In this technology-driven world where rush is the need of the hour, leisure is a often a privilege that comes at a cost. However, physical activities like hiking and backpacking beg to differ. They are an enjoyable and thrifty way to get closer with loved ones and explore the hidden haunts of nature without worrying about the next deadline or traffic jam. It’s common for people to put these activities in the same bracket but the truth is that they are as different from each other as apples are from oranges. Of course, there are similarities too (quite a few actually) but here we are going to focus on the differences between the context of the two words, backpacking / hiking:
What is Hiking?
Hiking is essentially the act of walking in the midst of nature on a well-laid trail or an unknown path. Hiking just requires you to walk briskly at an average speed in a bid to reduce weight, get some fresh air, as well as experience solitude in a place away from the hustle bustle of daily life. People hike through rural areas and along the woods for exercise, pleasure or military training. It’s a leisurely outdoor activity that involves walking in natural surroundings, often in mountains, woodlands or any other scenic terrain.
What is Backpacking?
Backpacking is not very different from hiking. Just like the latter, it involves walking on nature paths. However, the key difference between the two is that backpacking is basically hiking that is done over quite a few days. As a result, backpackers carry a travel pack consisting of tents and daily supplies for camping purposes. In other words, backpacking can be defined as camping on a hike for days at a stretch in natural environments such as forests or mountainous areas. So what a backpacker does is hike to great distances while looking for suitable spots to set up tents for the night. It’s obviously a more risky and adventurous activity as it allows individuals to enjoy the wilderness at its best without getting distracted by everyday items like cellphones, car horns, and city pollutants. Certain nature parks even offer a more robust housing option such as small rooms and cottages for those who are not confident about sleeping in meagre camps.
Hiking can range from a an hour’s walk to a few days’ walk depending upon the difficulty level of the terrain and capacity of the hiker. Depending on the duration of hike, hikers need to carry equipment like food, water, map, compass, sunscreen, insect repellent, etc.
Backpacking on the other hand, is never done for a day or two. It’s essentially travel mixed with hiking. So backpackers require equipment including camping essentials such as sleeping bags, clothes, tent, first-aid kits, jacket, survival tools and of course, all the materials required by the hikers.
Over the years, ardent travelers and nature enthusiasts have laid down specific categories for both hiking and backpacking.
What are the Different Types of Hiking?
Day Hiking – For day hiking, hikers go strolling outdoors for a day, that’s it. It’s apt for beginners and people who don’t wish to hike with a ton of gear. Additionally, it’s suitable for those who are hard-pressed for time and still wish to spend some time away from city life.
Base Camping – Here, hikers set up a camp wherein they stay for up to 10 days at a stretch. Base camping is believed to be the next step after day hiking. It is apt for those who are looking for more time to spend outdoors. Once you set up the basecamp, you travel around for day hikes and return back to the location at night. Base camping also evades the necessity of hauling out excess gear on a regular basis, and is perfect for those who wish to camp in a more rural setup than a campground.
Section Hiking: Section hiking is chosen by hikers that have hiked or completed a particular trail in several trips over a few years. Section hiking enables you to walk at a slower pace in order to enjoy every section of the trail and even spread out your expenses over a longer span of time.
Thru-Hiking: Thru-hiking or end-to-end hiking is the most strenuous and lengthy of all the types of hiking. It’s carried out by hikers and backpackers that have completed or are trying to complete an entire trail over a 12-month period. This type of hiking is commonly associated with long trails such as the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, as well as Pacific Crest Trail. Obviously, it requires a whole lot of planning, especially pertaining to replenishing supplies during travel.
What are the Different Types of Backpacking?
The definition of backpacking is pretty broad, to say the least. There are backpackers who love tramping in the woods, sleeping in tents and hitch-hiking their way around the globe, while there are those that prefer to backpack in style, with roller-bag suitcases, and sleep in cheap motels, as well as travel around the country in their own car. Both of these are two very different types of traveling, yet they both prefer calling themselves backpackers.
Anyway, the common types of backpacking are:
As the name suggests, ultralight backpacking is all about cutting down expenses while hiking for miles and miles in a row. Ultra light backpacks are super light and the sleeping bags are extremely foldable. Ultralight backpackers count every ounce they spend, and even slash their toothbrushes in half to reduce weight. They use small packs, buy lightweight clothes and quick-dry travel towels to make sure their backs don’t hurt after more than 6 months of traveling.
Flashpacking is a more refined form of backpacking. A flashpacker is someone who is used to higher living standards and hence prefers to travel more expensively. These people travel with tons of tech gear such as laptops, iPods and mp3 players. They simply scour through the main tourist attractions and see what the locals recommend them to see rather than hunting off to distant, off-beat locales and exploring hidden gems without any guidance whatsoever. These people view backpacking as an outdoor party rather than a hard-core adventure.
4. CLOTHING GEAR
Hiking boots are essentially lighter varieties of the heavy-duty mountaineering boots. Depending on their intended activity, hikers can choose between lightweight boots, lightweight shoes, and heavier boots. The only difference is that boots designed for backpacking are sturdier and heavier. They are entirely made of leather and thus offer more support when bearing heavy loads for week-long outings.
Another point of difference between hiking and backpacking gear is sock liner. Sock liners are strongly recommended for backpacking excursions. A liner is a thinner sock designed to act as the first layer on your feet. The next layer is the backpacking/hiking sock of choice which is followed by a pair of boots. A sock liner lowers friction against your skin, thereby precluding the onset of sores.
