Is Hiking Climbing? 7 Huge Differences Yet Crazy Similarities

As a mom who loves getting out on the trails with my family, I’m often asked if hiking is the same as climbing.

Now, while there are some similarities between hiking and climbing, they are distinct activities with their own unique gear, techniques, and challenges.

In this guide, I’ll share my years of experience hiking all over the world to help you understand the key differences between hiking and climbing. So, is hiking climbing? Let’s find out.

 

What is Hiking?

Hiking is walking outdoors along trails or paths, often through natural environments like forests, mountains, deserts, etc. Hiking can cover long distances or be short walks to see views and scenery. The main goal of hiking is to appreciate nature and get exercise.

Hiking often involves:

  • Walking on established trails, old roads, etc.
  • Traveling through diverse terrains like hills, forests, rivers, etc.
  • Carrying a daypack with essentials like water, food, map, first aid kit.
  • Wearing hiking shoes or boots, comfortable clothing.
  • Using hiking poles for stability.
  • Stopping to enjoy scenic views, wildlife sightings, or snack breaks.

Hiking can be a leisurely stroll or an intense backcountry trek depending on the trail and hike duration. But the overall focus is enjoying the journey through nature, at your own pace.

 

What is Climbing?

Climbing involves ascending vertical or near vertical surfaces like rock cliffs, ice formations, walls, etc. Climbers use specialized gear to haul themselves up cliffs, often with dizzying exposure below.

Types of climbing include:

  • Rock climbing – Scaling rock walls and cliffs using hands, feet, ropes.
  • Ice climbing – Climbing vertical or angled ice using crampons, axes and ropes.
  • Indoor climbing – Climbing artificial walls in a gym using auto-belays or safety ropes.
  • Bouldering – Climbing short rock “problems” close to the ground without ropes.
  • Mountaineering – Climbing tall mountain peaks using ropes, ice axes, crampons.

The focus of climbing is using strength, technique and specialized gear to overcome the vertical challenge. Different types of climbing require different athletic abilities and skills.

 

Key Differences Between Hiking and Climbing

Now that we’ve defined hiking and climbing, what are the major differences?

1. Terrain

– Hiking involves following trails over varied terrain like hills, forests, meadows. The trail guides the route.

– Climbing happens on near vertical or vertical terrain like cliffs, walls and icy surfaces. Climbers choose their own route up.

2. Orientation

– Hiking is primarily horizontal movement to cover distance. You’re moving across the landscape.

– Climbing is vertical movement, directly upwards. The goal is ascending upwards.

3. Physical Intensity

– Hiking requires moderate physical fitness, with flexibility, endurance and balance.

– Climbing requires very high strength, endurance and specialized skills to scale vertical terrain. It’s extremely physically demanding.

4. Gear

– Hiking gear includes clothing, hiking boots, poles, backpack, map, food, water filter, first aid kit. Basic gear.

– Climbing requires harnesses, ropes, belay devices, helmets, climbing shoes, chalk bag, plus gear like cams, nuts, ice axe, crampons. Very specialized technical gear.

5. Risk Level

– Hiking risks include dehydration, getting lost, twisting an ankle, and weather changes. Overall low risk activity.

– Climbing risks include major injury and death from falls, rock/icefall, gear failure and other hazards. Much higher risk levels.

6. Training

– Anyone can start hiking without training, just use caution and start with easier hikes.

– Climbing requires formal training to use technical gear and climbing techniques safely. Years of training needed to attempt big climbs.

7. Objective

– The main goal of hiking is enjoying nature and exercise at your own pace. It’s more about the journey.

– With climbing the goal is successfully summiting the vertical route or bouldering problem. More about accomplishing the objective.

Also Read: Is Hiking Stressful? Evaluating the Mental Health Benefits and Demands of Hitting the Trail

 

Is Hiking Considered a Type of Climbing?

Sometimes hiking includes sections of scrambling (using hands and feet) up steep rock bands or summits. But basic hiking itself does not require actual climbing techniques or gear. So hiking is not considered a true form of climbing.

That said, the divide between hiking and climbing can get blurry in a few scenarios:

 

1. Mountaineering

Mountaineering expeditions often involve long hikes to access climbing routes on peaks. So mountaineering trips include both hiking and technical climbing elements.

