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Backpacking vs Hiking. Do you know the difference?

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

If a friend called you up and asked you to go backpacking with them, and said, " we are going backpacking, not hiking, would you know the difference? Would you know what gear to pack on a backpacking trip as opposed to a hiking trip? Well, if your friend is a beginner and not an experienced outdoorsman, the difference between hiking and backpacking might only be semantic. But if your friend has been hiking and backpacking for 20 years, there might be a major difference between the two terms.

Hiking and backpacking have become popular ways to get out to see, hear and smell all of the beautiful things the wilderness has to offer us. If your Summer plans include getting out of the city and going somewhere where you can actually breathe fresh air and take in some amazing sites, hiking or backpacking is just the thing to do. But if you are new to these outdoor activities, you might want to understand the difference between hiking and backpacking. Several years ago I was invited to go "backpacking" in the Olympic Peninsula at Olympic National Park. The trip lasted 3 and a half days and

Luckily for me, the family who invited me were experienced hikers, campers, and backpackers. The trip lasted four days so I had to bring a tent and all the other accessories needed for a multi-day trip. we camped, cooked, foraged, and fished... A few days before the trip they asked me to come to their house and do what they called a "shakedown." At the shakedown they checked all my gear and accessories for safety and appropriateness. More importantly, they showed me the items I needed to get, and what items I needed to leave at home. By the time I left their house my pack was going to be at least 10 lbs lighter!

Some of my friends look on platforms like Meet up, or Facebook to find local (or not so local) hiking groups. If you go that route, you will need to know if a group is going hiking, camping, or backpacking. You don't want to commit to a trip and not have the right gear when you arrive at the trailhead, even worse, in the middle of the trip. Most times, the guide or leader will review all of the important information about the trip. Although it is probably rare, even if they misidentify what kind of trip it is, you will eventually get the information you need to figure out what type of trip you are committing to. We've compiled a list of accessories for each type of trip so you can be confident that you have the right equipment for the trip you choose to go on.


Backpacking is not much different than hiking. Both involve walking on a natural or man-made path, The main difference is as I wrote above, backpacking is hiking done over a number of days. This means you will need to pack differently - bring different stuff like a tent you can sleep in, more food, cooking and eating utensils, a map, a compass, sunscreen, sleeping attire, and more water. And be prepared to walk a much greater distance than if you were hiking.

Backpacking checklist

The REI website has a well-organized list of equipment and accessories for each type of hiking trip. You can download and print the list below.

Download PDF • 59KB

You will find an excellent set of videos on camping, hiking and backpacking prep over at the CleverHiker website. Just follow the link below.

Hiking Checklist

Download PDF • 87KB

Woman standing on hill with backpacking gear
Learn the Art of The Shakedown


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