What is the Difference Between Hiking and Camping

Hiker carrying camping gear on his back

Hiking and camping are very tightly related.

Hiking is a long, vigorous walk, usually on trails or footpaths in the countryside. “Hiking” is the preferred term in Canada and the United States; the term “walking” is used in these regions for shorter, particularly urban walks.


Camping is the process of sleeping in the outdoors usually in a tent, camper or RV.  The flexible nature of camping makes it the ideal base for planning and undertaking your hikes.

Hikers may carry all of their camping gear on their backs and simply pitch their tent as required at the end of their hikes.  For us, comfort is much more important.  We set up our family campsite with family tent acting as the center of our hiking activities.

Large tent with tarp set up as a shade
Tent With Awning To Act as Base for Hiking

While this article looks at the differences between hiking and camping, we really believer there camping and hiking have many more similarities than differences.

How to Plan Your First Hike

How do you plan your first hiking trip anyway? The best way to plan your first hiking trip is to play to your strengths. You must choose a route that best suits you or your family’s difficulty level, capabilities, and the distance you’re able to travel, and be properly prepared.

There are a lot of basics and more to cover before planning your first hike. I’ve compiled some of the more important information you need to get started.

Planning Your First Hiking Trips

How to Choose Your First Hiking Route

You cannot go on your first hike without picking a trail first! When choosing your first hiking route, the most important factors to keep in mind are your capabilities. This will help you pick a hike that is the proper distance and difficulty level for you and your family.

There are hiking trails in the U.S. for every experience and ability level, from wheel-chair accessible trails to steep mountain hikes. I’ve made a table of hikes from different states to showcase different options available that reflect your capabilities to help you choose a trail near you.

Trail NameDifficulty LevelDescription
Ashuwillticook Rail TrailBeginnerA 10 ft wide paved trail, 12.7 miles long, located in Massachusetts.
Valley View Glades TrailBeginner2.5 miles through woods and open fields located in Missouri.
Fern Falls HikeIntermediateA 5.4-mile hike in Colorado to a misty waterfall.
Wa’ahila Ridge TrailIntermediate4.5 miles round trip on the island of O’ahu.
Half Dome Cable RouteExpert14 mile round trip in the Yosemite National Park in California.
Devil’s PathExpertA 23-mile trail in the Catskills mountains of New York.

Even if this is your first hike, you may not need to choose an easy hike. An active person would be able to handle a longer hike with difficult terrain versus someone who leads a more sedentary life. No matter what fitness level you may be starting at, do not pick a hike above your capabilities. This may discourage you from future hiking adventures or even lead to accident or injury.

There are even hikes that take weeks to complete. Famous examples include the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian trail, where you have to have supplies sent to posts along the way.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a whopping 2,653 miles with an elevation change of 420,880 feet if you hike the entire trail. The Appalachian Trail is a slightly more modest 2,193 miles with an elevation change of 464,500 feet.

Some hikers, called thru’hikers, do set out to hike the whole length of these trails in one go, far more people choose to do one or 2 sections only.

Whichever trail you choose, be sure to research it properly. It’s best to know beforehand the length and location of the trail, as well as what resources are available on the trail, like restrooms, so you are able to plan properly.

A topographical map can prepare you for the elevation you will run into on the hike. You don’t want to be surprised by a steep climb, incline, or descent, completely unprepared.

Clothing and the Basics of Layering

After you’ve chosen your first hiking trail, you’re probably wondering what kind of clothes you need to wear. This can vary greatly, depending on the location of your trail, what season it is, and the predicted weather. In any scenario, layering is a must.

Dressing in layers for a hike, especially a longer or more demanding hike, will prepare you for any weather possibility. You can’t just pile on the layers though. All layers should be comfortable and functional should you need to wear them all at once.

A hike in the summer or in a desert environment wouldn’t need as many warm or insulating layers as a mountain or winter hike would. I will go through the basics of layering, but for more detailed information, check out this hiker’s guide.

  • The Base Layer is exactly what it sounds like. This is the layer closest to the skin. Choose a moisture-wicking material for this layer, such as polyester, and stay away from cotton.
  • Insulating layers like fleece, down, or synthetic fibers will trap your body heat and protect it against the cold air.
  • The Outer layer is your protection against the elements. This piece should be water-proof, dry quickly, and be made from a durable material.

Combine your knowledge of layering with keeping up on the predicted weather for your hike. Check the weather days before your hike to plan your clothing. Check the weather again a few hours before the hike to make any necessary last-minute adjustments. You can never be too prepared when it concerns the weather.