2. Off-Trail Hiking

Sometimes hikes may venture off-trail into steep, unmarked terrain. This can require using hands for stability, similar to scrambling or easy climbing. But unless ropes, harnesses or climbing gear is used, it is not technically climbing.

3. Via Ferrata

A via ferrata is a protected climbing route with fixed cables, rungs and ladders. This allows hikers without climbing skills to ascend vertical sections safely. While similar to climbing, hiking a via ferrata relies on the fixed systems and is considered a type of hiking.

4. High Altitude Hiking

Hiking to extremely high elevations may require mountaineering skills at times, especially if snow travel, glaciers or scrambling are involved. But the majority of the journey to altitude involves hiking.

 

Hiking vs Climbing vs Mountaineering – Quick Comparison

ActivityHikingClimbingMountaineering
Terrain Trails, varied terrainVertical, near vertical rock, ice, wallsPeaks, glaciers, high elevations
Risk LevelLowHighVery high
GearBasicSpecialized technical gearTechnical gear plus hiking gear
Skills/FitnessMinimal training neededYears of training and high fitnessMix of hiking fitness and climbing skills
GoalJourneying through natureOvercoming the "summit"Summiting mountain peaks
ExampleDay hike through foothillsMulti-pitch rock climbExpedition up Denali

 

So in summary, hiking and climbing are distinct activities. Hiking focuses on the journey through nature over varied terrain, while climbing is about ascending vertical surfaces using specialized skills and gear.

But there are some gray areas where hiking crosses into scrambling or mountaineering territory and may employ some basic climbing techniques.

 

Hiking vs Climbing – Which is Right For You?

So now that we’ve explored the differences in depth, how do you choose between hiking and climbing?

Hiking

Hiking is the right choice if you:

  • Want to get outdoors and journey through beautiful landscapes.
  • Enjoy nature, wildlife viewing and new discoveries along the trail.
  • Prefer moderate physical activity you can do at your own pace.
  • Want minimal specialized gear – just sturdy boots, poles and backpack.
  • Have flexibility, endurance and balance for lengthy walks.
  • Are looking for a lower risk, family-friendly activity.

With hundreds of thousands of hiking trails worldwide spanning deserts, forests, lakes, mountains and coastlines, hiking has an incredible diversity of routes for all ages and fitness levels. Even little kids can start hiking on easier, flatter trails.

Also Read: Is Hiking Good or Bad? A Balanced Look at the Pros and Cons of Hiking

 

Climbing

Climbing is the right choice if you:

  • Love the physical and mental challenge of tackling near vertical terrain.
  • Are passionate about mastering an extremely athletic activity.
  • Have a high level of fitness – strong grip, arms, core required.
  • Are detail-oriented and safety conscious with gear.
  • Crave the adrenaline rush of summiting or solving problems.
  • Are willing to accept higher risks for the rewards.

Climbing tests your limits physically and mentally. With rigorous training and the right gear, climbers can experience the thrill of ascending cliffs, walls and mountains in stunning landscapes not reachable by hiking alone. But the risks and required skills are substantially greater.

 

Getting Into Hiking and Climbing

New to hiking or climbing? Here’s a quick guide to getting started:

 

Getting Into Hiking

  • Start with easier trails without much elevation gain to build fitness and confidence.
  • Get hiking shoes or boots to provide ankle support and traction on loose terrain.
  • Bring trail essentials – water, food, map, layers, first aid kit, phone.
  • Build distance and difficulty gradually as your fitness improves.
  • Join group hikes or hiking clubs to meet people and learn new trails.
  • Take a hiking safety course for backcountry preparedness.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles to protect the wilderness.

 

Getting Into Climbing

  • Take an intro climbing course at a rock gym or with guides to learn safety techniques.
  • Start “top roping” easier routes on artificial walls to build skills.
  • Stick to well below your limit and focus on technique over pushing limits.
  • Join a  climbing gym or club to meet partners and mentors.
  • Take an outdoor climbing course to learn to set gear and anchors.
  • Build skills on easier outdoor climbs before attempting multi-pitch routes.
  • Get professional instruction on using ropes, belaying, rappelling, self-rescue skills.
  • Prioritize safety – use helmets, check ropes/anchors, communicate clearly.
  • Practice on boulders to perfect hand holds, foot work, and balance.
  • Develop finger and upper body strength as well as flexibility.
  • Buy quality shoes, harness, belay device, and other essential gear.
  • Climb frequently to increase technical skills before tackling harder routes.
  • Pay attention to nutrition and rest for recovery between intense sessions.

