Hiking for Weight Loss: Does it Work? (and How You Can Do It)

Wondering if hitting the trail is good for your waistline? Learn more about how you can use hiking and backpacking to kick-start your healthy weight goals!

Jolanda Lapegna Avatar
Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
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If you’re wondering if hiking can help you lose weight, we have good news for you! According to the CDC, hiking burns more calories than most other sports or fitness activities. So if you’re hoping to shed a few pounds, it’s time to strap on your hiking boots and head for the hills or mountains!

Hiking offers a myriad of health benefits from improving joint health and energy levels to relieving stress and improving mental health… and yes, it can even help you burn fat and lose weight!

In this guide, we’ll explain how hiking can help you to lose some of those extra pounds and how to get in on the fun yourself! We’ve also included lots of tips to boost the fat-burning power of your next hikes, so keep reading to learn more.

Shedding Pounds while hiking: All You Need to Know

You’ve got burning questions about burning calories, and we’ve got answers! Here is everything you need to know about how to shed some pounds by hiking. 

Is Hiking Good for Losing Weight? 

There’s no doubt about it – hiking is great for increasing energy, burning calories, and losing weight.

Hiking is a form of cardiovascular activity, so it helps your body burn fat just like any other aerobic exercise such as walking or running does. However, low-intensity exercise such as going on a hike may lead to even greater burning of your fat stores since your body relies on oxygen to metabolize fat. Let’s explain.

Group of hikers
Hiking is a low-intensity cardiovascular exercise.

If you’re exercising and gasping for air as you might while running, your body has trouble getting the oxygen it needs to convert stored fat and calories into energy. You don’t run into this problem with a low-intensity exercise like hiking where you can breathe at a normal rate (except for those quad-busting hills, of course!) 

While some aerobic exercises such as trail running burn more calories per hour, hiking is low impact and low intensity meaning you can generally do it for longer. So while you might only be able to run for 30 minutes, you can usually hike at a much slower pace for a couple of hours leading to more calories burnt overall.

How Often Should I Hike to Lose Weight?

It’s hard to give a definitive answer for how often one should hike to lose weight. How many calories you lose while exercising is the result of a number of variables specific to each individual like age, physical fitness, diet, and the length and type of exercise you do. 

In order to lose weight in general, calories consumed must be less than what you’re burning each day. So if you want to see the pounds melt away, you’ll have to get your nutrition in check first to see results. As they say, you can’t outrun (or out-hike!) a bad diet. 

chicken avocado vegetables as camp food
You can’t outrun (or out-hike) a bad diet!

If we can assume you’re not eating more calories than you need, going for a hike just once or twice a week can help you achieve your weight loss goals. The U.S Department of Health and Social Services recommends getting a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes of exercise each week, and you can easily reach those numbers on one or two hikes. 

If you lose weight gradually and safely at about 1 – 2 lbs per week, you’re more likely to keep it off. So if you see these types of results as you begin hiking, you’re on the right track! 

Remember that you might plateau during your weight loss journey – that’s normal! This is a sign your body has adapted to your increased activity levels. If you’re still looking to lose more weight, you’ll have to switch things up by hiking steeper or longer trails or incorporating other forms of exercise into your program.

Will Hiking Burn Body Fat?

All forms of physical activity will help you burn fat, including hiking. While you can’t “spot reduce” aka target only certain areas like your belly for fat burning, hiking will help you lose fat from over your entire body. 

Hiking is also unique because it is both an aerobic and anaerobic form of exercise. Aerobic exercise is any type of cardio conditioning or “cardio” which strengthens the hearts and lungs. Anaerobic exercise involves quick bursts of energy for a short period of time and is useful for building muscle. 

hiker stretching
Hiking strengthens your heart and lungs, and builds your muscles!

Each type of exercise has its benefits like getting your heart rate up, strengthening your lungs and heart, and building muscle mass. Going for a hike involves both aerobic and anaerobic exercise and is therefore great for burning body fat and losing weight. 

How Can I Burn More Calories When Hiking?

We’re glad you asked! Below, we’ve made a list of 9 tips that will help you make hiking part of your regular routine and increase the calories you burn along the way.

How to Lose Weight Hiking

1. Set Goals and Stick to Them

Are you ready to burn some calories hiking but don’t know where to begin? You need to set some SMART goals!

If you don’t set the right goals before starting a new fitness routine, you’ll be limiting your success before you even get started. By using the SMART goal framework, you’ll be setting up goals for yourself that are manageable and achievable.

Hiker looking up at mountain
Don’t psyche yourself out on your first hike! Create some SMART goals instead.

