What is the difference between hiking and trekking shoes?
The main difference between hiking and trekking shoes ultimately boils down to minor variations in how each activity is defined. While hiking and trekking both involve long walks over diverse terrain, each uniquely demands its own specific style of shoe.
Hiking shoes are generally lighter and designed for shorter trips on established trails.
Trekking shoes are built tougher and excel on longer, more demanding adventures.
Sometimes used interchangeably, both hiking and trekking shoes are designed to provide comfort, support, and traction on your outdoor adventures. So what is the difference?
First, let’s establish an understanding of hiking and trekking from an activity perspective. We’ll then have a good foundation to focus on the distinct qualities between the footwear for each sport.
Hiking vs. Trekking: What’s The Difference?
Depending on who you talk to, hiking and trekking may seem like uniquely different activities. At the same time, you might wonder “Wait, that sounds exactly the same. I’m confused.”
Differences between hiking and trekking are nuanced and can take on different meanings depending where you are in the world. As I pen this article from the state of Oregon in the U.S., hiking seems to be the common term applied to most excursions into nature on foot. Internationally outside of the U.S., you may tend to hear trekking being used to describe that same outdoor excursion.
Okay. So, geography can have something to do with it, but what else makes them different? Let’s dive in deeper and compare the defining characteristics of hiking and trekking.
Generally speaking, hiking is considered a more leisurely activity than trekking. Hikers typically travel along a predetermined route on established trails. While the terrain can be equally challenging, hikes are often shorter, more accessible and less demanding than a trek.
Trekkers embark on journeys across wild and unmarked landscapes for longer durations. Trekking can demand a higher level of effort and advanced preparedness than hiking, and is often thought of as a more arduous, goal-oriented pursuit.
Now that we’ve established the primary differences between hiking and trekking, you’re likely coming to the conclusion that each requires unique equipment. Our focus in this article is on footwear, but you’ll also want to consider different types of outdoor gear for your hiking or trekking adventure.
With their grippy soles and good support, hiking shoes are designed to provide your feet with lightweight protection on the trail. Designed with superior traction, good stability and maximum comfort in mind, you’ll feel confident with each step you take along your hike.
Lighter and more trim than trekking shoes, hiking shoes such as the HOKA One One Sky Kaha, prioritize comfort over burly, protective support. But don’t let that fool you. Engineered for adventures on developed trails, they’re capable of tackling a variety of terrain. Rocks, roots, and water crossings? No problem. Hiking shoes like the Merrell Moab 2 feature durable materials, good ventilation, and provide weatherproof options to help you reach your destination safely.
Primary components of hiking shoes can include:
- synthetic and/or leather uppers that cradle your feet and provide flexible comfort and breathability
- good cushioning and chunky soles help absorb the trail and provide traction on uneven terrain
- durable, water-resistant qualities to shield you from nature’s elements
Learn all about how to choose hiking shoes in our guide.
Ultimately designed for those less demanding and shorter duration trips without a week’s-plus worth of wilderness equipment strapped to your back, hiking shoes deliver comfort and stability on your hiking adventures.
Built to withstand the harshest trail conditions on long journeys, trekking shoes provide maximum support when carrying heavy loads. By their very nature, trekking shoes, like the Lowa Renegade GTX, are generally heavier than hiking shoes due to their sturdy build. Just short of a 4-season expedition-level boot, trekking shoes excel on backpacking trips where you’re likely to venture off-trail across challenging, sometimes unknown terrain.
Primary components of trekking shoes can include:
- above-the-ankle leather uppers that provide maximum support and insulation
- stiffer, thick soles and toe protection to protect your feet from rugged terrain
- super durable and waterproof materials such as Gore-Tex liners
Trekking shoes like the Vasque St. Elias GTX afford the most intrepid adventurers an opportunity to seek wild places while prioritizing safety on their journey. Unsurpassed stability and support help to ensure enough comfort and protection against abrasion on the most challenging of treks.
Understanding the differences between hiking and trekking provides a compass when determining the right footwear for your outdoor adventure. Since hiking is overall less demanding than trekking, you can opt for a lighter, more breathable hiking-specific shoe while maintaining adequate stability and traction on the trail. Trekking on the other hand requires higher-performance shoes that deliver added support and durable protection on longer journeys over challenging, trail-less terrain.
Frequently asked questions
While not as supportive as a dedicated backpacking or trekking boot, a hiking shoe like the REI Co-op Flash can be worn on backpacking trips. You may want to consider lightening your backpack load and aspiring to shorter multi-day trips, especially if you’re expecting much off-trail travel. Hiking shoes really shine on the performance meter when used for trips where you’ll be carrying minimal gear in a daypack.
A trek is almost always a challenging multi-day journey, so you’ll need a proper backpack to carry critical supplies on your adventure. And because trekking typically traverses challenging, off-trail routes, a solid pair of boots will keep you sure-footed and safe on your trip.