At the hairdryer-in-bath risk of stating the obvious, walking can be defined as movement by means of putting one foot in front of the other. Sounds simple enough. But when it comes to planning your long-dreamed-of trip to Patagonia and that once-in-a-lifetime hike... or do you mean trek... hike... no, trek? What is the difference? Are you intending to backpack or tramp? Is there any remote chance of engaging in bushwhacking? Are you unwittingly embarking upon a thru-hike? The walking world suddenly becomes a true linguistic jungle, and those who aren't in the know start to trail behind - so let’s try to forge (or should that be bushwhack?) a path through all the confusion!
Whatever you call it, walking is an unmissable opportunity to immerse yourself in nature!
First things first, hiking is a leisure activity which can take place over just one day, or include unlimited overnight stays at hostels, campsites or guest houses, and generally involves walking along designated paths and following trails through scenic spots. Hikes can be as physically demanding as you choose, and you might go to explore a new and beautiful area, or to improve your physical fitness and get in shape. Hiking has also been linked to stress and anxiety relief. Fresh air to blow away the cobwebs, gorgeous views, the singsong of the birds in the trees - it’s a great way to experience the outdoors and immerse yourself in the natural world around you! That is not to say that you should not be fully prepared for all possible weather conditions, bringing plenty of warm, breathable layers, medical supplies, ample food and water, and comfortable walking shoes to boot. Hikers carry everything they need for their expedition on their backs, and must be ready for every eventuality, even if they are treading well-marked paths.
Hiking often encompasses scenic trails
Trekking, on the other hand, is generally used to describe a rigorous, multi-day trip across varied terrain, which is not normally accessible by other means of transport, and which often does not have established pathways, meaning a guide is frequently necessary or at least advisable. You should always carry a compass and a detailed map, as your orienteering skills might be tested. You'll be staying the night in tents or huts, so there is far less likelihood of home comforts than with hiking, where there is the possibility of returning home to your hotel at the end of a long day! Trekking is, as a rule, more challenging and intense as an activity, testing your physical and even mental endurance. It is vital to be in shape before starting the trek, and not to view it as a means to get fit in itself. It often takes place in tough, hilly or mountainous areas of outstanding natural beauty, like hiking, but trekking can also denote necessity, for it is sometimes an unavoidable alternative in the absence of other means of transport. Conversely, hiking is a purely recreational activity. It is absolutely crucial that all those embarking upon treks have the correct survival kit, as well as well-fitting, sturdy boots, poles, First Aid supplies, a roll of trusty duct tape for your blisters, all the essential gear you need to set up camp, and plenty of breathable layers to adjust to the frequently varying temperatures out in the wilds of nature. Treks are often supported by porters or animals to carry heavy packs and supplies, whilst a hiker will generally carry their own pack. Check out our article on what to wear on your Patagonia trek for more details, and this guide on picking the perfect pair of boots which will become your new best friends (but potentially your worst enemies if you're not careful!).
What treks can I take in Chile? You will be spoilt for choice in the vast wilderness of Patagonia, with the famous 7 day W-Trek a firm favourite, as well as the shorter 5 day version, and the Torres Del Paine Circuit. Or why not travel to the driest place on Earth, and take the ultimate Atacama adventure?
Seven-day Atacama Desert Trek
Walk the walk and talk the talk
In New Zealand, a walking expedition with at least one overnight stay involved is called tramping. It involves carrying all the things you are possibly going to need and walking cross-country to the next cosy hut which you can stay in with other fellow trampers. This kind of walking is known more commonly as bushwalking in Australia, and backpacking in North America, whilst in the United Kingdom it is often called hillwalking, with both campsites and huts being taken advantage of for overnight stays. You might hear the term thru-hiking be bandied about too, which is essentially walking a long distance trail from end to end. Last, but by no means least, bushwhacking is walking through thick vegetation and undergrowth which requires constant cutting away to clear the path ahead. This might feature in a long-distance trek across uncharted terrain.
Trekking El Plomo in the Andes will be a rewarding challenge!
So hopefully this has cleared up any confusion - hiking and trekking are frequently used interchangeably, but the important difference to note is one of intensity. Whilst a short day-hike might see you happily pottering along at an easy to moderate pace, a trek is bound to be more of a challenge, which demands more careful consideration and physical preparation.
Has all this talking of hiking and trekking got you hungry for an adventure of your own? Find out more about the excursions available and chat to our travel team today!