Different types of hiking

Different Types of Hiking: Which Type Are You?

What makes hiking so enjoyable, is that no matter the person, there are all different types of hiking, so there is something for everyone!  Not only do these different types of hikes appeal to a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts, but it is also important to know the difference between the various types of hiking, so that you can adequately prepare for whatever kind of hike you are embarking on.


  Different types of hiking


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So What Exactly Are the Different Types of Hiking?


You may think hiking is just hiking, but there are a surprising amount of different types of hikes and types of hiking.  Hiking can have different purposes, different goals, different terrain, and different characteristics.  Check out this comprehensive list of all the types of hiking, and discover what kinds of hiker you are!


#1: Day Hiking


Day hiking is about as straight forward as the name implies, and also the most common type of hiking.  Day hiking is hiking just during the day, and does not exceed daylight hours.  These hikes are generally going to be on the shorter side, and as stated before, can be completed within daylight hours.  For example, day hikes can range from a hike that lasts 30 minutes to one that lasts from sunrise to sunset.


Day hikes are often considered a great place to start for hiking newbies, as you do not have to carry more than what you need for the day, and you can start small and hone your hiking skills before taking on larger and longer hiking adventures.  If you are new to hiking, here are some great tips for getting started with day hiking:


  • Hike on well marked, well maintained trails, and well populated trails,  and consider trails that are closer to home.  Need help finding local trails?  Check out a hiking app like AllTrails!


  • Do your research ahead of time on the trail you plan to day hike – know whether it is a loop or out and back trail, the length, the elevation gain, and the location of the trailhead.  Apps like AllTrails are great sources.


  • Find out if parking is free or fee, if there are bathroom facilities on the trailhead, or if there are any other logistical aspects to consider.


  • Learn as much about the trail from others as you can – check out Facebook hiking groups and search your specific trail, or get the AllTrails app and read reviews from other recent hikers.  This can help you have a heads up about your trail and if there is anything to be on the lookout for (downed trees, flooded creeks, wildlife sightings, etc).  


  • Know your limits – decide ahead of time how long you will hike, and know where your turn around point will be.


  • Check the weather before going – if it is going to be torrentially raining, you may want to pick another day.  For mountain summit hiking in particular, I love the website Mountain – Forecast for up to date mountain weather.  A good rule of thumb for hiking in the mountains is to be below treeline by noon to avoid frequent afternoon storms.  



  • While on your hike, pay attention!  Watch for landmarks, obstacles, wildlife, and other environmental factors!


  • Even though day hikes are shorter in nature than longer hikes, you still need to be prepared as you would for any type of hike.  You need to have all your day hiking essentials, which include the right gear, plenty of water, snacks, and a responsible hiking plan.  Check out this list of all the day hiking essentials you need for any day hike!


Hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Day hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park


#2: Overnight or Weekend Hiking


Overnight or weekend hiking is a great next logical step up from day hiking, when moving down the scale towards longer hikes.  Overnight or weekend hiking involves hiking over the course of 2 or 3 days, with respective overnights.  Overnight or weekend hiking is basically combining hiking with camping.  If you are planning any kind of overnight hiking, make sure to have all your essential gear with you!


If you are just starting out with overnight hiking, I would recommend a 1 night/2 day option first, before attempting anything longer.  This will give you a chance to troubleshoot and learn from your mistakes, because on your first overnight, you are bound to probably discover a few oversights!


A great place to start with overnight hiking is in a well maintained location like a state or National Park (check out some of my favorite National Parks to visit for camping!).  These places are also likely to be more populated, which is a good thing when learning how to overnight hike.  Once you are more experienced, you may want to check out overnight or weekend hiking in more wilderness locations, if solitude is high on your list.  


Overnight camping on the water's edge
Overnight hiking and camping on the water’s edge

#3: Backpacking


Backpacking is a type of hike that is one step past overnight or weekend hiking, though they are very similar, and backpacking can fall into the category of a 2 or 3 day hike with overnights.  


Backpacking hikes are hikes where you are bringing everything you need with you on your back, with the intention of hiking and camping multiple days or longer.  Backpacking involves bringing your tent, sleeping supplies, cooking supplies, clothing, etc., everything you need to survive outside for an extended amount of time. 


