Does Hiking Help Burn Fat?

Hiking is a very dynamic activity that burns calories and it involves your total body. But does hiking help burn fat? In this text you will find some answers to this and related questions.

I must say that I have never seen a comprehensive study that would show quantitatively how effective hiking is in burning body fat. All you can find are numbers that show the number of calories burned in the process.

Burning calories is not necessarily the same as losing weight. So hiking should be combined with an appropriate diet. But from my own mountaineering experience, I know that it is possible to lose weight after a number of hard climbs.

Below are some questions that people ask related to hiking, and its effect on the body weight and muscles.

Does Hiking Help Burn Fat  - top picture with climbers on Zugspitze glacier.
From my tour – climbers on Zugspitze glacier.

How much fat do you burn hiking?

If you search around about this topic, you will realize that this is mainly about the number of calories and not about the actual fat burn rate.

So even if you search for ‘How much fat do you burn hiking?’, Google will probably send you to the page where you can read about how much calories you burn in this activity. At least, this was as of the moment of writing this text.

From the data at Healthline site it turns out that the heavier hiker the more calories are burned per hour. Here are some numbers for a medium to hard steep hike:

  • Hiker of 120 lb (55 kg): 440 cal.
  • Hiker of 180 lb (82 kg): 656 cal.
  • Hiker of 210 lb (95 kg): 760 cal.

These numbers are just a rough guide, this all depends on many additional factors that include age, backpack weight, gender, etc.

Now, this is not a weight loss. To have a real weight loss, you need an appropriate diet. So will you really experience weight loss if you are involved in a hard activity like mountaineering? This may be so if this is an extended activity and you have mountains close to you. In my case this is 1000 km, so this is hopeless.

But you have seen the title of this section, and you realize I have no answer. I doubt you will find it. Hiking may help to burn your body fat, but it alone may not be enough. However, I am convinced that if you do it frequently and in an extended period of time, you will see the results.

One more comment here. I have no proof for this, but I am convinced that it is not good to do such activities regularly. I think I have experienced this when I started running regularly many years ago.

I was running distances of 10-12 km, and I was running on a sports terrain, and this means on the same flat running area. So I started losing weight, but up to a point. Then it stopped, and the weight even partly returned.

At that time, I read somewhere that this was because of the following. Your body remembers the pattern, and knowing that there will be a hard activity, it will preserve your body fat as an energy that may be needed for such activity.

So to avoid this, be active frequently, but do a variety of activities and without a regular plan, in other words, mix the activity a bit.

Is hiking or running better for weight loss?

In view of what I said above, from the point of view of burning calories, running is better than hiking on a mild terrain. But hiking on a hard terrain should be more effective than running on a flat terrain.

Is it better to run or hike?

I used to run for many years, it became something that was a part of my weekly routine. It was very hard when I had to stop. But is it better than hike?

The answer is not simple. In my case running caused issues with knees. So I did not have choice but to stop. Now, I have been mountaineering all my life, and knee problem was there all the time during the years of my running.

However, it has been several years since I stopped running, and I still go to mountains. I am older but I have less problems with knees. You see the point. For me, running was definitely worse than hiking.

There is one more thing to add here. Running was always a struggle, you have to force yourself, I feel I am lazy by nature, so this was a way of strengthening my will and fight against weaknesses. But I could spend all my life in mountains if this would only be possible. There is far more pleasure in it than in running.

Will hiking get rid of belly fat?

According to Go Hike Virginia site, being a form of cardio, hiking helps you burn body fat. This is not a spot-reduce fat way, this activity burns fat all over your body, and this includes your belly as well.

In view of what I mentioned in the previous section, if the hiking is on varying trails, your body will have different experience each time. So it is likely that you will avoid the effect of “preserving fat” for the next tour. In other words, you will cheat your body and possibly lose weight.

But I have not been able to find any study where you would see a clear evidence and results of hiking on the body weight.

Can hiking reduce thigh fat?

The answer is the same as above, this is not spot-reduce method. Hiking acts on all the body, so you may expect it will reduce this particular type of fat as well.

Related to both questions above, I think that it is best to see this video,  you will see how a man transforms with hiking in a 6-months period. I do not think that you need any additional scientific proof:

How many calories does a 1 hour hike burn?

I already answered this above for medium to hard hikes. Here only to add that this is dependent on the body weight and on the type of the trail. There are online calculators so you can easily find some numbers, but take everything with a grain of salt.

Is hiking better than walking?

In terms of burning calories, the answer is yes. There are numbers available in various sources showing that you burn more calories hiking. Other than that, I do not see much difference if this is a mild hike.

How much weight can you lose hiking everyday?

I have not found any reliable source with some numbers related to this issue. But I have no doubt that you can lose weight if you do hiking in an extended period of time and frequently enough. If you also take care about your diet, this will surely help.

