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Rock Climbing vs. Hiking: What’s the Difference?

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Rock climbing vs. hiking are some of the best ways to experience the mountains and all the beauty they offer. Trying to compare hiking a mountain and climbing a mountain might seem simple, but there are a lot of nuanced differences to understand. We’ll break down all the differences, from skills to gear, that you will need to understand the hike vs. climb debate. 

What is Rock Climbing

What is Rock Climbing?

Rock climbing is a sport that involves using your body and various means of protection to get yourself up a vertical rock face. The rock face could be tall or short, overhanging or leaning away from you slightly, real rock or fake rock, but it can still be considered rock climbing. 

The sport started gaining popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it wasn’t until the start of the 21st century that rock climbing really started to become a more mainstream sport. Competition climbing has been around for decades but just reached the Olympic level in the summer of 2020. 

Rock climbing is viewed as a technical sport, requiring both technical gear and knowledge to safely complete a climb. What makes it stand out from other sports is the intense physical aspects of the sport as well as the intense mental aspects of the sport. It really does test your whole body. 

Types of Rock Climbing

There are tons of different types or styles of rock climbing, but here are a few of the more popular forms of climbing:

1. Bouldering

Bouldering involves using only your body to climb up a short rock face. For bouldering, you only need a pad under you for protection and shoes and a chalk bag to help you climb. Bouldering routes are called problems and rated using the US V-scale.

2. Top rope climbing

Top rope climbing is what you might have done if you have ever climbed with a rope at a gym. In top rope climbing, the rope is already set at the top of the climb, and you, as the climber, are attached to one end of the rope using a harness. At the other end of the rope is another person who is belaying you or keeping you from falling if you slip as you climb up the rock face.

3. Sport climbing

Sport climbing is a form of lead climbing that is popular in competitions. Instead of having the rope preset at the top, like in top rope climbing, you, as the climber, bring the rope up the climb with you and attach it to bolts in the rock for protection as you go. This style of climbing can lead to bigger falls and takes more skill and knowledge to do than top rope climbing.

4. Trad climbing

Trad climbing is another form of lead climbing and is very similar to sport climbing, except for one major difference. In sport climbing, you are clipping into bolts that are pre-placed in the rock for protection, but in trad climbing, or traditional climbing, you are placing rock climbing gear into cracks in the rock to catch you in case you fall. This style of climbing allows you to go to more remote places but takes a lot of knowledge to do safely.

5. Free soloing

Free soloing is not a very popular form of climbing amongst climbers, but it is worth discussing due to its nationwide popularity thanks to the film “Free Solo.” In free soloing, a climber climbs with only shoes and a chalk bag up a climb that most climbers would use a rope to safely get up. If you fall in free soloing, your options are serious injury or death, so this style is not generally recommended. 

What is Hiking

What is Hiking?

Hiking is a relatively straightforward activity. It is generally defined as anything longer than a walk, but defining the line between a walk and a hike is also hard. Hikes are often on dirt paths and include rough terrain. Hikes are not a good option for someone with limited mobility as they are typically full of tripping hazards. 

Part of the draw of going on a hike is often to reach an overlook or beautiful destination of some sort, but sometimes hikes are simply for exercise. Hikes can take you to places that cars and other motorized vehicles can’t go and are often not allowed to go, making them a great way to appreciate nature. 

Types of Hiking

There are lots of ways to define different types of hiking, but here are the main types of hiking as we define them. 

1. Walking

Walking is the intro to hiking. It generally refers to the activity you do to explore a new town or give your dog exercise. Walking can also refer to “going on a walk,” which can mean going on a short hike or walking through a local park or along a trail. A walk is usually shorter in length and doesn’t take up more than a few hours.

2. Hiking

Hiking is walking on a trail for anything from a few hours to many days. Hikes tend to be more strenuous than walks, but they could still be in a local park. Hikes are not usually technical in nature but can be long. For example, a week-long backpacking trip where you spend the week hiking on trails would generally be considered hiking.

3. Trekking

Trekking is the next step up from hiking in terms of intensity. Treks are usually long and require some technical skills. Skills like route finding, navigation, and scrambling are more common in trekking or mountaineering than they are in hiking. Some treks can involve a few technical skills similar to rock climbing but do not require the same amount of constant technical knowledge as rock climbing.

Key Differences and Similarities Between Rock Climbing and Hiking

Key Differences and Similarities Between Rock Climbing and Hiking 

There are a lot of differences between rock climbing and hiking, but here are some of the biggest differences and similarities: 

  • Shoes needed 

The only technical gear you will always need for hiking is shoes or boots. Depending on the person, some people swear by hiking boots, while others prefer to wear supportive shoes when they hike. Ultimately, making sure you wear shoes or boots with supportive soles and good traction is essential to an enjoyable day out hiking. 

For rock climbing, shoes are only one of the many pieces of technical gear needed for success. Rock climbing shoes are tight, rubber shoes that fit your foot shape like socks. They are only worn when you are actively climbing and have special soles that help increase the friction between your foot and the rock. The best shoes for rock climbing and hiking are very different, so make sure you have the correct shoes for what you are doing. 

  • Gear used 

Hiking requires minimal gear. Most people wear comfortable clothes and carry a backpack that contains a first aid kit, a water bottle, and snacks. There are tons of different types of hiking gear that you can invest in if you want, but the basics required for hiking are, well, basic. If you plan on going backpacking or hiking in remote areas, you’ll need more specialized gear, but that’s not what most people are doing. 

Rock climbing, on the other hand, requires an immense amount of gear. Trad climbing, which we defined above, requires a set of gear that can cost around $1000 and needs lots of specialized knowledge to use safely. You’ll need shoes, a harness, a helmet, and a chalk bag if you are just starting out climbing, but this gear won’t get you much farther than the basics. 

Rock Climbing vs. Hiking_ Which Activity is Right For You

Rock Climbing vs. Hiking: Which Activity is Right For You?

If you have never been on a hike and have never been rock climbing, hiking is much easier to start out. It requires less gear and less technical knowledge, making it much more approachable to a newcomer than rock climbing. 

On the other hand, if you have been hiking your whole life and are looking for a new technical challenge, trying rock climbing is a great option. Rock climbing will open up a whole new section of the outdoors that you have previously been unable to explore. 

If you prefer to stay indoors and hiking through nature doesn’t sound great, perhaps trying indoor rock climbing would be more your speed. You can learn the technical skills needed in a safe way while getting some exercise and making new friends. 

Wrapping Things Up: Rock Climbing vs. Hiking: What’s the Difference?

Regardless of if you like the thrill of climbing up high or the joy of hiking up a mountain, both hiking and climbing are excellent ways to see and appreciate nature. Make sure you have the right gear and knowledge to do whichever activity you do, and have fun! We love both hiking and climbing and know that you will too.

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