What Are the Differences between Hiking and Mountaineering?

Hiking and mountaineering have become two of the most loved outdoor adventures for people across the world. However, many people often get the two confused with one another and it isn’t difficult to see why because there are so many similar aspects between the two. Though, there are a few subtle differences and if you are suck choosing between the two, you may want to find out what the differences are.

The General Rule

To be honest, hiking is a wonderful activity, a fantastic pursuit that millions look to every year but while you need a small amount of prepping, specialist training isn’t required. Yes, you are still going to need to prepare your mind and body for hiking but often, you don’t need a huge amount of training that last months. Also, less equipment is needed for hiking but it doesn’t make it any less dangerous than mountaineering.

What You Will Need For Hiking

Usually, hiking doesn’t require a great deal of specialist climbing equipment such as rope unlike mountaineering but there may be occasions when some equipment is needed. This does add to the confusion between mountaineering and hiking of course but it can be so simple. As said, usually hikers don’t need lots of specialist equipment but there may be the odd occasion when harnesses and ropes are needed to help provide additional safety for Scrambling.

Scrambling is walking routes that require ropes to ensure every hiker is able to remain on the trail without falling or running into difficulties. Of course you are going to need some sense of direction and have some good navigational skills; and knowledge of first-aid is crucial in case of emergencies.

Hiking and mountaineering can be both physically demanding and even though they are two very different pursuits, they can offer everyone the chance to challenge their minds and bodies.

Why More Choose Hiking?

For millions of people, they absolutely love hiking simply because it gives them the opportunity to start a new journey and improve their fitness. However, there is no specific fitness level required for hikers to abide by and that is perfect because it means everyone can take up hiking no matter their age or fitness levels. What is more, even if your fitness isn’t terribly good, you start off like everyone else – at the bottom – and as you continue taking up new hiking challenges, you improve and really get your mind and body into the hiking spirit.

You also don’t need much training to start with as you pick up a lot of tricks and knowledge along the way. You can get help from fellow hikers and eventually your body starts to adapt to the changes it needs to make for hiking and soon the body begins to embrace the hiking lifestyle too. Hikers don’t need to waste lots of money buying equipment as hikers often don’t require a huge amount of equipment and it can do a lot of good when it comes to confidence.

Choose Your Distance And Times

Hiking also allows you to have the freedom and choice over every aspect of your trails. You do not need to stick to anyone’s schedule apart from your own meaning you choose which trails suit your needs; whether it’s close to home or halfway across the world. You can even choose how far you are able to go without overdoing things and that is so unique. If you are just starting out, you probably only want to hike for an hour or two at most and you can set your limits and keep control over your new activity.

The Risk of Injury

Like mountaineering, hiking comes with injuries. There will be times when you get horrible blisters appearing on your feet and when your boots start to dig into your ankles. You will get bruises, scrapes and cuts and there are going to be times when you slip and fall and do serious damage to your body. However, with proper basic training you can avoid most injuries.

The Benefits of Mountaineering

Hiking and mountaineering can be easily confused with one another because they are very close in many instances but there are going to be a few differences to spot. For example, when it comes to mountaineering, you are going to be able to have the benefit of there being more activities on offer. Now, as most know hiking is very straightforward and concentrated on one area but mountaineering can be a lot more diverse especially with the different forms of activities available. This can be a huge benefit of mountaineering but of course, it isn’t always for everyone because it’s a little more strenuous than what regular hiking can be.

However, when it comes to mountaineering, it can help to build up someone’s confidence which is so important in today’s world. You also get the chance to learn new skills and require a lot of team working skills at the best of time. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing because many who enjoy hiking sometimes prefer to have fewer people around; and there is always the idea of achieving something very special.

The Risk Associated With Mountaineering

Though, while mountaineering can be fun, it also has a lot of drawbacks too. There are quite a few risks associated with mountaineering including the fact that hypothermia is a big problem. You are going to have to spend a great deal of time and money training for the different climates and mountaineering experience. You also need to invest money in the very best equipment which can be very costly for most and of course, there is a lot of training and knowledge to get to know.

Which Is Better Mountaineering or Hiking

When it comes down to it, both hiking and mountaineering can be absolutely wonderful but be warned, they aren’t for everyone. For example, hiking is best suited to those who want to challenge themselves and want to enjoy simple hiking trails; while mountaineering is a lot tougher and is more diverse. However, hiking is a lot more enjoyable and it does offer many hikers the chance to see sites they would never see otherwise – and it isn’t as costly as mountaineering.

