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Hiking is the preferred term, in Canada and the United States, for a long, vigorous walk, usually on trails (footpaths), in the countryside, while the word walking is used for shorter, particularly urban walks.

On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, the word “walking” is acceptable to describe all forms of walking, whether it is a walk in the park or backpacking in the Alps. The word hiking is also often used in the UK, along with rambling (a slightly old-fashioned term), hillwalking, and fell walking (a term mostly used for hillwalking in northern England). The term bushwalking is endemic to Australia, having been adopted by the Sydney Bush Walkers club in 1927. In New Zealand a long, vigorous walk or hike is called tramping. It is a popular activity with numerous hiking organizations worldwide, and studies suggest that all forms of walking have health benefits.

The idea of taking a walk in the countryside for pleasure developed in the 18th-century, and arose because of changing attitudes to the landscape and nature, associated with the Romantic movement. In earlier times walking generally indicated poverty and was also associated with vagrancy.

In Continental Europe amongst the most popular areas for hiking are the Alps, and in the United Kingdom the Lake District, Snowdonia, and the Scottish Highlands. In the US the National Park system generally is popular, whereas in Canada the Rockies of Alberta and British Columbia are the most popular hiking areas. The most visited hiking area in Asia is probably Nepal. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is possibly the most hiked short trail in South America.