Hiking is one of the best ways to stay active. It zaps calories, gets you toned, and puts you right in the center of nature with all its wonderful sights and sounds. Plus, you can do it either solo or with pals, and you can make your hikes as calm or daring as you want.
Hike the same path every single day or mix it up and explore new parks and trails as much as you’re able to. Go on a casual stroll or take it up a notch (or several) to embark on a killer workout. The choice is yours, and you can pick and choose whatever works best for you from day today.
If you’re hiking to get in shape, or if you’re wondering just how good for you those relaxed, slow-paced hikes are, you may be asking, “How many calories does hiking burn?” Knowing the approximate amount of calories you’ll zap during a hike will help you figure out how much food you should eat to keep you energized and focused while out there. And if you’re going in-depth with your health regime, knowing how many calories you burned will help you figure out your caloric allowance for the day.
When it comes to how many calories you’ll burn during hiking, the answer isn’t super straightforward, but there are a few factors you can consider to get pretty close to an answer – for your specific body, of course.
Let’s get into it!
What Factors Into How Many Calories You Burn While Hiking?
How many calories you’ll burn during a hike depends on several factors, including the following:
- Your weight (the more you weigh, the more you’ll burn)
- The trial grade (i.e., how difficult it is)
- How fast you’re going (your pace)
- The weight of the pack you’re carrying
- The temperature outside
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to your calorie burn during a hike, but we’re going to break it all down for you.
What Are the Benefits of Hiking?
There’s so much more to get out of hiking than zapped calories, toned calf muscles, and a sun-kissed glow. For starters, when you hike (or even walk) on an incline, you’ll improve your lower body strength. That will keep you better able to move and steer clear of injuries as you get older.
Here are even more benefits, and these don’t have anything to do with body composition:
- Better mood
- Feeling calm
- Reduced anxiety
- Improved mental health
Remember, these are the benefits you’ll enjoy from being outside on a trail – not from walking or running on a treadmill. That doesn’t mean to cancel your gym membership; it just helps to know the full picture of what you’re getting out of your workout of choice.
Average Calories Burned During Hiking
Here’s an estimate of the number of calories burned per hour at a speed of 2.9 to 3.5 miles per hour (which is about average):
Trail With a 1% to 5% Grade (Mild)
- A 120-pound person will burn 292 calories
- A 150-pound person will burn 360 calories
- A 180-pound person will burn 435 calories
- A 210-pound person will burn 504 calories
- A 240-pound person will burn 578 calories
- A 270-pound person will burn 652 calories
Trail With a 6% to 15% Grade (Medium/Steep)
- A 120-pound person will burn 440 calories
- A 150-pound person will burn 544 calories
- A 180-pound person will burn 656 calories
- A 210-pound person will burn 760 calories
- A 240-pound person will burn 872 calories
- A 270-pound person will burn 984 calories
There are trails with even higher grades, too, up to 35%, and hiking those trails will burn even more calories than the 15% grade in the examples above. Want to know what type of grade you can handle? Hop on a treadmill! Adjust the incline to the different percentages to get an idea of what that steepness in nature will be like.
Your Weight and Calories Burned During Hiking
Possibly the greatest influence on how many calories you’ll burn during a hike is your weight, as you can see in the examples above. The higher your weight, the more you’ll burn when hiking.
As you get more fit, you may find it harder to burn the same number of calories as when you were just starting out. The body adapts to the physical activity threshold you expose it to. Translation: Your body gets used to working out and being in shape, so it doesn’t have to work as hard to make it through that hike.
How to Make Hikes More Challenging (and Burn More Calories)
Simply adding miles to your hike may not be enough to burn those extra calories as you get in shape. There are other things you can do to make your hikes more challenging, though. Hit tougher trails, add weight to your backup or start trail running (slowly and with the right trail-running sneakers, please!).
Pick up your pace! Moving at a faster pace than you usually do for 45 minutes will increase your calorie burn during your hike and after it. Sustaining a brisker pace gives your metabolism a boost, and your body will keep burning those calories for up to 14 hours post-hike.
Be Smart About Inclines and Declines
How fast you go up inclines and down declines will factor into how good of a workout the hike is. If you’ve been hiking the same trail for a while, and you feel like you’re getting too used to it to call it a workout anymore, try this:
- When going up an incline, go as fast as you can. This will burn more calories than normal because most people naturally slow down when they go uphill.
- When going down a decline, go as slow as you can. This makes your body do extra work to keep you balanced when heading down. Most people trot down a decline as quickly as they can – not you, though!
- When you’re on a flat part of the trail, keep up a brisk pace instead of slowing down to recuperate after working hard on an incline or decline.
