Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide: How to Burn Calories While Hiking - From Boredom to Bliss

Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide: How to Burn Calories While Hiking

Introduction to How to Burn Calories While Hiking

The Benefits of Hiking for Calorie Burn

Hiking is an excellent way to burn calories and improve your overall fitness. Unlike some forms of exercise, hiking allows you to be out in nature, explore new terrain, and challenge your body in a low-impact way. But just how many calories can you expect to burn while hiking? The number of calories burned hiking depends on several factors, which we’ll explore in this comprehensive guide.

First, it’s helpful to understand the general benefits of hiking for calorie burn. Here are some of the main advantages of hitting the trails to burn calories:

  • Hiking utilizes large muscle groups in your legs, glutes, and core which require more energy expenditure.
  • The constant variation in terrain recruits more muscles and increases calorie burn compared to walking on flat ground.
  • Hiking up hills or mountains requires more effort and burns more calories due to the incline.
  • Carrying a backpack adds extra resistance which can increase calorie expenditure.
  • Hiking poles engage the upper body and core, further boosting calories burned.
  • Longer hikes allow you to burn calories over an extended period.

As you can see, hiking offers many benefits when it comes to burning calories and working your whole body. Understanding how to maximize this calorie burn potential will help you get the most out of every hike.

Understanding the Factors That Affect Calorie Burn During Hiking

While hiking is excellent for burning calories, the specific number of calories burned will vary based on these key factors:

  • Body weight – Heavier individuals burn more calories hiking.
  • Terrain – Rugged, uneven, and hilly terrain burns more calories than flat ground.
  • Elevation gain – Hikes with more uphill climbing result in more calories burned.
  • Distance – Longer hikes allow you to burn calories over more miles.
  • Speed – Moving at a brisk pace increases calorie expenditure.
  • Backpack weight – Carrying more weight in your pack amps up the resistance.
  • Use of hiking poles – Engaging the upper body and core burns additional calories.

Later in this guide, we’ll explore proven strategies for maximizing calorie burn by optimizing these factors. But first, let’s look at the science behind how hiking helps us burn calories in the first place.

The Science Behind Burning Calories While Hiking

How the Body Burns Calories

Before examining hiking specifically, it helps to understand the basic science behind how our bodies burn calories. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Calories refer to the energy stored in the food we eat.
  • Our body stores excess calories as fat and uses them later for energy.
  • Exercise requires exertion which uses more energy (calories).
  • When we’re active, our body taps into fat stores to burn calories and provide energy.
  • The more intense the activity, the more calories are burned per minute.

During exercise like hiking, your muscles require increased energy production. Your body responds by mobilizing fat stores to burn more calories and meet this energy demand. The more challenging the hike, the more calories you can expect to burn!

Role of Hiking in Calorie Burn

Hiking is an ideal exercise for burning calories for several scientific reasons:

  • The constant variation in terrain recruits more muscle fibers, which requires more energy.
  • Uphill climbing forces your body to work against gravity, burning more calories.
  • Carrying weight in a backpack or hiking poles adds resistance, further increasing calorie burn.
  • Nature provides an ever-changing landscape which keeps your muscles engaged.
  • The aerobic nature of hiking optimizes fat-burning, especially over longer distances.

In short, science shows us that hiking’s combination of muscle recruitment, resistance training, aerobic work, and mental engagement provides an excellent calorie-burning workout. Optimizing the variables can help you burn even more calories per hike.

Ways to Increase Calorie Burn While Hiking

Choosing Trails with Elevation Gain

One of the best ways to crank up calorie burn while hiking is to choose trails that include substantial elevation changes. Hiking uphill requires your body to work against gravity, leading to major increases in calorie burn.

For example, a 155 pound person can burn around 532 calories hiking 5 miles on flat ground. But hiking 5 miles with 2,000 feet of elevation gain can burn over 1,000 calories! Seek out hilly trails with steep sections to get the most calorie burn for your effort.

Carrying a Hiking Backpack

Adding weight to your hike in a backpack significantly increases resistance, leading to more calories burned. Even a light backpack can make a difference. But you can optimize calorie burn by packing heavier loads (water, gear, etc.).

For instance, hiking 5 miles with a 10 pound backpack burns about 140 more calories compared to hiking with no weight. And a 30 pound pack can burn over 300 more calories on the same hike! Load up your pack strategically to burn more calories.

Selecting Rugged Terrain

Seeking out more rugged hiking terrain with uneven ground, rocks, roots, and other obstacles engages more muscles and ups your calorie burn. Each time you have to steady yourself and navigate obstacles, your body burns extra calories.

Compare smooth, groomed trails to rocky, technical terrain over the same distance – you can burn significantly more calories by choosing a rugged path. Just be careful to avoid injury on highly uneven ground!

