What Are the Different Types of Hiking? 16 You Should Know

What Are the Different Types of Hiking? 16 You Should Know

What kind of hiker are you? Do you like to blaze a trail, or do you prefer to stick to the beaten path? No matter what your preference, there's a type of hiking for you. Seriously - there are more ways to hike than throwing a pack on and hitting the trail. 
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What kind of hiker are you? Do you like to blaze a trail, or do you prefer to stick to the beaten path? No matter what your preference, there's a type of hiking for you. Seriously - there are more ways to hike than throwing a pack on and hitting the trail.

Here are several different types of hiking you could try:

  1. Trekking
  2. Thru-hiking
  3. Swim hiking
  4. Scrambling
  5. Glacier hiking
  6. Waterfalling
  7. Dog hiking
  8. Summit hiking
  9. Naked hiking
  10. Short-distance hiking
  11. Long-distance hiking
  12. Base camping
  13. Section hiking
  14. Bushwhacking
  15. Peak bagging
  16. Backpacking

More than you expected? You're not alone there, as even the most seasoned hiker, trekker, scrambler, etc. would struggle to list all of those. But a list isn't all that valuable without context, so let's get familiar with each of them, so you can choose one to embark on next.

16 Different Types of Hiking You Should Know

It's difficult to remember every single detail about one style of hiking, let alone 16. So, you'll find a few words next to the name of each style, acting as your CliffsNotes before the full description.

1. Trekking - Lengthy, Challenging Journey

Let’s begin by talking about a type of hike that’s been a frequent topic of conversation at Kenver lately, the trek.

Treks are characterized by their long distances, but that alone doesn't make them a "long-distance hike" - you'll learn why further on in this guide.

There are a few things that specifically place trekking in a class of its own:

Treks, More Than Hiking Trails

A trek doesn’t exclusively stick to hiking trails; it’s very often quite the opposite. Trekkers can hike along perilous mountain cliffs, deep forest ridges, and even on terrain that’s unexplored by mankind.

A Different Purpose

The purpose of a trek isn't to complete a trail (or else trekkers would stay on a trail), but rather, to reach a destination.

Everything But The Kitchen Sink

Trekkers must pack enough gear–including food and water rations–for themselves for the duration of their trek. They need tents and sleeping bags as well, as lodging may be available, but it’s never guaranteed.

Introspection and Soul-Searching

A trek improves one’s physical and mental abilities, allows for focus and calm, creates opportunities for spiritual enlightenment, and even opens doors to potentially lifelong friendships.

2. Thru-Hiking - Long Single Trip, End-to-End

The next type of hike you might try is known as the thru-hike or through-hike. When thru-hiking, you’ll embark on a well-known trail with a distinguishable endpoint by foot.

These trails often span long distances, which is why yet another name for thru-hiking is "end-to-end hiking."

Up for a bit of debate, but technically to thru-hike a trail, you need to hike the whole length in a single trip - here's where that gets a bit more complicated.

Thru-hikes are extremely long. We're talking thousands of miles. When you hear someone talk about thru-hiking, they are most likely referencing a handful of trails.

Here are some of the most popular, by region.

Famous Thru-Hikes In the US

You’ll usually only hear the term thru-hiking referencing certain trails, in the US, these are the most popular:

  • Continental Divide Trail (CDT) - From border to border, the US National Scenic Trail runs from the US border to Chihuahua, MX, and Alberta, CA. In the US, it covers Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico, spanning a distance of nearly 3,100 miles.
  • Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) - The northern trailhead starts in British Columbia, and its southernmost point is just south of Campo, California (hence the inspiration for BE Outfitters' "Campo" utility hammock.) The PCT hugs the western coast of the US, going through BC, Washington, Oregon, and California, bringing the total distance to nearly 2,700 miles.
  • Appalachian Trail (A.T.) - This is a 14-state trail in the Eastern United States, that goes the distance of Georgia to Maine - measuring a distance of around 2,200 miles.

