What’s the Difference Between Backpacking and Hiking?

Photo credit: Gideon Haden ChomphosyDistinguishing between backpacking and hiking can be kind of tricky. Are the two terms synonymous, or do they describe two different things? The two terms aren’t entirely different, but they aren’t exactly the same thing, either. So what is it that separates backpacking and hiking?

It’s not a matter of difficulty

You can do a day hike that is more challenging or more difficult than a backpacking trip. Change in elevation, the terrain, and your hiking pace all factor in to determine difficulty. A 15-mile round trip day hike with 2,000 feet of elevation change will push you more than a 15-mile weekend backpacking trip on level ground.

Distance isn’t the deciding factor

People hike at different speeds. The current fastest known time on the Appalachian Trail required a pace of 48 miles a day to knock out the nearly 2,200 miles of trail. It would take some people a week to hike 48 miles.

Backpacking and hiking aren’t determined by pack weight

A heavy hiking pack and backpacking often go hand in hand, but pack weight alone doesn’t distinguish between backpacking and hiking.

Some people load up their packs for day hikes to train for long distance backpacking trips, and supe ultralight backpackers shoot for a sub 5-pound pack weight.

A 30-pound pack weight for a day hiker, and a 5-pound pack weight for a backpacker aren’t the normal, however.

So what is the difference between backpacking and hiking?

In the same way that a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle isn’t necessarily a square, backpacking is hiking, but hiking isn’t necessarily backpacking.

The main thing that distinguishes backpacking from hiking is the duration of your trip and the fact that you’re carrying all of the gear you need to support yourself while on the trail. This includes a shelter, food, water, bedding, insulation, a backpacking stove, a first aid kit, and any other luxuries or necessities you may need while backpacking.

Generally speaking, a backpacking trip isn’t less than a day. Once you’ve made it to two days, you fall in the category of backpacking.

Visit Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters for any backpacking gear or hiking equipment before you hit the trail!

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