What are you doing on the weekend? Uhhhh..going on a walk. 

When I first started completing trails and ‘walking’ for hours at a time I still didn’t know the appropriate word to use. Hiking? Tramping? Trekking? As most people do, I came up against the dilemma of “when can I call myself a hiker?” and, “is this trail a tramp or a hike?”. I was afraid that other explorers would tell me I hadn’t earned the right to call myself hiker for whatever misguided reason. Even though I was literally completing the activity, I felt that those terms came with an expected level of difficulty and experience so I stuck with phrases that downplayed my plans and accomplishments.

These feelings can pop up in any new hobby or career path. Liz from the Young Adventuress blog eloquently talks about her experience with this ‘imposter syndrome’ in her article ‘Am I a Real Photographer Yet?’ that’s great to read if you’re exploring similar feelings in your new venture. Let’s get into the difference between Hiking and Tramping!

Always check the weather and route alerts before you explore the outdoors and be prepared for the conditions. Tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back. Respect New Zealand’s environment, wildlife and land owners by following the Tiaki Promise. Leave only footprints, take only photos.

Tramping history in New Zealand

The first European pioneers to explore New Zealand did so on foot because the terrain was too rugged for horses. They mainly followed paths created by the Maori (New Zealand’s first true trampers), that were originally used for hunting, trade and warfare. While it’s hard to pinpoint when people began tramping for fun it is known that the very first club started in 1919, the Tararua Tramping Club, with many more popping up all over the country. As a nation we are centered around our landscapes and nature with great emphasis on fishing, hunting and recreation in the outdoors. The idea of heading out to the bush wearing a swanndri and eating scroggin' is categorically kiwi and this idea is what’s associated with ‘Tramping’.

Women in early tramping attire, 1920's. Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, pacoll-4288-01


Hike: to walk or march a great distance, especially through rural areas, for pleasure, exercise, military training, or the like’. No surprises there. 

Tramping: In New Zealand hiking is called tramping, especially on trails having huts at regular intervals for hikers to use overnight.’ 

Trek: to travel or migrate, especially slowly or with difficulty. (A more common term could also be a thru-hike, where trekkers are crossing extremely large distances and walk constantly for multiple months. Some examples that spring to mind are the Te Araroa Trail, Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.)

It seems that Tramping IS hiking, mainly an overnight hike and it’s a term primarily used in New Zealand.

So what’s ACTUALLY the difference?

Upon my internet travels I found multiple articles and forums with some VERY impassioned people slandering any New Zealander who dared to say ‘hiking’ was disrespecting kiwi culture. A post on the NZ Tramper forum refers to it as the ‘H’ word and believes that “tramping is tramping. It's a kiwi term, and within nz, kiwis should use it.” Well then. 

The literal difference? In my opinion, there is none. At a stretch, a tramp more specifically refers to a multi-day hike rather than a day hike. The word ‘tramping’ seems to be tied to the idea that kiwi’s have a specific and exclusively rugged style of on-foot exploring. I could get behind this idea if there was a cultural tie however the fact that early European settlers explored on foot, while admirable, is not specific to New Zealand.

If you say ‘hiking’ instead of ‘tramping’ within New Zealand I am confident that no one is going to be confused about what you mean. Either word should be used freely to describe a walk that takes at least a couple hours and some leg-work so if your long weekend walk takes some real effort don’t be afraid to call that a tramp or hike! Another post on the NZ Tramper forum summarized how I feel: “[Whether] I'm out there on a day hike or smashing it along the tops on a multi day tramp I am seeing and experiencing the same things...they are just subjective terms for something we all love doing.”

Go ahead and say you’re a hiker with confidence or tell people you’re off for a tramp this weekend! When you show them those epic photos of your adventure they’re not going to mind what you call it!

Tiaki Promise

Nau Mai, Haere Mai Ki Aotearoa, Welcome to New Zealand.

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