Where Does The Word Hiking Come From? (Explained)

Where Does the Word Hiking Come From

Hiking as a form of exercise or recreation has become an essential form of happiness and healthy living for many.

While it’s now quite normal to hike up a mountain today, it wasn’t always the case centuries ago. The term wasn’t as common as it is now.

Now, this leads to the question, where did the term originate? In this article, we’ll explore the history of the term and many more.

The term hiking dates back many centuries and originates from an English colloquial, “hyke,” which means to walk vigorously. Its first usage dates back to the 19th Century. But, the word didn’t become popular until the early 20th Century. You could call distance walking for exercise or pleasure, hiking.

Many other terms describe hiking today, and you can use them in many other contexts. And what terms are these, you may ask? Well, you’ll have to stick around to find out!

Who Coined the Word Hiking and Where?

Where Does the Word Hiking Come From

The word hiking had its first recording in 1809. And you could originally spell it as “hyke.

It’s a word of English origin. And you could use it as an insult in East Anglia and London in the 1800s.

However, people didn’t use the word a lot until the early 20th Century, when you could refer to long walks in the countryside. 

Today, however, there are now many other words and phrases that you can use to be synonymous with hiking.

However, their wide use often differs from one region to the next. You can use terms like walking, trekking, mountaineering, tramping, etc., to describe hiking.

You may know the meaning of these terms, but for a better context, here’s a quick summary.

#1. Walking

This term refers to many forms of strolling or traveling on foot in places like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.

Also, you can use the word to describe a wide range of activities, from strolling to multiple days of hiking the Alps. 

Although North Americans also use the term ‘walk’ a lot, they tend to use it the same way they’d use the word ‘stroll.’ It has a slightly different meaning to hiking for them.

#2. Trekking

You can use this word interchangeably with hiking. It’s a very common term, but you can sometimes use it to describe some difficulty. 

For instance, some dictionaries refer to a trek as a difficult or tiring journey.

Also, Asians prefer to use the word trekking rather than hiking. As you can even use it to describe prolonged hours of hiking tours in;

  • South America
  • The jungles of Southeast Asia
  • Mountainous locations in East Africa
  • The Himalayas 
  • The Middle East

#3. Mountaineering 

Mountaineering is a more extreme and specific type of hiking you may embark on to achieve a certain goal. 

However, unlike walking and trekking, mountaineering is often a combination of some other skills like skiing, rock scrambling, rock climbing, etc.

And, unlike the above activities, you can rarely do mountaineering leisurely. It’s a form of sport referred to in Europe as Alpinism. 

You can trace the history of this term to the early 18th Century, with Mont Blanc’s first ascent in the Alps.

#4. Tramping

This term is more known in New Zealand. And you can use it to describe arduous multi-day hikes through the roots and bushes of New Zealand. 

However, some people often use it to describe a difficult day of hiking. And the term is becoming well-known globally. 

What Does Hiking Mean?

Hiking has several broad definitions. But it’s just about getting from one point of nature to the other. 

It’s the most common term to describe going for a long walk or stroll, like in a rural area, for adventure, exercise, or training.

Also, Northern Americans and Europeans commonly use this term. 

Similarly, you can use the term hiking to refer to any outdoor activities, including walking, strolling, tramping, and even marching.

This activity can be mountainous, hilly, or scenic terrains. Over the years, hiking has become a very popular activity that you can even hike on trails.

There are famous and popular hiking sites that even have their hiking organizations. The  Inca trail (amongst others) is a popular hiking site with its organization. 

There are also a lot of health benefits you can link to different types of hiking. They are;

  • Weight loss.
  • Improved mental health.
  • Decreased obesity.
  • Decreased hypertension, etc.

All English-speaking countries understand the term hiking. However, there are some differences in its usage.

Is Hiking the Same as Trekking?

Although you may often use them synonymously, hiking and trekking don’t always mean the same.

You can describe hiking as a long, vigorous walk around your natural environment using hiking trails, routes, or footpaths overnight or for a day.

While you can describe trekking as a long, energetic hike in a lush natural environment for days, you can go for a trek off hiking trails.

Although hiking and trekking may seem similar, they have several distinguishing characteristics. 

The main difference here is; 

  • The intent.
  • The duration.
  • The intensity.
  • The length of a typical hiking or trekking experience.
  • The gear/equipment required for these activities.