If any doubt that these are lengthy trails, let's imagine you're going to thru-hike the CDT, and you were able to travel 20 miles a day. At a length of 3,100 miles, it would take you over 5.5 months to complete.

Yeh, thru-hikes are serious business and built for the experienced hikers out there.

Thru-hikes are all over though, certainly not limited to North America. Here are some other notable thru-hikes from around the world.

Famous Thru-Hikes Outside the US

  • Canada's Great Divide Trail - 700 miles
  • Israel National Trail - 650 miles
  • Turkey's Lycian Way - 350 miles
  • Italian/French Side: Via Francigena - 1,000 miles
  • Spain's Camino de Santiago - 500 miles
  • New Zealand's Te Araroa - 2,000 miles

Thru-Hiking is A Serious Commitment

Even though thru-hiking is done on a single trail and doesn’t offer the same kinds of adventuring opportunities as trekking, it’s still a voyage, nevertheless.

Hikers still have to pack enough food and water for the journey, because once you begin a thru-hike, turning back isn't exactly ideal.

As for sleep, thru-hikers have to be ready to sleep wherever they can on the trail. Those accommodations might include lodges or simply green expanses for pitching a tent under the stars.

The feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that one gets when completing a thru-hiking trail certainly makes backtracking to the beginning more bearable.   

3. Swim Hiking - Part Swimming, Part Hiking

Quite a few types of hikes combine multiple disciplines into one - we'll cover them throughout this list, but the first one we'll hit is swim hiking. And you can probably see where this one gets its name.

As implied, swim hiking (sometimes spelled "swimhiking") combines elements of hiking and swimming.

Approach To Swim Hiking

Most often, swim hiking starts at a traditional trail, but in true hiking fashion, can also begin wherever your whim desires. But once you reach a lake or river, this is where things shift a bit.

You’d put on your swim gear and traverse the body of water to the other side. Then you’d continue your hike until you reach the end of the trail or your destination.

Swim Hiking Will Test You

Swim hiking requires excellent physical strength. While hiking is a form of exercise that traditionally works the lower body, swimming requires a strong core as well as powerful upper and lower-body muscles.

Although you can always take breaks between walking and swimming, swim hiking demands a lot of stamina and endurance.

Plus, you'll need to be able to seamlessly switch between two different types of exercises without getting winded, which isn't easy.

It’s not like you can stop swimming in the middle of a lake - or you could, but not for very long, at least...

Packing for Swim Hiking

Swim hiking will challenge how you pack too. This requires real planning and allocating space in your backpack accordingly.

Even though you might only need to swim for a day of the entire hike, you'll still have to pack twice the gear, as you need both hiking clothes and swimming gear.

You might consider a partition to prevent your wet swim gear from soaking your dry gear or saturating through the bag.

4. Scrambling - Hiking Meets Mountaineering

Scrambling is a form of hiking that involves ascending rock cliffs primarily with one’s hands and arms. Scrambling combines elements of mountaineering, rock climbing, hillwalking, and hiking.

It engages your entire body - requiring balance, stability, and climbing techniques for gripping, holding, sticking and pulling.

You might think this is mostly an upper body exercise, but scrambling, like climbing, if done correctly, engages upper and lower body muscles.

Having a background in rock climbing–ideally outdoor rock climbing–will make transitioning into scrambling easier.

That said, scrambling and rock climbing do differ in several critical ways.

Scrambling vs Rock Climbing

There are quite a few characteristics that make scrambling a distinctly different activity from rock climbing, but here are the primary ones.

For one, scrambling–especially at a certain level–usually does not use equipment such as a harness, rope, or even a helmet.

Not all climbing does either, but at similar verticals, rope and harness would be commonly used in climbing whereas scrambling may not.

This is one reason why scrambling is considered a lot more dangerous, although it doesn’t always have to be.

Like rock climbing, scrambling is graded by difficulty. The classification systems vary throughout the world, but one of the more popular classification systems uses five classes.

Those who want a nice, easy scrambling experience could scramble on Class 1 or Class 2 terrain.

To increase the difficulty, try a Class 3 scramble.

