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The 9 Types of Hiking Explained

If you are an aspiring hiker who has just started to explore the backcountry, you may have found other more experienced outdoors people talking about the different types of hiking. If you’re wondering how on earth there can be multiple classifications of walking, you’re in the right place!

The 9 types of hiking are:

  1. Day hiking
  2. Summit hiking
  3. Overnight hiking
  4. Bushwhacking
  5. Backpacking
  6. Base camping
  7. Thru hiking
  8. Section hiking
  9. Hut to hut hiking

Although you now know the different types of hiking, this alone will not suffice when choosing the style that suits you. So, strap on your boots! We’re going to dive into what you need to know about each type of hiking, from the fitness level required to the duration of each adventure.

The 9 Types Of Hiking

1. Day Hiking

As you would expect from the name, the qualifying factor that makes something a day hike is that it must be completed within a day. There is no difficulty requirement and day hikes can take place in a wide range of terrains.

Beginner-Friendly

Owing to its short duration, day hiking is the most beginner-friendly type of hiking on our list. Many popular day hikes are clearly signed, and you don’t have to venture deep into the wilderness to find satisfying and rewarding trails.

Day hiking requires very little equipment and is generally a safe introduction to the outdoors. Plenty of websites and guidebooks will detail different day hikes, which will make choosing one that fits your schedule much easier. Directions are also easy to come by online, so you can lessen your chances of getting lost en route.

Remember The Essentials

The main things to consider when going out day hiking are the weather forecast and how much water you are carrying. Even though you are only planning to spend a few hours hiking, you should always prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Remember to bring overnight supplies such as an emergency blanket, snacks, and a GPS device. You probably won’t need to use them, but it is always better to have them, just in case.

Suits All Abilities

But day hiking isn’t just suited to beginners. For many more experienced hikers, day hikes were what first got them interested in exploring the outdoors. If you are looking for a more advanced day hike, seek out trails with steeper gradients and more challenging terrain. No matter your fitness level or ability, day hiking is the perfect way to spend a day!

PROS:

  • Great for beginners
  • Little equipment needed
  • Suitable for all fitness levels

CONS:

  • May need to venture further for challenging trails
  • May be less exciting for experienced hikers

2. Summit Hiking

For many hikers, summit hiking is the ultimate outdoors activity. As the name suggests, summit hiking involves conquering the peak or summit of a mountain.

Peak Bagging

You may have also heard the term ‘peak-bagging,’ which is commonly confused with summit hiking. Although they are similar and do overlap, peak bagging involves reaching the summit of a predetermined set of mountains, for example, the Scottish Munros or the Colorado 14ers.

This type of hiking is goal orientated,and the joy for the hiker comes from ‘bagging’ peaks every time they conquer one of the designated hills.

Suits Experienced Hikers

Generally, summit hiking comes with considerably more risks than other types of hiking, so it should really only be attempted by more experienced hikers. When you are venturing up into the mountains, it is worth remembering that the steep gradients will be tough on the body, so you’ll need to be fairly fit.

Safety Considerations

As summit hiking can be dangerous, it is always advisable to go as part of a group. If you have a specific summit in mind but are worried that it may be beyond your hiking capabilities, you can often hire experienced professional guides who can lead your party and keep you safe.

Anyone going summit hiking should always consider safety. Tell somebody where you are headed before you set out on your trek, and bring an emergency overnight kit just in case. This should consist of snacks, GPS, a survival shelter, torch, water, and an emergency blanket.

When it comes to summit hiking, one of the most important considerations is the weather. Treacherous conditions can make summit hiking not only dangerous but near on impossible in some conditions, so make sure you check the forecast in advance and respond to the elements accordingly.

Great For Nature Lovers

The best part of summit hiking is the connection that you feel to nature. The views from mountain peaks are often breathtaking (if the weather plays ball) and the vistas offer the unique opportunity to see the world from a different point of view.

Depending on where you are, summit hiking can present a wealth of nature spotting opportunities. You could spot the flash of a deer tail, the scarper of a lizard or, if you get really lucky, you might even see eagles soar above you!

PROS:

  • Great for experienced hikers
  • Incredible views
  • Opportunities to see nature

CONS:

  • Very weather dependent
  • Can be dangerous
  • Requires a lot of preparation

3. Overnight Hiking

For those who want to extend their adventures but aren’t ready for multi-day trips, overnight hiking is a great option. It involves combining a day hike with an overnight stay out in the wild. Typically, hikers will either camp in a tent or bundle themselves up in a bivy bag, although this will depend on the terrain, environment, and season.

