What Is the Difference Between Walking and Hiking?

Three friends on a hiking adventure deep in the woods.

Imagine if someone told you to take a hike, even though the saying aged a bit in the last decades. Still, would you walk away or hike away? Or would you rather listen to the famous Lou Reed tune about hiking on the wild side? Okay, this road leads to nowhere. Luckily, terminology’s always there to help us figure out just what we’re talking about.

Many folks can’t tell the difference between walking and hiking. Of course, they’d never say: I’m going for a small hike around the block. This shows us the main difference between walking and hiking: the latter is almost always associated with being outdoors. Still, can’t you walk surrounded by nature? Is there more to hiking than just being outdoors?

The main difference between walking and hiking lies in the fact hiking is an activity associated with being outdoors, surrounded by nature. Walking is a more universal, broadly-used term than hiking. Also, hiking burns more calories than walking, thanks to the uneven terrain hikers have to cross and the cumbersome backpacks they have to carry around. 

For a better understanding of the hiking vs. walking debate, we’d recommend you read the whole thing!

Table of Contents

Hiking vs. walking 101

First things first, let’s put the definitions upfront. Once that’s over, there’s a good chance the differences will show up on their own. Afterward, we’ll just point them out.

What is hiking?

Hiking is usually defined as walking in nature as a recreational activity. Also, hiking can either be a group activity or a solitary, me-time kind of thing. Many folks like to spend some time alone surrounded by nature, listening to their own thoughts or enjoying their absence. Besides these solitary hikers, there are a lot of youth clubs that organize collective hiking activities (or group hikes).

Hiking can’t be disassociated from exercising in the countryside (or wilderness). Also, most European towns have so-called hiking trails outside their city gates. Here’s a standard definition: a hiking trail is a specially designated route for hikers to use. That’s why many city dwellers enjoy this activity so much. It’s very convenient and it doesn’t require you to wear any kind of special equipment (although a good pair of tight-fitting hiking boots is always recommended).

Lastly, hiking doesn’t always involve walking over even or highly-accessible terrain. Various landscapes can serve as a backdrop for a hiking adventure. More about that in one of the paragraphs below.

What is walking?

Okay, defining walking will seem a bit absurd. Still, let’s follow the procedure. Walking is defined as moving at a steady pace by raising and setting down each foot in turn, never lifting both feet off the earth at a single moment. As you can see, there’s no nature, no surrounded-by-nature syntagms, or anything similar. The encyclopedia also tells us walking is usually slower than running. What an insight, right?

Of course, there happens to be a sport called racewalking, but that’s evidently not the topic of today’s article. Let’s leave it out for another occasion.

So, what is the difference between walking and hiking? (pointing out the obvious)

Now that we’ve shown you both definitions, it’s not so hard to notice the main similarities and differences between walking and hiking. First of all, both activities require you to move at a steady pace by lifting and setting down each foot at a time, never lifting both your feet at the same moment. Also, both activities are well-known to be fantastic exercises. Lastly, here’s their main difference: while walking is an activity you can consume just about anywhere, hiking is clearly associated with walking in nature, usually following a set path called a hiking trail.

We almost forgot to add that hiking tours can last even for a few days or more. Hiking on longer trials is mostly typified as backpacking. For tips on this fantastic outdoor activity, visit this page.

This, of course, isn’t everything we’ve prepared for you today. Stick around for more useful info! For instance, you might want to know which activity is more beneficial to our mental well-being. Or, how many calories do both activities burn? Also, does walking surrounded by urban scenery even count?

A man hiking alone in the forest.

Which activity burns more calories – walk vs. hike

There’s a good chance you can already assume who’s the winner here. Research shows us hiking burns significantly more calories than its opponent here. Of course, that depends on the type of terrain a hiker is crossing. Still, when we calculate all the data together, we get something like this:

  • Walking burns approximately 100 kcal/mile. 
  • Hiking burns approximately just over 250 kcal/mile. 

As we’ve said, those numbers aren’t to be taken for granted. Everything depends on the terrain that the hiker is trying to conquer. Let’s not forget most hikers wear cumbersome backpacks (especially on backpacking tours when folks carry their tents with ’em). Besides steeper inclines being quite common on hiking trails, that’s one of the reasons why hikers burn more calories on average.

Lastly, if you’re looking for a relatively easy way to start losing some weight, hiking might be the ideal place to start. As long as you start slow & safe, that is. Once you get the hang of things, you’ll be prepared for harder, calorie-burning hiking trails.

Other physical benefits of hiking

It ain’t just the calories! Here we’ll show you other physical benefits of this fantastic outdoor activity. Regardless of the trail type, hiking on a regular basis will:

  • help you build stronger muscles & bones.
  • greatly improve your sense of balance.
  • decrease the risk of various respiratory & cardiovascular issues.

All in all: there isn’t a better way to work out and still enjoy some phenomenal natural scenery. It’s far better than looking at someone’s sweaty behind in the gym, don’t you agree?

Hiking helps us keep our mental health in check

Being surrounded by nature is a mood-booster old as time itself. Spending quality time being away from the city will greatly reduce the stress & anxiety your everyday life so committedly garners. According to most studies on the relationship between mental health and hiking, this activity also reduces the chances of developing depression. Being outdoors is also a great sensory experience (it also improves our sensory perception). Just taking in all the sights & smells Mother Nature has to offer has so many health benefits we’d have to spend days just naming them all.

Hiking improves our social connections

As we’ve said, some hikers like to enjoy nature in solitude and that’s completely fine. However, hiking is a great chance to spend some time in nature next to your loved ones. Whether we’re talking about friends or family – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the great outdoors heal some broken bonds, and also establish new ones. Not to mention that hiking together with your partner/spouse is one of the best ways to strengthen your relationship. Additionally, collective hiking tours give you the opportunity to meet some new people.

What about walking in an urban environment?

Any form of physical exercise is important (even one’s conducted in an urban environment, of course). If you don’t have a chance to enjoy the outdoors more often, walking on a daily basis for 30-45 minutes (or more, if possible) is a great way to stay in shape and, as some studies suggest, increase your life expectancy. Here are other benefits of walking in an urban environment:

  • Walking reduces the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mental health issues (depression, anxiety, etc).
  • You’re safe from insect bites, dangerous falls, and all other risks that are sometimes associated with the outdoors (although your average city might be a more dangerous place).
  • You can do it even while being indoors/not leaving your apartment (treadmill).
  • It doesn’t involve you investing money into anything other than a good pair of comfortable walking shoes.

All in all: even though hiking’s a more appealing activity, one shouldn’t steer clear of walking inside the urban environment. You should use every opportunity you get to walk instead of using a motor vehicle.

What is the difference between walking and hiking? – a summary

Okay, so let’s do a quick summary of all the things we’ve learned today:

  • The main difference between walking and hiking lies in the fact hiking is done in natural surroundings, mostly by following a path called a hiking trail.
  • Hiking burns more calories than plain old walking. It’s because the hiking terrain is tougher than the urban one. Also, let’s not forget hikers wear cumbersome backpacks.
  • Hiking helps us keep mental and physical health in check. It decreases the chance of many life-threatening issues showing up.
  • If you don’t have a chance to hike in the outdoors so much, take every chance you get to use your feet as a transportation device.

That’s about it, dear lovers of the great outdoors! We hope you’ve had fun reading this one!

For more hiking-related info, make sure you follow this link.

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