Hiking burns anywhere from 350 to 500 calories an hour, depending on how much you weigh now, how fast you go, how nasty the terrain is, how active your lifestyle already is, and a zillion other factors. Whatever it is, it’s gobs more than sitting on your fanny reading a computer screen.
How much can you lose by hiking? You have to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume to lose a single pound, which you could accomplish with a single 7- to 10-hour hike if you ate nothing all day, but that’s no way to live, much less hike.
The sanest path to 3,500 is a combination of eating less, getting out more, being doggedly determined and most of all, exercising extreme patience. You don’t have to hike every day — a speedy 60-minute walk around the neighborhood will do.
How I lost 37 pounds in three months by walking, hiking and watching my diet:
- Cut out Cokes and cookies. Cokes have 150 calories, cookies have about 250. Cutting these 400 calories, combined with exercise, was all I needed.
- Walked on hills for an hour a day. Hills add resistance, which significantly increases calories burned. It also builds muscle mass, which is good for overall health and bone density. Combining 400 lost calories with 300 burned calories from exercise creates a 700-calorie deficit: that’s a pound in five days; 10 pounds in 50 days; 30 pounds in 150 days. When I was really determined, I was putting in six-mile walks with 1,000 feet of elevation gain … it took the weight off fast, but the pace was unsustainable.
- Took long hikes on the weekends. A nice 10-mile hike in the hills and forests of the Bay Area could last about five hours and burn between 1,800 and 2,500 calories.
Bottom line: If you check my math, you find that producing a 700-calorie deficit five days a week plus 2,000 calories in a nice long weekend hike takes off 5,500 calories. At this rate it’d take you just under six months to lose 37 pounds, about twice as long as it took me. That’s because I worked out a like a fiend usually for two hours a day rather than one. Once I got the weight off, my body chemistry adjusted to the new level of activity and wanted to put weight back on extremely quickly.
It would have made far more sense to develop a sane, sustainable hourlong workout combined with watching my diet, and to have taken the weight off gradually over six months or even a year.
Being healthy has to become a habit: taking off weight too quickly gives you all the false confidence you need to blow off your daily workouts, go back to consuming Cokes and cookies again, and kid yourself into believing it’s no big deal that you’ve regained the weight you lost.
So, take your time and work diet and exercise into the rhythms of your life. You’ll be much better off.
Previously: Hiking for Fitness: The Basics.