How to Navigate the Trail

Knowing your chosen trail means much more than getting to the start point. A healthy knowledge of the trail map is advised. If you’re hopeless with directions like me, bring a map and a compass at the very least. If possible, bring a more experienced hiker with you.

One of the dangers of hiking is losing your way. If you aren’t going too deep into the wilderness, a navigation app on your phone may be all that is needed. Here are some tips I learned from this informative article.

  • Practice reading a map and compass on a known or simple trail before you try a more challenging hike. Make sure you are comfortable with these tools before heading into unknown territory.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings, and check the map regularly.
  • Use a topographical map so you know what kind of terrain you will be encountering on your hike.
  • Never rush to find your way. Take the extra time to be sure you are on the correct path. If you are on a backpacking trip and it is getting late, set up camp and continue in the morning.
  • Pay attention to easily recognizable landmarks. If the worst happens and you do lose your way, this can be a life-safer.

Having a GPS device on your hike should be seen as a helpful addition to your navigation equipment, and shouldn’t be the only navigational item that you depend on. Technology is not infallible. A faulty battery or a bad signal could put you and your family in peril if GPS is all that you are using.

A GPS device can be especially helpful in inclement weather where visibility is poor to nonexistent. GPS can also be helpful when in an area with no distinguishable landmarks. In summary, bring a GPS device on your hike, but don’t depend on it.

Staying Safe on Your Hike

Being prepared for your first hike can be the difference between a fun family outing and a tragedy. Knowing your way is only the tip of the iceberg. A properly packed first aid kit is vital no matter the length of your hike, as well as a source of communication in case of an emergency.

The number of items in your first aid kit will vary depending on the length of your hike, and how many people will be hiking with you, but there are some basics that should be included in every hiker’s first aid kit. I found a list on this helpful website and added some extra information for each item so you understand their importance.

Whether building your own kit or buying one already put together, make sure it includes these essential items.

  • Ibuprofen and antihistamines. Ibuprofen can help with a surprise headache, or reduce a dangerous fever until you’re able to get medical attention. Antihistamines will aid mild allergies or help with a life-threatening allergic reaction.
  • Antiseptics and antibiotic ointment. In the event of a scratch or wound during your hike, these items can help prevent an infection from occurring
  • .Wound closures and bandaids. These will keep any cuts or scapes safe and clean from the elements.
  • Bandana and bandages. These can be used to cover an injury too big for a bandaid or to immobilize sprained or broken limbs. Pack safety pins as well to keep them on securely.
  • Tweezers can help get a pesky splinter from the skin or debris out of a wound.
  • Moleskin or duct tape. Blisters are going to happen on longer or more difficult hikes, even with the best shoes. It’s better to be prepared for them.

Whether you are planning a short day hike with your family or a week-long backpacking trip through the rough wilderness, make sure you share your trip and location with family or friends. If you get lost or run into trouble, someone you trust will know to sound the alarm. Leave an itinerary in your car or at your campsite as well.

Having a GPS device is not only a navigational tool but also a safety one. GPS devices like the Garmin inReach SE+ can track and share your location as you hike should you need to be rescued or if you get lost. Never go on a long, difficult, or dangerous hike without sharing your plans.

How to Avoid a Wildlife Encounter

While encountering wildlife on a hike isn’t too common, it can be more likely depending on your location and other factors. Let’s go over how to lessen your chances of running into an animal on your hike, and what to do should it happen. Source.

  • The most dangerous thing about running into an animal like a bear on the trail is surprising them. Make plenty of noise as you hike. Hike in a group or whistle if you’re on your own. Don’t be a quiet hiker when in an area known for wildlife encounters.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. Make sure you don’t wear headphones so you can hear any sign of an animal near-by. Be sure to notice any odd smells, as those could also mean a wild animal is near.
  • Don’t allow your kids or pet to hike ahead or lag behind. They can be easy prey for bears, wild cats, or wolves.
  • Don’t hike when most animals are active, like at dawn and dusk.

When hiking during breeding or mating season, it is especially important to keep a healthy distance from the wildlife. Animals that would normally run away at the sound or the sight of a human will be more compelled to attack or be on the defensive.

What to Do Should you Encounter an Animal

Carry bear spray (not pepper spray) in case you are unable to avoid the wildlife or any tactics to get away are unsuccessful. Should an animal attack, bear spray can help you reach safety while not mortally wounding the animal, or permanently injuring it. Remember that you are trespassing in their home, not the other way around.