It often takes years of Class 3 scrambling before reaching Class 4, and some never get to Class 5, the highest degree of difficulty. In Class 5, think cliff with no ropes, without a clear problem our route.

5. Glacier Hiking - Scrambling Glacial Terrain

Close to scrambling, you'll find glacier hiking; the difference as you might expect is instead of rock faces, it’s glacial terrain you climb. The goal of glacier hiking is to reach the top of a summit or finish a trail.

Taking somewhat after mountaineering, glacier hiking can only be done in cold-weather months, and even then, only during snowy winters.

Glacier Hiking is Limited by Season

It might sound strange that you can only glacier hike in the winter, given glaciers are huge sheets of ice. But that’s exactly why you need the snow found in winter.

Glaciers can still melt to some degree, while the ice will reflect most of the sun and heat, the rock and heat generated below can melt the ice shelves, and create unstable conditions.

Winter snow will cover the crevasses, which are deep cracks in glaciers that can reach depths of over 100 feet. And make it a far safer environment for glacier hiking.

The Challenge of Glacier Hiking

The most challenging part about glacier hiking is that it can change unexpectedly; a once easy route could become treacherous almost overnight.

This is why it's so important to have a guide with you who knows the terrain well.

Additionally, because of the potential for avalanches, it’s always best to hike with a partner or group.

Landmarks for Glacier Hiking

Some of the most popular places for glacier hiking include:

  • Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
  • Svinafellsjokull in Iceland
  • Great Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland
  • Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina
  • Glacier National Park in Montana

Glacier Hiking Gear

Glacial hikers will be dressed from head to toe in winter gear and bring with them a unique setup in the hiking world. Equipment like ice axes, helmets, suspender belts, rows, and crampons, is needed for this style of hiking.

And not to bring you down or discourage you from trying something new, but even with a harness, helmet, and rope, severe injuries and even death can still occur, although technically, that’s true of any type of hiking.

6. Waterfalling - Do Go Chasing Waterfalls

Not all types of hikes are about pushing yourself to the limits physically and mentally. That's where waterfalling comes in.

Waterfalling is a traditional type of hike done with one purpose: to find waterfalls.

Since waterfalls may not always be on the beaten trail, hikers might have to venture off traditional terrain to find the sight they’re looking for. Waterfalling is built for hikers with a love for exploring.

Explorers Welcome

Waterfalling relies on two things - hiking prowess and a general idea of where waterfalls are located. That said, especially passionate and skilled hikers might set out to find undiscovered waterfalls.

Let's say you take this up - you end up at a waterfall. Then what?

Most will find a comfy place to sit, relax, and enjoy. If they know the water level, they may even dive in. Although this isn't recommended without confident knowledge of the pool - for obvious reasons. But it's not really about diving or swimming.

Instead, it’s more about enjoying a waterfall’s lustrous beauty, snapping some photos, and maybe seeing salmon or other creatures that call the waterfall home.

This is the magic of waterfalling and why it's hiking without pushing your body to its limits.

7. Dog Hiking - Furry Companion Hiking

Pet owners know the gut-wrenching heartbreak of having to leave your beloved dog at home when embarking on a multi-day hike. The dog whimpers and gives those sad puppy eyes.

For those who have always longed to bring their dog with them on an outdoor adventure, there’s dog hiking.

With dog hiking, rather than hiking solely with human companions, you have the presence of your four-legged friend as well. Once you add your dog to the mix, things will need to shift a bit for your hike. For instance:

  • For one, you can only choose trails and paths that are easily navigable by your dog and you. That means no climbing, as your pup might struggle to do this. You don’t want to hike on any inherently dangerous terrain anyway, as then it’s both your life and the dog’s life at risk.
  • You also have to pack even more gear, as your dog needs a portable water bowl, a portable food bowl, their daily rations of dog kibble or canned food, their leash, their harness, and a bed.

Although dog hiking does add a lot more considerations, having your dog by your side whether you’re hiking for an afternoon or a long weekend makes every moment that much more special.

