There’s nothing quite like the sound of birds chirping and leaves crunching beneath your hiking boots. And while you may be on your journey mostly to soak up the beauty of the great outdoors, as an added bonus, you’re def burning some calories hiking and getting a solid workout.
While hikes vary a lot depending on the incline, terrain, and speed, here’s how to calculate how many calories you’ve burned hiking.
Strolling along a smooth path is one thing — and trekking up treacherous switchbacks is another.
If you want to calculate calories burned by hiking, you’ll have to consider the terrain grade. Not sure what that means? Hop on a treadmill to get the feel. As you gradually up the incline, you’ll feel the resistance in your muscles — not unlike the ascent of your fave trail.
Basically, how many cals you burn on your hike mostly relies on your weight and the trail grade. The higher the grade, the more calories you burn per hour.
Based on your weight, here’s how many calories you can expect to burn per hour at an average walking speed of 2.9 to 3.5 miles per hour:
|Calories burned 1–5% grade||Calories burned 6–15% grade|
A grade of 1 to 5 percent is mild, while 6 to 15 is medium to pretty steep. Some trails have grades up to 35 percent (yikes!), which would definitely up your burn count.
Of course, these numbers are quick and dirty estimates. Lots of other factors impact your unique calorie burn, including the weight of your backpack, the outside temp, and your age.
The heavier your backpack, the bigger the burden — also, the more calories you’re likely to burn thanks to the extra weight.
While there’s no exact formula for this, on average, expect a light day pack to burn 50 to 100 more calories per hour on the trail. Going for a long journey with your 30+ liter pack in tow? You’ll prob burn at least 200 more calories per hour.
If you’ve packed your 50+ liter bag to the brim, expect to burn even more. So as a rough estimate, a light backpack will cause you to burn about 100 more calories per hour, and a heavier one meant for full-on backpacking will up your burn count by 200+.
For your safety, medical experts from the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics recommend you carry no more than 10 percent of your total weight in a backpack. That means if you weigh 150 pounds, try not to carry more than 15 pounds on your back to lower the risk of strain, pain, or injury.
Hikers know that a walk and a hike are not one in the same. In general, walking terrain tends to be of the paved variety — a bit flatter than your average hiking trail.
Because of this, expect to burn fewer calories on a walk than a hike. Even at a brisk pace, the terrain of a hike is likely to lead to a little extra calorie burn spike. Still, factors like the outside temp, your weight, age, and sex can also play a role in this number.
The table below compares the calories burned per hour hiking (at a shallow grade at a moderate pace of 2.9 to 3.5 miles per hour) to walking at an average pace (of 3 miles per hour) to walking a brisk pace (of 4 miles per hour). Here’s the breakdown:
|Moderate-paced hike at 1–5% grade||Moderate-paced walking on flat ground||Brisk walking on flat ground|
The uneven, steeper paths on hikes generally will cause your body to work a bit harder than your average walk. But while calories burned from hiking takes the lead, you can still get a comparable workout from a brisk walk.
Bruce Springsteen was “born to run” — and some are born to hike. Regardless of what team you’re on, here’s how the calories stack up.
Like with walking, most running tends to go down on flat surfaces (like a road).
How many calories you burn while road running depends on various factors, including your weight and running speed. According to fitness data collected by a popular running app Strava, the average global running speed is about 6 miles per hour for women and 7 miles per hour for men.
With these figures in mind, the table below compares 30 minutes of hiking at a shallow grade of 1 to 5 percent (at a moderate pace of 2.9 to 3.5 miles per hour) with running on flat ground at an average pace.
|Moderate-paced hiking at 1–5% grade||Running (average women’s pace)||Running (average men’s pace)|
Flat ground or not, running burns about double the number of calories as hiking per half hour. But since most people have the stamina to hike longer than they run, you could burn more calories if you hit the trails longer.
1. Maintain your fitness
Now that you know hiking burns a decent number of calories, you can def add it to your weekly exercise quota (psst: according to the CDC, you should be getting at least 150 mins of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity like hiking each week).
Especially when coupled with a well-rounded diet, hiking is a legit way to stay healthy.
2. Improve your mental health
One 2015 study found that hiking in the mountains led to a greater boost in mood, increased feelings of calmness, and less anxiety compared to walking on a treadmill.
Spending time hiking in nature may even help depression. Another study from 2015 found that those who exercised in a natural area (like a forest) compared to those who exercised in a high-traffic urban setting (like a city street) showed decreased activity in an area of the brain associated with depression.
3. Boost your lower body strength
That steep incline on your hike may look tough now, but it can do a lot of good for you down the road.
In order to trek through the forest, you’ll need plenty of energy. Since you’ll be sweating and burning plenty of calories on the trail, you’ll need to nom enough to keep you fueled.
Bringing foods packed with protein (energy FTW!) will help your bod make it through every path, road and switchback. And, don’t shy away from high calorie food, either — you’ll need the fuel if you’re hiking for hours.
Great foods to add to your pack include:
- trail mix
- nut-based bars
- freeze-dried fruits and veggies
- tuna salad pouches
- whole-grain tortillas
- dried jerky
Also, don’t forget plenty of water!