Would you like to experience the outdoors surrounded by fantastic scenery? Do you want to get into nature, but not sure what kind of activity is the perfect match?Hiking, trekking or mountaineering. These are all describing outdoor activities. Most of us use these terms interchangeably, but they are not the same.
Choosing the right type of adventure activity is vital. First, they give you completely different experiences. Second, they need a different level of expertise and knowledge. Third, they affect important decisions about gears and safety.
What you will learn in this article?
In this article we will take a deep look into these activity types. We will gain a thorough understanding of the differences. So after reading this you will know the following:
- What is the difference between hiking, trekking and mountaineering?
- How to get started with them?
- What kind of equipment do you need?
- What are the advantages and the challenges?
- What are the benefits?
- What are the competencies you will need?
- What can you learn and experience along the route?
- What to choose according to the different experiences?
Choosing the right adventure type is vital. First, they give you completely different experiences. Second, they need a different level of expertise and knowledge. Third, they affect important decisions about gears and safety.
Hiking is the easiest from the options mentioned earlier. According to the Cambridge dictionary, hiking means the activity of going for long walks in the countryside.
Indeed, they are walks in the countryside (definitely not in the city) but not necessarily long ones. Hiking varies from really short outside walks (1km) up to a more extended, 1-day adventure. (We already collected the most beautiful hiking trails in Triglav National Park)
Hikers walk on well-marked trails so no one can get lost. The starting and the endpoint usually are the same, and we can reach it either from returning and using the same path or hiking in a loop. The route could vary from the nearly flat to rather steep ones.
The path’s difficulties can vary from the easy until the advanced ones although categorization is not as simple as describe a hike as easy, intermediate or difficult.
Where to go?
People say hiking requires a minimal amount of planning or organization. It’s not entirely true. If you are just starting, it can go wrong if choose this way. Hikes can be tough physically: long distances or challenging trail conditions (hilly, rocky).
To find the perfect hike, it is better to think through again the following:
- Time: How much time do you wish to spend outside? How much time do you have?
- Fitness level: Everyone knows their fitness level. There is no need to get injured. Fitness level can be easily developed, and there are hikes for everyone.
- Distance and elevation gain: A 5-10 km long walk might sound easy, but you need to think about other elements. The path’s elevation gain and loss are as critical (if not more) as the distance, steepness and the natural obstacles along the way.
- Weather conditions: Hiking in summer or in winter is not the same. The heat and the cold, or wind comes with different challenges. Trails could be closed in the springtime because of the snow and covered in water after the flooding.
The marks of the trails are country specifics, and the scales are only partially similar. There are also regional differences as well. The Swiss hiking scale can give an idea about the path and the level of disputes.
The benefits of hiking
Spending our free time outside is good for our health as well:
- Happier times comes if you start hiking regularly – it helps maintaining and strengthening the mental health.
- Improves overall health. Amazed by the scenery and thinking about which way to go, shouldn’t be forgotten that hiking is a form of exercise. The exercise helps losing weight, reduce stress and improve sleep. It’s an excellent cardio workout. (Just one hour of hiking and 400-500 calories are already burnt)
- Hiking could help to avoid high blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. It also helps preventing type 2 diabetes: it’s easier to control the amount of insulin with the help of hiking. Frequent hikes lower risks of coronary heart disease and stroke.
- Social benefits: Being outdoors is not just good for our health but the positive impact could be felt socially as well. Along the road like-minded people greet each other with a smile. Everyone has their own story from Monday to Friday, but while hiking people team up and help each other to reach their goals.
So, all in all, let’s make it clear when we are not hiking:
- When we are not walking
- When we are not surrounded by nature – it is impossible to hike in the city
- When we are not going a long way- the short distance between our house and the garden wouldn’t be considered as a hike.
According to the definitions of trekking, it means the act of making a long journey across a difficult country on foot, usually for pleasure. Other description says trek is a journey or trip, especially one involving difficulty or hardship.
One thing is sure. Trekking is not for beginners. It can last anything from days to months and recommended for advanced hikers. Requires excellent physical conditions to reach the end of the trek multiple days’ walk is needed.
Trekking is halfway between hiking and mountaineering, but sometimes a hike could be as challenging as a two days’ easy trek. Trekking is not just mentally and physically challenging, but it requires proper gears and different skills.
Skills, that are needed for trekking:
To survive in the wild, the following skills are inevitable:
- Navigation: Trekking does not necessarily have the perfect well-marked trails. Navigation skills are mandatory to not fall off from a cliff. Finding a safe passage and locating one’s self on a map (doesn’t matter whether you use a GPS or a regular paper map) are essential trekking skills.
- Camp setting/cooking: You will probably spend some nights under the stars, so these are other crucial skills to know.
- Leadership skills: Being out for days or weeks, it is essential to be aware of everything. Managing resources, problem-solving, strategy and critical thinking are crucial. Almost the same leadership skills are needed for managing a company.