Everyone will have their own opinion when it comes to their outdoor experiences though; hiking can slightly edge out mountaineering for its own reasons. If you are interested in exploring the great outdoors you may want to consider hiking first; and that way you can dip your feet in the water and find if its right for you.

What equipment is specific to mountaineering?

The similarities are many regarding the equipment you need for hiking and mountaineering. You need boots, proper clothing, a backpack, a sleeping bag, etc., for both activities. However, some equipment is specific to mountaineering. Details come next:

What equipment is specific to mountaineering

Fixed rope

Climbers anchor the fixed rope to the protection point for assistance in exposed mountain conditions. One will use several anchor points to achieve excellent safety. The fixed rope doesn’t move and attaches it at the upper and lower ends. It will assist the climber when pulled tightly and can be used in a section where climbers need to pass through frequently.

The installation of a fixed rope saves time and effort as several climbers can move once installed.

Climbing Rope

The climbing rope is essential for mountaineering. It comes in two types: the static and dynamic types. Static ropes present minimal stretch and are made for abseiling, whereas static ropes work as fixed ones when ascending.

Unlike static ropes, dynamic ropes are flexible and made to absorb a falling climber’s impact. Climbers use the climbing rope in peak climbing.


Crampons are made for mountaineering and help climbers climb/walk on slippery surfaces. Hikers can rely on gaiters for such situations. Climbers can choose between flexible and rigid crampons.

Flexible crampons can bend with the feet and are excellent when walking on ice or snow. To achieve a snug fit, one needs to properly strap the crampons on the climbing boots—several crampon attachment systems, such as hybrid and step-in straps. The strap-on crampons work with technical boots, whereas the hybrid crampons are excellent with lightweight mountaineering boots.

Ice Axe

The ice ax is a crucial mountaineering gear to assist movement over icy and snowy terrain. The ice ax is made with a pick and an edge for efficient grip when hammering into snow or ice. The shaft is suitable for plunging and self-belaying (curved or straight). Climbers use the curved design on technical ice and the refined design for mountain expeditions to ensure efficient plunging.

It’s tricky to pick the best ice ax for climbing and the ax’s length is the most critical factor. Also, the end of the shaft shouldn’t touch the ground when you stand in a relaxed position. Some models come with spikes to bite out of deep snow at the shaft’s end.

Aluminum and stainless steel are the common materials used for an ax. Aluminum is lightweight, whereas stainless steel is long-lasting and dependable.


The ascender is a mechanical device that climbers use to ascend a rope. When climbing on steep terrain in the mountain, the ascender ensures efficient protection when used with a fixed rope. Many use the ascender in rescue missions together with the rope hauling system.

Typically, climbers use ascenders as pairs because they’re fast and efficient. A common ascender is Jumar, named after the company Jumar Pangit. Mountaineers use the terms “jumaring” or “jumar” when using the device.


The descender looks like an 8 with a tiny and one large end. Commonly it’s made of aluminum alloy metal and uses a friction brake for a smooth and steady descent with a rope. Many use the descender (also known as “figure 8”) as a belaying device as it reduces excess heat that friction generates. It ensures sufficient resistance because it uses a large area that comes in contact with the climbing rope.

You need the correct technique to use figure 8 as a belaying device. Many use it with the climbing harness and locking carabiner for maximum safety when descending.


The carabiner (Karabiner) is a shackle made of a spring-loaded gate and metal. One can use it to reversibly and swiftly connect components. Typically made of steel and aluminum, the carabiner is widely used in rope-intensive sports and outdoor activities. Avid hikers may use the carabiner.

The carabiner used in sport is portable and light, whereas those used in mountaineering and rescue missions are more rugged and heavier. It’s crucial to test the carabiners for load-bearing and safety when used in mountaineering. Always make sure that you can use the carabiner for mountaineering.

Tape Slings

The tape sling (the runner) is mountaineering equipment made of a tied or sewn webbing loop. You can use the tape sling to wrap it around rock sections or attach various items. Some use the tape sling as an anchor.

There are two types of slings: sewn to length and assembled at the needed size. Most tape slings are nylon, whereas most recent models are ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene. Each material has ups and downs. The nylon presents several melting points and it’s perfect for high friction rope usage. The specialty polythene is smaller and lighter.


Mountaineers use the climbing harness for maximum safety and access. The harness secures the climber to an anchor point or rope while ascending or descending. The modern-day harness comes with a complex design to offer excellent safety and comfort. It had padding and great storage possibilities.

