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Considerations When Hiking to Lose Weight

I am an avid hiker with a focus on easy to moderate trails in natural settings. I occasionally do harder trails.

A goal of getting to a scenic viewpoint can be a motivating factor (picture is from Jasper National Park).

A goal of getting to a scenic viewpoint can be a motivating factor (picture is from Jasper National Park).

Losing Weight Is Personal and Requires Educating One's Self

Losing weight is something that a lot of people desire to do. However, losing weight is a complex matter when it comes to health.

  • Firstly, there's the issue of losing too much weight. This can be a health hazard in itself.
  • Secondly, loss of weight in itself isn't always a great way to assess one's fitness. In regard to this point, you might lose some body fat but gain some muscle mass for a net gain in weight and actually be in better shape than you were before. Losing weight and improved health are not always one and the same thing.

All that said, there are plenty of scenarios where being too heavy is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease or other health problems. But before you start on a weight loss journey, be sure to educate yourself. That could involve contacting experts like physicians or dieticians.

Personal Experience With Weight Loss

My expertise on weight loss is only personal: I know how I lost weight. Whether my personal experience will transfer over to you is not something I know.

But when I started with a weight-loss goal, I started with one fundamental principle: I would not pay attention to any fad diet. Instead, I said that I would count calories and make sure I was burning more off each day relative to what I consumed.

In doing this, I relied on apps that helped with calorie counting, whether in regard to calories consumed or burned. Nutrionix helped and so did my Apple Series 6 Smartwatch and corresponding iPhone. However, these are tools that you still have to know how to wield. They do nothing for you unless you use them properly.

Since December of 2019, I have lost 80 pounds and I did it with a strategy in mind. I identified my legs as having the strongest muscles in my body and reasoned that they could therefore do the most work (ie. burn the most calories) without feeling burdened. What resulted was a fitness routine that started with walking and then graduated into hiking.

SmartWatches often have uses that are relevant to weight loss and health.

SmartWatches often have uses that are relevant to weight loss and health.

What Is the Difference Between Walking and Hiking?

If you fiddled around with calorie counting software, then you would learn that hiking burns a lot of calories relative to walking. The difference is actually drastic.

For a person with my current demographics (220 pounds, mid-40s, 6'0"), an hour of walking only burns about 360 calories. Conversely, an hour of hiking burns 800 calories or more than double what walking burns (Source:

Other people's results will vary, largely with age and sex. But one difference between walking and hiking is the amount of work that is required to perform the activity. This, in turn, leads one to ask what is the exact difference between the two activities: when does walking become hiking?

If you are using hiking as a weight-loss exercise, then for each outing you take you have to ask yourself how challenging it was. You might be tempted to call a riverside trail a hike because you brought a hiking stick and it's in a natural setting, but if the trail did not involve uneven terrain and changes in elevation then you need to be honest with yourself.

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An hour walk on a trail that is flat and unchallenging is not an hour hike. This is just an hour-long walk. That's important when you note the difference in calories burned between the two activities.

Elevation Changes

What makes hiking more than walking is primarily the elevation changes. Going uphill or elevating yourself on a path burns a lot more calories than walking on flat terrain. Furthermore, struggling with uneven terrains, like loose rocks, roots, and slippery conditions can all require more energy than just your pavement-pounding flat-terrain city-park walk.

In short, if you are using hiking for losing weight and using calorie counting apps, then you have to be honest with yourself when assessing the route you traveled. Did you walk the route or did you hike it? It might be that you did a mixture of both.

However, if you are keen to label an easy walk as "a hike" just because it went through a forested setting, you might end up overestimating the calories you burned. This in turn might make you feel comfortable consuming too many calories in relation to your personal weight loss goals.

There are lots of trails out there that are easy at some points and strenuous at others. When putting your activity into a calorie counter, you would account for this.

An example of a pure hike would be one that started at a base of a mountain and elevated more or less the entire time on the way up. An example of a walk would be a flatland walk through a park. A mixture might be something like a walk in a setting where there were both changes in elevation and flat stretches.

There were times when I wanted to call my outing a hike just because the app would then say that I had burned a lot of calories. However, if you think about it there's really no point in lying to yourself because data entered into an app does not change the real world for you.

Whenever I decided whether I had gone for a walk or for a hike, I would primarily consider the elevation change. I would also consider how much weight I was carrying in addition to my body weight.

If, for instance, I took a route that I felt was 40% hiking and 60% more leisurely walking and if the route took 120 minutes to complete, then I would credit myself with 48 minutes of hiking and 72 minutes of walking. If I was carrying 20 pounds of weight in a knapsack, then I would add a little to the hiking side as the extra weight would mean I performed more work than the app would know since it only has my body weight entered.

Seeing Results

I placed no pressure on myself to be perfect. But when I kept having to buy smaller and smaller belts, I knew that my plan was working. The apps helped me make my goals but the best measuring stick is the scale, the mirror, and the tale of the tape.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Shane Lambert


Liz Westwood from UK on August 27, 2021:

This is an interesting and informative article. Thanks for sharing your experience to help others. You make a very valid point about the difference between hiking and walking.

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