Hiking vs Walking: Is There A Difference? And Does It Even Matter?

The difference between hiking and walking is mostly one of degree and can be easily seen in terms of the terrain covered and the distance traveled. 

Generally speaking, hiking refers to walking that takes place at a leisurely pace on trails or open country while walking refers to walking that takes place at a brisk but not hurried pace on streets and sidewalks, with no particular goal other than getting from place to place. 

Hiking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, and it’s one of the best exercises for your body, too. But hiking vs walking doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. While hiking is often done on a trail, and mostly at a leisurely pace, walking is much more sedentary and could hardly be considered exercise. 

Walking Compared to Hiking

As simple as it sounds, walking is usually done for the purpose of getting from place to place, whereas hiking is done for the purposes of enjoying nature, getting closer to nature, and exercising one’s body. 

Bethan Mooney reports the difference in hiking and walking is more pronounced and profound that you might think:

Research shows that your joints, heart and muscles perform in distinct ways during a hike compared to what they do during a jaunt around the block.


Daniel Ferris (Professor of Biomechanics at University of Florida) adds:

“When you walk on a level surface, your body does a really good job of what’s known as passive dynamics. Your walking stride is like the swing of a pendulum. Thanks to gravitational and kinetic energy, if I start that pendulum swinging, it’s going to keep moving back and forth for a long time without any additional energy input.”


Hiking and walking are both excellent ways to get healthy exercise and enjoy the beauty of nature. But these activities also differ in several ways.

Hiking is about going on a longer walk in nature. Walking is about going for a walk, but it is not necessarily a longer walk. To be clear, walking is most often just called walking, and hiking is just called hiking. But hiking is sometimes called trekking.

Hiking is usually done on trails, although it can be done off-trail, and has the added benefit of getting one away from the roadways and the noise.

Walking isn’t usually a fitness activity, although brisk walking can definitely be aerobic exercise if done for a long enough time span. However, unlike hiking, walking is usually done on city streets or sidewalks.

While hiking may sound like an activity reserved for mountain climbers or backpackers, it’s actually quite pedestrian in nature to many who live in cities and neighborhoods. 

Urban Trail Walking vs Street Walking

Hikers walk upon trails because they want to get away from the streets and sidewalks which are covered with vehicular traffic.

People who choose to walk on sidewalks or city streets do so because they may not feel comfortable in other areas, or they don’t live close enough to alternate routes.

Once you move away from the city and into the suburbs, there are usually many trails available for hiking, regardless of how far one lives from a trailhead.

Suburbs also offer residents parks with trails for hiking and walking. Neighborhoods can even have sidewalks that are conducive to walking for pleasure.

However, once one moves into rural areas, trails become more scarce. There may be no nearby trails at all.

Quick Example:

We now live near a small town by the lake. There are several hiking trails near the state parks near us. We often pack a lunch and hit one of the local trails for the day.

When we go to my wife’s sisters, there were no national parks close, so we walked a 3 or 4 mile paved walking trail in their city. Wasn’t quite like the hikes we love to take, but it got us outdoors and moving. That was the goal.

Researchers have found that walking in a park or other natural setting offers mental health and stress relief benefits. If you usually walk in a gym or on a treadmill, think about adding short walks in local parks to your fitness routine.


Safety Considerations

When hiking in the wilderness, safety is a concern. When walking in the city or suburbs, safety can be more of a concern. We are all familiar with how people behave on cell phones, and texting while driving. Now along comes another issue: using headphones while walking down the street or city sidewalks. 

Types of Walking

Walking is a very broad term and one that encompasses a wide range of actions. 

Below are the most common walking types. My apologies to Bubby from Forest Gump; I don’t want this to sound like his ‘shrimp’ talk with Forest.

Music Walk: One person walks while listening to music through headphones. This can be done anywhere from home to work or to a nearby store/grocery store/mall etc…

Nature Walk: Nature walks are often taken by children in school as part of their curriculum.

Trail Walk:  Trail walking is generally more enjoyable than street walking, although they both have their place in one’s fitness routine. 

Suburban trail walking is the best kind of urban walking for physical reasons as well as safety reasons. Many parents who live in the suburbs walk with strollers or push baby carriers around local parks near their home, which doubles as a great workout for moms and dads alike.

