Hike vs Walk: Exploring the Key Differences

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Choosing between a hike and a walk depends on what you’re looking for both in experience and physical effort. Hiking is generally longer, immerses you in nature, requires specific gear, and is typically more demanding than walking. While walking is more accessible, requires minimal equipment, and usually less strenuous.

In this article we are going to provide a side-by-side comparison of a hike vs walk, outlining the differences and gear needed so you can decide which is best suited for you.

What are the Differences of a Hike vs Walk?

When comparing the differences between hiking and walking there is a lot of overlap. In order to hike you have to walk as well. So, in order to dive in further into the difference, I searched the definition of a hike and a walk.

What is a Hike?

So, what exactly is a hike? Well according to Webster dictionary, a hike is “a long walk especially for pleasure or exercise”.

By a basic definition a hike is a long walk. But, to make it more specific by my experience I believe hiking trail terrain compared to walking terrain to be somewhat a factor as well. A typical hiking trail at least in the U.S. takes you into more natural environments, typically less smooth and more challenging than paths designed for walking.

What is a Walk?

After looking up the definition of a hike it was worthwhile to look up the definition of a walk. By definition a walk is “an act or instance of going on foot especially for exercise or pleasure”.

Yes, I know what you are thinking because I thought it as well. That is almost the same definition, but with one difference being the distance. A hike is defined as a long venture and a walk being an act or an instance. Though going back to terrain as another factor based in at least the U.S. a walk is typically on a more controlled, flat surface, and is typically a short jaunt in comparison.

Hiking at Mt. Rainer

History of Hiking

To better understand the difference between a hike vs walk. I started researching the history of hiking and found some interesting information. Hiking has been around for a while at least worldwide there were evidence of hikers dating in the 1300’s.

In the U.S., history of hiking did not really start to take off until the 20th century. Not surprising, the first hikers originated from walking clubs that were in search of a more intimate experience with nature. New outing clubs started to develop. One of the earliest clubs was the Alpine Club which was founded in 1863, in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Quickly these outdoor clubs began to pop up all over the U.S. the White Mountain Club, Rocky Mountain Club, and the Appalachian Mountain Club are some of the oldest in the states. The clubs soon started building hiking trails, shelters, creating maps, and all other kinds of resources. These popular hiking areas became national rivers, forests, and parks that we see and hike on today.

When we look into the history of hiking, we quickly realize that hiking is an extension of the activity of walking. Based on this research and my own personal experience, the activity of hiking is more complex than walking as it requires intentional preparation. When hiking one usually must have a plan, gear, a trail or path identified, and the desire to be immersed in nature.

Terrain Differences of a Hike vs Walk

The environment in which you walk, or hike significantly contributes to the distinction between the two activities. As I mentioned above and based on history and definitions.

Hiking Table Rock State Park, SC

Typical Hiking Terrains

A hike typically occurs on trails through mountains or countryside with uneven terrain, rocky trails, and steep inclines. This is very different from walking environments, which usually feature flat, well-maintained pathways.

The steepness and variable grades of hiking trails significantly increase the exercise intensity and physical demands placed on the body in comparison to most walking paths.

Commonly hiking terrain includes:

  • uneven terrain
  • hilly and mountainous paths
  • rocky trails
  • dirt paths
  • forested trails
Walking in Ogden, Utah

Typical Walking Terrain

A typical walking path will be a lot different than a hiking trail. It will usually be flat, shorter in length, and significantly more well maintained. Most cases a walking path is well defined and paved and features less obstacles. Think of a short neighborhood walk or a short stroll in the park.

Beyond traditional walking you might have heard of the term urban hiking. This term is becoming more commonly used at least in the U.S. An urban hike is somewhat new term but generally it is a blend of traditional hiking and walking, borrowing elements from both activities.

It combines the physical challenge of hiking with the accessibility of urban pathways. In my experience I believe a city walk evolves into an urban hike when it incorporates significant elevation changes or steep streets that challenge the urban adventurer physically.

Urban hiking meet most of the same criteria of a hike, in which it involves more planning, generally longer than a regular walk, has some degree of difficulty, and is about immersing oneself into the parks and cityscape. It usually encompasses:

  • exploring parks
  • scaling stairwells
  • crossing intersections
  • weaving through the urban terrain, often creating a self-styled path

Transitioning from Walking to Hiking

If you’re an experienced walker looking to venture into hiking, you might be contemplating where to begin. Transitioning from casual walking to hiking should be an incremental process. Start by incorporating uneven surfaces into your walks and then gradually add more hilly terrain, while also slowly extending the walking distance.

Walking is a highly accessible low-impact exercise, making it an excellent starting point for transitioning to more strenuous activities like hiking. While hiking is generally more impact due to terrain variability.

