Backpacking Vs Camping Vs Hiking – Our Comparison

backpacking vs camping vs hiking

So, let’s talk about backpacking VS camping VS hiking. In short, camping involves remaining at one location for at least one night with the use of a tent. Backpacking means walking long distances, often for several days, while carrying all equipment in a backpack. Finally, hiking is simply going for walks in nature.

Throughout this article I will define backpacking, camping, and hiking in further detail while also pointing out some of the main differences between them.

All three of these recreational outdoor activities are great and healthy, and I encourage anyone who is considering doing any of these to go ahead and do so – you won’t regret it.

If you’re not sure which one you should choose, think about and decide what your goals are. Would you rather hang out with friends and/or family by a campfire, or venture off into the backcountry?

Backpacking

Backpacking, as stated in the name, involves going on a journey with a backpack. All equipment, including but not limited to sleeping bags, food, sometimes a tent, and so on.

Most backpackers walk for miles, typically lasting for at least a day to multiple days.

When you take into consideration backpacking VS camping, one major thing that sticks out is how campers often drive to their location whereas backpackers walk most, if not all, of their trip. This is why backpackers can get to areas that aren’t accessible by car as well as encounter fewer people. Because of that, the paths and trails tend to be less impacted by human interaction, thus causing a stronger sense of connection with nature.

Campers have a lot more space for equipment, and backpackers have to rely on the bare minimum of lightweight necessities.

Another big difference is where they sleep. Often times, backpackers reserve a room at a cheap hotel or hostel, or bring along a lightweight tent to pitch just for the night.

Backpackers campsites are very primitive, as it’s unlikely that there will be any showers or toilets, or any cell phone access either.

That is another distinction; a backpacking tent VS camping tent. Backpacking tents tend to be small, usually big enough for 1-2 people, and they are specifically designed to be more lightweight and to have less features. Camping tents come in all sizes, are made with more durable (and heavier) materials, and tend to have many features to them such as storage pockets, canopy configuration, etc.

First time backpackers should start by not venturing off too far and spending just one night out. Be sure to prepare yourself for this beforehand with a couple of hikes. Never push yourself or overdo it, otherwise you’re unlikely to enjoy it.

Also, I do not recommend backpacking with children unless you are prepared to carry their gear as well.

Choosing the right backpack is the most important thing. It’s not necessary to lug around some huge backpack, you just need one that’s big enough for all of your gear – which varies from person to person, especially depending on the duration of your trip. You only need enough space for the essentials: tent, water, food, and any other things you’d like to bring along such as a camera for example.

Camping

Out of all the outdoor activities, camping is the most popular.

According to Statista, 41.76 million participants went camping in 2019, and that’s only in the United States.

What exactly defines camping? Well, it needs to take place in an outdoor environment where the campers usually sleep in a tent or vehicle. Some don’t even bring a tent along and just sleep in sleeping bags, although this is with the exception of very good weather.

Car camping is ideal for families because it makes things much easier. You can bring a lot more equipment along with you, as well as other things such as a large cooler with plenty of food and drink, and bicycles as a form of entertainment and exercise.

Most campgrounds have showers and toilets, so the whole trip can be very comfortable and truly feel like a home away from home. It’s nice to spend the day exploring any hiking trails around, cycling, or swimming in a lake.

The only possible downside to camping is that campgrounds can get crowded. At worst, there can be loud groups that are even partying, and then there’s also the noisy sound of generators. There’s an easy solution for this though, which is to camp elsewhere and find a less popular campground. Although, by doing this, you will most likely have to give up the benefit of having a bathroom.

Packing for camping can seem rather overwhelming, especially for first-timers. It’s actually not difficult a at all, especially once you get the hang of it. I do recommend checking out my other article, the 10 essentials of camping, if you need some insight.

Let’s delve further into camping VS backpacking.

Camping and backpacking are often confused with one another, but the main difference is that with camping your tent remains in one location for a certain period of time, whereas with backpacking you are walking for the majority of the time, and backpackers do not necessarily set up camp for the night. If a backpacker does not have a tent, then they will most likely stay at some sort of hostel.

Other differences include the amount of equipment and type of food that are taken. Backpackers normally pack dehydrated food such as jerky and fruit, as well as other food that can be eaten while walking that also don’t require cooking such as nuts. Campers, on the other hand, tend to bring along a portable stove and are not restricted when it comes to meals.

Although it’s not uncommon for both campers and backpackers alike to bring percolators if they are coffee lovers.

Hiking

Walking on a short trail in a National Park, or even on an unknown path just about anywhere really, is considered hiking. All that matters is that you’re surrounded by nature.

If you are a novice who is looking to get into hiking, you should check out this in depth guide for beginners. 

Hiking is the most recreational out of the outdoor activities mentioned here, because the main thing that you are doing while hiking is enjoying the fresh air and beautiful scenery around you. It’s also a great way to get some exercise into your day.

It is very popular for hikers to integrate a hobby of theirs into their walk, such as photography and/or bird watching. Personally, I prefer to take a book along with me and stop halfway through my hike to sit and read. Nothing beats reading a good book while surrounded by lush green plants and the sound of birds.

Most hikers follow pre-defined paths or trails, which can vary from less than a mile to hundreds or thousands of miles. Some paths are loops, while others are only out and back types. Out and back trails go from point A (the trailhead) to point B, then back to point A along the same path. This is important to keep in mind because if the hiking trail says that it’s 2.5 miles, and it is an out and back trail, then the total of your hike will be 5 miles.

There are many types of hikers too. Day hikers usually only hike for half a day to a full day, overnight hikers which are also considered to be backpackers, section hikers who hike specific sections of a long trail, and thru-hikers who hike an entire trail.

When you compare hiking VS backpacking, the key difference is that hikers usually walk much shorter distances than backpackers.

Hikers don’t need to carry much equipment at all, in fact just a bottle of water is usually enough. If a hike lasts longer than a day and requires a backpack, then it becomes backpacking.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between hiking and backpacking?

The main difference between hiking and backpacking is that a hike could last half a day and all you’d need with you is some water, whereas backpacking has to last more than a day. This is why a backpack is necessary – to carry more food, water, and a tent to pitch overnight. Backpacking is essentially the same as hiking, but for much longer and further distances.

What is the definition of backpacking?

The definition of backpacking is to travel or hike while carrying one’s belongings in a backpack.

Essentially, backpacking is a type of hiking which lasts longer and thus requires equipment to be carried in a rucksack. Due to the nature of backpacking, since it is essentially a ‘multi-day hike’, it should last at least one to two days to be considered backpacking. Some backpacking trips even go as long as to last for several months.

Does backpacking mean camping?

Usually backpacking involves camping overnight, but it doesn’t have to. Since backpacking lasts multiple days, it makes sense to carry a tent along with you so that you can set it up whenever you’d like to rest for the night, but there are backpackers who prefer to walk to hostels and such and stay there for the night instead.

Just because you don’t pitch up a tent overnight on your backpacking trip does not mean it isn’t a backpacking trip, it is just a matter of personal preference.

What’s the difference between hiking and trekking?

Trekking is also a type of long hike, except trekking is meant to be more physically strenuous. Typically, the terrain is what makes it more arduous, such as in forests, mountains, or over hills. Whereas a hike that is not a trek would involve easy terrain that is flat.

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