Is hiking considered cardio?

Most definitely so. As you know, the term cardiovascular exercise implies a vigorous activity that increases heart rate and respiration, and that raises oxygen and blood flow throughout the body. At the same time large muscle groups of the body are used repetitively and rhythmically.

This type of exercises is also described as aerobic or endurance exercises because it uses aerobic metabolism. In other words:

  • Oxygen is heavily involved in the cellular reactions that produce the energy to sustain the activity.
  • Heart rate increases.
  • You breathe more deeply to maximize the amount of oxygen in your blood.

If you have ever done any sort of hiking, then you are familiar with all these effects and processes. The picture below shows an area that is close to 3000 meters above sea level in Sella Group, Dolomite mountains Italy. To get here is a hard hiking walk.

Piz Boe hut, Sella Group, Dolomites.
Piz Boe hut, Sella Group, Dolomites.

Can hiking replace running?

The answer is yes. In fact, if you have problems with knees or some other issues that prevent you from running, you will have to replace it with hiking or walking.

From what I know, it utilizes more or less the same group of muscles, and I have seen some suggesting that it is good to combine it with running to improve your running performance.

How many calories should I eat while hiking?

I remember Reinhold Messner said in a video that in his best days he could easily manage two days in the mountains without eating. If you read his biography, then you realize that he has proved this a number of times.

I also remember the British explorer Ranulph Fiennes once said something in the sense of necessity to ignore pain and body struggle when you are in a hard physical activity.

Most of it is in our mind. This is what makes a difference between such extraordinary people, who are in fact physically more or less quite ordinary, and the rest of us.

This aside, you have seen above some numbers about calories spend per hour when hiking. I am a physicist so from this point of view, this is the matter of conservation of energy. So if you want to keep your body in balance, what you lose in activity, you have to compensate through food, as simple as that.

Should you eat before or after a hike?

I am not a nutritionist, therefore I am not entitled to give a professional advise regarding this issue. From what I read around, there are various opinions about this, with pros and cons for any option.

However, I am totally sure that this is a completely personal matter. We are all different and with different needs. For me, eating early is not an option, my breakfast is usually around 10 AM, and even then this is just because I want to drink coffee. And I never drink coffee before eating something.

What I am saying is that in the morning I do not feel hungry at all. But I know somebody who told me that he wakes up in the morning because he feels hungry. You see the point?

So do not listen to anybody. As I always say, listen to your body and act accordingly.

I never take a breakfast before a summit tour. I like to have my first meal on the summit. This may not be optimal for you and this is fine.

Why does hiking burn so many calories?

I think this should be obvious. This is because of the variable terrain so that you are forced to use all your muscles, and this in an unpredictable pattern. If the trail is also steep, this will be a hard cardio activity.

Is hiking once a week enough exercise?

It should depend on what you expect from the exercise. Hiking once a week is better than not hiking at all. But I would not describe this as a very intensive exercise.

Is hiking a full body workout? What muscles do you use when hiking?

If there is anything certain regarding hiking and your body, then this is it. The answer on the first question is yes. I have experienced this in every mountaineering season. Here it is how it goes.

I am not a person who exercise in normal daily life. This is not something to be proud of, but this is a simple fact. This has been so for a number of years already, ever since I stopped running because of my knees problems. But I do take walks quite frequently.

So after the first mountaineering tour, I have pain in every muscle in my body. This includes also all muscles in arms because I use trekking poles all the time. This answers the second question in the sub-title above, you use them all.

Is it OK to hike everyday? 

It is not only OK, it is perfect if you can do this. Simply excellent, no more no less. Such a daily activity can only be beneficial for your overall physical and mental health.

There is a study performed at John Hopkins University about a positive vitamin D absorption and exercise correlation, suggesting that there is a link between the two factors in improving heart health.

How much should I hike per day?

There is only one criterion, listen to your body. Hike as long as you feel it does good to you. The rest depends on how much time you have and on your daily duties.

In summary, hiking is a very dynamic form of exercise, and you definitely burn calories. This is an activity that involves your total body, there is no doubt about this.

But I must say that, as of the moment of writing this text, I have not seen studies showing exact numbers regarding burning your body fat. So one can only make some educated and experienced-based guesses. However, you have seen the video above, so what more do you need as a proof?

Hiking and trekking have some similarities discussed in my separate text. So all the issues related to weight loss should be the same.

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Me on Jalovec.Hi, I am Jovo, the founder of this OutdoorsFAQs site and several other outdoor sites. I have been mountaineering for almost 40 years already, and I have created this site to use as a reference for various questions that I receive in my sites. Being a theoretical physicist by profession, I tend to base my answers on facts and on my own personal experience.

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