13 Different Types of Hiking to Try Today
There are many different types of hiking styles to choose from.
Whether you’re into day hiking, backpacking, or specialized hiking, there is a style of hiking that is best for you.
You might find yourself trying out many different types of hiking after you read this guide, too.
Why So Many Different Types of Hiking?
There are many different types of hiking for many different reasons.
Each hiking style presents a unique type of outdoor recreation for the individual user. Some styles are more challenging, while others are less challenging.
Different styles will have different outcomes for what hikers want to see or the type of physical activity they wish to accomplish.
Different Types of Hiking to Try
There are many different types of hiking styles to choose from, and in this section, we will showcase the styles to help you choose the best one for you.
1 – Trekking
Trekking is often described as traveling by foot.
It’s a sort of hike where the hiker is going to a certain point by way of public access and is getting there by foot.
A trekker brings enough gear to last for the duration of the trek, which is often more than a week. Some treks can last months and even years.
Trekking is different from backpacking or even thru-hiking where those two styles don’t typically last as long or are being done to complete a trail versus travel from one point to another by way of foot.
A trekker will often mix trail and urban environments as parts of their travel itinerary.
2 – Day Hiking
Day hiking is the most common form of hiking.
This is when you do single-day hiking events, usually within the daylight hours.
Some days, hikes are short, consisting of a mile or less of hiking. Other day hikes might consist of even more miles, including mileage closer to 20 to 30 miles, depending on how active and fast someone can hike in a day.
Day hiking typically requires less gear. However, hikers should bring enough gear to survive a few nights if something goes wrong.
Day hiking usually consists of a loop, out-and-back, section, or point-to-point trail consisting of forest, grassland, and roadways in between.
3 – Backpacking
Backpacking is hiking and camping combined.
When you backpack, you are hiking for multiple days and camping in the area you’re hiking in.
Backpackers pack more gear than most day hikers. Some of the gear includes camping and cooking items to make overnight camping comfortable.
Camping may occur in campgrounds along the trail or primitive areas where you have to make your own campsite.
Backpacking can be for one night only or multiple days and nights. Some backpackers will be out for weeks at a time.
4 – Section Hiking
Section hiking is when you hike portions of a longer trail.
Imagine trying to hike the entire Pacific Coast Trail. The PCT is over 2,600 miles in length. You would have to hike nearly 8 miles a day for a year to complete it. Chances are, you don’t have that much time off to hike the entire PTC.
So, what do you do?
You section hike it. That’s where you hike specific portions of the trail and visit again another time to hike more of it.
Section hiking can be for day hiking or backpacking, depending on how many miles of a longer trail a hiker wants to complete.
Section hiking makes it easier for anyone to enjoy the entirety of a longer hiking trail.
5 – Thru-Hiking
Thru-hiking is when you start at the beginning of a trail and hike to the end of it.
If you were able to hike a full year (or less or more) to finish the Pacific Coast Trail without stopping, aside from rest days, that would be considered thru-hiking.
Thru-hikers basically live on the trail until they finish it. They bring gear with them, send some back, buy new gear, and swap gear.
Thru-hiking often comes with an entirely different culture of hiking than any other style comes with. Thru-hikers often give each other trail names, form trail families, and are taken care of by volunteers who call themselves trail angels. Trail angels give away food and snacks, which is called trail magic.
Thru-hiking requires not only a physical ability to hike for long periods but also enough time off to be able to complete a longer trail system.
6 – Urban Hiking
Urban hiking is one of the most unique forms of hiking in modern times.
Urban hiking is when you explore urban areas such as cities, towns, and villages while on foot in a hiking capacity.
Most of the time, urban hiking is done during a single-day event but can be done at night, too. There isn’t anything to say that urban backpacking couldn’t be possible, either.
Urban exploration opens hikers up to see many different things. You can see beautiful cityscapes, cultural explorations, social engagement, and environmental awareness in a community.
Since hiking will be done around more people and cultural areas, it’s important to plan for the safety and travel aspects of going to those areas.
