It doesn’t matter if you’re hiking through the Appalachian Trail or just hiking in your hometown of New Jersey. Chances are that if you hike at all, you’ve probably wondered just how many calories does hiking burn? After all, hiking is more strenuous than just taking a normal walk in the park, but it’s also not exactly running a marathon either. Hiking falls just a little bit in the gray area of physical activity and it’s totally normal to question how much your body is actually burning.
In order to determine how many calories you’re burning while you hike, there are a few different factors that go into this. The biggest factors are your body weight, how long the hike is, the elevation of the hike, what your physical fitness level is, your age, and the circumstances of the hike (ie, are you backpacking or hiking).
The Hiking Calculator
This is an easy to use calculator for estimating the number of calories you burn while hiking or walking: Try it HERE.
Example: A 180lb man with a 20lb backpack is going to burn around 7,000 calories on a 10 hour hike. That is equal to about 2 pounds of body weight loss.
Keep reading for a deep dive into how many calories you’re burning when you hike and even how to burn more calories while you hike. We’ll learn more about each of the factors that weigh into how many calories hiking burns and then show you how to calculate exactly how many calories you are burning when you hike.
According to Livestrong, body weight is the most important factor to consider when it comes to how many calories you burn while hiking. For example, in an hour of hiking, a person weighing around 160 pounds can burn up to 370 calories.
But, how do we know this and what does a person’s weight have to do with their calorie burn while hiking? The answer is almost everything.
The very first step to determining your calorie burn while hiking is to know your current body weight. Someone who weighs less will burn fewer calories than a heavier person – even when they’re walking the same trail at the same pace for the same amount of time. So, if a 160 pound person burns around 370 calories in one hour of hiking, a 200 pound person can burn closer to 500 calories in an hour of hiking.
Very closely linked to your body weight is your own personal level of physical fitness. If you are working out constantly and your body is well accustomed to high levels of cardiovascular intensity, your body will burn fewer calories while you are exerting energy on a hike. This is not a bad thing. If your body is used to being physically active, you have less of a need to lose weight and more of a need to maintain.
Our bodies are smart in that way, so your body will naturally burn fewer calories while you are exercising on a hike.
The inverse is also true, so if you are unaccustomed to frequent workouts, a single hike might burn more calories simply due to the fact that your body is working harder than it’s used to.
This is why, when people begin exercising to lose weight, they see faster results at the beginning and then as they get more accustomed to frequent workouts, their body loses the remaining weight a bit more slowly.
This is another reason why it’s a great idea to consider mixing up your form of exercise between indoor and outdoor, high cardio and less cardio.
The Hike Itself
Outside of your body weight, there are external factors that can affect your calorie burn while hiking. A lot of calories that you burn have to do with the hike itself. Factors like how long you’re hiking, where you’re hiking, and the terrain of the hike.
PLoS One released a study in 2017 that made the claim that hiking outdoors for a few hours can boost your mood a lot more than just exercising indoors. When the study compared people who hiked for their workout to people who had exercised indoors, those who had been outside burning calories felt more calm, at peace, and had more energy.
Not only can hiking outdoors be more beneficial for your mental or emotional health, but it can also feel more entertaining and make it easier for you to walk for a few hours, compared to a half-hour on the treadmill. If you think about it, burning close to 400 calories in one hour of hiking results in a little over 1,000 calories burned in just a few hours! It would take nearly a week’s worth of 30 minute treadmill runs to see the same results.
A long hike, aside from the calorie burn, is also considered a “moderate physical activity,” which means that it’s also great for lowering blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. All this to say that incorporating a three hour hike into your weekly routine can have a vast array of benefits for your overall health.
Where You’re Hiking
Not only does the length of your hike matter in determining how many calories you’ll burn while hiking, but also where you’re hiking can affect the calorie burn. This is because a brisk walk on a relatively steady trail with minimal elevation gain will inevitably burn fewer calories than a hike where you are continually hiking uphill.
It is absolutely possible to see weight loss results from simply walking an hour a day on simple, easy terrain. However, you’ll see more results more quickly if you’re hiking an intense trail for an hour.
This is because it has been proven that your body burns 28% more energy when you’re walking on uneven ground as opposed to flat terrain.
Walking on uneven terrain and climbing uphill requires more from your muscles (particularly your leg muscles) and also your pulmonary system. This results in your heart working harder to pump oxygen and blood to your body and therefore, you are burning calories at a much higher rate.
How to Burn the Most Calories on a Hike
Now that we know why and how you burn calories on a hike, there are also ways to ensure that you are burning the maximum amount of calories possible. This is optimal for weight loss.
There are two primary factors to consider when you’re looking to burn the most amount of calories possible on a hike: your backpack weight and your hiking routine.
Your Backpack Weight
Have you ever been at the gym and seen someone on a treadmill with weights? It’s proven that the more weight you’re carrying when you are physically active has a direct impact on the amount of calories that you’ll burn. So, if you’re looking to burn the most calories possible on a hike, consider packing your backpack.
Typical things that you can consider including in your backpack are snacks (look for snacks that are high-protein, low-carb), a water bottle, a rain jacket, bug repellant, bar spray, and even a tent if you’re considering hiking overnight.
Your Hiking Routine
Another way to ensure that you are maximizing your calorie burn when you hike is to take into consideration how often you’re hiking and how often you’re participating in another form of physical activity.
If you’re hiking for an hour each day, that’s great! However, it also makes it easier for your body to plateau and stop burning as many calories. That’s why it’s important to hike easier hikes as well as more difficult hikes. It’s also a good idea to exercise indoors and use weight machines occasionally as well. You can also try running occasionally on the trail to boost calorie burn.
Keeping your body “on its toes” is a great way to continually burn the most amount of calories possible with each workout. This will result in weight loss and a more toned and defined body.
The Pandolf Equation
Mathematically speaking, there is always an equation that can determine how many calories you’re burning on a hike. This equation is called the Pandolf equation and it is one of the best ways to determine how many calories you’re burning on a hike. Keep in mind however, that the equation does not take into account the weight of your backpack, so it will likely underestimate your calorie burn if you’re bringing along a heavy pack.
The Pandolf equation takes into account a hikers weight, the weight of your pack, your hiking speed, the incline of the trail, and the terrain of the trail. The equation itself is a little complicated:
M = 1.5 W + 2.0 (W + L)(L/W)2 + n(W + L)(1.5V2 + 0.35VG)
If you’re really curious, there are also calorie burn calculators where you can input the information and the calculator does the work for you in determining approximately how many calories you’ll burn in a 2 hour hike on rough terrain.
Ultimately, the number of calories that a hiker will burn on a hike is very dependent on their body weight, physical fitness level, and the hike itself. It’s also important to remember that a backpacker will typically burn more calories than a hiker with no pack. If you’re looking to burn the most amount of calories possible, it’s important to keep in mind the weight of your pack as well as what your hiking routine looks like.
It’s always a good idea to mix up your routine in order to keep your body surprised and continually burning more calories.
So, if you’re looking to lose weight in a way that is fun, scenic, and also great for your heart health as well as your mental and emotional health, hiking is a great activity to consider!
Hiking can also be a social activity and is great for couples, friends, and families. Who wouldn’t want to experience the benefits of physical activity in the great outdoors?
Let us know where you’re hiking next and how many calories you think you’ll burn! We can’t wait to celebrate with you.