Backpacking often takes place in less maintained places, and are often more secluded, further upping the focus on self sufficiency.  Backpacking overlaps with other extended forms of hiking and encompasses other types of hiking, such as long distance hiking, weekend/overnights, thru hiking, and section hiking, as these other forms of hiking also involve backpacking.  


In order to backpack, you will not only need more gear, but more strength.  Carrying a loaded pack on your back with all your hiking belongings can be extremely strenuous, especially over the course of days or weeks.  Make sure that your body is prepared adequately.  Often, it is advised to train before backpacking, and even take your loaded backpack on a few shorter day trips as a test drive, and also to help prepare your body.  


In addition to knowing your body, you also need to be much more aware of environmental factors during a backpacking trip.  You will need to be prepared for all kinds of potential weather, trail and terrain conditions, and personal health and safety.  


Backpacking is a type of hiking that requires intensive planning and responsibility, especially if you are backpacking in remote wilderness areas.  It is vitally essential that you have everything you need on your person for your comfort and safety.  Don’t forget anything on your backpacking trip with this essential backpacking gear checklist!  


When packing for a backpacking trip, being mindful of weight is key.  You will see in all of my backpacking gear recommendations, ultralightweight is always on my mind!


Backpacking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Backpacking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park


#4: Long Distance Hiking


There are lots of variations of long distance hiking.  Long distance hiking can include lengthy hikes in one specific location, such as the Grand Canyon’s 24 mile Rim to Rim hike.  It could also include the 2,000+ mile long Appalachian Trail on the East Coast of the United States, for example.  Long distance hiking includes any hiking that takes several days to several weeks, months, or even years, to complete.  Often, long distance hikers may hike 20 to 30 miles a day to complete their long distance trail.


Here’s a few of the major long distance hikes in the United States:


  • The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)
  • The Appalachian Trail (AT)
  • The Continental Divide Trail (CDT)


Hiking 24 miles on the Grand Canyon's Rim to Rim hike
Hiking 24 miles on the Grand Canyon’s Rim to Rim hike

#5: Thru Hiking


Thru hiking involves hiking “thru” a designated long distance trail, such as the Pacific Coast Trail on the West Coast of the United States, or the Appalachian Trail on the East Coast of the United States.  Both of these long distance hikes are hiked “thru” from their starting point to their ending point (although there are ways to vary a thru hike, such as with section hiking where you tackle a thru hike in pieces over time – more on that next).


Thru hiking is often the longest form of hiking, from a time perspective.  Thru hiking some long distance hikes around the globe can take up to a year!  This type of hiking is not for the faint of heart, or the amateur hiker.  It takes months, even years, of both physical training and mental knowledge to complete.  


The Appalachian Trail passing through Clingman's Dome, Tennessee
The Appalachian Trail passing through Clingman’s Dome, Tennessee


#6: Section Hiking


Not everyone has the time to devote to a long distance hike all at once, especially a long distance hike that may take several weeks or months to complete.  Section hiking involves taking a long distance thru hike, such as the Appalachian Trail, and tackling it in chunks or phases, over a span of time.  For example, hiking 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail each summer, for 10 years in a row, in order to hike the entire 2,000 miles thru to completion.  Section hiking incorporates long distance hiking and backpacking as well.  


Mt Rogers Virginia
A beautiful ten mile section of the Appalachian Trail in Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia


#7: Solo Hiking


Solo hiking is hiking alone.  Not everyone has a hiking partner or can always hike in a group, and some even prefer the mind clearing qualities of a solo hike.  There is debate and obvious inherent risks to hiking solo, and it is normal to be concerned about hiking solo, but it can be done responsibly, though it does necessitate some specific safety habits. 


Follow these 7 solo hiking safety tips to learn how to safely hike alone. And as always, make sure you have the right day hiking essentials or longer distance backpacking essentials, which is even more vital when solo hiking, as you cannot rely on others in an emergency, and need to be prepared to be self sufficient.  


