Hiking is a popular form of exercise because it can be more enjoyable than running on a treadmill. This is why it’s a popular way to lose weight while enjoying the great outdoors. Hiking for weight loss requires much more planning than other forms of exercise, as there are a lot of variables to think about.
The 4 tips for hiking for weight loss are:
- Use your weight to calculate the calories burned
- Consider the slope of the trail
- Choose your hiking pace
- Add weight to your pack
Hiking for weight loss can be an enjoyable way to get into shape. However, the steps involved take a bit more planning than simply going to the gym, so below we’ll go into more detail about each tip so you can get the most out of your hikes.
Table of Contents
Since each hiking plan is dependent on factors that vary from person to person, we want to begin our hiking plan with the most important subject to focus on – you! Weight loss in general depends on multiple factors that include your weight, age, physical activity level, and various physical conditions that may affect your health in different ways.
We also need to consider the factors that will determine the number of calories we burn hiking, based on factors such as the weight of our pack, the gradient of the trail, and the intensity of our hiking pace. You can choose any of these factors to begin your plan, but we’ve found that it’s easiest to start with your weight.
Since this is the factor we are trying to change with hiking exercise, it is the best place to start because you will base your whole plan around this one number. We will start by listing out our weight and the average number of calories burned by hiking at each weight range, and then we’ll consider some other factors.
It’s worth noting here that hiking can make you gain weight, often temporarily. Factors like inflammation and water retention can cause you to be heavier after a hike, and hiking hunger may also make you want to eat more after a long trek. However, with a proper plan, you can instead use hiking as a way to lose weight.
4 Expert Tips For Hiking For Weight Loss
We can get a good idea of how many calories are burned in each weight range based on a general level of hiking activity with a 1% grade (or steepness) of trail. This figure is used because we can adjust the other factors, such as steepness of trail, weight of pack, or hiking pace, quicker than the number of calories burned in our weight range.
Below is a table that can be easily used to determine the average number of calories burned given a 0% trail grade, and walking for one mile at an average pace of 3.3 miles per hour. Just find your weight in the given chart to find the number of calories that you would most likely burn.
|Weight (lbs)||Average Calories Burned Per Mile|
We can then take the number of calories burned per mile to calculate how many calories we need to burn to lose our given weight. It’s often said that you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume in order to lose one pound of weight. We will use this number over the course of a week of hiking within our calculations.
Bearing in mind that this number is over and above the number of calories you consume and burn off to break even, our calculations will assume you are already burning an equal number of calories to what you are consuming. Therefore, these 3,500 calories are an extra 3,500 calories per week, or 500 extra burned calories per day.
For example, let’s say you weigh 180 pounds and hike five miles each day. Hiking five miles each day with a 0% trail grade, you would burn 3,500 calories each week which would be enough to burn one pound of weight, given all other consumption and exercise patterns remain constant. The calculation would look like this:
100 calories x 5 miles x 7 days = 3,500 calories burned per week
Following this logic, we can plan out how many pounds we would lose by multiplying by the number of weeks we would plan on hiking. This leaves out many crucial factors however, and we must consider other important factors such as the slope of the hike and the pace we are hiking. We will adjust this value in the next step by adding in the slope of the trail we plan on hiking.
The slope of the trail plays a big role in the number of calories burned while hiking. As expected, the steeper the grade of the trail, the more weight you’ll lose while hiking. The two most common ranges of grades we will see while hiking are 1-5% or 6-15%. So, we will use these two ranges in our weight loss calculation.
While a grade difference of about 5% doesn’t seem like much, it has a major impact on the number of calories you burn. The reason these ranges are chosen is that any given trail will typically fluctuate within these grades over the course of the entire distance.
Adding It Into Our Equation
An easy or moderate trail will range from 1 to 5%, while more difficult trails are in the 6-15% range. The chart below shows the calories burned for each weight group when adding in the steepness of the trail, hiking at an average speed of 3.3 miles per hour.
|Weight (lbs)||Calories Burned at 1-5% Grade||Calories Burned at 6-15% Grade|
As you can see, adding a grade to the trail that you hike or walk on will drastically affect how many calories you burn while exercising. You can witness this when you’re on a treadmill and you increase the grade of the treadmill. You’ll notice the calories you’re burning increase in a seemingly dramatic fashion, with the number almost doubling with every 5% increase in grade.
Now that we have added the trail grade to our weight loss formula, we can once again calculate how much weight we will lose in a week if we weigh 180lbs. Hiking seven days a week at a 6-15% grade on a five-mile trail and holding all other factors constant, we would lose 4.35 pounds per week. In this case, our calculation looks like this:
656 calories x 5 miles x 7 days = 22,960 calories burned per week
22,960 calories per week / 3,500 calories to lose 1 lb = 6.56 lbs lost per week
It’s unlikely that we would hike five miles a day, seven days a week. But for the sake of our example, we will show what kind of weight loss is possible given these factors. You would simply adjust the numbers according to how frequently you hike.
The third step involves the pace at which we will hike each day. This is another factor that will have a significant impact on the number of calories you burn while hiking. There is going to be a significant difference when hiking at different paces, especially when you consider the different grades of each trail. There is a big difference in walking at a moderate pace versus running a trail.
