There are two big reasons to understand how many calories hiking burns:
How many calories you burn while depends on a wide variety of factors, but in general, most people burn around 400 calories in one hour of hiking.
In its essence, hiking is simply walking in a natural environment, so a flat, easy hike may burn as few as 150 calories per hour for someone who is very light and not carrying a backpack. To find a more exact number of calories for your hike, use one of the readily available calculators.
Calculating the rate of calories burned becomes an essential planning activity, especially for multi-day hikes. You must always balance the comfort of your hike with the weight of what you carry and the miles you cover.
If your goal is to burn more calories, there are several ways to achieve this. Adding more weight to your pack, hiking at a quicker pace, or choosing more undulating terrain will all increase the number of calories burned in an hour.
You are almost certainly familiar with the concept of calories, as they are key information required on nearly all of the foods you buy. It is a measure of the energy a food source provides and your body burns on the trail.
Different food macros have different energy densities, i.e. they provide different amounts of calories per gram. Protein and carbohydrate both provide four calories per gram, but fat is the real superstar of caloric carrying capacity, at nine calories per gram.
If you need more calories for less weight, go for fat-rich foods!
On a given day, the average person needs between 2,000-2,500 calories to maintain their weight. This accounts for the regular daily activities, but not for exercise.
Once you add in an exercise like hiking, calorie needs increase. For example, some elite athletes need to consume more than 5-6,000 calories per day just to maintain their ideal weight!
Not everyone has the same caloric intake needs, so let’s examine some of the key factors that affect how much energy you burn while hiking.
There are limited ways to change the number of calories you burn while walking in the wild. You can change the weight you carry, the intensity of your exercise, your fitness levels, where you walk, and the style of your hiking.
Let’s look at each in turn.
When we refer to the weight you carry, we mean the total weight of your body, clothes, shoes, backpack, and anything else you’re carrying.
The heavier a person is, the more calories they need to maintain their weight, and the more calories they burn when hiking.
However, a stronger or heavier person can also carry a heavier pack for the same amount of calories as a lighter person with a lighter pack.
For example, if a 100-pound woman needs to carry a 50-pound pack for a long excursion, it will affect her caloric needs much more than if a 250-pound weightlifter carries the same pack because it is a much higher proportion of her total weight.
It’s important to find the balance between comfort and weight in your backpack, even if you’re only packing for a day hike. Every extra ounce you carry equals a greater number of calories burned.
You can find some great information on what and how to pack for a hike from various Youtubers, such as the one below.
Both the speed at which you hike and the type of terrain you cover affect the rate at which you burn calories.
As we said earlier, a flat hike with little weight at a pedestrian pace burns very few calories for most people. As you add intensity by increasing speed and the difficulty of the terrain, caloric needs also rise.
For example, a 150-pound person burns about 500 calories per hour on flat ground walking 4.5 miles per hour. At a 5% grade, speed drops by almost a full mile per hour but you’ll burn the same number of calories. Equally, maintaining your speed on a gradient increases calorie burn.
It’s obvious to most of us that hiking uphill increases your calorie burn, but so can downhill hiking. Marching down a mountain with a heavy pack over difficult trails can also be quite intense and calorie-sapping because of the strain it puts on the huge muscles in your legs and bum. Your glutes and thighs quickly burn through energy when they are under strain.
Your individual fitness level also factors in the number of calories that you burn. This also applies to the people that hike with you, so choose wisely when deciding on your hiking partners!
In general, the more fit a hiker is, the more efficient they become, and the fewer calories they burn for the same output.
One of the best ways that you can decrease your caloric needs is to train well for your hikes. The more you train, the fitter you become, especially in the muscles which we use the most for hiking. In turn, this makes them more efficient and your calorie burn decreases.
Hiking in cold or hot weather increases calorie burning.
Intense cold-weather expeditions plan up to 6,000 calories per person per day just for weight maintenance while outdoors. Conversely, walking in heat forces your body to work harder and burn more calories too.
You may not be in such an intense environment or even want to subject yourself to that added challenge, but you can still take advantage of the weather to impact your calorie needs.
As a rule for the greatest efficiency, you should avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day in the summer. On the flip side, when walking in winter you should do the bulk of your hiking during this time to save energy.
The use of hiking poles is a great help for safety and comfort on a hike, but it does increase caloric needs.
Some people are comfortable and secure hiking without any poles. This makes them more efficient by burning fewer calories. However, if one of the purposes of your hike is to burn calories, add in a set of hiking poles to get a more complete full-body workout while also increasing your calorie usage.
Hiking is a great way to burn through some calories, and hikes longer than an hour or two start to engage the body’s fat-burning mechanism. Especially on a multiple-day hike, it’s important to replace these with healthy calories.
There are some easy foods to add to your pack for quick, healthy refueling:
Plan and pack accordingly to meet your caloric needs in a way that provides you with the proper nutrition and an attitude boost at the same time.
Be sure to check out some suggestions for hiking foods at many different sites, including nutritionist recommendations.