Hiking Tips

How to Lose Weight with Hiking

POSTED ON May 15, 2024 BY Ralph S.


Hiking isn’t just a way to enjoy the great outdoors; it’s a potent tool in your weight loss journey. Trekking up and down varied terrain makes for a good workout that can effectively burn calories and fat, contributing significantly to your hiking weight loss goals.

Whether you’re a weekend warrior hitting local hiking trails or an ambitious thru-hiker tackling the Appalachian Trail (AT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT), or Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), there’s an adventure that matches your fitness level.

Backpacking adds an extra layer of challenge, testing your endurance and strength over extended periods. But fear not, this comprehensive guide is designed to show that weight loss through hiking can be more than just effective; it can be fun.

Get ready to transform your body and mind as we explore how hiking can be the key to a healthier you.

Understanding Weight Loss Basics

Weight loss basic

The simple formula for understanding weight loss involves consuming fewer calories than you burn. Hiking elevates your heart rate and increases the calories you burn, making it an exceptional form of exercise.

Compared to regular walking, the varied terrain and added weight from backpacking amplify the intensity, leading to more calories burned and potentially staving off the dreaded “hiker hunger.”

Knowing how many calories you burn hiking can help you plan your diet and activities to create a calorie deficit essential for weight loss.

The Science of Weight Loss

Understanding weight loss requires a fundamental grasp of the calories in vs. calories out concept. Here’s how it applies to hiking and overall fitness:

  • Caloric Deficit: For weight loss, the body must burn more calories than it consumes. Hiking significantly contributes to this deficit by burning calories at a rate higher than many other forms of exercise. Mayo Clinic offers more insight into understanding this balance.
  • Metabolism: Your body’s metabolism is crucial to how efficiently it burns calories. Engaging in physical activities like hiking can boost metabolic rate by building muscles, which burn more calories than fat, even at rest. Here’s a guide that explains metabolism’s role in more detail.

Key Factors

  • Intensity: The more vigorously you hike, the more calories you burn. Challenging terrains and inclines increase the intensity.
  • Duration: Longer hikes can increase the total calories burned.
  • Muscle Engagement: Hiking engages multiple muscle groups more than walking, leading to more calories burned. American Council on Exercise discusses how various exercises affect muscles.


Thru hiking

Thru-hiking is especially suited to weight loss, as on a thru-hike, it is basically impossible to maintain your weight. When you’re hiking for multiple weeks for hours on end, you’ll burn through a lot of calories. 

Depending on different factors such as your weight, your pack weight, the difficulty of the terrain and elevation gain, and the distance and hours hiked when thru-hiking, you might burn anywhere between 3,000 and 7,000 calories per day! Under such conditions, it’s easy to lose weight, especially since the space in your backpack is limited. Most thru-hikers are unable to consume that many calories while on the trail and are therefore at a caloric deficit, with the exception of stops in towns. When you are thru-hiking, you’ll see your fat percentage visibly go down, and especially your legs will become more toned and muscular.

Why Exercise Matters

Exercise is essential to losing fat, reducing body weight, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s not just about burning more calories; it’s about building and maintaining muscle mass, which boosts metabolism. Regular physical activity, such as hiking, creates the caloric deficit necessary for weight loss, without compromising muscle strength.

The American Heart Association (AHA) highlights the role of exercise in improving overall cardiovascular health, suggesting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.

Benefits Beyond Calorie Burning

While the primary goal of hiking might be to lose weight, the benefits extend far beyond calorie burning. Regular physical activity, especially in nature, has been shown to improve mental health, reduce stress, and enhance cardiovascular function.

The heterogeneous terrain encountered during hikes, including roots, rocks, and leaves, necessitates careful navigation, which enhances agility and coordination. Furthermore, engaging different muscles during a hike builds strength and ensures a balanced development of muscle groups.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also emphasizes the benefits of regular exercise in reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

Hiking as a Form of Exercise

Hiking Gear

Hiking, as an exercise form, stands out for its effectiveness in helping individuals lose fat. By incorporating elevation gain into routines, hikers can significantly increase the calories they burn, making it an efficient method to start a weight loss regimen.

Choosing trails with varying elevations and complexities heightens the physical challenge, pushing the body to adapt over longer periods and ensuring a dynamic and engaging workout environment. Embarking on these trails encourages a higher calorie expenditure, offering a practical approach for those looking to shed weight and enhance their fitness levels sustainably.

Hiking vs. Traditional Cardio Exercises

When evaluating the effectiveness of cardio exercise, hiking offers unique benefits that are not as pronounced in traditional exercises like running, cycling, or gym workouts.