 

The bottom line is both hiking and climbing allow you to explore the vertical world, whether across miles of scenic trails or up sheer rock and ice faces. Start gradually, get proper training, and work within your ability level to enjoy either activity safely.

 

Safety Considerations for Hikers and Climbers

While hiking and climbing open a world of adventure, it’s crucial to know how to mitigate risks and climb/hike safely. Here are some key tips:

Safety Tips for Hikers

– Research trail difficulty, distance, elevation gain and terrain before choosing a hike. Pick trails well within your fitness level and experience.

– Check the weather forecast and pack appropriate gear – rain jacket, warm layers, etc.

– Bring plenty of water, snacks/food, navigation, first aid supplies. Know how to purify water from streams if needed.

– Wear properly fitted hiking boots with ankle support and deep treaded soles. Break them in before longer hikes.

– Use hiking poles for stability and to distribute weight on steep sections.

– Tell someone your hiking plans and when to expect your return.

– Stay on the trail. Don’t rely on cell service for navigation. Bring a map and compass as backup.

– Pace yourself and rest/refuel regularly on long hikes. Turn back if fatigued or feeling unwell to avoid injury.

– Research wildlife you may encounter and proper precautions to take. Keep your distance.

– Avoid hiking alone whenever possible. Stick together if hiking in a group.

– Know basic first aid like treating sprains, wounds, burns, and allergic reactions. Take a Wilderness First Aid course.

Safety Tips for Climbers

– Take accredited instructional courses to learn safety techniques before climbing independently. Build skills gradually under supervision of experienced mentors.

– Use proper rope systems and anchoring for each type of climbing (top roping, sport climbing, trad climbing, etc.)

– Wear UIAA approved climbing harnesses that fit correctly. Double check buckles and tie-in points before climbing.

– Use helmets for outdoor climbing to protect from rockfall and impact. Wear sunglasses to prevent eye injuries.

– Carefully check climbing ropes for wear and retire them on schedule based on usage.

– Inspect gear like carabiners, quickdraws, cams, and nuts before each use. Retire worn gear immediately.

– Tie stopper knots at rope ends to prevent deadly rappelling accidents. Partner check every system.

– Climb well below your limit to maintain control and energy reserves in case of unexpected issues.

– Only climb if sober, well-rested and uninjured to keep reflexes sharp.

– Take lead climbing courses before attempting to place own gear on climbs. Seek mentorship.

– Study routes and rappel/lowering systems before climbing to avoid getting stranded on multi-pitch climbs.

– Carry emergency supplies like headlamp, puffy jacket, rain shell, food, water, knife, fire starter, first aid kit.

– Develop solid technical skills, physical fitness and mental focus to manage serious climbing risks. Stay humble and hungry to keep improving. Check your ego.

Also Read: Is Hiking Dangerous? Evaluating the Crazy Risks and Awesome Rewards of Hiking

 

Pros and Cons of Hiking and Climbing

 

Hiking Pros

– Explore gorgeous natural settings on trails worldwide.

– Peaceful way to destress and get outdoors.

– Meditative when hiking solo. Restorative.

– Social activity when hiking with others.

– Great option for families with kids. More inclusive.

– Minimal gear needed – just shoes, backpack, water, food.

– Relatively low risk activity with practice.

– Gets you active and improves cardiovascular fitness.

– Builds lower body and core strength if hiking hilly routes.

– Immerse yourself in nature and new environments.

Hiking Cons

– Can be boring or repetitive for some when hiking long distances.

– Poison ivy, mosquitos, bears, snakes – wildlife encounters can be concerning.

– Potential for sprains, falls, scrapes, blisters, dehydration, fatigue.

– Must be cautious in extreme weather – lightning, heat, snow.

– Need to travel to suitable hiking terrain. Limited in some regions.