For our calculation, we’ll consider three different paces to choose from for our hikes: moderate, brisk, and running. A moderate pace would be slightly faster than a slow walk, enough to generate a heart rate high enough to burn calories, which is usually above 100 beats per minute.
A brisk pace of walking would get your heart rate up to 140 beats per minute, while running would pump your heart rate up to 160 beats per minute or more. There isn’t a huge difference in calories between a moderate pace and brisk pace of hiking, but running a trail will nearly double the amount of calories burned while hiking.
We consider running as an option because many people enjoy running trails and consider it a form of hiking. We can analyze the number of calories burned at each pace with the two tables below, considering a 1-5% trail grade and 6-15% trail grade.
Walking Pace At 1-5% Trail Grade
|Weight (lbs)||Calories Burned at Moderate Walking Pace||Calories Burned at Brisk Walking Pace||Calories Burned at Running Pace|
Walking Pace At 6-15% Trail Grade
|Weight (lbs)||Calories Burned at Moderate Walking Pace||Calories Burned at Brisk Walking Pace||Calories Burned at Running Pace|
We can now see the major differences in calories burned at each trail grade and pace we are hiking. One thing to note is that we can burn a lot of calories running but it isn’t necessary to effectively lose weight while hiking. There is still the potential to burn a large number of calories just by hiking at a moderate or brisk pace on a trail grade that is not flat.
Using our example weight of 180 lbs and a moderate pace on a 6-15% trail grade, our calculation looks like this:
820 calories x 5 miles x 7 days = 28,700 calories per week
28,700 calories per week / 3,500 calories to lose 1 lb = 8.2 lbs lost per week
Combining our weight, steepness of the trail, and our hiking pace, we gain a pretty good picture of the number of calories we can burn hiking. There is one final control factor that we will want to consider for our hiking weight loss plan – the weight of our backpack.
The final tip is to add weight to your backpack, because it’s another easy way to control the intensity of your hike. According to outsideonline.com, doubling the weight of your pack increases the number of calories burned by 25%. This is a significant way to lose more weight faster, but it’ll make your hike more challenging.
We suggest a starting weight of your backpack of 30 pounds. So, if we double our packs to 60 pounds, we will increase our calories burned by 25%. It’s a fairly straightforward calculation, so we will demonstrate it by taking our weight of 180 lbs, hiking at a brisk pace, on a 6-15% trail grade, and doubling the weight of our pack.
|Weight (lbs)||Calories Burned Before Increasing Weight of Pack||Calories Burned After Doubling Weight of Pack|
1,025 calories x 5 miles x 7 days = 35,875 calories per week
35,875 calories per week / 3,500 calories to burn 1 lb = 10.25 lbs lost per week
Rearranging The Equation
If, for example, you were trying to lose 3 lbs per week, then you would simply rearrange this calculation to find the number of days or miles that you need to hike to meet that target. If you know you’re going to hike 4 days a week, finding the distance you would need to hike would look something like this:
Calories to burn to lose 3 lbs per week = 3,500 x 3 = 10,500 calories
Calories to burn per day = 10,500 / 4 days = 2,625 calories per day
Distance to hike per hiking day = 2,625 / 1,025 calories per mile = 2.56 miles
As you can see, adding weight to your pack has a big effect on the number of calories that you burn while hiking. This makes it a very effective way to burn extra weight while hiking. If you are strength training or have the capacity to do so, you can certainly add even more weight to burn yet more calories too.
It should be noted that you do want heed caution when increasing the weight of your pack. Adding too much weight can cause back pain and also make it much more difficult later on in the hike when you are tired, so be aware of your own limitations.
Once we add all of our factors together, we need to consider a few other things that we may need to adjust or keep the same if it isn’t impacting your weight. Below are some of the other factors we want to consider in our plan.
Distance Of The Hike
We need to consider how long we want to hike for. We should strive to hike for at least three miles each time we hit the trails to be as effective as possible. It is suggested that you schedule one long hike that is at least 6-12 miles long as well, as this will really boost your progress.
Days Hiking Each Week
While it is certainly noble to hike seven days a week, it’s not likely that you’ll be able to schedule a hike every single day. But it’s recommended that you hike at least three days a week, and it will obviously make it easier to lose weight if we hike four or five days a week.
If your current diet isn’t causing you to gain weight, you don’t necessarily need to adjust anything. But if your diet is causing you to gain weight, you definitely need to cut down your caloric intake or you will need to hike even more to achieve the same results.
But we don’t want to cut our diet down so much that we are losing energy, or we won’t be able keep up with our hiking plan. It’s therefore all about finding the right balance between diet and exercise when trying to lose weight by hiking.
Change Of Scenery
If you absolutely love where you hike and can do it every day, or if you don’t have any other options, you can hike the same trail every day. However, you will want to plan 3-5 different trails to hike, or you will likely get bored of constantly using the same route. Remember, we chose hiking to burn weight because it is typically more enjoyable than running or working out in a gym!
Hiking for weight loss is a great idea, as it can be far more enjoyable than simply running on a treadmill or working out in the gym. Once you understand the key elements that you need to consider when hiking for weight loss, it becomes much easier to set up the right plan. Following our steps above, you’ll be able to lose weight by hiking in a fun and effective way!