  • Calories Burned: Hiking often leads to more calories burned compared to walking on flat terrain due to the added resistance of elevation and the weight of a backpack. The variability in intensity when navigating different terrains means the body continuously adapts, burning calories more efficiently. For comparison, Harvard Health Publishing estimates calories burned through different activities, highlighting the efficiency of hiking.
  • Body Weight Impact: Unlike running, which can sometimes exert considerable stress on joints, hiking offers a cardio workout that minimizes the risk of injury. The natural terrain provides a softer impact for the body weight to be distributed, reducing strain on knees and ankles.
  • Engagement of Muscle Groups: Hiking engages a broader range of muscle groups than cycling or gym routines typically focused on isolated muscle workouts. This engagement is not only due to walking but also stems from stabilizing the body on uneven surfaces and the additional weight carried in a backpack.
  • Cardiovascular Health: Hiking’s effectiveness in improving cardiovascular health rivals running and cycling. The constant changes in heart rate experienced during hiking, as a result of varying trail elevations, provide excellent cardio benefits. This point is supported by the American Heart Association, which recommends aerobic exercises like hiking for heart health.

In practical terms, hiking allows for a flexible, high-intensity workout that can be adjusted according to the individual’s fitness level by choosing different trails. This adaptability, combined with the mental health benefits of being in nature, makes hiking an invaluable addition to a well-rounded exercise regimen.

The Unique Benefits of Hiking for Body and Mind

The Unique Benefits of Hiking for Body and Mind

The unique benefits of hiking extend beyond the calories burned or the muscles strengthened, offering profound mental health improvements and a connection to nature that can’t be found in most other forms of exercise.

Here’s how:

Physical Health Benefits

  • Caloric Expenditure: Hiking significantly increases the calories burned, not just through walking but also by navigating uneven terrain and slopes. This contributes to effective body weight management and can help burn excess calories more efficiently.
  • Muscle Strength and Balance: The varied demands of hiking, such as climbing over rocks or balancing on uneven surfaces, work various muscle groups and improve overall body balance and coordination.

Mental Health Improvements

  • Stress Reduction: Being in nature and engaging in physical activity are independently known to reduce stress. Hiking combines these two, offering a powerful stress-relieving effect. Research, like that found in the National Institues of Health, has linked outdoor activity with decreased levels of neural activity in brain regions associated with mental illness.
  • Enhanced Mood: The American Psychological Association has highlighted the benefits of spending time in nature for improving mood and combating anxiety and depression. Hiking promotes this connection with the outdoors and increases endorphin levels, further boosting mood.
  • Cognitive Benefits: Regular hikers often report improved memory and creativity. A study published in Environmental Science & Technology finds that interacting with nature improves cognitive functions, highlighting how hiking can benefit mental clarity and creativity.

Preparing for Your Weight Loss Journey Through Hiking

Hiking Gear

Embarking on a weight loss journey through hiking sets you on a path to health and discovery, marking an efficient way to burn more calories and reduce body fat. Understanding how many calories you burn hiking depends on various factors, including trail difficulty, your pace, and the weight of your backpack.

Just half an hour on the trail can significantly contribute to your fitness goals, challenging your body in new ways and promoting fat loss.

Here’s how to prepare for your weight loss journey.

Silverlight Social Hiking App


stars 25 reviews

  • Record your hikes, take photos and add waypoints.
  • Download areas for offline use
  • Follow others and keep up with their outdoor activities through the home feed
  • Create & join groups and events (group hikes), see each other on the map during group hikes and contribute to a group gallery while taking photos with the app.
  • Share your experience as posts on your profile or in groups.
  • Create gear lists with weight and cost.
  • Import and export GPX files

Download for:

Gear Up: What You Need for Safe and Effective Hiking

Hiking Preparation

The right hiking gear is essential to maximize the calories burned walking and support your weight loss journey. Proper preparation will ensure your hikes are effective, enjoyable, and safe.


  • Trail Shoes or Boots: Choosing the right footwear is crucial for traction, support, and protection. Look for shoes that offer comfort, durability, and water resistance. Our footwear guide provides an excellent guide to choosing the right pair.
  • Important Features: Consider lightweight options for shorter hikes and during the main hiking season; choose boots for high mountains, winter hikes, and colder environments.


  • Daypacks for Short Hikes: For hikes lasting a few hours, a daypack of around 20-30 liters will carry your essentials, including water, snacks, and a first-aid kit, without adding much weight.
  • Fit and Comfort: Ensure the backpack fits properly with adjustable straps to distribute the load evenly, minimizing strain and maximizing balance.