– Gear expenses add up – shoes, poles, rain layers, packs, GPS device.

– Requires research and planning to find suitable trails.

– Risk of getting lost if you lose the trail or veer off path.

Climbing Pros

– Exhilarating sense of accomplishment when summiting climbs or routes. Euphoric adrenaline rush.

– Develops incredible strength, flexibility, technique, balance and mental focus.

– Constant challenge to improve skills keeps it engaging long-term.

– Get fit fast! Climbing workouts burn major calories.

– See breathtaking views and scenery in vertical settings unreachable by hiking.

– Form close-knit community and partnerships built on trust and safety.

– Indoor climbing is convenient, social, and escapism from daily life.

– Outdoor climbing allows you to connect with nature in remote settings.

– Teaches determination, courage, problem-solving skills which build confidence.

Climbing Cons

– Extremely high injury risk from falls, gear failure, rockfall/icefall hazards, etc.

– Severe physical and mental demands with little room for error at upper grades.

– Requires massive time commitment to build proper technique and experience.

– Steep learning curve. Must take courses and progress slowly to mitigate dangers.

– Very expensive gear – ropes, draws, specialized shoes, helmets, etc.

– Not an inclusive sport. Hard to get into if you lack upper body strength.

– Limited in some areas geographically by access to rock walls or ice.

– Outdoor climbing has massive environmental impact if not practiced sustainably.

– Social pressure to climb at the edge of your ability level can be dangerous.

– Weather dependent for outdoor climbing – rain, wind, snow, heat influence conditions.

– “Crushing” nature means climbing over living ecosystems to reach the top.

 

Best Hiking and Climbing Areas Around the World

 

Top Hiking Destinations

– Appalachian Trail, Eastern USA – Iconic long distance thru-hike across 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine. Hikers can tackle the full AT or smaller sections.

– Inca Trail, Peru – Stunning 26 mile trek through the Andes to reach Machu Picchu. Historic stone steps and ruins. Requires permit due to popularity.

– Pacific Crest Trail, Western USA – Epic 2,650 mile thru-hike from Mexico to Canada through desert, mountains and forests. Permits required for longer sections.

– Tour du Mont Blanc, Alps – Spectacular 110 mile circuit around Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe. Alpine hiking at its finest!

– Everest Base Camp, Nepal – Non-technical hike to 17,500 feet with incredible views of the Himalayas. Good glimpse of mountaineering life.

– Zion Narrows, Utah – Iconic canyon “hike” through the Virgin River in Zion National Park. Prepare to get wet! No trail for 16 miles.

– Camino de Santiago, Spain – Pilgrimage trail ending at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral spanning 500 miles or more on various routes.

– Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea – Difficult multi-day hike through jungles and over mountain passes once home to WWII battles. Outstanding tropical scenery.

– Mount Fuji, Japan – Beloved pilgrimage site andtop of Japan’s highest peak. Hike through the night to reach the summit at sunrise.

– Laugavegur Trail, Iceland – Incredible scenery hiking through volcanos, lava fields, hot springs and more stunning terrain.

Top Climbing Destinations

– Yosemite National Park, California – Iconic granite big wall climbs like El Capitan and Half Dome. Mecca for rock climbers worldwide.

– Fontainebleau, France – Massive forest filled with over 27,000 bouldering problems. Bouldering paradise!

– Patagonia, South America – Otherworldly granite spires and towers. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre are coveted summits here.

– Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado – Hundreds of traditional and sport climbs on granite and sandstone from beginner to advanced levels.

– Shawangunk Ridge, New York – “Gunks” offers  classic multi-pitch trad climbs with horizontal cracks on quartz conglomerate rock. perfect for learning!

– Red River Gorge, Kentucky – Over 1,800 sport and trad routes in a forested gorge lined with sandstone cliffs and arches. Great for winter climbing.

– Peak District, England – Gritstone sport climbing and bouldering on unique rough textured sandstone. Plus trad climbs on limestone.

– Squamish, British Columbia – Granite big walls and massive glaciated peaks like The Chief. Alpine and rock climbing paradise.

– Finale Ligure, Italy – Seaside limestone sport climbing “paradise” with over 3,000 routes along stunning Mediterranean coastline.