Hiking app is useful for hiking

Step 1) Preparing for Your First Hike

For a beginner hiker, trail selection based on skill level is crucial. Consider factors such as distance, elevation gain, and terrain, while ensuring there are places to rest and the path is well-marked for security and to prevent getting lost.

I always recommend using a good hiking app and having the trail downloaded prior to going out on trail. Also, pack an adequate amount of water roughly one liter to one and half liters to 5 miles of hiking. Also include high-energy, non-perishable snacks such as jerky, dried fruit, trail mix, or energy bars.

If you’re unsure about your first hike or seeking additional knowledge, consider hiring a guide. They can provide valuable navigation assistance and environmental education. And if you’re planning a multi-day hike, also known as backpacking you will need a larger backpack 50-75L depending on the number of days and more essential gear.

Step 2) Increasing Fitness Level for Hiking

Increasing your fitness level for hiking involves improving cardiovascular endurance, strength exercises, and specificity training with a weighted pack. I recommend gradually increasing the duration and intensity of walks and doing at least one weight hike a week.

Cardiovascular activities like brisk walking or stationary biking are excellent places to start and gradually build endurance. At some point you will want to include hiking and weighted hike for specificity.

Strengthening exercises for the legs such as squats and lunges build strength in the legs and core, key areas for hiking. Yoga can also be beneficial as it improves core strength and mobility, aiding in navigating uneven hiking terrain.

Left to Right: Down Jacket | Rain Jacket

Gear for Hiking

When it comes to the gear, hiking and walking have some similarities but really are in different leagues. If you’re setting out on a hike, you should opt for comfortable shoes, bring clothing layers, adequate hydration, and essential items for safety.

Must-Have Items for Every Hiker

If hiking is in your plans, certain items are essential to pack:

  • Hiking shoes: crafted to offer superior traction, water resistance, and comfort out on challenging terrain.
  • Appropriate socks: merino wool, crew-length ones are recommended to avoid blisters.
  • Clothing Layers: Layering items though check the weather conditions you may not need some layers.

Your backpack should also include some essential items, I like to pack these essential items for most of my longer hiking trips.

It’s also important to carry a basic first aid kit and learn primary first aid to manage minor injuries or health issues during the hike. And if you’re hiking in rugged terrains, consider utilizing hiking poles for additional balance and reducing the impact on knees during descents.

Health Benefits of Hiking and Walking

Both hiking and walking offer a broad spectrum of physical and mental health advantages. Engaging in these activities can contribute to overall mind and body. They are both low-impact exercises that can manage blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and contribute to overall heart health.

Regular walking provides a break from stress, offering reflection and relaxation, thereby supporting mental health. Through outdoor activities, such as walking and hiking, individuals can reduce stress, improve mental clarity, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Given its typically more taxing nature, hiking can offer a more intense workout than walking, resulting in higher calorie burn and amplified cardiovascular benefits.

Hiking in natural settings enhances mental well-being beyond the benefits of regular walking, due to the calming effect of nature and opportunities for self-reflection. These are the top health benefits of hiking.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is difference between walk and hike?

A walk is typically shorter and easier, suitable for any age group, while a hike is longer and more challenging, often on mountain or countryside trails with rougher terrain. So, walks are more accessible, while hikes are a bit more intense.

Why do Americans call going for a walk a hike?

Americans call going for a walk a hike because of the history of hiking. Walks are different than hiking in the U.S. Hiking evolved from outdoor clubs that focused on hiking as a recreational sport. A “hike” has evolved over time to refer to a long walk or journey, particularly in natural settings.

How long of a walk is a hike?

A hike does not really have a specific length requirement. It is defined as a long walking for leisure that involves planning, a path, and the intention to immerse one’s self in nature or a specific destination.

What is essential gear for hiking?

Make sure you have sturdy hiking or trail shoes, a moisture-wicking top, a warm jacket, a rain jacket, a brimmed hat, and a daypack with water, snacks, and extra layers for your hike. Some of these items depend on the weather and forecast but in most cases, they are good items to bring.

How many calories can I burn while hiking?

You can burn around 450 calories per hour while hiking, but the exact amount depends on your weight, the trail’s grade, and any extra weight you’re carrying. So, the total calories burned will vary.


When it comes to choosing between a hike vs a walk it is not so black and white. And lies more on a spectrum that really depends on your fitness level, the type of scenery you want to see, and the amount of time you have. If you’re looking for a challenging adventure and don’t mind a bit of sweat and dirt, a hike might be the perfect choice. But if you’re looking for a more relaxed, low-key experience, a walk might be more your style.

But try not to get wrapped up with whether you are hiking or walking. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a casual walker, the important thing is to get out there, be safe, enjoy the great outdoors, and ultimately have fun.

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