SMART goals are: 

  1. Specific – clearly define your goal 
  2. Measurable – make a goal that can be measured, such as hiking X distance each week
  3. Achievable – be realistic with your goals and current fitness level
  4. Relevant – make a goal that fits in with your lifestyle and preferences 
  5. Timely – goals should be time-specific 

Now that you know how to create a SMART goal, take action! You’ll be much more motivated to stick to your plan if you have achievable goals and can measure your progress. 

2. Be Realistic

While you should always challenge yourself, your hiking and weight goals should also be realistic. For instance, covering 10 miles on your first trek is probably not reasonable if you’ve never gone on a hike before. 

Woman wearing small backpack looking out over hills
Start with short trails especially if you have never really hiked before.

Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dream big! A great way to reach hefty goals is to break them up into smaller, more manageable goals that lead you to your final destination.

If you’re completely new to hiking, start slow and easy. Pick short and flat trails with minimal elevation. As your fitness levels improve, start upping your elevation or distance with a training plan. 

3. Go Up!

Want to burn even more calories? Then choose hiking trails with elevation gain. For every 1% increase in incline, your body exerts up to 4% more energy. More energy exerted means increased calories burned! Not to mention that hiking uphill will help increase muscle mass in your glutes, hips, and thighs. 

Barr Trail Incline
Taking uphill hiking to the max!

4. Carry a Pack

Carrying a backpack with a few extra pounds is a great way to boost the calories burned while out on your hike. You don’t need to overdo it, simply carrying a pack with your essentials like water and snacks is enough. You’ll also want to make sure you’re wearing a properly fitted backpack that isn’t overloaded. Injuring yourself will only slow your fitness goals down! 

Woman holding walking poles and carrying a backpack looking out over mountains
Carrying additional weight on your back will help burn more calories.

5. Use Trekking Poles

Trekking poles will turn your hike into a total body workout. Holding a hiking pole in each hand will make you use more of your arms and upper body during your hike, leading to extra calorie burn. They also have the added bonus of helping you with balance and supporting you during downhill sections. 

Woman with trekking poles hiking downhill over rocky terrain
Using trekking poles leads to extra calorie burn, especially in the arms and upper body area.

6. Increase Length

This one’s easy – if you want to burn more calories, hike longer! A 154 lbs. person will burn an impressive 185 calories for every 30 minutes of hiking. If you’re not seeing the results you want or you’ve hit a plateau, tacking on an extra 30 minutes at the end of your hike might be the push you need to shed the extra weight.

Backpacker wearing backpack looking out at forest filled mountains
Take on a longer hike and you’ll be burning additional calories.

7. Increase Intensity

Increasing the length of your hike will help you burn more calories, but what about if you’re short on time? When you don’t have the time for an extra-long trek, increase the intensity instead. Get your heart pumping by picking up the pace and you’ll burn more calories. 

One easy way to measure your progress is to time yourself hiking a trail, and then revisit that trail at a later date and try and beat your record.

seasoned adventurer hiking fast
Short on time? Pick up the pace or go uphill, or both! ©Kieran Cunningham/My Open Country®

8. Incorporate squats or lunges 

If you’re on a relatively flat or short trail, one easy way to up the intensity is to incorporate some lunges or squats along your hike. You’ll burn more calories, tone your lower body and get a good workout! 

9. Keep It Fun!

The best form of exercise is one that you enjoy so that you’ll stick with it. The last thing you want to do is turn hiking into an activity you dread! Choose trails that you like, go at a manageable pace, hike in good company and always take time to appreciate the beauty of nature. 

If you focus on making hiking enjoyable rather than all about burning calories, you’ll keep coming back to the trails time and time again! 

hikers smiling and laughing in the trail
Gotta seize that moment and enjoy every hike!

Hiking For Weight Loss: Happy Hiking!

Hiking is considered by experts to be one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise for shedding pounds, so what are you waiting for to hit the trail? 

We hope this guide has answered your questions about hiking for weight loss. If you have your own tips feel free to share them with us in the comments below. 

And if you think your friends and family would enjoy this article, go ahead and share it with them! 

Last update on 2024-06-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Jolanda Lapegna Avatar

Jolanda is a full-time writer and life-long outdoor enthusiast. Growing up on a small island off the Eastern Canadian coast, she spent most of her childhood hiking, swimming and fishing in the Atlantic ocean.

After a short stint in the corporate world, Jolanda quit her day job to write full-time and check out what lies beyond the Canadian shores. Ever since, she’s been hiking, biking and kayaking her way across 11 European countries and counting.

Jolanda currently lives in the beautiful, Tuscan countryside. When she isn’t hanging out in the woods or at the beach, you’ll catch her foraging for mushrooms and truffles with her truffle-dog, Red.

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