone has already mapped out for your destination area.

Take time to pack all essentials: water, food, first aid kit, hiking tools, survival gear like a tent, and sleeping bag if backpacking.

Be sure to pack an emergency blanket or space heater if you need it for shelter from the cold.

Resources to Help You Choose Which Type of Adventure Might be Right for You.

There are many factors to consider when trying to decide which type of adventure might be right for you.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some resources that can help:

The National Park Service– This website has information on all the different parks in America and their trails and activities.

Outdoor Retailer– This site can help if you’re looking for new gear or want to browse what’s out there. You’ll find reviews and recommendations for different types of gear, clothing, shoes, packs, and more that are all geared towards outdoor adventuring.

The American Hiking Society– This website has lots of resources for different outdoor activities and adventures- they even have a section on how to choose the right gear.

REI– If you’re looking at buying new hiking or backpacking equipment, this store has articles about what type of trail you’ll be exploring (hiking vs backpacking) as well as which items you’ll need for the trip.

Wikipedia– If you want to learn more about what backpacking is, this website has a section with some good information and resources on how it’s different from hiking. It also provides links to other sites with additional content and gear images, such as sleeping bags or tents.

Final Thought

With a little research, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on whether hiking or backpacking is the best choice for your needs.

Both have many advantages and disadvantages that are worth taking into account before making any final decisions.

You can then prepare yourself by packing gear suited to whichever activity you choose to enjoy your time outdoors as much as possible!

If this article helped you, share it with others on social media and let us know in the comments section below what was most helpful about these tips for choosing backpacking vs hiking gear?