8 Different Types of Hiking Explained
Thru-hike? Backpacking? Base-camping? Uhhh wait… what?
Over the years, new types of hiking have emerged and left many new hikers confused. If you’ve ever been flustered by odd sounding terminology… you’re in the right place!
Hiking terminology can easily get misused and misinterpreted. It certainly doesn’t help that there’s a unique – but similar sounding – term for each different type.
Don’t worry, though. Here in just a few, you’ll be speaking like a seasoned hiker and you’ll clearly understand the different types.
Oh, and don’t be intimidated! There’s hike out there for everyone no matter what gear you own or your personal physical abilities.
1. The good ol’ day-hike
This one’s actually quite simple – it’s exactly what it sounds like.
A day hike is completed in a single day. You’ll start the day in your own bed and you’ll end the day in your own bed. Day hike trails are literally everywhere and a wonderful option for anyone just getting started.
So long as you can walk, you can day hike.
Pretty cool, right?
It’s easy enough to hop in the car and take a short road trip.
Plus, you don’t need any fancy, special, or expensive equipment to get started.
It’s no secret that exercise is good for your mental and physical health. Not only is day hiking great for you, it’s also economical and the perfect activity for ANYONE interested in getting outside.
Ever heard someone talk about how they hiked all the 13’ers in Colorado?
That’s what peak-bagging is. It consists of hiking, climbing, and mountaineering a published list of peaks. Some of the most popular lists are Everest by the Bay, the Collegiate Peaks (Colorado 14’ers), and the New Hampshire 48.
Is started in the early 1890’s in Scotland and made it’s way to the United States in the late 1910’s.
Unlike day-hikes, peak-bagging isn’t suitable for beginners unless you’ve got an experienced hiking buddy. Summits take a lot of preparation and can require immense physical demands.
What do you picture when you think of a typical hike?
Walking along a trail? Marked trees and signs?
Well. Bushwhacking is a hike done through uncharted and unmarked terrain. Which means… there are no trails at all. In case you’re wondering why anyone would ever want to do this… it’s because these hikes can lead to some of the most scenic views and lookouts. They also tend to be quite adventurous in nature.
Bushwhacking lets you roam free through the wilderness with no restrains or a destination in mind.
It’s fun to get lost, sometimes! Just not so lost you can’t find your way back out.
4. Overnight hike
An overnight hike means you pack your sleeping gear, food, and water with you. After a day of hiking, you set up camp for the night. The next day, you pack everything up and head back home.
These can be really fun for beginners who’re interested in adventuring past the possibilities and duration of a day hike, plus you carry all your gear with you.
If you’re heading out for an overnight hike in the winter, proper layering is key to staying warm and dry as the temperatures (and your exertion levels) change. Check out our guide on the best winter hiking pants to learn more about how we approach clothing in the winter and keeping your legs warm + dry on the trail!
Choosing an overnight hike close to home is great preparation both physically and mentally for longer backpacking trips (which we’ll talk about in a minute).
Because an overnight hike is virtually two days of hiking, your pack can be pretty minimalist and preferably… really light. No need to get fancy, here!
Base-camping means you pick a “base-camp”. From there, you take day hikes out and come back to base – as many days/nights as you want and are prepared for.
These can be fantastic preparation for longer duration backpacking trips and are perfect for beginner to intermediate hikers.
Generally, you’ll hike to your base-camp so you want to pack light. However, since you’ll be gone for more than one night, you’ll need more clothing, snackage, and hydration than you would for an overnight hike.
You have to carry these extras in addition to your base-camp gear and other essentials.
You might find it beneficial to invest in light-weight backpacking gear (i.e. a tent, sleeping bag, heat source) if you’re planning on base-camping. Shedding a few pounds (or ounces) here and there will make a HUGE difference.
Once you reach base, you can drop your heavy gear and pack a day-pack for the rest of your exploring.
Alternatively, your car can act as base-camp. So long as your vehicle can navigate the terrain or your base camp is on an off-beaten road, It’s suuuuuper easy to camp in your car – check out our list of car camping essentials, here.
Backpacking is virtually an extended and more nomadic version of overnight camping.
It’s similar to base-camping as well… BUT each night you camp somewhere else and always have all of your gear with you.
On day 1, you hike to your first camp carrying all of your gear. You settle for the night and get some rest. The next morning, you pack everything up and keep on trekkin’ until you find a second suitable place to camp. Rinse and repeat until you reach your destination or loop back to where you started.
This is where high quality, light-weight backpacking gear becomes absolutely necessary.
You won’t want to be lugging around a massive 10 person tent or a super bulky over-sized sleeping bag with all your cast iron cooking utensils as you hike 8 miles up a mountain.
Your body won’t be a happy camper.
By definition, a thru-hike is an established long-distance trail covered in less than one calendar year. YUP. Year. There are several in the United States, including some popular ones like:
- The Appalachian Trail (2,100 miles)
- The Pacific Crest Trail (2,600 miles)
- Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles)
Now, it may seem like a huge jump to go from a 3 or 4 day backpacking trip to a thru-hike. You’re totally right. There are shorter backpacking trails (between the 300-800 mile range) to work your way up. There’s also section hiking (number 8).
Thru-hikes are for advanced and expert hikers with top notch, first-class hiking gear. They take months of financial, mental, physical, and logistical preparation.
Personally, I’ve never done a thru-hike so I won’t be talking about them much more than what’s here.
I can’t imagine the thrill and satisfaction of completing something SO incredible!
8. Section Hike
A section hike is hiking a thru-hike in shorter stints.
You could take a two week vacation and go hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Go back to work for six months. And then head back to the trail and start hiking where you left off.
This is a great way to prepare for a thru-hike and for those that can’t take off for a year at time to go adventuring (as awesome as that sounds). Section hikes take less preparation than a thru-hike but still require a significant amount of training and high-quality ultra light-weight gear.
Essentially, it’s the same as backpacking but it’s done on a specific trail.
Hopefully you’ve come away with a solid knowledge of the different types of hiking.
Whether it’s a day-hike or a thru-hike, make sure you get outside and enjoy our stunning planet!
Was this article fantastic? The worst? So-so? If you can answer yes to any of those questions, take a moment and share it with your friends. I appreciate you!
Until next time,
I would argue that there are more than 3 trails in the US that you can thru-hike. There are 11 national scenic trails that are all able to be thru-hiked, at the very least.
Hi there! So sorry for the late reply. I am just checking the site for the first time in a while. I totally agree with you! I think my thought process was to include examples instead of listing them all out. I’ll be sure to edit this. Thank you so much for letting me know! 🙂