Solo hiking is one type of hiking
Taking in Big Bend National Park


#8: Group Hiking


Group hiking simply means hiking with a group.  There are lots of ways to incorporate group hiking into your regimen.  Whether it is with friends, family, or through accessing hiking groups on social media, group hiking is a fun way to enjoy the outdoors.  Especially on more dicey hikes in backcountry or on more dangerous terrain, group hiking is also a good safety measure.  


Group hiking is one different types of hikes


#9: Summit Hiking or Peak Bagging


This type of hiking appeals to those who enjoy the thrill of hiking strenuously uphill to achieve the payoff of reaching that mountain summit!  Summit hiking or peak bagging employs specific body mechanisms to be trained, specifically learning how to muster strength for an uphill climb, with the descent being the second half of the hike.  Mountain descents can be deceptively just as tricky as the uphill! The lungs also tend to get a harder workout on summit hiking! 


There are a few things to keep in mind when summit hiking specifically.  Considering you will be dealing with mountains, you need to be aware of specific mountain weather patterns.  Afternoon showers or storms are more likely at high altitude, so it is always recommended to be off the summit and below treeline by noon when summit hiking.  Be sure to check the weather, specifically high altitude forecasts, at a site like mountain-forecast.com.  Snowy conditions on a mountain summit are a whole other ballgame, so be sure to avoid snowy or icy conditions, unless you are experienced with them and understand how to cope with that particular weather condition with the right gear, layering, environmental awareness, and potential technical skills.


Because it is recommended to be descending a mountain summit by noon, that means that summit hiking is an early morning start type of hiking!  Many mountain summits require 3 or 4 am starts (if not earlier!) to safely complete, so be sure to do your research and homework ahead of time to determine when you will need to start. 


Knowing your approximate pace is helpful in this situation, which is why I recommend being comfortable and familiar with non summit hiking or smaller mountain hikes before taking on a hefty summit hike, so that you will have a better idea of what to expect from yourself.  Also, checking the reviews of hiking apps like AllTrails will help to give you an idea of expected finishing times, based on others’ experiences.  


Make sure to bring plenty of food and water, as hiking uphill is extremely strenuous and burns a lot of fuel. 


As you will see noted in depth in my hiking gear guides, the choice to hike in trail runners or traditional hiking boots is largely up to you and your preference!  I more often hike in trail runners than boots myself, however, summit hiking is a situation in which a hiking boot may be more beneficial due to the often unstable and rocky terrain of mountain summits, as well as the equally dicey and unstable descents in which you need to be able to solidly rely on your feet and ankles!  My go to for a traditional, waterproof, ankle-supported hiking boot is this Vasque GTX III boot!


Interested in a trail running shoe also?  You can’t beat HOKA One One Speedgoats for their cushioning and grip!


Another beneficial piece of gear that can be especially helpful with summit hiking is trekking poles.  I do not always hike with trekking poles, but when I do, it is likely on a mountain summit.  Trekking poles can be helpful with hoisting on the way up, as well as providing relief to the knee jarring descents on many mountains.  I love my Black Diamond Trekking Poles, as this particular model has cork handles, which prevents blister formations that happen with other rubber or plastic handled poles.  


I myself enjoy my fair share of summit or peak bagging as a “highpointer”, or someone who is hiking all 50 state high points in the United States!  You will find that being a summit hiker / peak bagger is a great way to check off specific goals, like hiking all the 14’ers in Colorado. Often a peak bagger is attempting to summit all of the mountain peaks in a specific geographic area. This type of hiking really appeals to the checklist minded hiker, who enjoys the thrill and sense of accomplishment from checking off hiking goals!


Summit hiking Mt. Whitney the tallest peak in the lower 48 states
Summit hiking Mt. Whitney – the tallest peak in the lower 48 states


#10: Glacier Hiking


Glacier hiking is a type of hiking that happens on glaciers.  This type of hiking obviously has a very narrow range, as you have to have a glacier to hike on for starters.  For many hikers, this may involve some form of travel for a destination glacier hike. 