Good For Beginners

Overnight hiking is great for those who are new to hiking but have a little experience under their belts. It allows them to elongate their adventure, without needing to venture into technical or challenging terrains.

The wild camping aspect also makes this kind of hiking feel very adventurous and allows the hiker to feel close to nature, something many people look for when heading out into the great outdoors.

Pack Light

With overnight hiking, you will need to carry everything that you need for your night in the wild on your back. So, it is very important that you pack carefully and with consideration for the amount of weight that you will be carrying.

Excess weight bearing down on your back also puts pressure on your knees and ankles, making you more likely to sustain injuries on the trail. As a rough ballpark, you should aim to carry no more than 10% of your body weight in your backpack.

It takes most hikers a while to work out how much is too much for them to carry, and this is often worked out using trial and error.

Rather than committing yourself to a bulky, heavy backpack on a long-distance hike, it is a good idea to trial the weight of your pack on a few overnight hikes to make sure you get it right. This is also advisable because, if you do severely overpack, you won’t be stuck on the trail for days ruing your decision.

Wild Camping

One thing to consider when heading out on an overnight hike is that many places will have restrictions when it comes to wild camping. For example, in England, wild camping is not allowed without the permission of the landowner. Make sure you check the situation where you are and always leave no trace.

PROS:

  • A good introduction to longer hikes
  • Helps to perfect your packing skills
  • Allows you to feel close to nature

CONS:

  • More to carry
  • Can be miserable in bad weather

4. Bushwhacking

Also known as off-trail hiking, this type of hiking involves exploring largely uncharted territory without the aid of a set trail. It first got its name from the act of forming a path through an overgrown area. Traditionally, walkers would have to beat the undergrowth down.

Useful Skill

Bushwhacking will help hikers to develop useful skills around navigation and could come in handy in emergency situations. Some hikers take the opportunity to develop their compass skills while bushwhacking, a competence that has been largely abandoned in the wake of mobile technology. 

A Sense Of Freedom

The notable advantage of bushwhacking is that it provides a real sense of freedom. Hikers are traveling along their own trail and doing things their own way, completely immersed in the surrounding environment.

More Dangerous

It goes without saying that if you are hiking off-trail, you may face additional risks. Bushwhacking is a strenuous type of hiking,and it is easy to twist your ankle when you can’t see the ground clearly.

Exploring very wild areas can also pose issues. Hunting territories, wild animals, and lack of technological infrastructure could make things more difficult for hikers. However, it is important to state that these risks are not just associated with bushwhacking and will affect most types of hiking.

Another important note is that you need to be environmentally responsible, and don’t destroy chunks of natural habitats. While bushwhacking can be freeing, you need to remember that you’re going to be moving through plants and even animals’ homes. So, don’t excessively destroy the landscape around you.

PROS:

  • Provides a sense of freedom
  • Great for adventurous hikers

CONS:

  • More strenuous
  • Can be easier to get injured
  • Can damage natural habitats of animals

5. Backpacking

Backpacking is generally a North American term used to describe extended overnight hiking trips. Instead of hikers spending just one night in the wild, backpacking means that hikers will spend at least 2 days hiking and camping in the backcountry. Unlike some other types of hiking, backpacking requires the hiker to stay in a different location every night.

Backpackers Carry Everything

The main qualifier of backpacking is that the hiker will carry all of their equipment on their backs. This will generally include food, water, a sleeping system, shelter, cooking gear, and anything extra needed for wild survival.

Much like with overnight hiking, hikers should pack their rucksacks and supplies carefully, to make sure that they have everything that they need. Likewise, make sure not to overfill your pack, as this can increase your chances of getting injured and needing to pull off the trail.

Simplicity

Most hikers are drawn to backpacking for the simplicity that it provides. Having to carry your home on your back with no room for excessive luxuries offers a new kind of challenge for many people and also helps them get back to their roots in nature.

PROS:

  • Ideal for multi-day adventures
  • Simple
  • Cheap travel experience

CONS:

  • More to carry
  • Involves preparation
  • Gear can be expensive

6. Base Camping

Base camping is traditionally seen in wilderness settings that can be hard to reach. In this type of hiking, backpackers set off to a base camp that they use as a starting point for different hikes in the area. They will then return to the base camp before the end of the day to sleep.

