Defining Walks, Hikes & Scrambles

We were about a third of the way up the mountain when my friend let out sigh of disgust. “You told me this was a walk,” she grumbled.  “This is not a walk – it’s a hike!” 

I use the terms walk and hike interchangeably, but her comment had me thinking about the real definitions associated with the sport of hiking.

To me a walk is done at a relaxed pace. A walk can involve significant distance and some elevation gain, but the pace is generally slow enough that the heart rate isn’t increased to the point of gasping for breath.  Walks are usually short (anywhere from a half hour to several hours). 

A hike is long walk. It’s usually a little more demanding spanning a half or full day. They can include getting to a mountaintop, as long as there’s a distinct path and the footing is solid. No route-finding, no slipping on loose rock (also known as scree). 

I’ve heard of scrambling being defined as “easy, non-technical mountain ascent.”  I’m not sure I necessarily agree with the “easy” part of the definition, but I would concur with the goal of reaching a mountaintop. Scrambling is a step above hiking up a mountain and a step below technically climbing it (rope, harness and all the related gear). Scramble can be on and off-trail involving potential exposure, some route-finding abilities.

Walk, hike or scramble? Photo: M.Kopp

Walks, hikes and scrambles can also be broken down into different levels of difficulty. A difficult walk might be almost the same as an easy hike. Likewise an easy scramble might be very similar to a difficult hike.

While it’s not always easy to define, every outing should be based on your skill set and knowledge, as well as that of your hiking partners.

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