It is important to use bear spray and not pepper or wasp spray. A bear’s nose is incredibly sensitive. Spraying it with pepper could cause great pain and permanent damage.

Should you stumble upon a dangerous animal, do not turn and run. Keep your eyes on the animal, and slowly back away. If you need to communicate, do so softly and quietly. You want to make sure you don’t seem like a threat.

The exception to this rule is big wild cats. If you see the cat BEFORE it attacks, don’t turn your back on it. Instead of keeping quiet, make loud noises and wave your arms wide or anything you can. You want to seem bigger to the cat and make it realize that you are not prey.

Most people that are attacked by animals like mountain lions aren’t aware until it is too late. Hiking in known territories of these animals requires an individual to make noise and stay aware of their surroundings.

If you are ambushed by a mountain lion or similar animal, you will need to fight back. Grab anything you can and aim for the head and the eyes or use pepper spray if it’s handy. The goal is to make yourself too much trouble to be worth continuing the attack. Source.

What to Bring for a Day Hike

If you’re taking a short 20-minute hike on a familiar route, you probably won’t need to bring much with you. However, there are essentials to pack or wear on any day hike, plus some extra items for back-country hikes. Be sure to pack these items in a comfortable, properly sized backpack. Source.

  • Extra layers depending on the weather and location.
  • Properly fitted hiking boots or shoes will prevent blisters and sores.
  • Bring enough food and water for the day, plus extra food and some sort of water purification system.
  • A map and compass, especially if you are not familiar with the area you are hiking. A GPS device is also helpful.
  • A multi-use tool or knife can definitely come in handy.
  • A whistle or mirror, should you need to summon help to your location.
  • Bring a lighter, and an emergency fire kit in case you lose the lighter or the lighter is damaged.
  • Hand sanitizer and menstrual products if needed.
  • Don’t forget any prescriptions you take daily. Worst case scenario, you will have the necessary medicine to keep yourself in good health.
  • Protect yourself from the sun with proper clothing, hats, sunscreen, and chapstick with SPF.

For any trip longer than the day, be sure to include shelter, flashlight, extra batteries, toilet paper or sanitary wipes, a trowel if no restrooms will be available, biodegradable soap, insect repellent, gear repair kit, and a small camp stove. No list will be perfect for everyone. Take the time to plan your trip and only bring the most necessary items needed specifically for you and your family.

Leave No Trace!

This is possibly one of the most important factors to keep in mind when hiking, and something valuable to teach your family. To keep the great outdoors great, we have to be mindful of the mess we leave behind. Pick up after yourself. Make sure the beautiful trail you enjoy stays that way for many generations to enjoy.

Unfortunately, not everyone will follow this advice. Go a step further if necessary, and leave the trail or your campsite cleaner than when you arrived. You may not have left the trash, but we can all lend a helping hand to keep outdoor spaces free from litter. Always bring a trash bag with you, to contain your trash, and maybe even someone else’s.

Leave no trace includes respecting the land you are visiting. Be respectful of the native plants and wildlife. Know what types of plants or flowers should stay rooted in the earth, and any extra sensitive plants that might not survive a trampling.

Take the extra time to learn about the importance of any wild area when traveling in a foreign country or a new state. Be respectful as a visitor or tourist. What seems fine to you may be seen as disrespectful to the residents of that state or country.

Be a Mindful Hiker

This ideology has really stuck with me ever since my first trip to Texas. I bent down to pluck a beautiful bluebonnet from the ground and was hastily stopped. These wildflowers are so beloved, most residents don’t mow their yard while the bluebonnets are blooming and seeding. While not against the law, it is heavily discouraged.

In this day and age, many people are more concerned with getting the perfect photo than with respecting the natural world around them. A little self-awareness and knowledge of your surroundings can do a world of good.

There are many social media pages dedicated to exposing neglectful hikers and influencers. If you see someone doing something dangerous or harmful to your surroundings, contact a park ranger or take the time to educate them if you feel comfortable and safe doing so.

The Benefits of Hiking

Some of the benefits of hiking are obvious, while others are less so. The answer to “Why you should hike” is an easy one. Source.

Hiking is good for your health. Hiking is basically a fun outdoor workout. Depending on the trail’s difficulty level and the weight of your pack, there are multiple health benefits to gain from hiking.