Glacier hiking also requires specific forms of gear aimed at hiking in icy and snowy conditions, such as ice axes, crampons, or harnesses, as well as skills like glacier awareness and training to learn the dangers of glacier hiking.  Glacier hikers must learn the environmental dangers of hiking on glaciers, such as crevasses and other difficult obstacles.  This type of hiking should not be undertaken as an amateur without proper training, as glacier hiking is technical.


Glacier hiking in Greenland is one of the different types of hikes
Glacier hiking in Greenland


#11: Base Camp Hiking


Base camp hiking is a type of hiking in which hikers set up a base camp and then hike out from that spot on different day hikes, often in different directions each day, and return to base camp for their overnights.  


The main advantage of base camp hiking is not having to break down and set up camp each night.  You only have to do it once, but you can still experience a variety of differing hikes each day when starting out from base camp.  This also means that during your day hikes, you only need to carry what you need for the day in your pack, instead of all your hiking belongings.  You can leave your tent, cooking gear, etc. at base camp while you explore with just your day hiking essentials during the day!  Base camping generally works best in wilderness areas, versus maintained areas like state park campgrounds.  


One extreme example of base camp hiking would have to be infamous Mt. Everest, in which climbers camp at base camp, before setting out on summit day to reach the top of Everest before returning back to their base camp below.  

Base camping is one different type of hiking

#12: Night Hiking


Night hiking takes place at night.  While this can be a fun way to experience the outdoors, it is recommended that you not take part in any potentially dangerous hikes at night (trails with cliffs, unmarked trails, dangerous dropoffs, etc.), and also you will want to make sure you night hike with proper gear, including a charged headlamp and bright/reflective clothes.  Check out my favorite no bounce headlamp here that has seen me through my share of 3 am start times, like when I summited California’s Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states!


When night hiking, pay extra close attention to your environment, as hazards are more specific during the night.  Stay on marked trails at all times, as it is harder to find a trail when lost in the dark.  Watch for increased wildlife activity as well, and be sure to be aware of forecasted weather, as it is harder to see gathering clouds at night.


Night hiking is one different type of hiking


#13: Fastpacking


Fastpackers are all about speed!  They are aiming to hike with the quickest speed possible, which means they often are incorporating some form of trail running into their hiking!  For example, there are many individuals who trail run or “fastpack” the Grand Canyon’s 24 mile long Rim to Rim hike in one day, and there are even those who “fastpack” the Rim to Rim to Rim (North Rim to South Rim to North Rim) in all its 48 miles of glory, in one day!


Fastpackers do carry their necessary gear on them, so they are also considered “ultralight” hikers, because they tend to be very mindful of weight.  Fastpacking is naturally joined to trail running due to the emphasis on speed, which is the next type of hiking on this list.  


#14: Trail Running


Trail running is not technically hiking, but it contains some cross over characteristics of hiking.  Trail running is running on trails, and while it may qualify as a running event, trail running incorporates some similar gear, and similar familiarity with terrain and trails.  As a trail runner myself, when faced with challenging trails, I often find myself hiking the uphill portions, and running the downhill and flat portions!  Trail running also tends to hone skills beneficial to hiking, and vice versa, so they are both mutually beneficial to each other.  


What to get started with trail running?  


Or maybe even train for your first long distance trail run?


Trail running is a type of hiking


#15: Bushwhacking


Bushwhacking is a type of hiking that basically takes place on unmarked and unmaintained wilderness.  Bushwhacking is hiking while finding and making your own trail, often through dense vegetation.  Bushwhackers will likely need a specialized tool to help create their path, such as a machete or small axe.  Bushwhacking requires experience with route finding and knowing how to navigate direction on an unmarked trail, since you will literally be clearing and creating your own trail. 


Bushwhacking is not a type of hiking recommended for novices.  It is also not recommended for speed and efficiency minded hikers, like fastpackers, since clearing a trail takes much more time than regular hiking. 


Bushwhacking is one of the different types of hikes


#16: Winter Hiking


Winter hiking is simply a type of hiking that takes place in winter.  Winter conditions mean that you will need to invest in different kinds of winter hiking gear, such as microspikes or snowshoes, and also be very knowledgeable about how to properly layer for cold weather. Here’s a few quick winter layering tips:


  • Avoid cotton – you do not want cold precipitation clinging to your skin


  • Wear materials that are insulating and warm, while also being breathable and moisture wicking to prevent precipitation and dampness on the skin – the best materials are fabrics like fleece or merino wool.






