Hiking is a great way to unplug, get your heart pumping, and enjoy nature – in other words, it’s good for the mind, body, and spirit. Today, we’re exploring how hiking affects the body and the factors that affect the calories burned hiking.
We’re also walking you through how to get enough calories while you’re on the trail – without resorting to pre-wrapped snacks in single-use packaging. Because the way we see it, preserving our beautiful hiking trails means protecting the earth on a broader scale by reducing single-use plastics in favor of sustainable and endlessly reusable solutions, like Stasher bags.
Factors that influence how many calories hiking burns
Many things can affect the number of calories you burn while hiking, like your body weight and fitness level, the weight of your backpack (if you’re carrying one), and what type of terrain you’re up against.
Body weight and fitness level
Because all of our bodies are different, our caloric burn for the same exact hike can be different as well. Factors like body weight, body composition, fitness level, age, and gender are all at play here. In general, you’ll burn fewer calories if you have a higher fitness level, because your body is accustomed to strenuous activity. But on the flipside, someone with a higher relative percentage of lean body mass (muscle mass) than body fat will burn more calories on the same hike and carrying the same pack than someone who weighs the exact same on the scale but has a higher percentage of body fat (#science!). The relationship between body composition and metabolic rate explains why older folks tend to burn fewer calories than younger ones: as we age, our muscle mass tends to decrease, which means that we have a higher overall percentage of body fat, thereby slowing down our caloric burn. A person’s sex also ties in here; in general, men tend to have more lean muscle tissue – and therefore a higher metabolic rate – than women.
To better understand how hiking affects your body specifically, try wearing a heart rate activity monitor the next time you hit the trails. The data your monitor collects will help you glean insight into the intensity of your hike, your metabolic rate, and even your fitness level more broadly.
Another important factor that affects caloric burn while hiking is pack weight. If you’re carrying a heavy pack that’s loaded with food (packed in Stasher bags, of course), a hydration reservoir or water bottles, and other necessities, your energy expenditure is going to be significantly higher than if you’re hiking with a lightweight belt bag or bringing nothing but a water bottle. When you don a heavy daypack or backpacking pack, you can burn around 50-300 more calories per hour than you would otherwise.. (Wondering how to pack said backpack? We’ve got you covered!)
Types of terrain
Terrain also has a significant sway over how many calories a hiker will burn, and how quickly, so it’s worth considering the type of hike you’re tackling. A fairly smooth, leisurely hike on flat terrain – which is easier on the body in that it requires less muscular work – will result in fewer calories burned than if you were walking uphill. A steep, rocky hike with a higher elevation gain (i.e., the sum of the elevation you climb throughout the hike) will really engage your leg and core muscles, increase your energy expenditure, and torch more calories.
Calories burned hiking: calculator
While a heart rate monitor is perhaps most useful for gauging the strenuousness of your hike and how your body responds to that activity, it can also be helpful to use an online calorie calculator tool specifically for hiking, like this one, to estimate what you’ve burned.
How to get enough calories while hiking
Importantly, there are lots of reasons why a person might want to keep an eye on how many calories they burn while hiking – weight loss is only one of many! In particular, it can be helpful to have a loose gauge of your energy expenditure while hiking so that you can be sure to consume enough calories before, during, and after the hike to fuel your adventure and replenish the body. Just as it’s essential to drink lots of water and / or electrolyte drinks after physical exertion and sweating, it’s also crucial to give your body the calories it needs to thrive. So remember to bring nourishing hiking snacks (think: roasted nuts, carrots and hummus, or protein bars) in a Pocket Bag or Snack Bag, or clip a larger Go Bag to your backpack.
There are tons of factors that affect how many calories you’ll burn on the trail, and the way your body expends energy might be different from that of your hiking companions. And as you head out on your next hike, also remember that the exercise aspect of hiking is only one of its benefits – so be sure to soak up the goodness of the outdoors for the sake of your mind and spirit, too.