You’ll be surprised at how much more tired you are than normal, even if you’re on a trail you hike all the time!
Add Weight to Your Pack
Hopefully, you’re carrying a pack with safety essentials, from a whistle and bandages to extra water and protein-rich snacks (and anything else you might need to stay safe and healthy out there). A light daypack will add about 50 to 100 calories to how many calories you burn per hour. A heavier pack, like what you’d carry on a backpacking trip, can add up to 200 more calories burned per hour.
Throw a few extra water bottles in your bag or toss in some small hand or wrist weights to make that pack heavier. Just don’t do that until you know you can handle the trail with the lightest pack possible. Or, if you want to challenge yourself right away, go with the water bottle option. If it’s too heavy, you can dump out the water you won’t need to lighten things up (while still making sure to have plenty for your trek).
Look for More Challenging Terrain
If you put two trails side by side and those two trails are the same length and grade, you may still be able to get a better workout on one over the other. How? The terrain.
More difficult terrain means a better workout (and more burned calories) because your body has to continually adjust to the uneven ground. Think about walking on a flat sidewalk versus a trail with rocks and roots in the woods. All of those extra little movements you have to do just to stay standing really add up!
If you’re on a trail you know well, you can see if you can make it a bit more challenging by going the opposite way you usually do (if it’s a loop hike). Or, try out a different trail at a park you frequent to see if it’s any more challenging.
Walking vs Hiking: How the Different Exercises Influence Calorie Burn
Now, some people assume that hiking is simply walking, but it’s not. Yes, to hike, you have to walk, but the two types of exercises have distinct differences.
Walking terrain, for the most part, is flat. You may go over some rocky or hilly areas, but if it’s very rocky or hilly, then you can probably safely call it hiking. Otherwise, it’s walking. Because the terrain is a lot easier to handle, you won’t burn as many calories when walking, even if you’re moving along at a brisk pace.
Below are a few comparisons of calories burned per hour. First, here’s the breakdown for the stats:
- Hiking: Shallow grade of 1% to 5%. The pace of 2.9 to 3.5 mph.
- Walking: Flat ground. The pace of 3 mph.
- Brisk Walking: Flat ground. Pace of 4 mph.
Here are the calories burned for a few different weights:
- 120 Pounds: Hiking 292, walking 193, brisk walking 275
- 150 Pounds: Hiking 360, walking 238, brisk walking 340
- 180 Pounds: Hiking 435, walking 287, brisk walking 451
- 210 Pounds: Hiking 504, walking 333, brisk walking 475
- 240 Pounds: Hiking 578, walking 382, brisk walking 545
- 270 Pounds: Hiking 652, walking 431, brisk walking 615
The reason why hiking burns more calories than even brisk walking is that trails are more steep and uneven than walking paths. Only a 180-pound person will burn slightly more when brisk walking than when hiking, but that’s assuming the hiking trail has zero or very little incline. Otherwise, you’ll zap more calories hiking than brisk walking, even if you’re around that weight.
Don’t have access to hiking trails? As you can see from the comparisons above, brisk walking is a close second in terms of calories. However, your best bet is to find some steep hills to walk up and down. You may not be able to call it hiking, technically, but you will have better odds of burning more calories.
Running vs Hiking: How the Different Exercises Influence Calorie Burn
Think that running is going to follow in similar footsteps to walking regarding calorie burn? After all, running is usually done on flat terrain, too, so what hope is there that you’ll burn more calories than hiking?
Actually, when it comes to running vs. hiking, you may be better off running if your goal is to burn as many calories as possible in a short period of time. And like the other examples in this article, how much you’ll burn depends largely on your weight and your pace.
Below, we’ll compare calories burned. Keep in mind that this is based on running at a speed of 6 to 7 mph, which are the average speeds that women and men run, respectively. Also, this is for calories burned every 30 minutes, not every hour like in the examples above.
First, here’s the breakdown for the stats:
- Hiking: Shallow grade of 1% to 5%. The pace of 2.9 to 3.5 mph.
- Running: Flat ground. The pace of 6 to 7 mph.
Here are the calories burned for a few different weights:
- 120 Pounds: Hiking 146, running 270 to 303
- 150 Pounds: Hiking 163, running 333 to 374
- 180 Pounds: Hiking 218, running 402 to 451
- 210 Pounds: Hiking 252, running 466 to 523
- 240 Pounds: Hiking 289, running 534 to 600
- 270 Pounds: Hiking 326, running 603 to 677
Running burns around double the number of calories as hiking.
That’s not the only thing to consider, though. Most of the time, you’ll be out for a hike longer than you’ll be out for a run. You can head out for a hike that’s an hour to several hours long, but you may only be able to handle a run that’s between 30 and 60 minutes, tops. In that case, while you’ll burn more per hour running, you’ll burn more overall hiking.