There are also specific factors to take into account with winter hiking:


  • Trail navigation: it is much harder to follow a trail when it may be covered in a foot of fresh snow.  Route finding and navigation skills are key to winter hiking.  


  • Daylight hours: in the winter, you may have less daylight hours to hike, so make sure to either plan your hike with this factor in mind and give yourself plenty of time to finish before daylight runs out, or carry a headlamp for safety and backup, just in case.  


Winter hiking is one type of hiking


#17: Scrambling


Think of scrambling as a type of hiking that is more akin to rock climbing.  You may see scrambling on high altitude mountain hikes where there are large boulder fields or scree fields to traverse.  Scrambling may involve a lot of hand over hand and working your way up on all fours at times, and relies more on upper body and hand work than traditional hiking. 


Scrambling can also involve mountaineering skills, and may also involve going off trail or following an unmarked or unmaintained trail.  Scrambling involves a refined skill set that includes more agility, spacial awareness, and possibly the use of specialized gear like harnesses and ropes.  


#18: Hiking with Dogs


Hiking with dogs is a fun form of hiking for man’s best friend.  There are certain rules to be aware of when hiking with dogs, so be sure to do your homework as to which trails are dog friendly and on which trails dogs are allowed. For example, many trails in US National Parks are not open to dogs.


Also, be sure to leash your dog if that is a stated rule for the trail, even if your dog is friendly and follows commands.  Always ask permission before petting other dogs, or allowing your dog to interact with another dog on the trail. 


Make sure that your dog is experienced with certain terrain before taking them on certain trails, for example, rockier mountain trails, or strenuous uphill climbs. Be mindful of weather, as it is not recommended to bring your dog hiking with you in extreme hot weather.


Be mindful of your dog’s abilities according to their breed, age, etc., and do not engage them in more than they are physically able. If you are going on a longer hike, be sure to bring adequate snacks and plenty of water for your pup also.  Check out this handy pup water dispenser I use for my hikes with dogs.  And finally, be sure to always pack out all dog waste, with disposable baggies like these.


Hiking with dogs on Mt. Magazine, Arkansas
Hiking with my pup on Mt. Magazine, Arkansas


#19: Naked Hiking


Yes, naked hiking is a thing!  Not sure how a thing like this gets started in the first place, and honestly not sure why it would be enjoyable, but it is definitely a thing!  A lot of naked hiking may take place during the Summer Solstice on June 21st.  Also, chances of naked hiking might increase on more remote trails away from crowds, or on long thru hikes like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. There are things to take into account with naked hiking, should you choose to investigate it, such as the risk for bug bites and other runs ins with environmental factors in which you would have less defense against!


So What Type of Hiker Am I?


It is quite possible that you are more than one type of hiker, or maybe you lean heavily towards one particular type or a couple.  The fun thing about exploring all types of hiking is not only the chance to become well versed in one or more particular kinds, but to experience how exploring new forms of hiking will help to improve the ones you may already have a foundation in.  


For example, I would consider myself primarily a day hiker, a weekend hiker, a long distance hiker, a summit or peak bagger hiker, a solo hiker, and a trail runner.  My secondary types of hiking are primarily backpacking, group hiking, and hiking with dogs. 


I can see how long distance hiking and trail running have mutually benefited and improved my abilities in each category, as the skills you develop tend to play well towards each of those forms of hiking.  Hiking with groups and hiking with dogs allows me the chance to “relax” more, and take in a different side of hiking.  While backpacking allows me to focus less on the speed and efficiency that I usually focus on during day hiking, long distance hiking, and trail running, and instead focus on a different skill set such as wilderness skills, gear knowledge, and backpacking skills such as fire making, cooking, and environmental awareness.  


So what type of hiker are you?


Different types of hiking


Know How to Plan for the Different Types of Hikes


No matter what type of hiker you are, it is critical that you know how to prepare for them all.  To start with, always hike with the 10 hiking essentials.  If you are hiking for more than a day, then you will need additional backpacking/overnight gear, especially if your hike takes you out in the wilderness for several days, weeks, or months.  This backpacking essentials checklist will come in handy for longer hikes.  


