What do “hike”, “backpacking”, and “camping” etc., mean?
Updated: Aug 24
Ever had a conversation with someone and realized you’re both using the same word, but defining it differently? This has happened to me a few times when talking about hiking, backpacking, and camping. This blog post isn’t going to be the definitive definition for those words, in fact, it might cause a few arguments, but here goes anyway.
The word "hike" is believed to have originated from the Old English word "hican," which means "to walk" or "to move quickly." It is thought to be related to the Old Norse word "hikja," which has the same meaning.
The word "hike" first appeared in the English language in the early 16th century, and it was originally used to refer to a quick, energetic walk. Over time, the meaning of the word "hike" has evolved to refer to a long walk or journey, particularly one taken in a natural setting such as the countryside or mountains.
Today, the word "hike" is commonly used to refer to a long, leisurely walk or trek, often undertaken for enjoyment or exercise. For some, if the trail is under a mile and there’s little elevation gain, it’s a ‘nature walk’ and not a hike. For others, any stroll in nature counts as a hike. So, there’s some subjectivity to the word. Going a little further into the rabbit hole of definitions, some folks will use the word 'hike' to mean any trek that includes an overnight stay, and 'day hike' for those trekking adventures where you return home at the end of the day.
The word "backpacking" is a combination of the words "back" and "packing," which literally means "carrying a pack on the back." This term originated in the early 20th century, and it was first used to refer to the act of carrying a pack on one's back while hiking or traveling.
The use of the word "backpacking" to refer specifically to outdoor activities such as hiking and camping, is believed to have originated in the United States in the 1960s. At this time, the term was used to refer to a style of outdoor recreation that involved carrying a backpack and camping in the wilderness for extended periods of time.
Today, the word "backpacking" is commonly used to refer to outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and traveling, in which the participants carry all of their equipment and supplies in a backpack.
Again, there’s some subjectivity here. Many of us call any walk in nature where you return that day, a hike or day hike. If you spend at least one night out, you were backpacking. And there's the definition of 'hiker' as opposed to 'backpacker'. A backpacker spends at least one night out in nature, a hiker returns to the trailhead at the end of the day.
The word "camping" is derived from the Old French word "camp," which means "field" or "open space." The word "camp" originated from the Latin word "campus," which means "field" or "open land."
The use of the word "camping" to refer specifically to outdoor activities such as hiking and camping is believed to have originated in the United States in the late 19th century. At this time, the term was used to refer to the act of setting up a temporary shelter or dwelling in a natural setting, such as a field or forest.
Today, the word "camping" is commonly used to refer to outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and traveling, in which the participants set up a temporary shelter and spend time in a natural setting. It is also used to refer to the act of staying in a campground or other type of outdoor accommodation.
Here’s where things get interesting. There’s car camping, where you drive to the location and set up your tent/hammock/lean-to within a few yards of your car. Going a step further you have camping where you stay in a pre-built structure. Leaving civilization behind, there’s backpack camping where you carry everything and set up a shelter you bring with you for the night. Finally, there’s bushwhacking where you build a shelter using the materials found in the environment you’re in.
I don’t think it matters too much what we call our outdoor adventures. A rose would still smell as sweet by any other name and nature will still be grand regardless of how we experience it.