If you take up dog hiking, you'll have to be honest with yourself and your abilities. If you’re not comfortable having a dog with you on a hike, it's better to avoid this type of hiking rather than forcing it.

8. Summit Hiking - Photoworthy Destination Hiking

Whereas your goal when waterfalling is to hike to reach a waterfall, when summit hiking, you’re hiking to reach a specific summit. That summit is often the highest point of a mountain.

Once you get there, you can drink in the stunningly beautiful views of the world around you from a vantage point like no other.

If summit hiking were a social platform, it would surely be Instagram. Getting that well-deserved selfie on high is just one activity you can do when you hit the summit.

Joking aside, there are important considerations to think about:

  • Summit hiking is no walk in the park. It's quite difficult, as you’ll often have to climb as well as hike to reach the tallest summit of a cliff or mountain.
  • You can bring traditional rock climbing gear, but even still, your risks of falling, injuring yourself, or perishing are still worth thinking about with every step. Plus, rocks may not always be their most stable the higher up you go, especially if you ascend to a point that few people have reached before.
  • Summit hiking can be a single-day or multi-day hike depending on the trail you selected, who’s in your party (if anyone besides yourself), and your pace.

Once you’ve made it to the summit, you can spend some time enjoying the glory of your accomplishment, but then it’s time to come back down.

You can either climb, rappel, or hike your way back down to ground level, likely a combination of the three at different points.

There's an accomplishment in this style of hiking, but you also get the bonus of being able to sit and take in what you've just achieved.

9. Naked Hiking - No Explanation Needed

Surprised to see this? Well, pick up your jaw, because naked hiking is indeed a form of hiking.

As the name implies, when you go on a naked hike, you strip off everything but your hiking boots and your backpack.

Feeling dangerous and want to give it a try? Block June 21st off your calendar because there’s a day dedicated to this activity on that day annually known as Naked Hiking Day. Or at least that’s the most acceptable day for this activity.

The type of hiking that one does when naked hiking is the standard fare. You can hike on a short trail or even do some thru-hiking on the A.T.

Naked hiking does carry with it its own set of risks, the biggest of which is decency (or shall we say indecency?). It needs to be in a relatively secluded area, otherwise, you might run into some issues when a family of hikers crosses your path.

That’s why waiting until Naked Hiking Day is your best bet. This unconventional activity is slightly more widely accepted then, at least for those in the know.

But let's talk gear.

What to Bring on a Naked Hike

You’ll have to choose a comfortable pack and other gear as well. If your backpack rubs on your shoulders or around your waist, there’s no fabric to absorb some of the impacts.

It’s just a backpack on the skin, which can lead to friction, blisters, rashes, and other painful injuries.

Watch Your Step and Body

You have no barrier from nature except for your feet, so you don’t want to get too close to plants, sticks, brush, or rocks, all of which can lacerate your skin.

And of course, the always fun poison ivy and poison oak love to hang out next to trails. Naked hiking is their favorite type of hiking, so you'll need to keep your eyes open for the foliage on the trail.

You’ll need a good degree of insect protection to ward off mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and other biting, stinging insects.

Most importantly, every step is even more important when naked hiking. One slip and fall, and you can quickly end the hike. Even during a smaller fall, all the exposed skin can lead to very severe injuries.

10. Short-Distance Hiking - Day Hike

A short-distance hike is also known as a day hike. You’d plan to hike at a park or campground in your neck of the woods, select a trail that you can complete in a few hours, and then be on your way.

When you’re done hiking the trail, you’d turn around, walk your way back to where you started, and return home. You get all the excitement, thrills, and satisfaction of a hike but with the added benefit of being able to sleep in your bed at the end of the day.

Short-distance hikes are also convenient since you can carry a much lighter load. You don’t need a huge supply of food and water. You can bring an extra change of clothes just in case, but the point is you’re not packing multiple outfits for weeks at a time.

Short-distance hikes are great for beginners, those with conditions that may preclude long-term strenuous activity, or those who simply want to enjoy a relaxing hike for only a couple of hours. 