5. TYPES OF TRAVEL PACKS
The main difference between backpacks and hiking packs is that a backpack has a hidden back flap where you can comfortably tuck in shoulder straps and hip-belts to prevent them from getting trapped in airport conveyor belts. Additionally, backpacks have the following features that hiking packs don’t:
- More compartments like zippers and pockets, in order to allow easier organization and access
- Panel loading facility rather than top loading as in hiking pack
- Feature-lockable zippers
- A framework of robust material such as Cordura 500 or 1000
- Weight capacity up to 6-7 lbs. Hiking pack of the same size are half that weight
- A tiny day pack that is fitted over the main pack for packing essentials
A feature-rich backpack may be nice to use but the additional features come at the cost of weight. And most people opt for light and basic packs with nothing more than a top loader, the main compartment, as well as two side-pockets (or none). These are merely generalizations and the fact is that packs come in a diverse array of sizes, weights and features.
6. ESSENTIALS & EQUIPMENT REQUIRED
A Checklist of Hiking Essentials
Hiking requires a couple of essentials only, however, the list may extend depending upon the time you spend hiking. Here is a rough checklist of items to consider stuffing in your travel pack:
- Map and compass for effective navigation
- Sunscreen, protective lip balm and sunglasses for protection from UV rays
- Suitable clothing for insulation
- Flashlight, headlamp and extra batteries
- First-aid supplies
- Fire-starting gear
- Repair tools or kit including a knife, rope, and multi-tool
- Protein bars, water bottles, water filter, light snacks
- Emergency shelter including a tent, bivy and tarp
A Checklist of Backpacking Essentials
Backpacking requires more than the items listed for hiking. After all, it’s a lengthy and arduous activity that requires you to stop at multiple places. Here’s a rough list of items needed:
- A summit pack or daypack
- Pack cover
- Sleeping bag and pillow
- Compression sack
- Tent footprint
- Whistle and signaling mirror
- Ice axe, trekking poles
- Multifunctional watch with altimeter
- Cookset with a pot grabber, utensils, measuring cups, dishes or bowls
- Hanging bags for food or bear canisters, nylon cord
- Packable lantern, collapsible sink and backup water reservoir
Hiking and backpacking are both outdoor activities and hence you might that choosing a place for either should come down to the same set of criteria. However, you are mistaken. The key factors to consider while choosing a hike are difficulty level, rating and elevation. And when it comes to backpacking, you need to ensure that the path you choose is safe for solo travel and consists of a well-established tourist network. We have elaborated the criteria for both in detail below:
Several parameters like distance, elevation gain and terrain of the trail go into determining the hiking difficulty of a trip. A shorter path set a lower elevation is considered to be easy, while the longer, more steeper trail with obstacles is supposed to be more difficult.
Rating is another way to determine the difficulty level of a hike and choose a location accordingly. Most hikes come under class 1 or 2. Classes above that involve climbing and scrambling where you have to use your hands for balance.
Just keep in mind that Class 2 is quite a broad category and it’s best to go through route descriptions to understand if all the portions of the hike are doable.
Here is a breakdown of the classes:
Class 1: Short-distance hiking with low elevation gain and less obstacles
Class 2: Difficult, off-trail hiking that might require using your hands for balance.
Class 3: Un-roped climbing (scarmbling)
Class 4: Rope climbing
Class 5: Technical climbing
As far as backpacking is considered, you will have to look into a couple of additional factors such as:
- Suitable hotel facilities for flash-Packers
- Cost of living in the destination
- Availability of frequent transport options
- Easy travel with access to personal car
- Amiable culture of like-minded and preferably English-speaking locals
Hikers swear by hiking while backpackers swear by backpacking. The latter fail to see the point of hiking because hikers just keep walking for miles without a specific purpose and then walk back to the starting point. And at the end of it all, they get sore feet and muscle ache. Backpacking is thought to be smarter as it gives you the opportunity to visit different places at low costs and that too without compromising on modern comforts. However, there is a reason why hiking is so popular. We have listed a few:
- A hike lets you explore the natural world at its best. You can escape from the monotony of your regular life to revel in the quiet and mystical haunts of Mother Nature
- Hiking is great for people who enjoy light exercise such as walking. It’s also an effective way to reduce stress, spend some time with family or the pet dog, and inhale some fresh air in the process
- It’s suitable for those who are facing a shortage of time and money and want to indulge in a fun-filled activity on a weekend
- Doctors recommend hiking for people who are mentally shaken or suffering from obesity, hypertension and heart ailments
- Hiking is often recommended for elderly people, as it’s a safe way for them to stay active and enjoy the outdoors
Backpacking on the other hand, is more of a life adventure rather than a day-long or week-long trip. It’s a nice activity for anyone who has plenty of free time, as well as some extra bucks to spare, and for those who wish to see the world on a limited budget. The lines between luxury and adventure somewhat merge in backpacking, while they stay distinct in hiking.
Backpacking / Hiking: Who Wins?
At the end of the day, it’s all about doing something out of the box and spending time with Mother Nature, and both hiking and backpacking accomplish that. They are easy and fun activities that help you stay fit and reward you with splendid memories and photographs that remind you of a world far more peaceful and blissful than the humdrum of the material realm!