Walking vs Hiking – What’s the difference? Do there have to be wild animals for it to be considered hiking? Is one better than the other? Why are people so into hiking these days? In this post, we’ll explore the answers to the difference between walking and hiking, the benefits of each, the equipment needed (spoiler alert – very little), and what the appeal is.
What is the Difference between Walking and Hiking?
When considering walking vs hiking, let’s start with some basic definitions.
Walking is fairly self-explanatory I think. It generally involves wearing whatever you have on at the time, a pair of sneakers, boots, sandals, or just barefoot. We walk to the store, around the yard, to a meeting, throughout the city, on walking paths, and in parks. Walking often involves a more level path that is often concrete or asphalt. You may walk at a slow or very brisk pace but generally, it’s done within city limits, on a dirt road, or some other more even pathway. It’s generally more about getting from point A to point B or exercising.
Hiking is “in nature.” Oftentimes there is a path. Some of the best hiking comes when you are off the path or bushwhacking. It may be a wooded area, desert terrain, open fields, mountains, or anything in between. It’s generally not on a level path and you are likely to encounter the animals that thrive in the nature in which you are hiking (yeah, that means bugs, snakes, raccoons, deer, bears, coyotes, spiders, wolves, etc.).
Bushwack Definition: cut or push one’s way through vegetation or across rough country, not following an established trail.
While the terrain is often uneven and full of rocks, logs, climbing, descending, etc., you are also likely to experience some majestic views that can only be experienced with a hike. You may or may not encounter other people and you may or may not have cell phone service (so it can be a little scary for some). It often includes a backpack of some sort and it might last for an hour, a few hours, days, weeks, or even months. Maybe most importantly, hiking often involves adventure – the unexpected, the amazing, and the occasional “I might be lost but it’ll all be okay.”
Adventure Pros and Cons
I understand the thought of all that “adventure” is daunting to some. Hey, I’ve been there. I remember hiking with a friend of mine in early summer and she told me to brush my cheek off because there was a tick on it. That was the end of my hiking in that location for the summer. I can handle snakes, opossums, armadillos, bats, deer, and coyotes but I draw the line at ticks. Although I stayed out of that particular location, I couldn’t NOT (yes, I know that’s a double negative) hike all summer so I invested in some hardcore spray, and repellent bracelets before heading out (which completely goes against my organic roots). It absolutely does take a little preparation to have a good experience but I’ll save all that for another post.
Benefits of Walking
There are a ton of benefits to walking. As of this writing, I recently lost almost 50 lbs by walking every day. You can check out that video here:
Walking provides benefits ranging from weight loss to cardiovascular health, increased strength and stamina, stress reduction, and may even reduce the risk of obtaining cancer (Harvard Health: 5 Surprising Benefits of Walking). It’s easy to do, requires only comfortable shoes and some water, and just 10 minutes multiple times a day will result in health benefits.
I personally love walking. It’s a great way to get in a quick pick-me-up of energy throughout the day. You can greet your neighbors as you walk by. It’ll make your dog extremely happy. No matter how cold, hot, rainy, or windy it is, most of us can power thru 15 minutes in the elements. When I worked in a corporate environment, I often held walking meetings. I found I could think more clearly, and problem-solve more efficiently. There was the added bonus of confidentiality and a shift of energy.
You can walk in silence, with a friend, listen to an audiobook or podcast, jam to some music, or take a phone call. It’s so easy!
Benefits of Hiking
Hiking has similar but slightly different benefits. Besides the additional physical benefit of gaining balance, strength, and agility as a result of climbing, descending, and traversing creeks, rocks, and uneven terrain, there are many other benefits to hiking. I also love hiking so may be a little biased. In this section, I’ll discuss my personal journey and experiences while hiking in hopes they inspire you to put on some hiking boots and give hiking a try.
Article: Benefits of Hiking
Watching Life Unfold
One of the greatest benefits of hiking is the connection to nature. There is nothing like watching how life unfolds within every season.
In early Spring you’ll encounter the first signs of life. I don’t just mean the flower bulbs that bloom after a fall planting, I mean life in every way. The animals begin to come out from hiding. The stream that was frozen just a week ago begins to flow freely. The birds are singing and starting to swoop down in search of little bugs and worms. There are patches of green pushing up through the ground and reaching for the warmth of the sun.
Even with all the sounds of nature, there is silence. No car traffic, no people rushing while seemingly talking to no one on their blue tooth, and no airplanes or conference calls. Every sound seems to belong perfectly in this place. And the lack of noise replenishes me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be replenished. It fills me up so I can take another day or week of the noise my life has become filled with.
Every season brings with it unique challenges and joys. Summer is full of bugs yet the days are so long nothing compares to an evening hike with a starlit sky overhead and coyotes calling in the background. You can walk across streams barefoot, feel the grass beneath your feet, and enjoy a lazy Saturday with a swim.
Fall brings the beauty of falling leaves, the animals that laid low in the summer begin to peak back out, the brisk air that is perfect for a power walk in the woods, and the beginnings of the preparation for Mother Earth to go to sleep and rest for a few months.
Low temperatures and winds that blow right through you make winter a bit more challenging to hike. Yet, animals are in abundance, the ground is solid and crunchy, the snow is light and fluffy, and the cold air is invigorating.
Hiking provides a perspective of the ebbs and flows of life that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s a constant reminder that in spite of our best efforts, there is a cycle to life – a cycle that exists in spite of man.
If this article is making you want to explore hiking or you already hike but are always on the lookout for new gear, check out my Amazon Hiking & Camping Gear List. It’s full of some of my favorite items!
Removing Self-Imposed Limitations
Hiking shows me that I’m capable of things I’ve not thought possible. There are mountains I have looked up to and thought, “I can’t imagine climbing that . . .ever . . .in this lifetime.” They have taunted me to try until I finally do and then they become a part of my routine. There are streams I didn’t think I could get across without getting soaked that have become a simple leap during my trek. Hiking has made me physically stronger and mentally braver. I try things and go places I would have never tried if I hadn’t experienced success while hiking.
Hiking forces me to trust nature and overcome my fears of getting lost, breaking a leg in the middle of nowhere, or having a snake jump up and bite me in the ass while I squat for an unplanned bathroom break (yes, that was a real fear).
Article: Courage is Calling by Ryan Holliday
I’ve long since overcome the paralyzing fear of a mass murderer showing up on a hiking trail and killing me. I know we hear about that on the news all the time and as women, we are taught that we should be afraid to be alone. The truth is, we are thousands of times more likely to be assaulted in an urban environment or anywhere in the world than we are while hiking in a national park (source here).
Hiking in nature calms my soul while elevating my heart rate. It makes me want to breathe deeper, fight harder, and love more completely. By having the courage to explore new places, I gained the confidence to cope with all the challenges of life. When I have navigated myself from being lost in the woods (yes, this has happened more than once), listening to some bonehead on a conference call is not so concerning anymore. It clears my head and gives me space to dream and just be.
Article: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Most importantly, hiking keeps me sane. And that’s better for me and everyone that has to come in contact with me. : )
The major differences between walking vs hiking are the location and terrain. If you feel safer or don’t have the time to get someplace in nature, walking is a great form of exercise and stress relief! Hiking has a few added benefits regarding balance and strength. Both are excellent options for your overall continued well-being.