Hiking vs. mountaineering

Key differences between hiking and mountaineering

Hiking and mountaineering are two pursuits that share many common features and consequently there are many different opinions as to what distinguishes one from the other.

As a general rule, hiking is a pursuit that can be followed without the need for any specialist or technical equipment, whilst mountaineering will require the use of technical equipment such as rope, a harness, crampons and ice axes. Here's the realbuzz.com guide to the key differences between hiking and mountaineering.

Just to add to the confusion that exists between hiking and mountaineering, some hill walkers also go scrambling. Scrambling can be distinguished by walking routes where a rope may be needed for short durations in order to provide security to members of the group. Unlike mountaineering, no other specialist equipment is needed for scrambling, although some people will use a harness for ease of attachment to the rope.

Generally, hiking is a pursuit open to almost anyone, of any age or fitness level, and requires little in the way of specialist knowledge and training to get started. Basic navigation skills are easy to learn and are essential as you should never rely on one person to guide a party.

Mountaineering however, will usually be more physically challenging and a degree of knowledge and training must be attained before attempting any mountaineering routes. This knowledge might include navigation, rope techniques, crampon and ice ax use, basic first aid and understanding mountain weather.

Hiking and mountaineering are two pursuits that offer boundless opportunities for challenges, enjoyment and excitement. The list below describes some of the benefits and pitfalls of each activity ...

Hiking benefits:

  • Easy to get started for any age and fitness level.
  • Little specialist knowledge or training needed for this walking.
  • Low initial investment in walking equipment needed.
  • Can improve personal confidence and character building.
  • Can be as long or short as you like; a one hour walk or a four week walk!
  • Great feeling of personal achievement following a tough hike.

Key pitfall of hiking:

  • There are risks of injury but these can generally be avoided by undertaking good initial training, good preparation and investing in good clothing and equipment. 


Mountaineering benefits:

  • Offers a more diverse array of activities and experiences than hiking.
  • Can seriously improve personal confidence, character and team-working skills.
  • Will seriously improve cardiovascular fitness.
  • Great feeling of personal achievement.

Pitfalls of mountaineering:

  • A moderate fitness level is necessary.
  • A degree of knowledge and training is essential.
  • Initial investment in equipment can be high.
  • Generally mountaineering routes will be long, i.e. 6 hours is the minimum.
  • There are risks of injury and hypothermia but these can generally be avoided by undertaking good initial training, good preparation and investing in good clothing and equipment.

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