What’s in a name?

Soapbox

Backpacking, bushwalking, hiking, tramping, trekking, thru hiking, rambling… So many terms are used to describe getting outside with a pack on your back. Also, is it a track or is it a trail? Do you have tracking poles or trekking poles?

Each term has its own connotation and depending on which country you come from (or which part of the country) you will find yourself gravitating more towards one term over another to describe what you are doing when you head out into nature.¬†From my perspective I have found the term hiking to be the most versatile and most easily understood as a generic term. No matter where you go in this world, a wider range of people, even those who don’t walk with a pack on their backs, will know what you are talking about when you mention hiking whereas some of the country specific terms tend to get lost in translation.

In this article we look more closely at the terms used to describe what we do when we head out in to nature and whether one term makes more sense than others. Does it really matter?

Backpacking

From an Australian perspective we often think of ‘backpackers’ typically being younger people who throw a pack on their back and go wandering around the world having a good time and doing itinerant work as they go. From a getting outdoors perspective, the term backpacking implies longer multi-day trips that include carry cooking and sleeping systems usually in a larger capacity backpack. For me, backpacking tends to be more of an American term when connected with the outdoors but also one that is usually well understood.

Bushwalking

The term bushwalking is a fairly descriptive Australian term that implies that you are walking through the bush, as opposed to rural or urban areas. Over the past few years much of my hiking has been above the tree line in the Australian alpine regions walking through open grassy plains with little ‘bush’ in site. So, am I still ‘bushwalking’?

Hiking

To walk a long distance, especially through the bush, for pleasure. An interchangeable term with backpacking, bushwalking, trekking or tramping but often used for trips that are shorter in distance. Hikes usually last a day or less, not requiring an overnight stay, carrying limited equipment and often with the use of smaller backpacks (day packs). Hiking tends to be an all encompassing term that doesn’t apply to a particular environment but rather to the activity of walking.

Section hiking

Again an Americanised term, but one making its way into the Australian vernacular that is associated with long distance hiking. Rather than completing a long distance hike all in one go (a thru hike), you do it bit by bit, or section by section. If you are doing a big long distance trail by section hiking then you may take years to do it.

Tramping

Tramping is a New Zealand and British term used to describe individuals who are backpacking, hiking or bushwalking. It generally implies the carrying of all required personal gear but is also used for hiking.

Trekking

Trekking as a definition tends to imply something more serious as an activity and refers to going on a long arduous journey, typically on foot. While interchangeable with hiking or backpacking it is often associated more with mountaineering and snow activities as opposed camping in a bushland environment.

Thru hiking

A term usually applied to a long distance hike that is done over a consecutive series of days and completed in one go. While thru hiking is very much an American term it is one that is creeping into the Australian vernacular. While it can apply to shorter walking trails it is usually associated with trips that take multiple weeks and cover many hundreds if not thousands of kilometres.

Urban hiking

While this is another American term its an activity that is gaining ground. Rather than hiking through the bush you are instead hiking through a city. In my case, living in Canberra a number of our urban hikes are located in bushland.

Rambling

Again more a British term that relates to wandering about from one place to another, and or walking in the countryside for pleasure. Not something often mentioned in an Australian context.

Track or trail

While track is often considered to be more of an Australian term it really doesn’t matter too much. In fact in Australia we use these terms almost interchangably. If you look at our better known walks in Australia, the spilt is fairly even.

Last words

When we started Australian Hiker in 2016 we were often taken to task for using an Americanised term to describe walking with a pack. The reason we named our blog Australian Hiker rather than Australian Bushwalker is that we felt the latter was too narrow in focus. My walk lengths vary greatly with the shortest typically being around 2 km all the way through to the longest at 1,000+ km.

I’m a big fan of urban hiking where carry a backpack and travel through the city stopping as you go in either camping sites or commercial accomodation. Our longest local trail is the 145 km Canberra Centennial Trail which is a shared trail suitable for cyclists and walkers alike. While this trail does have areas of bushland it also includes rural, urban, and peri-urban (urban fringe) components that classes this trail as an urban hike. As such a hike/hiking tends to be more of an all encompassing term and isn’t tied to the environment you are in. As a result I have always gravitated towards that term, and the reason our blog is Australian Hiker.

I also tend to use the terms trail and track interchangeably unless the name of the walk is clearly identified as one or the other. For me the term trail just seems to come more naturally and when I talk about a walk its easier to talk about on-trail rather than on-track – it just seems to make more sense.

Ultimately it doesn’t really matter too much which term you use just so long as you’re understood and it doesn’t stop you getting outdoors!

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