7 – Mountain or Summit Hiking
Mountain and summit hiking offer adventurers high-altitude hiking journeys.
The purpose of mountain or summit hiking is to read a point of the trail or top of a mountain or hill as the point of completing the goal of the hike.
Some examples of mountain and summit hiking include hiking to Everest basecamp, hiking to the peak of Mount Everest, or completing a 14er, which is hiking a full 14,000-foot mountain.
Mountain and summit hiking requires strength and good physical fitness, as you will be moving up the entire time until you’re ready to hike back down after hitting the point, peak, or summit goal.
It will demand a lot of physical and mental resources from those who hike it.
These types of hikes could be done in one day or multiple days, depending on the mileage and how strong of a hiker you are.
Mountain and summit hiking is pretty much trophy collecting in the world of hiking.
8 – Night Hiking
Night hiking is like day hiking but the opposite.
Night hiking is typically a single-day hiking event, but the hike is conducted at night rather than in the day.
Night hiking isn’t for everyone. It presents more hazards and is often colder than it is during the day in certain seasons. But for the people who enjoy the outdoors at night, this type of hiking is often their favorite style.
You need that same gear as you would for day hiking but with an emphasis on lighting.
You should also make sure the area you wish to night hike at allows night hiking as many trails are close during the nighttime hours.
9 – Bushwhacking
Bushwhacking takes a special kind of breed of hikers.
Bushwhacking is when you navigate through a forest or wild area off-trail.
You don’t use trails. You hike through areas using some form of land navigation such as a GPS, map, or compass. People who get into orienteering are often those who enjoy bushwhacking.
Bushwhacking typically comes with additional hazards as you are no longer on trails that you can see better on.
You should make sure that you are permitted to bushwhack as some trail systems prohibit off-trail use, such as nature preserves and many National Parks.
10 – Winter Hiking
Winter hiking is often a season that people wait all year for.
Most of the wild animals hibernate during the winter. There are no bugs. The ticks are decreased. Snakes are migrating. You can see everything. No spider webs to walk through. The only bad thing about it is that you have to deal with cold weather, but some people enjoy that.
Most people winter hike because they can see more and leave the trail without getting into too many problems.
Winter also completely changes the look and perception of nature. Everything looks different, covered in snow and ice, especially with leaves off the trees.
But winter does come with extra hazards. Everything is slicker, and special attention needs to be given to icy areas, especially the edges of cliffs and mountains.
11 – Speed Hiking
Speed hiking is one notch below trail running, but both probably occur on the same trip.
To speed hike, you simply purposefully walk faster than you normally would while hiking down the trail. There is a difference between speed hiking, jogging, and running, but all three could easily occur in the same hiking environment. Many speed hikers likely also do some trail running or jogging while on the trail.
There are many benefits of speed hiking.
It’s great for fitness and health. It’s a good way to introduce yourself to the start of trail running, where you focus on gradually getting faster until you can do so at a running speed. Speed hiking is a great way to cover more ground and hike more miles.
You’ll want to observe additional safety protocols as a speed hiker since you’ll come to and pass over hazards quicker than normal. You’ll also need to consider gear weight, as it will become harder to carry a lot when hiking at a faster pace.
Most importantly, speed hiking is definitely a form of fitness, so you’ll want to make sure you stay fueled and hydrated while you’re out there.
12 – Fastpacking
Fastpacking is like trail running and backpacking all in one.
Fastpacking adopts the elements of backpacking, trail running, and ultralight hiking in one setting. Fastpacking is different from speed hiking because you’ll camp overnight when fastpacking, while speed hiking is typically a day hiking activity.
As mentioned, ultralight hiking is also in the mix. This means you’ll want to pack light. You’ll want to pack lighter than you might think you need to pack.
Fastpacking will really use your resources and fitness level. If you have a heavy pack, you’ll slow down quickly and potentially even become injured.
