What’s the difference between walking and hiking?
Walking is one of the most popular pastimes, and there is whole range of different words to refer to our cherished activity of putting one foot in front of the other in the outdoors. Time for a review!
Let’s start with the basics; walking and hiking. Both terms are used to indicate walking holidays, and they are used interchangeably to describe the same things. Time for some linguistic definitions…
Walking is officially “the main gait of locomotion among legged animals”. Walking is generally different from running in that “only one foot at a time leaves contact with the ground and there is a period of double-support”. Walking is the most commonly used term for walking for pleasure or hobby in the UK, but in many other countries, in particular in North America, hiking is used.
However, hiking is also seen as different type of walking, and in this meaning it is also used in the UK. Hiking is defined as “walking for a long distance, especially across country or in the woods”. It often means walking in nature areas on marked walking routes or trails, as opposed to walking in towns or cities. But hiking can also involve any long-distance walk. There are day hikes where you complete the walk in one day, and multi-day hikes that include an overnight stay, wild camping on the trail, or in a hostel or hut along the route.
To confuse matters further, another term used in the UK for walking in the countryside is for example rambling. A ramble officially means an aimless walk, and it is a bit of a dated English expression. It is however still in use, for example in the name of the Ramblers’ Association, or rambling clubs, groups of people that meet to walk together in the countryside. In general these people tend not to walk around the countryside in a confused and unfocused way, but have a clearly defined route plan they are following, so rambling is maybe not so appropriate here. Walking in the mountains and hills is also referred to as hill walking in the UK. But since a lot of the UK countryside is not flat, this is also a bit of grey area.
Then there are also the terms trekking and backpacking. A long hike can also be backpacking, where you carry your entire luggage needed for the multi-day hike on your back in a rucksack. Walking in the high mountains for several days is also known as trekking. The word originally comes from the Dutch/South African word “trekken” that means “to pull” or “to travel”. Treks are usually in areas where other means of transport apart from on foot are not feasible.
A recent addition to the gamma of walking terms is Nordic walking. Nordic walking evolved from a type of ski-training out of the snowy season. Many professional skiers kept on training through spring, summer and autumn ski walking with poles on “dry land”. Walkers, hikers and backpackers soon found out that using specially designed walking poles gives you more power and support while walking, and helps to avoid injuries and pains. Nordic walking is thought to be an excellent all body workout.
The world’s largest walking event in the world is held each year in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. It is a 4 day walk, known as the “Vierdaagse van Nijmegen” (literally the four-days of Nijmegen, a town in the south of the Netherlands). Depending on your age and fitness you either walk 19, 25 or 31 miles each of the 4 days. The first Vierdaagse was held in 1909, and nowadays over 40,000 walkers join in this large scale event each year that is held in early July. The author of this article can attest from personal experience that participating and finishing the 4 day walk is an arduous but thoroughly enjoyable experience, with an immense sense of achievement on reaching the finish line.
While doing research for this article, I came across some additional, lesser known terms for walking in English;
Anyone can add to this list, please leave a reply below!