Advantages of trekking:
As trekking is long-term hiking, it has the same benefits. Good for health and has social benefits as well, but it keeps exclusive, unrepeatable moments.
There could be hundreds of reason why someone goes for trekking: from challenges through the desire to explore something new to solving personal issues. Whatever is the root, one thing is sure: trekking gives the chance to view natural diversity with the diversity of culture.
Learning about a new culture or lifestyle: Trekking is about walking in remote places. It is a unique way to discover and learn from locals.
Exploring the natural beauty: The view is unique what could be experienced, different varieties of flora and fauna, rivers, lakes and mountains.
Trekking around the world
The following two examples will help you understand what trekking really is:
One of the most famous trekking route is around the highest peak in the world, in Nepal. For an advanced “trekker” Nepal is the paradise for trekking. But the trek would also be suitable for everyone who has already done multi-day hiking backpacking.
The route itself is challenging and altitude sickness makes it even harder. It can be prevented by climbing slower, and not ascending too quickly. It is very common, could happen to anybody, regardless of age, level of fitness, or previous trekking experience. One way to try to avoid alttitude sickness is acclimatizing by slowing down. And hydration: it's very important to drink enough!
The classic route starts and ends in Luka and takes 12 days:
- Day 01: Kathmandu - Lukla - Phakding (2562m) 35 min flight, 8km, trek 4hrs
- Day 02: Phakding - Namche Bazaar (3440m) 10 km, trek 7 hrs
- Day 03: Namache Bazaar – acclimatization day
- Day 04: Namache Bazaar - Tengboche (3870 m) 8 km, trek 6 hrs
- Day 05: Tengboche - Dingboche (4360 m) 10 km, trek 6hrs
- Day 06: Dingboche - Lobuche (4940 m) 7km, trek 6hrs
- Day 08: Lobuche - Gorak Shep (5160 m) – Base Camp (5364 m) Gorak Shep, 15 km, trek 8-10 hrs
- Day 09: Gorak Shep - Kala Patthar (5545 m) - Pheriche (4280m): 15 km, 8-10 hrs
- Day 10: Pheriche - Namche Bazaar (3440 m): 15 km, trek 8hrs
- Day 11: Namche Bazaar - Lukla (2780 m): 18 km, trek 8 hrs
The route could change. The above mentioned is the most popular one. The walking itself is usually not too difficult, but the altitude is one of the reasons why people are afraid of the trek.
Not recommended to make it faster but you can make longer. It varies from agency to agency, but the most important thing is to try to avoid altitude sickness.
The Himalayas are wild and barely populated, but there is diversity between the cultures, that can be exceptionally hostile as well as incredibly beautiful.
The reason behind the popularity of the trek is unquestionable. Trekking surrounded the highest mountains in the world is a unique experience. The path is thrillingly beautiful and lets people to become familiar with the remarkable culture.
The trek should be on the bucket list of every traveller.
Stunning and breathtaking sceneries. Iceland's most famous hiking trail is the Laugavegur Trek. It’s a 55 km long route and could be finished within a few days. Along the unique routes we can see glaciers, bubbling hot spring, fields of lava, multi-coloured mountains. The route recommended to be done at least 3-4 days, but it depends on that suits the hikers.
About the route: (it could be done faster)
- Day 01: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker, 12 km, trek 5 hours
- Day 02: Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn, 12km, trek 5 hours
- Day 03: Álftavatn – Emstrur (Botnar), 15 km, trek 7 hours
- Day 04: Emstrur (Botnar) to Þórsmörk, 15 km, trek 6-7 hours
- Day 05: Porsmork to Skogar, 20 km, trek 7-9 hours
The opening time depends on the weather conditions, but usually, it can be visited from the end of June till mid-September.
The trail could be challenging as it is in the Icelandic highlands, far away from any inhabited area. The weather is unpredictable, and the terrain changes. (Snow in the middle of the summer could happen). Knowing that the weather can fool the trekkers, and also hot food can’t be bought along the trail, preparation is key to safe travel in Iceland.
More information about the trial could be found in the official Iceland Touring Association website.
Trekking in Iceland a unique experience. If you need some inspiration where to go check our website.
The above mentioned two treks let us have an idea of what trekking is. They were both very different, which shows that two routes could be called a "trek" even though there is no similarity between them. The only thing is that they couldn’t be finished in one day.
- Length: from 2 days till anything (weeks, months)
- Difficulty: challenging. Trekking is recommended for advanced hikers, who have already done a few days of backpacking.
- Equipment: Country and route-specific. A good pair of shoes and a backpack is where everything starts...
Already explaining trekking and hiking, you could feel like something is still missing. Mountains, rocks, glaciers weren’t mentioned before. Mountaineering, mountain climbing or alpinism (European phrase) is the sport or activity of climbing the steep sides of mountains.