  • Hiking can help you lose or control weight, which can lower your risk for heart disease.
  • This exercise can help lower blood pressure, and can even improve blood sugar levels.
  • Any weight-bearing exercise can improve bone density and hiking is no exception.
  • Hiking is a core-strengthening exercise, as the more challenging trails will test your balance.

Hiking is not only a spectacular exercise that will improve your physical health, but a wonderful activity to improve your mental health. While it can not and should not replace any medication prescribed by your doctor, hiking can be a defense against the negative symptoms associated with stress, anxiety, and depression.

Even if you are unable to walk for long periods, just getting outside for a short hike or walk can be beneficial to your physical and mental health.

Hike with friends and family to improve your relationships. Life can get extremely busy at times, and we may not be able to squeeze in all the things most important to us. Going on a hike is good exercise and a mood booster. Hiking with friends and family allows you to spend valuable time with the people most important to you.

Is Hiking an Expensive Hobby?

Hiking can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. The longer or more difficult hike you take, the more equipment you will need. Short hikes on clearly marked or paved trails won’t require much equipment if any at all. You may simply need your water bottle and your phone.

Don’t let pricey equipment keep you from longer hikes or backpacking trips if it is something you really want to do. There are options out there to keep the cost down.

  • Always check thrift stores for camping gear and layering clothes. You may be able to find a good quality item for a fraction of the cost.
  • Search local online marketplaces for discounted gear.
  • Check stores for sales, or purchase items in the off-season when they may be discounted. Buy an insulated sleeping bag in the summer, or ice packs in the winter.
  • Borrow items from your more outdoorsy friends if you aren’t sure if hiking is for you.
  • Remember that not every item on a checklist may be necessary for the hike you are planning. Buy what you need, not what you want.

Avoiding Beginner Hiking Mistakes

There is so much information online detailing mistakes made by seasoned hikers when they first picked up this hobby. Reading this information can keep you from making these same mistakes. For even more information, check out these great resources here, and here.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not dressing correctly, and being unaware of the predicted weather.  Cotton may be ideal for a summer picnic, but it has no place on the hiking trail. The same goes for denim. These materials don’t dry quickly and aren’t very insulating. You also want to check the weather so you don’t get caught unprepared with a cold-snap or a dangerous storm

It’s important to keep your body fueled before, during, and after a hike. Many inexperienced hikers might underestimate how much food and water to bring on a longer hike. When in doubt, bring extra, and don’t skip meals because you’re tired.

Another common mistake is either forgetting something vital or not knowing what’s in your pack and where it is. Take the time to learn the layout of every item in your backpack, and check that you have everything you need for your hike.

When group hiking, you don’t have to follow everyone step-by-step, pace-by-pace. Know your limits, and hike the path that’s best for your body and abilities. It is better to take your time and set your own pace. More experienced hikers may be able to handle rough terrain, while inexperienced hikers are better off following the path of least resistance

Just as you can under pack or forget an item, inexperienced hikers are prone to over-packing as well. A pack weighed down with unnecessary items can be exhausting. It takes experience to learn how to strike the delicate balance of packing only what is absolutely necessary and preparing for the most likely scenarios.

Break-in your new hiking shoes or boots. This is a small step that can make your first hike much more comfortable.

Take a Hike!

You know the basics and now it’s time to get out there and start hiking! With proper planning, you and your family are all set for your first hiking trip. Keep these basic tips in mind and this will be a trip you’ll remember forever, not a trip you will want to forget.

Pick a trail that isn’t above your personal difficulty level. You can work up to higher elevations and more difficult terrain. Keep yourself and your family safe. Be knowledgeable of the trail you are hiking and the predicted weather.

Pay attention to your surroundings and pack the necessities, but don’t overdo it. Dress for the environment you are hiking and the weather. Utilizing layering with your clothing is absolutely necessary.

If you remember nothing else, clean up after yourself and others, respect the local plants and wildlife, and most importantly, have fun!

Tents for Hiking

Many hikers will carry their tents with them in their backpacks. There are many ultra lightweight tents designed for just this purpose.

This site is all about family camping. For us, we use our family tent as a base. Once pitched our tent stays up until we are ready to go home. Our hikes are chosen to make most use of our campground location.


Keith Longmire

Keith Longmire

I’m the guy that loves camping, insists on family camping trips, and the editor and owner of Campingsage.com

I love camping and the outdoors. Through this site I hope to help you enjoy it too.

About CampingSage

CampingSage is all about comfortable family camping in tents.  It is written by campers, for campers.

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