They're also perfect for when the season starts and your conditioning isn't up to snuff just yet.

Oh, and if you're trying to get in shape for your next hike, check out these 6 tips for getting your body ready for a hike.

Pro tip: if you have some new hiking boots that you're trying to break in before a thru-hike or long-distance hike, a day hike is for you.

11. Long-Distance Hiking - 2 Days or More

You might hike over two days, three, or even a week. It all depends on the trail and how much ground you can cover in one day, to complete a hike that's naturally a longer distance than one day of hiking can afford.

Long-Distance Hiking Isn't Trekking

A long-distance hike is not a trek, per se. You’re still aiming to complete a trail; it’s just that it can’t be done in a single afternoon.

You'll have a starting point and destination before you set out, and you'll be able to gauge how long it will take you to reach the end point from the start point and then vice-versa.

That's perhaps the biggest difference between the two.

Packing for the Journey

When packing for long-distance hiking, you'll need a more spacious backpack to accommodate more gear. You need generous food and water rations, including a supply for more days than you’ll hike just to be safe. You also need changes of clothes, hiking and camping equipment, and a tent for overnight stays.

If you have experience with short-distance hikes, then transitioning to long-distance hikes should be no problem.

If you're making that transition, it can feel overwhelming when you start planning for a multi-day hike. Don't sweat it though, Kenver's created a checklist to help you grab what you'll need and avoid forgetting what's important.

12. Base Camping - One Campsite Day-Hikes

For some hikers, the nomadic nature of hiking is less than appealing. If that sounds a bit like you, then base camping is going to be the one for you.

When base camping, you establish your campsite (base camp) that you’ll return to at the end of each day. This is a method used in many other activities outside of hiking, like backcountry hunting.

One way to base camp is to think of your base camp as the hub of a wheel. Each day, you set out on a back-and-forth - to further the metaphor, think of each day as a spoke on the wheel.

You don’t have to struggle with setting up your tent night in and night out. And it's going to give you a safe place to nestle each night. You might also meet some new and interesting people at the base camp and perhaps even make some friends.

Ritz vs Motel 6

If the nomad hiking life is Motel 6, then base camping is the Ritz Carlton. You can set up a more permanent campsite, and get more comfortable, plus, you just need to haul the bulk of your gear to the base camp.

Base camp will include your tent as well as all the other tents of the hikers in your party.

Base camping does limit where you can go, though. You don’t want to hike too far from the base camp on any given day so can easily make it back to camp before it gets too dark.

If you’re interested in short-distance hiking, then base camping is a suitable activity.

For those who are more into long-distance hiking or even trekking, base camping might limit your ambitions too much.

13. Section Hiking - Portioned Trail

If the thought of traversing several thousand miles on some of the most popular thru-hiking trails is too much for you, there’s always section hiking. Section hiking, as the name implies, is a type of hike that takes a slower, more methodical approach to complete a trail.

You don’t necessarily hike the entire trail, but only a portion of it. How big is that portion? Well, that’s up to you.

You might choose to do only a quarter of a trail or even half a trail.

Once you reach that halfway mark, you’d turn around even while other hikers continue.

The next time you go hiking on that trail, perhaps you approach it from the other side so you can hike the second half.

Section hiking allows you to see portions of famous trails without necessarily setting aside weeks or even months to hike them in their entirety. You can say you went hiking there, even if you didn’t finish the whole trail.

Section hiking is friendly to beginners, relative to thru-hiking. You can start with very small sections of a trail and gradually work your way up as you build your endurance and strength.

14. Bushwhacking - Remote Trailblazing

Remember how trekking has some elements that see you go off the beaten trail? Well, bushwhacking is all about being off the trail.

You can forget about the trail altogether since you won't need one where you're going.

Instead, you’ll surround yourself with dense, thick vegetation. It’s your goal to make it through by cutting branches and bushes (hence the name bushwhacking).

The appeal of bushwhacking is solitude and seeing nature the way most hikers don't, such as beautiful forestry and native wildlife.