Types of Hiking

There are many types of hiking tours that you can choose from. These include:

  • Day hike 
  • Overnight camping 
  • Canyon hiking 
  • Mountain climbing 
  • Resort/Sport climbing 
  • Backpacking 
  • Snowshoeing
  • Backcountry skiing 

“Thru-hiking”, which is walking end-to-end on a trail (the term is seen mostly in America).

Hiking requires different equipment and gear. A good pair of shoes and comfortable clothing will work for a walk. On a hike, you need to make sure you have the essentials you need to stay safe and enjoy your time on the trail.

Consider having the right shoes, a knifebear spray, and some way to stay hydrated. I do not enter the woods without these basics (plus a few more) I keep in my backpack.

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Benefits of Hiking and Walking

There are many benefits of walking (and hiking). My wife (who should have been a nutritionist because she loves that stuff) says: The three things you need to continually add to your daily routine are:

  1. Drink lots of water
  2. Get plenty of rest
  3. Move

I have to agree. If we make sure we do all three, we will live a healthy life. Hiking and walking fall into the movement part of our fitness plan. 

For me, hiking has been an enjoyable exercise that I share with my wife and family. Finding a good hiking trail when we are on vacation is always an added benefit.

There are many other benefits to hiking and walking (many of which can be found here), but these are a few of the top reasons why I enjoy hiking. 

If you haven’t already added hiking to your fitness routine, then I would recommend giving it a try. If you have tried it before, give it another try. 

Three often-overlooked benefits of hiking:

Hiking is more strenuous than walking, but that is not the only difference. You get a better workout hiking because your body is having to adjust to different terrain, conditions, and elevations.

Here are three added benefits of hiking over walking.

  • Hiking will help you build strength and endurance by climbing hills on the trail and walking up steep inclines.
  • It helps relieve stress by taking you away from your office or home for a while and gives you time to quiet your mind and relax in nature.
  • Hiking and walking will help you lose weight and stay in shape.

Most people who take up hiking are amazed at how quickly they see results (if they haven’t already been in good shape before).

Many hikers start off walking a few minutes each time they hike, and then they add more to each walk until eventually, they are hiking longer than an hour. 

After that, many hikers will volunteer to do “2-way” hikes (often referred to as “bump-ups”) where for example a group of hikers will meet at the top of a mountain, hike down, drive down the road to the bottom of another mountain, and then hike up that one.

Special Hiking Events in the United States

Below are a few events that take place across the US annually.

I have a buddy who had leukemia (and beat it); each year we join them on a Light the Night walk to raise awareness and money for cancer research.

The Hike for Hospiceis a fundraising event hosted by the American Lung Association that includes partners such as the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic States, and more! Every year, thousands of people come together to help raise money to fight lung cancer. The Hike for Hospice takes place in Pennsylvania every year.

The National AIDS Walk Los Angeles (NAWLA) is America’s largest fundraiser to prevent HIV/AIDS and to provide support services and resources to people living with HIV/AIDS. It is organized by The Elton John AIDS Foundation and takes place in California every year.

Hike for Water, an annual event that promotes hiking as a way to raise awareness of water-related issues and to contribute funds towards these causes. This event was created by the non-profit organization Pacific Institute in 2006.

Pacific Institute is sponsoring a Hike for Water Challenge 2011 to encourage participants to raise awareness about water issues as well as funds for the cause.

For more information on area hikes, visit Outdoor Club Associations in the United States

American Hiking Society(Headquarters in Washington DC). The American Hiking Society is an organization committed to protecting natural areas while at the same time promoting outdoor recreation participation through conservation, education, and advocacy. This is accomplished by supporting communities to develop and maintain trail systems that provide for opportunities for people of all ages and abilities.

Final Thoughts on Hiking vs Walking

Many people get confused when they hear the words “Hiking” and “Walking”. They think they are the same thing. But they are actually two very different activities. Hiking is a lot of fun but it is a little more difficult than walking. The biggest difference between hiking and walking is that in hiking you have to carry a backpack with food, water, and other gear with you.

When you are walking and enjoying nature, doing something healthy with your body and mind, and learning more about the environment around you, how can anything possibly be wrong? The answer is nothing. 

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