14

I saw an article about the Long Trail, a 272-mile trail through the Green Mountain range in Vermont, USA. It's famous for being the oldest hiking trail in the United States, having been built between 1910 and 1930.

According to the Green Mountain Club, which is referred to as the organization which has protected and maintained it since the beginning:

The Long Trail follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border as it crosses Vermont’s highest peaks. It was the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail, which coincides with the Long Trail for 100 miles in the southern third of the state.

Built by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930, the Long Trail is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States. (Emphasis mine.)

A different souce lists it as the same number of miles, and the same area. However, it calls it a "hiking path" in Vermont, then the oldest long-distance "backpacking trail" in the United States. (Emphasis mine.)

The Long Trail is a 272-mile long-distance hiking path in Vermont, which runs the length of the state. It is the oldest long-distance backpacking trail in the United States, finished in 1930 by the Green Mountain Club.  (Emphasis mine.)

Since that source made a distinction between types of trails, I'm curious what that means.

Unless I'm mistaken, hiking path and hiking trail are pretty much the same. What interests me is why one source would also call it a backpacking trail .

In this instance, does backpacking trail mean something different from hiking trail? If so, what's the difference?

Is it just a matter of semantics?

  • 1
    As an aside, it is a mistake to count on clear distinctions between words or terms in all cases. See the question on English Language and Usage Why is a person who shares a house in the US called a roommate and not a housemate? – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Sep 9 '18 at 20:18
  • 2
    Unless there's a clearly defined term or official term (these are neither, except in some specific contexts), it's normal in English writing to use synonyms in order that you don't repeat the same term multiple times. Even when there is an official term, many people will still tend to use alternate, not as official, terms in order to not sound repetitive, even in cases where they should be using only the official term. – Makyen Sep 10 '18 at 4:51
18

While there's a lot of overlap, a trail that can't possibly lead to anywhere to stay the night is unlikely to be called a backpacking trail, as backpacking implies multi-day trips carrying sleep gear etc. (not necessarily tents/bivis, as it could be hut-to-hut for example). If wild camping is forbidden this would include most trails that aren't suitable for hiking to a campsite, mountain hut or similar.

A hiking trail is a broader term, so doesn't imply that one can't use it for backpacking.

However terms are often used loosely, even by those who should know better (like the authorities that administer wilderness areas).

  • What do you mean by 'loosely'? As you say, it's unlikely that a day hiking trail would ever be called a 'backpacking' trail, and since 'hiking trail' encompasses both, using it to describe either is surely not 'loose'. I've hiked (backpacked) hundreds of miles of the AT and the Long Trail, without ever having had the need to call them a 'backpacking trail'. – Alan Munn Sep 10 '18 at 0:10
  • @AlanMunn, I mean some may use "backpacking" when they shouldn't. I think I've seen this but can't remember; I've certainly seen similarly incorrect wording in official information both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps this is because of what Makyen suggested in a comment under the question – Chris H Sep 10 '18 at 5:51
  • @can-ned_food I'm not quite sure what your point is here. Nobody is disputing the difference between 'backpacking' and 'hiking', but as both of the answers state, 'hiking' is the more general term that includes both backpacking and (day) hiking. I've been day hiking on the Long Trail and I've also been backpacking on the Long Trail. They're both forms of hiking, and so it's fine to call the Long Trail a hiking trail (as both answers state). You could also call it a 'backpacking trail', but personally I don't find this a particularly useful distinction to make. – Alan Munn Sep 10 '18 at 21:56
  • Well, I still disagree that all backpacking is done on hiking trails, but on this site I would agree that the other forms of backpacking are less important. My previous comment was indeed reversed, probably because I wasn't giving it much thought at the time. – can-ned_food Sep 10 '18 at 23:55
  • Well you could go backpacking by hiking on roads but it would be rather boring and wouldn't need the term "trail". And while a day pack may be a backpack, the act of hiking with one isn't usually called backpacking. English is weird (@can-ned_food et al) – Chris H Sep 11 '18 at 5:46
17

Hiking is a superset of backpacking. A backpacking trail can be used for hiking, since that's how you move along the trail while backpacking too.

Any trail specifically stated to support backpacking would be understood to:

  1. Be long enough that sleeping out at least one night actually makes sense.

  2. Allow camping along the trail, or at least at enough places along the trail to allow for hiking a reasonable distance with a pack between nightly camping stops.

  • 4
    Point 2, really? Would you say that hiking from hut to hut, such as is common in the Alps, is not backpacking? – gerrit Sep 10 '18 at 10:39
  • 2
    @gerrit arguably that's 'multi-day hiking'. I think most people's definition of backpacking would state that they're carrying the gear necessary to sustain/support themselves during the trip. – Patrick N Sep 10 '18 at 12:51
  • 4
    Backpacking would be living out of a backpack - if you camp or go hut to hut there isn't much difference. some people would class sleeping in a hut "camping" – Baldrickk Sep 10 '18 at 12:57
  • 6
    @gerrit: "Backpacking" implies carrying sleeping materials with you. If you are hiking between huts, like in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where the huts provide meals, bunks and blankets for sleeping, etc, then that's not really backpacking. That's really day hiking between huts. If the huts are just shelters, like many found along the Appalachian Trail, then you can think of them as glorified camping spots, and backpacking applies. – Olin Lathrop Sep 10 '18 at 13:34
  • 1
    See to my answer. Backpacking is not a subset of hiking, but a path so advertised as a backpacking trail often is also a hiking trail. – can-ned_food Sep 11 '18 at 17:49
1

The second source you cite comes from a website maintained by a corporation calling themselves Backpacker Magazine.

When a person expects to go backpacking, it would seem to me that they would be disappointed if they went on any ol' hiking trail and felt as though the only function for their backpack was to make the hiking more strenuous. Might as well load it up with bags of sand.
Of course, the entirety of the practice known as “backpacking” has a much larger field than it being an augmented form of hiking. I myself, and some other people I know, take backpacks with us often — I often bring mine even when I use my automobile. But, from my experience, that's not someone who likes to label or identify themselves as a wilderness backpacker — or, as the Backpacking Magazine website states,

Backpacker magazine inspires and empowers our readers to Get Out More—to enjoy the world outside more often. As the authority on escaping to the backcountry, (…) 1

By advertising a path as one which appeals to backpacking, you are announcing to your readers that they can hike such a path to go away from the established amenities long enough to require taking a backpack, which may include food and water, temporary shelter, a folded easel, or photography equipment.

In short: it's a marketting gimmick, more or less.


footnotes:

  • There is such a thing as “urban backpacking”. This is why, though a “backpacking trail” does imply it also being a trail suitable for hiking, or possibly riding, simple ‘backpacking’ is not a subset of hiking.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.