You’ll cross ravines, rocks, streams, and fallen trees until you reach a clearing on the other side of the woods. The varied terrain of bushwhacking means that it’s always interesting.

This is not an entry-level hike. Bushwhacking has its challenges and risks and requires methodical packing and planning.

You’ll also have to be quite surefooted to avoid slipping on rocks, mud, and uneven terrain.

After all, if you or another member of your party gets injured when bushwhacking, you might not be able to get help immediately. 

15. Peak Bagging - Collecting Summits

A very popular form of hiking, peak bagging, which is also referred to as hill bagging, involves climbing to several summits as part of one hike.

For instance, you might try to complete the Fourteeners of Colorado, the Seven Summits, the Sacred Mountains of China, or the 100 Peaks of Taiwan.

You’d make a list prioritizing the summits you’d like to hike, sticking to one geographical location for the sake of convenience.

Hikers tend to choose peaks based on their height, views, significance, and/or popularity. As you complete each summit, you’d cross it off your list.

If you’re part of a peak bagging club, you might be awarded a badge or emblem for your accomplishments. At the very least, saying you did it is reward enough.

Peak bagging is anything but easy. Even though you might be able to take time between reaching summits, you’re still in for a long, sometimes arduous experience.

You’ll have to pack accordingly, carry and wear safety gear, and beware of the risks that could befall you just as with the other forms of hiking as we’ve discussed.

This is for the experienced hiker who is goal-oriented and loves to look back on accomplishments.

16. Backpacking

Backpacking is a multi-day hike (how many days is up to you) that involves camping out, either in a tent, a mountain hut, or a basic shelter.

As with other forms of camping, backpacking requires you to pack up all your essentials in a bag, including a cooking kit, a portable stove, extra clothing, shelter (like a tent), bedding, water, and food.

Pack types include bodypacks, internal frames, or frameless pack styles and can be quite weighty. Lugging all that additional weight on your back as well as crossing long distances is a large part of what makes backpacking such a challenge.

Some backpackers only hike for a couple of days at a time, others for weeks; some even go for months.

Backpacking carries with it a chance to extricate oneself from the rigors and stresses of modern-day life, as you have to leave technology and the nine-to-five in the dust.

You’re granted the chance to strengthen your relationship with nature as well as the bonds between you and your camping party.

Of the 16 types of hikes in this list, you might wonder which are the most popular among hikers of varying skill levels.

What Are the 3 Most Popular Types of Hikes?

The most popular types of hikes are day hikes, long-distance hikes, and peak bagging. These three hikes cover a range of difficulties and goals, from day hikes being the easiest, and long-distance hikes requiring endurance for longevity, to peak bagging, which is best suited for recognizing challenging achievements.

Regardless of which hiking type you choose - whether it's the most popular or least (naked hiking for example), there are some basic skills that you'll need to take with you. At least three, to be more precise.

What Are the 3 Basic Skills in Hiking?

Survival skills, navigation skills, and basic medical skills are the three essential skills for any hiker to possess. You might not need them on easy day hikes, but if you’re embarking on something more challenging or venturing into the backcountry, they could save your life.

1. Survival Skills

Survival skills include a little bit of everything, from how to plan a trip, how to pack your bags, how to deal with various types of weather and terrain, how to start a fire, and how to ration food and water.

Essentially, these skills keep you alive long enough to come home.

2. Navigation Skills

You also shouldn't set out on a hike without navigation skills. You need to be able to read a map, use a compass, and remember landmarks that help you mark a destination that might be off the main trail.

If you get lost, you should be able to stay calm and use orienteering abilities to find your way back.

3. Basic Medical Skills

Injuries are common when hiking, but how do you treat them? You should have a basic knowledge of how to apply pressure on a wound, how to properly dress a wound, and how to disinfect a wound.

You also need a first-aid kit on your person.

Hiking Is Diverse

From short and easy day hikes to difficult and dangerous backpacking trips, there’s a type of hike out there for everyone. No matter which one you choose, be sure that you don't set out without a basic understanding of the skills required.

And we'll see you June 21st.