There are several types of harness to choose from: chest harness, sit-in harness, and full-body harness/. You don’t need to be an experienced climber to know that the chest harness will offer better safety than a sit-in harness will. Also, the full-body harness will ensure better security than the chest type. The type of expedition and comfort for the climber are factors to weigh in when selecting the harness.


You won’t see many hikers wearing helmets, but you will see most mountaineers wear helmets. The mountain helmets present a rigid design with a thick and durable plastic shell. When mountaineering, the environment is challenging and unforgiving and a well-made helmet is crucial for safety.

The climbing helmets are created to handle rock and stone falling impacts. They are relatively heavy (14oz) and many climbers ignore them when selecting their mountaineering equipment. Some climbers avoid wearing helmets as they don’t see them as mandatory. However, the risk of head injury is incredibly high with mountaineering. One should never overlook the importance of helmets when mountaineering.

Ice Screw

The ice screw is a tubular screw that climbers use as an anchor or belaying. It’s highly effective in steep ice surfaces such as icefalls, waterfall, and crevasse rescue. The ice screw holds the mountaineer when belaying or in the event of falling.

The ice screws vary in length, cutting teeth, ratchet mechanism, surface area, etc. Experienced climbers always pack the ice screw for their adventures.

Belay Gloves

Belay gloves are made of synthetic substitutes or leather. As the name suggests, they’re made to protect the hands and control the belay with single lead ropes. They protect against rope burn from friction. Belay gloves also reduce the risk of involuntary rope release. You won’t need belay gloves when hiking unless you plan some climbing.

Ski Goggles

Mountaineers can rely on regular sports glasses, but ski goggles provide excellent safety and protection from the elements. In high altitudes, the chances for snowstorms and dust are significant. Don’t forget that it gets pretty windy at high elevations. Good ski goggles are highly protective. Look for polarized models as they decrease glare in case of intense brightness. They also improve contrast when overcast.

Snow Shovel

One will use the snow shovel to dig up, lift, and move snow. It’s widespread for mountaineers to find the surroundings covered in snow. Experienced climbers will use the snow shovel for many other things. Hikers carry a snow shovel only if they go in snowed-in areas.

You can use the snow shove for drinking water, set up tents, make an emergency shelter, avalanche rescue, etc. When selecting the snow shovel, you need to check out the shape and size of the blade, the grip, the design, the material, etc.

What equipment is common with hiking and mountaineering?

Some equipment is standard for mountaineering and hiking. It doesn’t mean that you can use the same boots or backpack for hiking and mountaineering, though. It means that you need the same type of equipment for both outdoor activities.

What equipment is common with hiking and mountaineering


The backpack represents the main storage option for hiking and mountaineering. The packs will help you carry your gear, regardless of your planned activity. The main aspects to consider when selecting the backpack are comfort and weight capacity. Since you will carry the pack all day long, you want a comfortable one. According to the length of your adventure, choose the capacity for the backpack.

Many mountaineers prefer backpacks with removable frames for effortless ascent in the summer. There are all-inclusive packs made for mountaineering, and they come with built-in crampons holder, ice ax, and rope. Hikers don’t need such backpacks but relatively lightweight and more comfortable packs.

Regardless of the activity, the backpack should fit comfortably, offer efficient organization options, and be ready to handle intense wear. Waterproof backpacks are ideal, but models with rain gear protection will work too.


Visibility can get poor in the mountains due to overcast conditions, but a proper headlight attached to the helmet can make a difference. Some expeditions can begin in the middle of the night to avoid the powerful afternoon winds. Hikers may always use the headlamp at night, but it’s mountaineers who must have it for their adventures.

Trekking Poles/ Ski Poles

Both hikers and mountaineers will use trekking poles for better stability and rhythm. When hiking over rugged terrain, descending can be tough on ankles and legs. The trekking poles will balance the weight and reduce strain on the back and legs. Mountaineers also use trekking poles because they reduce the risk of falling.

Many climbers use the trekking poles to get the snow out of the way, cross the rocky routes and preserve their energy for ascents. No matter how difficult the mountaineering is, climbers will go with trekking poles. As for hikers, only some will use the sticks.


Whether you go hiking, trekking, mountaineering, camping, etc., you need navigation equipment. Smartwatches come with navigation, but it’s recommended to always have a compass for emergencies. Climbers, and even hikers, will use an altimeter watch—it measures the elevation achieved or the altitude of an object over sea level. When it comes to mountaineering, the altimeter watch is mandatory.

