Is Hiking More Than Just Walking Off-Road?

The Differences Between Hiking and Waling

Bouldering shoes
Hiking. altrendo/altrendo images/ Getty Images

What's the difference between hiking and walking? While both activities are exploring on foot, many people identify themselves as only a hiker or only a walker. Once you step foot off the pavement, the lines become blurry.

Hiking vs. Walking

There are many elements that people use to judge whether they are hiking or simply walking.

  • Hikers hike on natural trails, while walkers walk on any surface—concrete, asphalt, gravel, or sand.
  • Hikers seek natural environments—forests, mountains, parks. Walkers walk anywhere.
  • Hikers like to dress the part in natural fibers, sturdy hiking boots, and a hiking stick or trekking poles. Walkers may look like anybody else out strolling down the street.
  • Hikers take the 10 essentials along to deal with any emergency. These include ways to make fire and navigate with a compass. Walkers take their house key (when they remember), cell phone, and maybe id/money/credit card and a water bottle.
  • Hiking is rated as burning more calories per mile than walking at the same speed, due to hills and uneven surfaces.

Hikers vs. Walkers

Most walkers are willing to cross over to the wild side to spice up their walking. If they live near a natural area, they are likely to enjoy walking there at least once in awhile. Some walkers do not want to walk uphill or on trails where there are rocks and roots. They would need to gear up properly for a hike.

There are good reasons to wear trail shoes for hiking rather than wearing typical athletic shoes. Trail shoes protect the feet and provide stability and traction. A hiking stick or trekking poles provide extra stability on rough trails. See top picks for trail shoes and how to choose a hiking stick or trekking poles.

However, many hikers turn up their noses over the idea of going for a nice 6-mile walk that isn't in the woods. They don't want to walk in urban area, suburbs, city parks or even along country roads. They want a completely natural setting.

In general, people who walk for fitness walk two or more days a week. But many hikers only hike occasionally, and only in season. Is this quality over quantity? Researchers have found mental health and stress relief benefits for walking in a park or other natural setting. The hiker whose usual exercise is done in a gym or on the treadmill may want to think about enjoying at least short walks in local parks between bouts of true hiking.

A hiker would have to change up their gear for walking on sidewalks and paved paths. Flexible athletic walking or running shoes are best for paved surfaces. Sweat-wicking clothing works better than natural fibers to keep a walker dry and cool. And they can leave the trekking poles at home or use fitness walking poles instead for an extra workout. See top picks for walking shoes and for fitness walking poles.

Training for Hiking and Trekking

If you rarely walk or hike, or you only walk on flat, paved surfaces, it is wise to do some training before you go for a long hike or trek.

Try Being a Hiker on National Trails Day

Each year, the first Saturday of June in the US is National Trails Day. It is a day set aside to get outside, enjoy a trail, and be a hiker, biker, or rider for the day. A trail may be in a local park, a national forest, a national park.

You can find a list of the National Trails Day Events on the American Hiking Society site. National Trails Day Events Are you ready to go off-road? See more about how to go for a hike.

A Word From Verywell

Hikers and walkers have much in common. Certainly, all hikers are also walkers, whether they identify themselves as that or not. Meanwhile, walkers can benefit by getting out into green spaces, getting a little dirt on their shoes, and seeing more of the beauty of nature.

Sources:

Bratman GN, Hamilton JP, Hahn KS, Daily GC, Gross JJ. "Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation." Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jun 29. pii: 201510459. [Epub ahead of print]

Miyazaki Y, Lee J, Park BJ, Tsunetsugu Y, Matsunaga K. "Preventive medical effects of nature therapy" Nihon Eiseigaku Zasshi. 2011 Sep;66(4):651-6.

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