What type of hiking do you do?

Day Hike, Hike, or Backpacking – What’s the difference?

The Difference in Hikes

When someone says they love to hike, what does that actually mean? Obviously, they are talking about going outside and wandering around in nature, but ‘hiking’ can range from a short stroll in a municipal park on up to a multi-day through hike.

To add a little bit of clarity to this, I’ve broken the different levels of hiking down into the following categories. For each I’ve listed the general distance and duration, along with the basic guidelines of what you want to bring and what pack size you will likely need or want to bring.

In addition to what I’ve listed below, on EVERY hike, I suggest you take a PLB (personal locator beacon). Even if it is a short hike on a busy trail, things can go horribly wrong. I can tell you from personal experience that things can go from a fun easy hike to a life or death situation in the blink of an eye.

Very Short Hike (Stroll)

  • Distance: Less than 3 miles (5 km)
  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Terrain: Generally easy, well-marked trails, minimal elevation gain
  • Preparation: Minimal; water, comfortable walking shoes, light snacks
  • Pack Size: 5-15 liters (Small daypack or hydration pack)

Day Hike

  • Distance: 3-10 miles (5-16 km)
  • Duration: 2-8 hours
  • Terrain: Varies from easy to moderate difficulty, some elevation gain possible
  • Preparation: Day pack with water, food, first aid kit, map, appropriate footwear, and clothing
  • Pack Size: 15-30 liters (Medium-sized daypack)

Get My Free Day Hike Checklist Here


  • Distance: 10-20 miles (16-32 km)
  • Duration: 6-12 hours
  • Terrain: Moderate to challenging, significant elevation gain, varied trail conditions
  • Preparation: Comprehensive day pack including extra food, water, layers of clothing, navigation tools, emergency supplies
  • Pack Size: 20-40 liters (Larger daypack or small overnight pack)


  • Distance: Varies, typically more than 20 miles (32 km) over multiple days
  • Duration: Multi-day to several weeks
  • Terrain: Can range from moderate to very challenging, significant elevation changes, remote areas
  • Preparation: Full gear setup including tent, sleeping bag, cooking supplies, multi-day food supply, detailed map and compass or GPS, extra clothing, and robust first aid kit
  • Pack Size: 40-70+ liters (Multi-day backpacking pack)

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