Hydration Systems

  • Water Bottles vs. Hydration Bladders: While water bottles are convenient and easy to refill, a hydration bladder can carry more water with easier access, keeping your hands free.
  • Capacity: Aim for a system that carries at least 2 liters of water to maintain hydration, especially on longer trails or in warmer climates.

Other Essential Gear

  • These include hiking poles for added stability and reduced knee stress, especially useful in uneven terrain and navigating descents.
  • Light, moisture-wicking clothing will help regulate your body temperature and keep you comfortable throughout your hike. Always choose trails that match your fitness level, and remember, safety comes first. For a selection of tested and trusted hiking gear, visit our hiking gear page.

Selecting the appropriate gear is a fundamental step in your hiking adventure, contributing significantly to the calories burned walking, enriching your weight loss journey, and enhancing your overall hiking experience.

Crafting Your Hiking Plan: Frequency, Duration, and Intensity

Crafting Your Hiking Plan: Frequency, Duration, and Intensity

Tailoring your frequency, duration, and intensity is key to maximizing calorie burn through hiking. Each component plays a crucial role in ensuring a low-impact, effective workout.

  • Frequency Matters: To burn even more calories, consistency is crucial. Aim for at least 3-4 hikes per week. This regularity helps maintain a caloric deficit while giving muscles time to recover. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults engage in moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 150 minutes per week, which can be met through hiking.
  • Duration for Progression: Start with hikes lasting around 30 minutes and gradually increase to 60 minutes or more. This gradual increase allows your body to adapt, enhancing endurance while burning more calories.
  • Intensity With Hiking Poles: Incorporating hiking poles adds an upper body workout, increasing calorie expenditure. The intensity of your hikes can be adjusted by altering the pace and the trails’ incline and using weighted backpacks to engage muscles. Another option to incorporate hiking sticks is through Nordic walking.

Nutrition for Hikers: Fueling Your Body Right

Nutrition for Hikers: Fueling Your Body Right

Proper nutrition is essential for hikers, especially those aiming to lose weight while maintaining high energy levels throughout the week. Before you hit the trails, ensure your body is primed with the right fuel for endurance and recovery.

Before Your Hike:

  • Carbohydrates for Energy: Opt for complex carbohydrates like oatmeal or whole-grain bread. These foods provide sustained energy, which is essential for longer hikes.
  • Protein: Incorporate a moderate amount of protein, such as yogurt or nuts, to help in muscle repair and growth.

After Your Hike:

  • Replenish and Repair: After your hike, focus on recovery. A combination of protein and carbohydrates is essential. Consider a smoothie with fruits and whey protein or a chicken sandwich on whole-grain bread.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water to rehydrate. If you’ve been hiking for more than an hour, especially in hot weather, consider an electrolyte-replenishing drink to restore balance.

Carrying snacks like trail mix, energy bars, and fruit can provide a mid-hike boost, ensuring you have the energy to complete your hike without compromising your weight loss goals.

For more detailed nutritional guidance tailored to hiking, visit Mayo Clinic’s Nutrition and Healthy Eating resources.

Maximizing Weight Loss with Hike Variations

Maximizing Weight Loss with Hike Variations

Exploring the great outdoors by hitting the trails immerses you in nature and is an effective method to burn fat and assist in losing weight. By incorporating diverse hiking burn strategies, enthusiasts can tailor their outdoor adventures to enjoy the scenic beauty of nature and maximize their fat loss efforts.

Incorporating High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into Hikes

Incorporating High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into your hiking routine combines short bursts of vigorous-intensity exercise with periods of low-to-moderate-intensity activity, effectively engaging various muscle groups and accelerating body fat reduction.

You can turn scenic walks into dynamic, fat-burning workouts by applying HIIT principles on hiking trails.

Understanding HIIT on the Trails

When integrating HIIT into hiking, the goal is to alternate between high-intensity hiking, such as hiking uphill at a brisk pace or using hiking poles to push your pace, and recovery periods at a moderate pace. This method maximizes calorie burn and significantly boosts heart rate, enhancing cardiovascular health.

  • Warm-Up: Begin with a 5-10 minute walk at a low intensity to prepare your body.
  • Vigorous Intervals: Increase your pace to a more challenging level for 1–2 minutes. Focus on steep inclines or faster walking speeds.
  • Recovery: Slow down to a moderate pace for 2–3 minutes, allowing your heart rate to decrease.
  • Repeat: Continue alternating between high-intensity and recovery periods for your hike’s duration.

