One of the best things about hiking is its inclusivity. Whether you’re an athletic adventurer or leisurely wanderer, there is a type of hiking that will suit your style.
Some hikes can last for just a few hours, while others continue for multiple months. Some hikes involve a lunch stop and a few photographs, while others ascend ambitious peaks in challenging weather.
Each style of hiking comes with its own unique challenges. This guide looks to explain what each one entails, helping you grasp the rewarding experience that each one has to offer.
#1 Day Hiking
Day hiking refers to any hike that can be completed within a day. It can be completed in any type of natural environment and involve any level of difficulty.
Day hiking is probably the most popular type of hiking. It usually requires the least supplies and is a great way to connect with nature without a big commitment.
Most beginners will start out with well-marked day hikes. It gives them a great chance to test and improve their trail skills in a safe environment.
However, it’s worth noting that day hikes aren’t just for beginners. Steep elevation, challenging terrain and unpredictable weather can be sought if you’re in the mood for a tougher challenge.
No matter what your ability level, day hiking is a great way to get outdoors. It can be a relaxing afternoon or a serious physical challenge, making it an activity that anyone can enjoy.
Hint: If you’re interested in how hitting the trail can improve your mental health, we also have an article listing the psychological benefits of hiking.
Thru-hiking is an end-to-end hike of an established long distance trail. It means continuing to follow the trail for a continuous period of time, without any significant breaks between miles.
Thru-hiking a trail is often a long and challenging journey. Serious hikers only should attempt it, with most trails taking multiple months to complete.
The most common thru-hikes in the US are the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Each of these trails averages around 5 months from end-to-end.
Taking on a thru-hike takes months of planning and preparation. Organizing supply points, preparing your gear and pre-empting every eventuality can take a significant amount of time.
Time constraints and level of difficulty make thru-hiking nothing more than a dream for many. However, the feeling of accomplishment upon completion is sure to make the long journey worthwhile.
#3 Section Hiking
Section hiking refers to hiking a long trail in individual segments. It allows you to complete a long trail over an extended period of time, without needing to commit to an ultra-long hike.
There are no time constraints around when each section must be completed. You might complete the 5 sections of a trail during consecutive weekends, or over the course of a year.
It also gives you the choice to decide the length of each section. Some will split a trail into 10 separate hikes, while others may complete it within 2.
Section hiking is viewed as a flexible way to follow a trail end-to-end without committing to a thru-hike. If you don’t have the time, ability or capacity to complete a trail in one attempt; section hiking is the best way to achieve your goal.
#4 Peak Bagging
The aim of peak bagging is to reach the summit of a predetermined list of mountains. It’s a goal orientated form of hiking, with the prestige of ‘bagging’ all the peaks being the ultimate reward.
Many lists have gained traction within the peak bagging community around the world. Some of the most coveted lists in the US include the Adirondack 46ers and Colorado 14ers.
Most peak bagging lists are constructed from peaks within a specific geographical area. Each mountain is usually selected due to its significant height or subjective reputation.
Without a definitive set of ‘rules’, there is rarely a specific route to the top agreed upon. This often results in hikers heading ‘off-trail’ to find a more direct route.
The time it takes to ‘bag’ all of the peaks is also widely variable. Some may use ‘base camping’ to bag multiple peaks in one outing, while others might complete their hikes over a number of years.
Peak bagging gives many hikers the motivation to keep climbing summits year after year. If it gives you the drive to get out and spend more time out on the trails, then it’s certainly a type of hiking we advocate.
#5 Base Camping
Base camping is where you hike into a convenient location, set up your camping gear, and use this site as a base from which to hike various trails.
Base camping is a consistently popular choice amongst peak baggers. With most peak bagging lists confined to a specific geographic location, it allows them to hike multiple summits on consecutive days.
Once your base camp is set up, you will have significantly lightened your pack. With only a ‘daypack’ required, you will be able to cover a large amount of distance on each hike.
Unlike most types of hiking, you will be able to explore trails in multiple directions during one expedition. Choosing a campground close to your target trails is key if you want to spend less time driving and more time hiking.
#6 Hut-to-Hut Hiking
Hiking ‘hut-to-hut’ refers to using strategically placed ‘huts’ as rest stops during a long hike. The huts can come in the form of refuges, lodges or traditional cabins.
The main benefit of hiking hut-to-hut is having somewhere comfortable to spend the night. It provides warm shelter, a flushable toilet and a place to cook your meals.
Hut-to-hut hiking also allows you to carry a lighter pack. Without the need for camping or cooking equipment, you can significantly lighten your load.
Although less traditional that camping, hut-to-hut provides a great way to enjoy long-distance hiking with an element of comfort. However, it can also feel less personal, as you will usually be sharing a bedroom and bathroom with other hikers.
Mountain lodges also provide a great meeting point for people from all walks of life. Being able to sit down in the evening and discuss trail life with a fellow hiker can be a great end to the day.
#7 Off-Trail Hiking
Off-trail hiking, also known as ‘bushwacking’, is hiking without following any set trail. It often involves forging a path through dense undergrowth, which has lead to the term ‘bushwacking’.
Hiking off-trail can give you a sense of freedom that can sometimes be lost on a manmade path. It provides a feeling of true self-reliance that can make for a more authentic experience.
Learning to safely hike off-trail is a useful skill. It will allow you to navigate around an obstacle, take a shortcut or explore an area of interest.
Bushwacking is generally more strenuous than trail hiking. The uneven terrain underfoot and untamed foliage can often test your resolve, so be prepared to conserve energy when possible.
Heli-hiking is when a helicopter is used to access remote hiking areas. These areas are usually inaccessible by other means of transport.
It is becoming an increasingly popular type of hiking, with it gaining prevalence across the Canadian Rockies and Alaska. Outside of North America, using a helicopter to access glacier hikes has also attracted recognition in New Zealand.
Tour operators predominantly run heli-hiking trips. Whether you’re looking for a few hours walk or a multi-day hike, they usually offer a range of packages that are tailored to each group.
Using a helicopter allows you to quickly access areas that would take a long time to reach on foot. It’s almost always performed in mountainous regions, allowing you to explore the peak area without the preceding off-trail hike.
Most heli-hiking trips last for a few hours, giving you time for some day hike exploration without the need for a heavy pack. However, some operators also offer multi-day packages, with lodges set up for a hut-to-hut experience.
Hiking is a broad and varied activity. It has so many different styles that can encompass people of all backgrounds, ages, abilities and aspirations.
Whether you’re an extreme adventurer or just looking for a relaxing afternoon, there is a type of hiking for you. It’s common to start with a single day hike, but find yourself following multi-day trails soon after.No matter how much time you spend on the trail, there is always another adventure to have or skill to learn. Click To Tweet
James is the founder of SnowSunSee. He started skiing when he was five years old and has been a qualified ski instructor for 8 years. He has taught skiing in many countries, including UK, Europe, Japan, China and Malaysia. When he’s not on the slopes, James spends his time travelling the world one trail at a time.