Picking Up the Pace

Another great way to increase calorie burn is to simply hike at a faster speed. The more miles you can cover in the same amount of time, the more energy your body will expend. Set a brisker pace to really get your heart pumping and calories burning.

For example, hiking at a moderate 2 mph pace burns about 367 calories per hour for a 155 pound person. But picking up the pace to 3 mph burns about 551 calories – that’s 50% more calorie burn! Speed translates directly to calories burned.

Using Hiking Poles

Engaging your upper body and core muscles even more during a hike can help increase calorie burn. Hiking with trekking poles requires work from the chest, back, shoulders and arms too. This additional muscle recruitment equates to more calories burned.

One study found that hiking with poles burned about 20% more calories compared to hiking without poles. The more muscles at work, the bigger the calorie burn! Use poles on your next hike to maximize full-body engagement.

Incorporating Squats and Lunges

Take your calorie burn to the next level during hikes by incorporating strength moves like squats and lunges. Take breaks along the trail to perform a few sets of each exercise.

Squats and lunges engage your biggest muscle groups, leading to sky-high calorie burn. Just be careful not to overdo it to the point of injury or excessive soreness. But sporadic sets will keep your heart rate up and calories burning.

Trying Short Sprints

If you want major calorie burn, incorporate some short sprint intervals into your hike. Find a flatter section of trail and alternate between sprinting and walking to send your calorie burn soaring.

High-intensity interval training like this taps into fast-twitch muscle fibers, burning calories at an accelerated rate. Even 30-60 seconds of sprinting can dramatically boost your calorie expenditure per hike.

Trying Ankle and/or Wrist Weights

Strap on ankle and wrist weights during your hike to add extra resistance and burn more calories. Start with just 1-2 pounds per ankle/wrist to maintain stability and comfort.

This extra weight engages more muscles and requires more exertion with every step, translating to greater calorie burn. But moderate the amount of weight to avoid injury or imbalance on rough terrain.

Understanding Caloric Needs During Hiking

Nutritional Requirements for Short Hikes

To sustain energy and performance on shorter 1-2 hour hikes, aim for:

  • 15-30 grams of carbs pre-hike
  • 30-60 grams of carbs per hour from snacks like bars, gels, bananas, etc.
  • 5-10 oz of water every 30 minutes
  • 1-2 grams of sodium per liter through electrolyte sources

Consuming 30-60 grams of easily digestible carbs and hydrating well will provide your body with the key nutrients it needs to hike strongly and burn calories efficiently.

Nutritional Requirements for Long, Thru-Hikes

For all-day or multi-day thru-hikes, aim for:

  • 200-300 calories per hour from complex carbs, protein and fat
  • 60-100 oz of water per day, plus electrolytes
  • 6,000-8,000 calories daily from a mix of trail foods and high-calorie meals

When hiking for multiple hours or days, meeting higher caloric needs from nutrient-dense foods will power your muscles, fuel fat-burning, and keep you going strong.

Tips for Maximizing Your Calorie Burn on Hikes

Walking Downhill Slowly and Uphill Fast

To optimize calorie burn on hilly trails, walk slowly and carefully downhill to conserve energy. Then increase your speed and intensity on uphill sections. This allows you to put maximum effort into the high calorie burn uphill without getting exhausted.

Maintaining Proper Hydration and Nutrition

Drinking plenty of fluids and fueling with the right carbs and nutrients ensures your muscles function optimally for fat-burning. Dehydration and calorie/electrolyte deficits can hinder performance and calorie burn.

Monitoring Your Heart Rate and Intensity

Use a heart rate monitor to gauge workout intensity and maximize calorie burn. Keep your heart rate in the 60-70% max range for fat-burning. Going too hard can tire you out faster.


Key Takeaways

Here are some key tips to remember from this guide on maximizing calorie burn while hiking:

  • Choose hilly trails with substantial elevation changes to burn the most calories.
  • Carry a weighted backpack to increase resistance and calorie burn.
  • Opt for rugged, uneven terrain that engages more muscles.
  • Hike at a brisk pace of 2-3 mph to keep your heart rate up.
  • Use trekking poles to incorporate the upper body.
  • Add strength moves like squats and lunges during breaks.
  • Try short sprint intervals to spike calorie burn.
  • Consume carbs pre-hike and during for energy and performance.
  • Stay hydrated and fueled to optimize calorie burning.

Encouragement for Continued Hiking and Exploration

Hopefully this guide has equipped you with helpful strategies for maximizing calorie burn as you hit the trails. Hiking is such an enjoyable and effective way to improve your fitness. As you continue exploring new terrain, implement the tips provided here to get the most out of each hike.

Remember to drink plenty of water, fuel properly, use trekking poles, and pick routes with elevation changes and varied terrain. By optimizing these variables, you can transform each hike into a challenging, fat-burning workout. Happy trails!

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