Any trail that incorporates multiple uphill sections with more moderate/downhill sections in between is a great fit for HIIT training. Look for trails that offer varying terrains and inclines conducive to vigorous exercise and moderate-paced recovery.

Benefits and Tips

  • Engaging Various Muscle Groups: Using hiking poles during vigorous intervals can involve more upper body muscles.
  • Tailoring to Physical Limits: Start with shorter, vigorous intervals, gradually increasing the duration as your fitness improves.
  • Monitoring Heart Rate: Keeping track of your heart rate ensures you’re reaching the desired intensity without overexerting.

By respecting your body’s physical limits and gradually pushing them, hikers can achieve significant improvements in fitness and weight loss. For those interested, the American Heart Association provides resources on engaging in heart-healthy physical activities that align with HIIT principles.

Maximizing Weight Loss Through Diverse Terrain

Maximizing Weight Loss Through Diverse Terrain

Hiking on varied terrain enhances the weight loss experience. Diverse landscapes provide a visual feast by challenging the body in unique ways, leading to increased calorie burn.

Silverlight Social Hiking App


stars 25 reviews

  • Record your hikes, take photos and add waypoints.
  • Download areas for offline use
  • Follow others and keep up with their outdoor activities through the home feed
  • Create & join groups and events (group hikes), see each other on the map during group hikes and contribute to a group gallery while taking photos with the app.
  • Share your experience as posts on your profile or in groups.
  • Create gear lists with weight and cost.
  • Import and export GPX files

Download for:

Benefits of Varied Terrains:

  • Elevation Gain: Tackling inclines or mountainous trails requires more energy, thus burning even more calories. The higher the elevation gain, the more intense the workout.
  • Natural Obstacles: Traversing over roots, rocks, and leaves introduces an element of instability. This unpredictability forces your body to engage core muscles, improving balance and burning additional calories.
  • Adapting Pace: Varied terrain naturally alters your hiking pace. Through sections of moderate pace, careful stepping over obstacles, or pushing up steep inclines, your body continuously adapts, increasing total calorie expenditure.

For those looking to incorporate hiking into their weight loss plan, remember to always watch out for tripping hazards and prepare accordingly.

For more information on the benefits of hiking on varied terrain and tips for safe hiking practices, reputable resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer valuable insights into physical activity and its benefits.

The Importance of Tracking Fitness Improvements

The Importance of Tracking Fitness Improvements

When you start hiking to lose weight, it’s essential to recognize that the scale doesn’t tell the whole story. Many hikers find that while their weight might not change dramatically initially, their fitness levels and body composition improve significantly.

There are several effective ways to measure these changes and keep motivated:

  • Fitness Improvements: Notice an increase in the distance you can hike without rest or a decrease in recovery time after challenging hikes. This signifies enhanced cardiovascular health and endurance.
  • Body Composition Changes: Muscle is denser than fat, so even if your weight remains stable, you may find your clothing fits differently as you gain muscle and lose fat. Tracking your waist, hips, and thigh measurements can provide more insight than the scale alone.
  • Tracking Tools: Utilize apps or journals to record your hikes, including distance, elevation gain, and personal observations about how you felt during and after each walk. A useful tool to track your hikes is the Silverlight Hiking App, which allows you to record your hikes, share them with others, and track your fitness improvements over time.

Remember, the objective is to enjoy your time outdoors and use these measurements as a tool for motivation, not as the sole indicator of success.

Trail-Tested Tips for Effective Weight Loss

To lose weight hiking, it’s essential to approach it as a structured physical activity rather than a leisurely pastime. Treating hiking as a moderate-intensity exercise can lead to significant weight loss over time.

Here’s how to optimize your hiking routine for weight loss:

  • Consistency is Key: Regularity turns hiking into a habit and increases total calorie expenditure.
  • Vary Your Intensity: Mixing in days where your hiking burns more calories through increased intensity with days of lighter, more moderate hiking helps prevent burnout and keeps the body adapting.
  • Incorporate Rest: Listen to your body and include 1-2 rest days each week to prevent overtraining.
  • Track Your Progress: Keeping a record of your hikes, including distance and elevation, can help you gradually increase your workout intensity and monitor your weight loss progress.


Hiking is not just about burning calories; it’s about transforming your free time into an adventure. Whether you’re pushing yourself on varied terrains or measuring fitness improvements beyond the scale, each step is a milestone toward your health goals.

Regular walks in the great outdoors can significantly impact your physique and well-being. Remember, every hike is a step forward on your path.

So, lace up your boots and take that first step towards your next adventure.

Check out our hiking tips page for more inspiration, like this guide.


Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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