Great For Summit Hikers

This is an ideal choice for summit hikers or those who are peak bagging. This is because many peaks appear in the same mountain ranges or geographical location. The central location of the hiker’s base camp can help them to hit more summits in a day.

Reduced Load

Having a base camp also offers a huge advantage for backpackers. As they are venturing out on day hikes from their central hub, they can reduce the load they need to carry on their backs, while still having access to the wild terrain.

Car Camping

Although in its most traditional sense setting up a base camp is likely to involve constructing a tent and campsite, in many instances, there is nothing stopping you from using your car as your base.

Those who are RV camping or car camping will find that they can drive to many locations and then hike multiple trails using their vehicle as a starting point. This is especially good for those with children who may not want to do a long hike into the wilderness.

Depending on where you are, there could be restrictions on car camping. If this is something you’re considering, check the rules regarding parking and overnight stays beforehand.

PROS:

  • Good for peak baggers
  • Less to carry
  • Can work for car campers

CONS:

  • Your hike is limited by where you set up your base camp

7. Thru Hiking

Thru hiking has been made famous thanks to movies such as ‘Wild.’ Essentially, a thru hike is an end-to-end hike of an extremely long and already established trail. These types of hikes are traversed pretty much continuously and should be completed in less than one calendar year. Examples of thru hikes include the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Experienced Hikers Only

These trails are very long in length, usually thousands of miles, and should only be attempted by serious, experienced hikers. They usually take months to complete and will require advanced hiking gear.

Anyone wanting to attempt a thru hike will need to prepare in a whole manner of ways, including physically, mentally, logistically, and financially. Although a thru hike is something that appears on many people’s bucket lists, the time commitment and discipline required means that it will stay a dream for many.

PROS:

  • Rewarding experience
  • Incredible views
  • Challenging personal goal

CONS:

  • Requires large time commitment
  • Can be expensive
  • Very mentally and physically demanding

8. Section Hiking

Even though a section hike is shorter than a thru hike, it is important to introduce the latter first. A section hike is essentially a smaller part of a longer thru hike.

Flexibility

If you can’t take long periods away from home or work, section hiking gives you the opportunity to complete one of the longer trails in stages and not necessarily in the predefined order. You can pick and choose the most scenic parts of the trail if you want and there is less pressure to complete the trail quickly, allowing you to really appreciate the experience.

Section hiking is also a good solution if you would struggle to budget for a full thru hike. By completing one of the long trails over multiple years, it can be easier and less daunting to save money for.

Less Training Needed

Although section hikes are typically less demanding than a full thru hike, they do still require an element of training. However, this is unlikely to be as intense as if you were walking the entire trail in one go. High-quality, lightweight gear is a must for these types of hikes.

PROS:

  • Ideal for time-strapped hikers
  • A lot of flexibility

CONS:

  • Still requires quality (and sometimes expensive) gear
  • Challenging terrain

9. Hut-To-Hut Hiking

The final type of hiking on our list is similar to backpacking, only instead of camping, you will be staying in organized accommodation such as refuges, cabins, or lodges. These huts have been tactically placed along the trail to allow for rest stops.

This type of hiking can be arranged independently, but is more commonly organized as part of a tour. This does mean that a lot of budget hikers are priced out of the market as these types of trips are typically very expensive.

Ideal For Older Hikers

As hut-to-hut hiking involves sleeping in prearranged accommodation, there is no need for hikers to carry shelter and other essentials with them. This makes hut-to-hut hiking ideal for older people or those who don’t want to hike with a weight on their back.

Enhanced Community Feel

Hut-to-hut hiking is common in alpine European destinations such as the Pyrenees and the Dolomites. It tends to enhance the feeling of community that you get on a hike as shared accommodation allows you to really get to know your hike mates.

PROS:

  • Community feel
  • Less to carry

CONS:

  • Expensive

Final Thoughts

When you’re a beginner hiker, some of the above types of hiking can sound very intimidating. However, they don’t need to be. Every hiker you meet will have started out on small day trips before building up to longer, more challenging treks. And there’s nothing to stop you from doing this too!

If you don’t fancy taking on thousands of miles in one go, don’t worry! No single type of hiking is better than any other, and no one is going to judge you for your choice of hike. The whole point of learning about the different types of hiking is finding what suits you, no matter what that looks like.