Hiking or just walking around?

What counts as actual hiking? When do you get to claim to be a serious hiker going on real hikes and when are you a just mere pedestrian taking a stroll around the block?

A while back on a hiking FB group someone asked what was the difference between hiking and just plain walking, and they got several responses.

  • What country you’re in – To complicate an already somewhat inane question, depending on what country you’re in you might not be walking or hiking – you might be rucking! Rucking is an old military term, especially in Great Britain and old British Empire countries, that pretty much means carrying a heavy backpack from place to place. Roughly synonymous with thru-hiking or backpacking. If you mention rucking in the U.S.A. people will think you are referring to the new sport that is catching on here – basically a team race with weighted backpacks.
  • What group you’re with – Hiking clubs like to call their activities hikes. Walking clubs like to call their activities walks. Scouts like to call their outings hikes or treks or sometimes even expeditions. When in Rome, talk like the Romans.
  • Elevation gain – Some folks on the backpacking group said that the distinction between hiking and walking depends on whether or not there is a lot of elevation change. Presumably, to be hiking, you have to be climbing up and down hills and mountains. This is ridiculous!
  • Distance covered – Some people feel like distance makes for “real” hiking. For instance, Boy Scouts are always talking about 5-milers, 10-milers, 20-milers, and 50-milers. I think this is a false distinction because every hike is different and every hiker is different and a trek might be worthwhile even if it is 2 miles. I’ve even been on some cool and worthwhile perambulations of 1/4 mile.
  • Exertion and sweating – Some of the FB participants that were polled said that sweat makes the hike, whereas a walk is a more leisurely stroll.
  • Nature vs urban – A couple of the respondents to the FB poll said that they think of walking as something you do in more urban or front-country settings, while hiking takes place in more rural or backcountry settings.
  • Gear – There is an old joke about the cost of your boots being the difference between hiking and walking. I get tickled at gear snobs that look down their noses if you show up with an Ozark Trail pack or the wrong brand name of water bottle.
  • Preparation – A couple of people said that you can get up from the couch and go for a walk at the drop of a hat, but hiking always requires preparation – mental, physical, and equipment.
  • Yuppies hike everyone else walks” – That’s what one fellow said, and that’s probably closest to what I think about all these false distinctions between walking and hiking and rucking and packing, etc. HYOH! A rose by any other name…


Categories: Adventure, Hiking