Not only do you need the right gear, but you also need the right mindset and knowledge.  Safety and responsibility are two things you should always bring with you on a hike.  Check out these 5 beginner hiking mistakes NOT to make!


If you are hiking solo, safety is even more critical.  Make these 7 solo hiking safety tips a part of your solo hiking routine and habits!  


Hiking terminology is an important part of preparation as well.  Always know the different types of hiking terrain and trails.  


  • loop trails: trail is a loop, and the trail will start and end in the same place (you will not repeat any part of the trail except for the trailhead)


  • point to point trails (out and back trails): think of point to point trails as hiking from Point A to Point B, then back to Point A.  This means you will repeat half of the trail.  The turn around point on an out and back trail often includes a cool landmark or other memorable feature.


  • technical trails:  trails with roots, rocks, etc., as often found on trail running or mountain biking trails.  Trails that cater to multiple forms of outdoor use (mountain biking, trail running, hiking) are referred to as multi use trails.  It is important to make sure you follow posted rules for hiking direction (hikers and bikers should go in opposite directions on the trails).


  • long distance trails: often includes section hiking or thru hiking)


Finally, I talk about safety and responsibility a lot because I have been on the other end of things when I found myself underprepared on a hike.  Check out what I learned from getting lost overnight in Utah’s Uintas Mountains, and learn a little something from my earlier mistakes!


Northern Utah's Uintas
Northern Utah’s Uintas


Basic Rules for All Types of Hiking


You can check out my entire collection of hiking guides here, but here is a brief summary of basic rules to follow for all types of hiking:


  • Do not make assumptions
  • Do not underestimate
  • Do not get distracted
  • Do not act invincible
  • Do not be underprepared
  • Bring the right gear
  • Wear the right clothes


There are many different types of hikes


Recap of Recommended Hiking Gear Mentioned in this Post:


Here are a few (but definitely not all) recommended hiking gear items that made an appearance in this post.



Osprey Daylite Commuter Backpack, Black
  • Large panel loading main compartment provides accessibility to inside contents



Platypus Big Zip EVO Taste-Free Water Reservoir/Hydration Bladder, 3-Liter
  • Premium taste-free, leak-proof reservoir with fast flow rate offers hydration on the go for hikers, backpackers, travelers and mountain bikers









BioLite HeadLamp 750 Lumen Pro Level Rechargeable USB HeadLamp, Midnight Grey
  • Max output 750 lumens. 150 Hrs LO, 7 Hrs HI, 2 Hrs Constant Mode, 7 Hrs Reserve



Kahtoola MICROspikes Footwear Traction for Winter Trail Hiking & Ice Mountaineering - Red - Large
  • BEST FOR: Ice traction cleats for winter hiking & backpacking, hunting, ice-trekking, ice fishing, and icy trail & road running. Designed to perform like snow chains for boots, the MICROspikes are ideal for use when safety is paramount; trusted by forest park rangers, EMS & first responders, firefighters, police, CHP & sheriffs, surveyors, and ski resort lift operators & snowmaking & snowplow teams. Shoe and boot ice grips for winter backcountry, sledding adventures, and everyday icy roadways.







Icebreaker Women’s 175 Everyday Leggings - Black - X-Small
  • DESIGNED FOR: Everyday use, these versatile year-round base layer bottoms, offer premium breathability and next-to-skin comfort, these women’s leggings are ideal for running, skiing, yoga, hiking, mountaineering and everyday training.



MalsiPree Dog Water Bottle, Lightweigh, Leak Proof Portable Travel Dog Water Dispenser - Perfect Puppy Drinking Bowl On The Go for Outdoor Walking and Hiking - Pet Accessories (19oz, Blue)
  • ✅ Portable Doggie Water Bottle - With the MalsiPree Portable Dog Water Dispenser, your furry friend will never go thirsty on the go. It's perfect for walks, hikes, and travel, making it an essential addition to your dog's walking accessories.






Different types of hiking


Different types of hiking

Last update on 2023-08-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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