Hiking vs. Running: Which Activity Burns More Calories?


Which one’s better worth your time if you’re trying to lose weight–hiking?

Running burns 2-3x more calories per minute than hiking. However, hiking can be more effective than running at burning calories because we can hike longer than we can run. Calorie burning depends on the heart rate change with time, terrain, speed, and body weight during the activity.

Many factors go into which activity burns more calories, even though running burns more than hiking on a general scale. The type of hiking trail, the distance, and body weight can influence the amount of energy you burn or the muscle you build.

Which Burns More Calories, Running or Hiking?

If all else is equal (time exercising, bodyweight, elevation changes, etc), running burns more calories than hiking per minute of exercise.

If you’re looking for an exercise that will be the most efficient at burning calories, then running is the best choice. I did a lot of research to find the calories burned and came out with these average ranges:

For a 175 lb person for 1 hour of running:

Running at 5 MPHHiking at 2.5 MPH
720-850210-250
Calories burned for a 175lb person for 1 hour of exercise on level ground

Running is a completely different gait than walking or hiking–you are essentially leaping from step to step, whereas hiking or walking you always have one foot on the ground.

Running Or Hiking With An Incline

However, this isn’t the end of the discussion. Hiking is rarely on level ground. Let’s take a look at some steep climbing, at about 15%:

Running at 4 MPHHiking at 2.4 MPH
950-1000650-700
Calories burned for a 175lb person for 1 hour of exercise on a 15% incline

To be fair, running on a 15% incline for 60 minutes is extremely difficult. Hiking at 2.4 MPH on a 15% incline is pretty hard as well.

The key point is that the places where you hike vary a lot in incline–you’ll be going downhill and uphill quite a bit. It’s really difficult to calculate the calories you burn this way because going downhill burns fewer calories than going uphill. Since there is so much of a difference in climbing vs. descending, it’s tricky to get an accurate calorie estimate.

The data consensus, though, is that you will have to hike anywhere for a longer amount of time (from 2x to 3x) to burn more calories hiking than running.

you will have to hike anywhere for a longer amount of time (from 2x to 3x) to burn more calories hiking than running.

How Much Energy Does Hiking Use?

Hiking is a moderate-intensity workout, and when done in rough terrain with elevation changes, it will ensure you reap the cardio and strength-building benefits. It is an excellent way to stay physically active while enjoying the sights and sounds of nature.

The intensity varies based on the ruggedness of the trail, and so do other factors such as temperature and weather conditions.

You may wonder how many calories hiking can burn in both casual and intense sessions. It depends particularly on your body composition and terrain or the steepness of the path.

Here is an estimated breakdown of the number of calories burned per hour based on weight and trail grade at an average walking speed of 2.5 mph.

Hiker WeightCalories Burned At Grade: 5%Calories Burned At Grade: 10%
125 lb.298413
150 lb.357495
175 lb.417578
200 lb.477660
225 lb.536743
250 lb.596825
I used OutsideOnline.com because their numbers seemed the most reasonable.

A 1-5% grade is mild, and a 6-15% grade ranges from mild to steep. Some trails can have a grade as high as 30% or more and will burn even more calories. You can increase the incline on a treadmill to understand the feeling of different grades.

It’s hard to grasp how steep a 30-degree slope really is. This is kind of a silly video, but to me, it illustrates how steep a 30-degree slope can be.

From the table above, you can see that lower body weight burns fewer calories than higher body weight. Other factors that influence how much energy you burn are your backpack weight, temperature, age, and sex.

Lastly, if you are carrying a pack while hiking, you are burning more calories than if you have no pack. Even with a pack, the amount of calories burned while backpacking still has a hard time keeping up with running.

How Much Energy Does Running Use?

Assuming a moderate pace of 5 mph is used for running on flat ground, we can see the average calories burned for both men and women in the table below.

Runner Weight5% Grade10% Grade
125 lb.620723
150 lb.744867
175 lb.8681012
200 lb.9921156
225 lb.11161301
250 lb.12401446
I used the calculator at Nutritionfirstfitness.com for these

Like hiking, a lower body weight burns fewer calories than a higher body weight.

If you want to burn as many calories as possible in as short amount of time as possible, the key is to move faster and to run hills. Basically, you gotta be a beast. 🙂

Finding Accurate Calorie Counts

Although practically impossible to know exactly how many calories you’re burning, you can easily compare your effort between running and hiking by making your own calorie burn estimate using your heart rate.

You can use your own heart rate as a guide to know how hard you’re working as you’re hiking or running. If you find your heart working harder when you’re hiking, then you can throw the above numbers out the window.

Past finding out whether hiking or running is more difficult for you personally, you can actually use your own heart rate to calculate calories burned. To calculate, you need to find your target heart rate.

The target heart rate is a range of your heartbeat speed that is simply an indicator of when your body is being pushed and you are doing real exercise. If your exercise isn’t pushing your heart into the target heart rate, then you probably aren’t working very hard.

You can use these generic target heart rates here at heart.org

Lastly, you can find calories burned with your heart rate here. (The second calculator will be more accurate if you have your VO2 Max)

Calculating your own VO2 Max

Those ranges are just a ballpark and your body is going to be different. To get your own target heart rate, you need to find your own VO2 Max. You can do so using this calculator, here.

Now that you know your VO2, you can convert that to an actual target heart rate here.

So Is Running The Best Choice For Exercise?

From the above two tables, you can see that running burns roughly around double the amount of calories as hiking per hour. However, it is essential to keep in mind that many people hike for more extended periods than they run. Therefore, the total energy burned is comparable to or even higher than running energy.

How Long Do People Run To Exercise?

I actually decided to ask a group of runners who are into running and asked how long they run when they aren’t training for a race.

On average, people run around 45 minutes on weekdays. Many people like to do a long run on the weekends.

How Long Do People Hike?

While a long run is usually a couple of hours… a decent hike however can last 4 hours or even longer, with some lasting for 8 hours or more.

Most people aren’t in the type of shape to handle running for more than an hour, much less running for 8 hours. Hiking, while it can be very difficult, is easier for people to handle. So in a single day of hiking, you can actually burn more calories than you would if you ran as far as you could.

Conclusion

If you want to be as efficient as possible in burning calories with your time, then running is your best option. However, the best type of exercise is the one that you’re actually motivated to go do. If you are more likely to stay home and avoid going outside at all because you don’t want to go running, then you should try hiking.

In my personal opinion, hiking gives you a better opportunity to experience the nature around you–your body is not under so much stress that you can actually slow your mind down and enjoy the space around you.

If you want to hear more about how hiking can bring happiness, make sure and check out my article, here–I found a lot of surprising science that confirms that it’s not just a myth.

Running can be really restorative, no doubt about it, but hiking and running are still definitely two different experiences.

In short, choose what works best for you at the time. No reason to limit yourself to one or the other. Both are great forms of exercise.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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