Mountaineering is the most challenging activity out of the three. It’s a more technical variation of trekking (often routes, that are over 5000 meters above sea level), and you also need more equipment (inevitable to know how to use them).
The length can range from a few hours to multi-day expeditions, and it indicates travel on snow, and possibly glaciers or ice to reach a summit.
Most challenges come from the terrain’s characteristics: crevasses, avalanches, rockfall and glaciers. Also, the high altitude (over 4000m) and adverse weather conditions can add difficulty to a mountaineering trip.
Personal preparation and developing skills are essential. It is considered are the mountaineers’ physical condition and acclimatization, technical skills, equipment, orientation, resourcefulness and decision- making skills. Mountaineering is always requiring teamwork, practised in groups to support each other is an essential part of the activity.
Trekking and hiking not necessarily need professional leader, but on a mountaineering trip with a certified mountain guide is essential due to the extreme risks what could happen. An experienced guide can help to accomplish more challenging goals. They usually know the area very well, can handle the logistics of the trip and will be responsible for the group’s safety.
Timing is a crucial factor. The best time generally during spring, early- autumn and summer.
More stable weather conditions could be predicted that time of the year, and there is a bigger chance to avoid heavy snowfalls, freezing temperatures and strong winds.
Peak season is the time of the year when climbing is the most popular. Trails are opened, all services on the mountain are fully functional. Peak season not just means the perfect weather conditions, but everyone is out there, more crowded, especially during weekends and holidays.
Winter mountaineering is possible, but it requires to be at an advanced stage in the mountaineering and need to specify equipment and complete technical training. The risk of avalanches is more significant during this time of the year. Previous experience is required for the mountaineering this time of the year.
Types of equipment
As it was mentioned before mountaineering is the most technical sport from the three. Mountaineers needs to know how to climb on ice with crampons and the usage of an ice axe. Also how to safely cross huge cracks on the ice. Survive snow storms or how to walk on glaciers. How to stop the fall with an ice axe after slipping.
Most crucial equipment: (not recommended to leave any of these at home)
- Mountaineering rope
- Harness designed for mountaineering
- Mountaineering helmet (to protect from rock fall)
- Belay devise
- Crevasse rescue equipment
- Mountaineering boots
- Camping items: 4 season tent, sleeping bag (check climate conditions), backpack
- Ice axes
- Mountaineering gloves
The best places for mountaineering:
Summiting the highest peaks in the world is one of the most challenging dreams among many mountaineers. Surrounded by snow-covered peaks is a unique experience what many would like to reach. The risk factors are endless and different in any mountains but shouldn’t be forgotten that conquering mountains even with a small mistake can be fatal.
There are many mountains to be climbed in the world, but here are five famous peaks to be able to choose from:
1. Mount Everest, Nepal – The highest mountain in the world with its 8848 m height is located between Tibet and Nepal. There is no reason to have a deeper explanation about that. The danger is serious due to its extreme weather conditions, but all kind of mountaineers could be found here. There could be climbing “traffic jam” in the peak season because of its reputation.
2. Matterhorn, Switzerland – Located in the Swiss Alps, and probably one of the most climbed mountains in the whole world. Climbers can choose from different routes according to their level of hiking experience. Many climbers start their mountaineering experience here. Should not be underestimated though.
3. Kilimanjaro, Africa – The highest mountain in Africa 5895 m. It is a unique view of how the non- active volcanos with snow on the top grow out from the Savannahs. Along the road, the view is incredible not just because of the three volcanos which can be seen, but the unique flora and fauna which could be experienced by choosing this route.
4. Mount Elbrus, Russia- The 5642 m high mountain is situated between Asia and Europe. It's called Europe’s watchtower, as this is the highest point of the old continent. With moderate climbing skills, the mountain could be ascending while different ethnic groups could be seen along the road, like Turkish, Georgian, Azeri and Russian.
👉 Another once in a lifetime experience in Russia, is crossing Lake Baikal. James Redden's last post could come handy for you when planning your trip.
5. Mount Aconcagua, Argentina- The highest mountain outside the Asian regions located in South America. Not the most challenging route on the earth, but wouldn’t call it easy. It is not as demanding technically as the others, but the high altitude and extreme weather conditions still make it challenging.
Hiking, trekking, mountaineering. Meaning different things, but somehow all connected in one point. Being outside, being active, be amazed by how mother nature could be so fascinating.
One thing is for sure, being in the mountains can make life better. While the physical health and fitness benefits are huge there is the chance to meet the most amazing people with the same interest along the road. Hikers, trekkers or mountaineers are such a unique still converging breed of people.
The nature is calling. Often, we have itchy feet and sets off for a new destination. Challenges are ahead of us. What about your next one?
Do you need some more inspiration? Take a look at our offers and choose the one you like the most!