If you need to get the most bang for your buck within a half-hour or an hour of working out, go for a run (if you can keep the pace the entire time). But if you want to burn more overall and you have the time to spare and trails at your disposal, go for a hike.
Hiking and Weight Loss
Hiking burns a lot of calories, especially if you’re able to get out for at least an hour. And if the trails you’re hitting are at all challenging, you’ll make quite a dent in your calorie burn for the day. Combined with a healthy diet, you certainly may lose weight if you hike regularly.
However, there are several things to consider when it comes to hiking and weight loss, all of which will affect how many total calories you burn (and if you can hike at all). On top of the trail grade and the duration of your hike, consider the following:
Weather and the season can influence how safe the trails are, how much you’re able to get outside and whether or not you enjoy your hikes enough to stay out there for at least an hour. The weather will also determine the gear you’ll need to bring along and the clothing you’ll wear, and expenses can add up quickly.
Do you have enough free time to devote to hiking regularly? On top of the hike itself, you have to gear up, get to the trail and then shower and change into different clothes when you get back. Yes, this is similar to going to the gym, except the closest trails to you may be a ways away.
Plus, packing a backpack and unpacking it after your hike will eat up even more time. And if you only have a day every week or so to dedicate to going on a hike, you may not see the weight loss you’re hoping for. That doesn’t mean don’t hike as part of a healthy lifestyle, just that you shouldn’t depend on it for your main exercise.
Distance to Trails
Even with all the free time in the world, a trail that’s hard to get to isn’t one that will easily become the cornerstone of your workout regime. When planning the fitness component of your weight loss journey, it’s always a good idea to depend on exercises that don’t have a lot of barriers.
If you can get out for a hike, great. It’s going to prove to be a worthwhile and calorie-burning workout. But don’t assume that your only exercise can be hiking if it takes you a long time just to reach the trail in the first place.
Answer: Like most exercises, hiking can be a good addition to an overall healthy weight loss regime. While you’ll need to combine exercise with a healthy diet, hiking may be able to be a part of your weight loss journey. It burns a lot of calories ¬– more than walking – and if you’re able to go on regular hikes, it can definitely help to create a calorie deficit that can lead to weight loss.
Answer: If you’re able to move at the same pace and tackle the same trails in the cold as in warmer weather, then yes, you’ll likely burn more calories because your body has to work harder to stay warm. But consider that winter hiking, especially in the snow, may mean slower hiking because the terrain is more treacherous. So the extra calories you burn from shivering may be offset by a slower pace or the need to go on milder trails so you stay safe.
Answer: Yes! If you’re heading out on light day hikes and you don’t feel like you’re pushing it ¬– your muscles aren’t sore, you’re not weak, etc. – it’s perfectly OK to hike daily. But you have to really listen to your body. If you’re exhausting yourself or straining muscles before they have time to recover, you could end up hurting yourself, which could lead to necessary time off.
To recap, hiking burns more calories than walking ¬– even brisk walking – but fewer calories than running. However, if you’re going to be hiking for longer than you’d run, hiking will burn more calories overall. And on top of making you feel less guilty about that calorie-laden margarita you had the night before, hiking may offer other health benefits, like better mental health, improved lower body strength and faster weight loss.
Love the idea of hiking and have plenty of challenging trails right in your hometown? Excellent! Strap on that fitness tracker and watch the calories rack up. (We know that fitness trackers aren’t 100% accurate, but if you always wear the same one, you’ll know how you’re doing in relation to yourself over time – and you should be your only competition anyway!)
Love the idea of hiking but don’t have easy access to trails? Or, maybe you do, but the weather isn’t agreeable, you’re afraid of encountering scary wildlife or you simply don’t love the idea of all that outside time – but you do love the calorie burn that would come with it.
One alternative is to hop on the treadmill at your (air-conditioned) gym and hit that incline until you get to 6% or higher. Yes, you can start lower, but if you crank it up to that 6% mark, you’ll burn significantly more calories than if you stuck with a milder grade.
Another option is to stay where you feel comfortable but find hilly areas to get some of that hiking-specific calorie burn without the need for boots or bear spray.
Whatever you choose, remember this: The more challenging you make your hike (or walk or run) – whether by going faster, taking on more difficult terrain, or staying out for a longer workout session – the more calories you’re going to burn.
Lindsay started her freelance career in 2009 and writes about adventure sports and outdoor gear. As a columnist in New York, she also covers restaurants, nightlife and events. She loves hiking in the Hudson Valley, horseback riding and trying everything twice.