Modern-day sports watches feature altimeter and several high-tech functions. Look for one that includes an altimeter, barometer, and compass whether you go hiking or mountaineering.

Sleeping Bag

Unless you go on a day hike, you will need a sleeping bag for hiking and mountaineering. You need to choose the sleeping bag according to the weather and conditions you will go to. Down and synthetic materials are used for sleeping bags, and both have benefits and downsides.

Since down keeps you warm more efficiently than synthetic, it’s the perfect choice for outdoor experiences in cold temperatures. You can find water-resistant sleeping bags for excellent use in hiking and mountaineering. Sleeping bags present a temperature rating, so pick the bag accordingly. The sleeping bag should have at least a 0 Fahrenheit degree rating for mountaineering.

The amount of filling is another factor to weigh in when selecting the sleeping bag. The more filling a sleeping bag has, the warmer it will be. However, the trade-off is that the sleeping bag will be heavier, so you need to decide what counts the most: the warmth or the weight. Sleeping bags for mountaineering typically have 750g of down fill.


The stove is essential for multi-day hiking, but it’s crucial in mountaineering. Climbers will need to use a gas stove for preparing meals and even boiling snow to turn it into drinking water. The market offers various gas stoves that work on pressurized liquid fuels like kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas. The risk for jamming with gas stoves is significant and they require proper cleaning and maintenance after every use.

When using a gas stove, you need to be cautious, so pick one that suits the most challenging weather with mountaineering.

Gas fuel

Gas stoves run on propane fuel or isobutene; they come in a compact form and high flame. The downside is that canister fuel isn’t widely available. You can use the gas fuel mainly for cooking meals and boiling snow. A liquid fuel source such as liquid pressurizes gas (LPG) and kerosene represent reliable options.


It’s common for mountaineers to spend some time at the base camp to train and acclimatize. In the case of multi-day hiking, hikers will do the same. The proper mattress is versatile equipment with many uses when hiking and mountaineering. For high-altitude conditions, mattresses made with 3-closed cell foam make the best choice.

You don’t always need to use the sleeping bag—sometimes a good mattress will be more comfortable. Stay away from inflatable mattresses as they present a high risk of an accidental puncture.

Cooking Pots and Equipment

Both mountaineers and hikers can spend days and even weeks outdoor. A hot meal every day will provide you with the needed nutrients and strength to take on the next trail/mountain. You need to keep the cooking utensils minimal and stick to basic utensils. Versatile tools and multi-use are the best options when selecting the cooking pots and equipment.


Hikers and mountaineers will use tents for their adventures. A good tent protects against unforgiving weather, which is more common with mountaineering.

The market offers numerous tents that come in many sizes, shapes, designs, etc. The type, winter storm resistance, strength, weight, and ease of use are some of the main factors to weigh in when selecting the tent.

Mountaineers prefer double-walled tents as they have two layers of fabric for better comfort. The inner layer ensures breathability, whereas the outer layer protects against wind and snow. The double-walled tents are an excellent investment and can get pricey.

Is clothing for hiking different from clothing for mountaineering?

Regardless of the outdoor activity you engage in, and the 3-layer principle is fundamental with clothing. The principle refers to a system that includes three garment layers of the proper materials and design. According to the activity and weather conditions, you can add or remove the layers.

Is clothing for hiking different from clothing for mountaineering

Base layer

The first level is the wicking layer that takes moisture away from the skin and helps control body temperature. Body perspiration will go through the next layer of clothing so that the body remains dry.

The base layer is the foundation of the layering system and keeps one warm and dry. You wear it right to the skin as it creates a thin layer of warm air against the body. It will take the moisture and sweat vapor away from the skin.

Leggings, long/short sleeve thermal tops, and long johns represent standard options for the base layer. A t-shirt or polo shirt can work as base layers if the weather is warm. With hiking and mountaineering, where intense activity generates perspiration, fabrics that soak up sweat and get wet are avoided. Don’t use cotton for the base layer when hiking and mountaineering. Synthetic materials like wicking polyester effectively take the moisture away from the skin to evaporate it. Wool, especially merino wool, is the ideal material for the base layer. It’s comfortable and has impressive wicking and anti-bacterial properties. However, it’s more expensive than synthetics.

Mid layer

The mid-layer clothing has insulation abilities and traps the body’s warmth. The mid-layer is also known as the insulation layer and creates heat. Softshells, fleeces, hoodies, body warmers, and sweatshirts are typical mid-layer.

