Is hiking a good way to lose weight? You bet your life it is. Hiking is one of the best forms of weight loss as although it has less calorie burn per hour than jogging, you are able to hike for much longer periods. This makes it a proven method of exercise for weight loss.
When I say “you bet your life it is” what I’m really saying is hiking, or any other good form of fat burning exercise, could save your life or at the very least extend it.
According to the World Health Organization globally nearly three million die each year as a simple consequence of being overweight/obese.
My husband was 22 stone when we started hiking together and after 3 months, he had lost 3 stone (42lbs). His clothes were hanging off him and he had to punch extra holes in his belt because his trousers would have fallen down otherwise.
In no way did he alter his diet he was just taking regular exercise. Every day for at least an hour each day he would go for a walk and at least two days a week we would go hiking.
We didn’t think to take his waste measurement when we started sadly but he has lost several inches from his waistline. He is living proof that hiking isn’t just a good way to lose weight, it’s a great way to do it.
How to lose weight hiking
Start off with the “little and often” method. Don’t, if you have never hiked before, assume you can just set off and launch yourself on the toughest/longest hike in the UK as your first attempt at hiking.
If you haven’t hiked before and you are generally unfit, you’ll need to read the “How do I get ready for hiking” section below before you even start.
Assuming you are at least fit enough to start hiking then how much weight you lose will have many elements that combine to determine your weight loss. You can increase the weight loss by playing around with these factors.
Firstly, how much do you weigh when you first take up hiking? This makes a big difference. If you are fairly fit to start with due to other sporting activities you do, then you won’t notice such a dramatic difference in weight as my husband did.
Though initially you’ll maybe have aches in places you didn’t even realise you had places. Hiking “uphill and down dale” over rugged terrain does tend to use different leg muscles to normal walking on level ground.
If you are considerably overweight when you first start hiking the difference in your weight and body shape will be dramatic during the first 3 months.
Hiking calorie burn rate
Besides your starting weight the number of calories you can expect to burn hiking depends on these main factors.
Firstly the “trail grade” you are using. (Trail grade is a way of ranking the gradient or steepness/difficulty of the hike you are on.
You also must take into account your average walking speed, as that will also affect the number of calories burnt per hour.
According to the app on his phone, on a gentle hike on an up to 5% grade my husband would have been burning about 600 calories an hour but on a 10-15% grade hike, he could be losing as much as 1,000 calories per hour.
When it comes to the pace at which you walk, the difference between a leisurely pace and good brisk pace can also increase/decrease the calorie burn as much as 50%.
Of less importance but still a consideration is how heavy is your backpack.
Lightweight backpack for hiking
So if losing weight by hiking is your primary goal, then over time you will need to increase distance, average speed and gradients. To be honest my husband and I are not intending to become Olympic triathletes, we just go hiking for the enjoyment and the health benefits are just a very pleasant bonus.
Our advice is PLEASE take it easy initially, and build up slowly. If you go crazy right from the start you will end up giving yourself problems with niggly injuries.
So overall the takeaway from this is if you really want to lose more weight, work on increasing your average speed and progress slowly to tougher gradients of trail grade.
Is hiking better than the gym?
Yes it is in many ways. A few of the advantages are being outdoors in the fresh air rather than inside a sweaty gym for one thing.
From a fitness point of view if you walked 3 miles on a hike and the same number on a treadmill you would certainly burn more calories on the hike as the uneven terrain means you get to use some extra/different muscles than you would use just on level ground.
Obviously the gym offers a variety of exercise options not just walking so that is a plus, but with just walking hiking is a good workout.
Is hiking good for you?
Well in fairness I think we’ve probably answered that question. Getting fresh air and exercise on a regular basis has to be a good thing. You are going to burn more calories on a hike than on a standard walk, so hiking is great for fitness.
Even if you try to up your speed a bit when walking on the pavement or around a park or field on level ground it will not have the weight loss of a good hike. The uneven terrain on a good hike will ensure a higher calorie burn rate.
Over a period of time you will be able to do longer and longer hikes without any issues.
How do I get ready for hiking?
If you’ve not been on a hike before you may be in for a surprise. Hiking can be surprisingly tough for a first timer regardless of fitness levels.
If you are unfit and coming at this from a zero-exercise/couch potato existence then you should not go hiking before you have taken some initial steps to prepare for it.
We started off by just going for a normal walks around our local park and slowly built up to doing just over an hour every day.
We bought some decent hiking boots and wore them a few times to make sure they were nicely worn in. First time hikers often suffer most from blisters and injuries due to slips and falls due inappropriate footwear.
Your legs will feel the strain if you are unprepared, so do some gentle exercises each day for decent period before your first hike. Doing some warmups with your hamstring and calves would be good. Try lunges, and squats to get your leg muscles moving.
If you have access to a treadmill that you can adjust the incline, then that would be good because you will be climbing more than you would on a standard walk. You must remember that no top sportsman ever starts an event without warming up to get the muscles working properly first.
Get used to drinking plenty of water and always hydrate fully before you start your hike. Carrying water, even though its heavy, is an absolute must. Taking food with you isn’t so important on a short hike but we always take things like a banana and an apple with us.
Obviously if you are going on a lengthy hike over many hours then bring plenty food and water.
Hiking with kids
We (my other half and I) go out hiking just the two of us when we are planning what we call a semi-serious hike. We will tackle more rugged terrain and hike at a reasonable pace.
However, at least once a month we go on a “family hike” and take the kids with us.
Hiking is a wonderful way to spend time together as a family. Not only are the whole family getting great exercise, we get to see and enjoy the British countryside at its best.
When we go with the kids it is usually for just a couple of hours and we choose pathways that are not too challenging. We always stop for a “mini picnic” which the kids love, and we are careful to ensure the weather looks set fair for the day.
Summary: Is hiking a good way to lose weight?
Hiking is a wonderful way to lose weight. The fresh air, and the number of calories that get burnt on an energetic hike will really pay dividends when it comes to weight loss.
You will burn more calories per hour than on a standard walk and for those that argue you’ll burn less than you would running or jogging I say this. “I can hike for for a lot longer time period than I can run, so overall I’ll burn more calories.”
You can increase the calorie burn rate when you become a more experienced hiker, by increasing your average speed and taking on tougher hikes and more rugged terrain.
Apart from the benefits of weight loss, I can’t stress enough what hiking does for your mental health. I always feel so much better after I’ve been out hiking.
So, to answer the original question again. Is hiking a good way to lose weight?
You bet your life it is.
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