If you're trying to lose weight, you don't always have to confine yourself to indoor treadmills or ellipticals. In the warmer months, getting outdoors is one of the easiest ways to get active — and hiking or walking are some of the most convenient.
Whether you're trekking for weeks across the Appalachian Trail or doing a quick half-hour nature walk, your calories burned hiking can help you lose weight.
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The calories you burn while hiking depend on a variety of factors, including how long you hike, how quickly you’re moving, what you’re carrying and your body weight. A 160-pound person hiking for one hour, for example, would burn around 370 calories.
Your Body Weight
The number of calories burned hiking, or doing any sort of physical activity, depends on how much you weigh. The first step of figuring out your calories-burned calculation is to consider your current body weight.
A smaller person will burn fewer calories than a heavier person per hour when exercising, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC estimates that a 154-pound person would burn about 370 calories per hour when hiking, but this could be higher or lower, depending on where you're hiking or how fast you're going.
Read more: What Are the Benefits of Morning Walking?
How Long You’re Hiking
Being outdoors on a mountain hike for several hours may actually be better for your overall mood than exercising indoors, a May 2017 study published in PLoS One found. That study found that people who did outdoor mountain hiking for several hours experienced more of an increase in calmness and elation, as well as a decrease in anxiety and fatigue, compared to people who walked on an indoor treadmill.
That may be reason enough to put in the exercise hours outdoors. Keeping your body weight in mind in your calories-burned calculation, if you're burning around 300 calories per hour while hiking, that means hiking for three hours will get you up to burning some 900 calories.
Whether or not you're hiking to lose weight, it would likely qualify as moderate physical activity, which can help reduce high blood pressure, lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and even improve mental health, according to the CDC.
Mountains or Flat Hikes
While a brisk walk on a nature trail by your office might leave you feeling refreshed, a mountainous scramble for several hours may give you a more vigorous workout, leaving you with sore muscles the next day.
While you can lose weight from walking an hour a day, the calories burned during more intense hiking will be even greater. The type of terrain you're covering on your hike will have an impact on the calories you burn.
Your body uses 28 percent more energy walking on uneven ground, like wooded trails or steep hills on hikes, than it would on flat terrain, according to a November 2013 study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. That's because the muscles in your legs, particularly around your knee and hip, have to work harder to twist, turn and step on uneven terrain than they would on a flat path.
Backpacks and Gear
What you're carrying will also have an impact on the number of calories burned while hiking. That could include full camping gear, a backpack or even a light bag.
Soldiers in the military, for example, routinely wear packs — and historically used a mathematical equation known as the Pandolf equation to estimate energy expenditure based on weight, the weight of the backpack, the percentage grade of the incline, the hiking speed and the terrain.
The Pandolf equation may not be the best way to estimate how much energy you're burning, however. A November 2017 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that the Pandolf equation under-estimated the number of calories burned while carrying a pack
That being said, you should be able to generally estimate the number of calories you'll burn while hiking dependent on your weight, your speed, and how vigorous the walking or climbing is.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight”
- PLoS One: “Affective Responses in Mountain Hiking—a Randomized Crossover Trial Focusing on Differences Between Indoor and Outdoor Activity”
- Journal of Experimental Biology: “Biomechanics and Energetics of Walking on Uneven Terrain”
- Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport: “The Pandolf Equation Under-Predicts the Metabolic Rate of Contemporary Military Load Carriage”