– El Chaltén, Argentina – Mountaineers flock here to summit technical granite spires like Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy in Los Glaciares NP.

– Frankenjura, Germany – Over 9,000 sport and trad routes on compact limestone in the forests of Northern Bavaria.

Also Read: Is Hiking Good for Your Brain? 7 Powerful and Proven Mental Health Benefits from Hiking

 

Access and Environmental Considerations

With the rising popularity of hiking and climbing, it’s crucial to practice these sports sustainably through using permitted access, following rules, and minimizing impact on natural areas. Here are some tips:

– Research access rules and obtain permits where required. Avoid trespassing on private property or restricted areas.

– Stay on the trail when hiking and camp at designated sites to avoid trampling vegetation.

– “Pack it in, pack it out” – carry all trash with you when leaving outdoor areas.

– Avoid removing rocks, plants or artifacts to leave environments undisturbed.

– Use existing anchors when possible when climbing rather than adding new fixed gear to cliffs.

– Stay off fragile alpine vegetation and lichens which take decades to regrow.

– Follow all rock climbing bans in nesting seasons to allow raptor populations to thrive.

– Volunteer for trail maintenance and clean-up events when possible.

– Donate to organizations that purchase climbing access land or maintain local trails.

 

Hiking and Climbing Gear Guide

The right gear can make your hiking and climbing safer, more comfortable and more enjoyable. Here’s an overview of essential gear for each sport:

 

Hiking Gear

Hiking boots – Sturdy boots with ankle support and stiff soles for stability and traction. Waterproof models for wet terrain.

Backpack – Internal or external frame pack. Size varies based on trip length. 30-50L is common for day trips.

Socks – Wool or synthetic wicking hiking socks avoid blisters. Some prefer liner socks plus thicker outer socks.

Trekking poles – Adjustable poles distribute weight and reduce strain on knees during descents. Helpful for creek crossings.

Navigation – Topo map, compass, GPS device and/or navigation app helps avoid getting lost if the trail is unclear.

Clothing – Base layers, insulating mid-layers, waterproof/breathable rain jacket and pants, sun hat. Prepare for diverse weather.

First Aid Kit – Bandages, gauze, blister care, antiseptic wipes, medications, etc. Be ready for scrapes, sprains and blisters.

Food – High protein and carb snacks plus meals for longer trips. Focus on lightweight but nutrient dense foods.

Water – Hydration pack and/or water bottles plus water filter or treatment. Spring water is often drinkable after filtering.

Fire Starter – Useful for emergencies in cold conditions. Bring waterproof matches, lighter and fire starters like dryer lint.

Headlamp – Allows you to hike before dawn, after dusk or in dark forests. Critical if having to self-rescue at night.

 

Climbing Gear

Harness – Sit harness distributes weight on legs and hips. Ensure proper fit for comfort and safety when hanging.

Shoes – Sticky rubber climbing shoes conform tightly to allow precision footing on small holds. Pick neutral, moderate downturn for starting.

Belay device – Assists with rope control when belaying a lead climber. ATC, GriGri or other specialized device.

Helmet – Protects head from rockfall, icefall, impact with wall. Required for outdoor lead climbing and ice climbing.

Carabiners – Aluminum or steel oval links used to connect rope to gear, anchors, belay loops. Must be UIAA rated.

Climbing rope – Nylon kernmantel rope provides lifeline if climber falls. Diameter varies based on type of climbing.

Quickdraws – Carabiners connected by nylon slings to quickly clip rope into bolt anchors on sport climbs.

Belay gloves – Protect hands from rope burn when catching falls or lowering climbers.

Chalk bag – Waist bag holding gymnastics chalk which keeps hands dry for grip on holds.

Guidebooks – Show routes, difficulty ratings, gear needed, approach hikes and safety info for outdoor climbing areas.

 

Hiking and Climbing Clothing and Layering

Dressing properly for hiking and climbing involves wearing breathable, sweat-wicking layers that can be added or removed as weather shifts.