You will wear the mid-layer over the base layer to trap the body heat and take the sweat away from the skin to keep you warm and dry. If the weather is mild, the mid-layer can very well be the outer layer. However, the mid-layer garments don’t have protection against wind, rain, and other elements.

Outer layer

The third layer is the protective layer against the elements and inclement weather. Hikers and mountaineers will use waterproof and windproof jackets for the unforgiving weather. If you need protection against the elements, the outer layer is crucial. The proper outer layer will protect against wind, snow, and rain.

Garments for the outer layer are typically lightweight and waterproof. Breathability is just as important as you want efficient ventilation underneath the outer layer. Good quality outer layers will prevent the elements from entering and reduce the risk of overheating. They help moisture and heat escape away from the body.

There are several types of outer layers:


You don’t always need a waterproof outer layer and sometimes water repellency will do for hiking and mountaineering. Softshells are comfortable and protect against the wind. The breathability is also excellent. Combined with a waterproof outer layer, they act as an efficient mid-layer.

Hard shells

Hard shells refer to breathable and water-resistant jackets. They will protect against inclement weather as they have taped seams. Typically, they are entirely waterproof and the zippers are weather resistant.

Insulated jackets

Insulated jackets are excellent for icy conditions. Hikers pick insulated jackets when hiking in the winter.

Mountaineering jackets

Climbers typically buy mountaineering jackets that are cumbersome when compared to other jackets. They’re enormous because the mountaineers need to wear several layers of thermal underneath. The sleeves are long yet comfortable to ensure free movement when ascending/descending. The sleeve ends must be tight, whereas the lower edge reaches the crotch area. Mountaineering jackets shouldn’t restrict movement in any way. They’re reinforced with thick materials for high resistance to wear and tear.


If there’s rain in the forecast, hikers use waterproof trousers. However, it’s mostly the mountaineers that will buy waterproof trousers. They should be comfortable and protected against water at the same time.

Mountaineering trousers will protect the legs from cold temperatures, wetness, and strong winds. They have extra padding to protect against injuries in case of falling over sharp objects and rocks.

Can you use your hiking boots for mountaineering?

Hiking and mountaineering boots are similar but present several differences. After all, hiking and mountaineering boots are made to protect the feet when taking the great outdoors. The boots share aesthetic similarities, which lead to confusion. However, boots for hiking and mountaineering differ on many levels.


Most mountaineering boots are rigid rubber, leather, plastic, Kevlar, and synthetic fabrics. On the other hand, hiking boots are typically made of suede or nubuck leather. Mountaineering boots are created to handle the most unforgiving conditions, so they’re made of high-end materials—they’re typically more expensive than hiking boots.


The outsole for mountaineering boots has deep lugs for excellent traction in the snow. Unless you go hiking in the winter, you won’t need such outsoles. Hiking boots have an outsole for excellent traction in the mud. The outsole for mountaineering is more rigid than in hiking boots as it has to ensure perfect stability on ice and snow.


The midsole is the foam that separates the shoe from the outsole and the shoe’s upper part. Most midsoles in hiking boots are made to absorb shock and give comfort. In mountaineering boots, the midsoles are stiff and may present a shank for extra stiffness. Hiking boots typically have flexible midsoles for better comfort.


Since mountaineering boots are insulated and made with rigid materials, they are heavier than hiking boots. Hikers avoid heavy boots as they need to cover many miles when hiking.


Mountaineering boots rock a high-top design that goes past the top of the ankle. The height ensures efficient support for the ankle and foot while climbing. Some hikers will pick high-top boots at the time, but most will avoid the overkill with such footwear. More often than not, mountaineering boots are overkill for hikers.


Mountaineering boots are made to take on crampons, whereas hiking boots don’t take crampons. You can find strap-on crampons to fit over the hiking shoes, but you won’t be able to use them for mountaineering and ice climbing. Hikers can use gaiters for snowed and iced terrain. Mountaineering boots will always take crampons, though.

Terrain Limitations

All in all, the differences between hiking and mountaineering footwear depend on the terrain you will need to access. For instance, you will be able to take your hiking boots when backpacking into the cascades, but not when taking Mount Rainier.

You can confidently use the hiking boots for low-elevation experiences in the mountains with no glaciers, ice, or lots of snow. However, mountaineering boots will be the best option if you plan technical climbing in the alpine.

Robert Dwayne

Robert Dwayne

To say that I am an outdoors enthusiast is probably an understatement. I am hyper passionate about everything outdoors: hiking, survival, hunting. On this website I am sharing my stories and experiences, and I hope you'll find inspiration to take up your own adventures!