Below are some other distinct features of hiking and trekking.

It’s fun and riveting, usually done for pleasure.You can also do it for fun and pleasure, but with a specific destination, like pilgrimages.
You’ll need to follow already-established footpaths or hiking trails.You’ll trek through areas without established roads, like mountain or cross-country trails.
You can refer to it as anything done overnight from 4km to 50km.It can last a few days, and you can do it anywhere from around 50km to 24,000km. 
You can make it just a brief hike or an overnight hiking adventure. It will take you more days as long as you’re able to complete your journey.
You’ll pack up light since it won’t last very long.You’ll need to carry all the essentials for the next few days.

Despite their differences, hiking and trekking both have amazing health benefits.

They can improve both mental and physical health. Here are some other health benefits you’ll gain from hiking and trekking:

  • Lower risks of heart failure/diseases.
  • Improved blood pressure and sugar levels.
  • Improved mental health.
  • Burns excess calories in the body.
  • Improves your creativity.
  • Improves your overall fitness.
  • Boosts confidence and self-esteem.
  • Increases happiness, etc.

Is Hiking a Sport?

No, despite the competitive nature of the activity, hiking is not, in fact, a sport. You can’t go out to watch a hiking march now, can you?

By definition, you can describe a sport as any activity which requires physical exertion and skill, in which you can compete against another person for entertainment.

The dictionary’s definition of ‘sport’ clearly sets a few criteria for considering an activity to be a sport. They are; 

  • Physical activity/exertion
  • Skill
  • Competition 

And although hiking meets the first two criteria, it has no competition. There’s no competitive affair and no authorities governing competition. 

This lack of competition is one of the beauties of hiking; you can go on a long stroll at your own pace and glory in the magnificence of nature.

Additionally, hiking is an activity that helps you meet physical activity guidelines and gives you the extra benefit of exposure to nature.

Hiking may not be a sport, but it’s a fun and vigorous way to enjoy nature, just like any other sport. 

Also, research has linked hiking to an environmentally friendly intervention encouraging people to be physically and mentally active while also creating time to enjoy nature.

Furthermore, you can’t consider hiking a sport because there’s no one to keep scores, judge the game, and most especially, there are no teams.

Although you may consider trail running a sport because of its competitive events. 

It’s not the same as just hiking for recreation because it involves people who engage in competitive activities. 

Why Do People Hike?

Many people enjoy hiking because of its many physical and mental benefits. Hiking is a very broad and unique activity that you can’t define in an exclusionary way.

However, I’ll examine below some of the reasons why people enjoy the activity of hiking so much.

#1. The Fun and Thrill of It

Hiking is a broad, fun, and recreational activity. And the good news is, it’s for everyone!

When you’re on a hike, there’s no competitiveness, no racing, just a group of people, friends, or family who want time to themselves to enjoy the natural wild.

And, to make it to their destinations, whether a summit or waterfall, the goal is to have fun, enjoy the moment, and feel good.

#2. Its Health Benefits

Not only is hiking fun and pleasurable, but it’s also a healthy activity that’s good for your cardiovascular health, muscle tone, and every other part of your body.

Also, hiking helps you sleep better. It clears your mind and lowers your stress levels, which experts link to helping you get a goodnight’s sleep.

#3. Its Simplicity and Smartness

Compared to paddling or biking, you don’t require a terrifying amount of preparation to go hiking. 

There’s something very pleasing in putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again.

Similarly, hiking helps you work smart, as it can boost your brainpower. Additionally, you learn a lot about the natural environment around you when you go on hikes.

So, open your mind, take some binoculars with you, stimulate your subconscious and learn something new today!

#4. It’s Peaceful and For Everyone

Hiking to slow down and enjoy some calming moments, even if you’re a fast walker. It’s about living in the present.

Also, as you go hiking, you have time to reflect, free up your mind and listen to the natural world around you.

It improves your balance skills and helps you develop stronger bones (to fight diseases like arthritis, etc.).

There are many other reasons people decide to go for hikes, and you can create yours spontaneously. There’s so much you can gain from it.


The term hiking has been around for some time and is now an integral part of human living.

Although hiking isn’t a sport per se, you can create elements of competition in it. So, go out there and explore the world today!

Josh Matthews

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