Base Layer

Purpose: Wicks sweat from skin and insulates

Materials: Merino wool, synthetics that dry quickly

Fit: Tight to the body

 

Mid Layers

Fleece Jacket: Breathable insulation for colder temps

Soft Shell Jacket: stretchy, weather resistant layer for high output

Insulated Jacket: Light “puffy” down or synthetic insulated jacket for cold

 

Outer Shell

Rain Jacket: Waterproof and breathable jacket to block wind and moisture

Rain Pants: Waterproof bottoms made of a laminate like Gore-Tex

 

Other Key Clothing Items

Hiking shorts and pants: Durable, stretchy, quick drying

Sports bras and underwear: moisture wicking

Hiking shirts: Loose, lightweight, breathable

Buff/neck gaiter: Blocks sun and wind

Winter hat: Insulated hat that covers ears

Lightweight gloves: Insulated but dexterous

Sun hat: Protects face and neck from sun

Sunglasses: Protect eyes from glare and Objects

Layering allows you to stay warm and dry as conditions change. Avoid cotton which stays wet and cold when sweaty or in rain. Wool and synthetics are best for variable weather.

 

Hiking and Climbing Nutrition and Hydration

Fueling properly is key to performing your best on the trail or rock wall and staying safe. Follow these nutrition tips:

General Guidelines

– Pack calorie-dense snacks that are lightweight like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, jerky, and energy bars.

– Bring a trail mix with a combo of carbs, protein and fat to supply steady energy. Sweet and salty foods are appealing when active.

– For meals, focus on freeze-dried, dehydrated or instant meals that just require boiling water in the field.

– Drink about 0.5 to 1 liter of water per hour when very active depending on conditions. Dehydration can develop quickly.

– Electrolyte tablets or powders like Nuun can add essential sodium, potassium, magnesium to water which are depleted when sweating.

– Carry spare food in case your trip runs longer than expected. Having excess is better than running out.

 

High Calorie Hiking Snacks

  • Nut butter packets or mini jars with pretzels or apple slices
  • Beef or salmon jerky sticks
  • Energy gels with caffeine
  • Dried fruit and nut mixes
  • Protein, granola or energy bars
  • Jelly-filled peanut butter crackers
  • Cheese sticks or Babybel rounds
  • Pouches of shelf-stable smoked salmon
  • Individual hummus and pretzel crisps or pita bites
  • Salty potato chips or pretzels
  • Roasted salted almonds or pistachios

 

High Protein Climbing Snacks

  • Cottage cheese tubs
  • Protein powder based energy bars
  • Protein shakes or drinks
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Protein chips or roasted edamame
  • Nuts – almonds, cashews, pistachios
  • Nut butters with apple slices or whole grain crackers
  • Jerky strips
  • Edamame hummus with pita or veggies
  • Greek yogurt pouches

 

Stay energized out there on the trails and rocks! Let me know if you need any additional tips on gear, nutrition or training. Wishing you many safe and fulfilling adventures.

 

FAQs: Is Hiking Climbing

 

Is hiking or climbing better exercise?

Hiking and climbing both provide excellent physical exercise, but in different ways. Hiking delivers a more cardiovascular, aerobic workout over longer distances and durations. Climbing builds greater overall strength, power in the upper body, grip strength and finger dexterity.

Is hiking or climbing more dangerous?

Climbing is widely considered a more dangerous activity than hiking due to the severe risks of falls and other climbing hazards. However, hiking has risks too and both sports require safety knowledge.

Can you hike without being in shape?

Beginners can start hiking without a high level of fitness by choosing short, flat trails and building up distance gradually as conditioning improves. Getting in shape for climbing requires more targeted strength training.

Is hiking a waste of time?

Hiking offers mental and physical health benefits so it’s far from a waste of time. But it depends on your personal interests and desired activities.

Is climbing a team sport? 

Climbing often involves partnership, teamwork and trust when belaying, spotting and using rope systems. Most climbers view it as a team sport, unlike solo climbing.

Do you lose weight hiking?

Regular hiking can help you lose weight as part of a calorie controlled diet, depending on pace, terrain, pack weight and fitness level. The exercise and time outdoors make it a healthy activity choice.

Is rock climbing a good workout? 

Yes, rock climbing delivers an amazing full body workout! It builds strength in the back, shoulders, arms, core, and fingers/forearms plus flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. It provides a fun, social way to get very fit.

 

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