Fastpacking allows you to cover more ground on your hike, go a longer distance, and get to camp at a quicker pace.
Like with speed hiking, many additional hazards come with fastpacking that you need to ensure you make yourself aware of before you attempt it.
13 – Point-of-Interest Hiking
Point-of-interest hiking focuses on a specific point of interest as the sole reason for the hike.
This type of hiking is when a hiker or hikers are hiking solely to see something or visit something specific. Some examples include waterfall hiking, natural arch hiking, cave hiking, and related.
A lot of this type of hiking requires good navigational skills, where hikers use a map, compass, GPS, and other navigational tools to find the point-of-interest locations.
This could be a form of day hiking or a multi-day backpacking scenario. This could also include multiple trails being utilized in one day or during multiple days.
Point-of-interest hiking is often very niche in the world of outdoor recreation.
FAQ About the Different Types of Hiking
With all the different types of hiking out there, you might have some additional questions. The following questions are frequently asked on the subject of different hiking styles.
What are the different levels of hiking?
There are a few different levels of hiking when it comes to fitness and abilities.
A beginner hiker is where it all starts. This is when you have little to no experience hiking. You should stick to easy hiking trails until you gain more experience to move on to harder ones.
Intermediate hikers are those with more hiking experience and skills. You can usually tackle the more moderately difficult trails. Technical hiking requirements will be easier to cope with, but you still need to continue to gain more hiking experience.
Advanced hiking is when you can hike most types of trails. This includes rugged and strenuous trails that require top fitness levels. At this point, you should have a lot of experience with hiking.
Expert hikers can usually hike anything. They can hike mountains, thru-hike, and spend months to even years on the trail. This usually takes a long time to reach this level of ability. You practically devote your life to hiking at this point.
What are the different hiking difficulties for trails and routes?
There are many different difficulty ratings for hiking by different organizations and agencies.
But you can pretty much sum them all up based on a few different ratings.
The easy rating is for easier trails with little elevation or technical requirements. Moderate trails have some elevation gain and typically are a bit more technical to deal with. Rugged trails will typically be rolling hills with strenuous technical requirements like stream crossings and mountain passes.
Different hiking difficulties require different fitness levels by hikers.
If you attempt a harder trail and you’re not prepared for it, you might have a bad experience. You should gradually get better at hiking and take on tougher trails the more experience you gain.
What are the most common types of hiking?
The most common types of hiking are day hiking, backpacking, and thru-hiking.
Day hiking consists of one-day hiking trips during the daylight hours. Hiking usually starts early in the morning and ends during the day.
Backpacking is when hiking is done for two days or more. This is when hikers will hike during the day and camp during the night.
Thru-hiking is when hikers are hiking a trail from the start to the finish. Thru-hiking might take anywhere from a week to several years, depending on how long the trail is.
What are the benefits of each type of hiking?
Each of the different types of hiking listed above offers many different benefits.
The most common benefits are health, fitness, and hiking skill mastery. Hiking is an excellent activity to promote good health. You’ll gain fitness abilities the more you hike. You’ll also get better at hiking the more you hike and learn how you can hike as a person.
At the end of the day, you know yourself best more than anyone else.
How is hiking different from walking?
Hiking is different from walking because walking tends to be a habitual mode of transportation that we use to get around for normal everyday events. You might walk for exercise, but chances are, you’re doing it in a controlled environment where it is easy to do.
Hiking, on the other hand, is when you walk in nature. It’s away from most man-made technologies, and you’re at the mercy of what nature brings you. Hiking demands more skill, strategy, and attention in order for it to be a positive experience.
Final Thoughts About the Different Types of Hiking
There are many different types of hiking styles. In this list above, you’re surely to find what style fits you the best. The list above is pretty exhaustive, and you should be able to find something. If your style isn’t listed, comment below with what it is. I’m very interested in learning more.
Please share this article with other hikers you know who might be interested in reading it. Share it with people who aren’t into hiking yet but think you should try it out.
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Founder, Hiking with Shawn
Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman