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Hiking to lose weight

boots on scaleHiking 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:

  1. Cut out Cokes and cookies. Cokes have 150 calories, cookies have about 250. Cutting these 400 calories, combined with exercise, was all I needed.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

22 comments | Permalink | Tags: |
Tom posted at 8:46 am September 2nd, 2008

22 Responses to 'Hiking to lose weight'

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  1. Mark Griffith says:

    Honestly I wonder if hiking is really a way to loose weight. 🙂

    I have hiked/ran 1000 miles for the past 3 years and I have lost negligible weight. I have lost inches. I am as healthy as a horse. I can hike 20 miles and wake up the next and be fine. But I just don’t think the work out is high intensity enough.


    Permalink | Posted September 2nd, 2008, at 4:07 pm
  2. Justin says:

    I lost 15 pounds in three months of constant hiking while trail work. One of my crew members lost 30lbs in 3 months. Most of the crew members lose 10-15. Some of that is due to the trail work, but we do a lot of hiking with extremely heavy backpacks.

    It’s tough to find a good balance between food and calories burnt in a group. We had very basic meals in the beginning of the summer that were often too small and by the end of the summer we had great meals with leftovers that needed to be eaten.

    Permalink | Posted September 2nd, 2008, at 9:11 pm
  3. Workout says:

    Contrary to most people think calories are not the only thing that matter when losing weight. Workout

    Permalink | Posted September 3rd, 2008, at 10:31 pm
  4. McCow says:

    Do ya have to loose weight when ya hike? what about nature? beauty? fresh air?….animals in their element instead of a zoo? Why does it always have to be about fat asses?

    Permalink | Posted September 4th, 2008, at 7:40 pm
  5. John Soares says:

    I find that a couple days in a row of hikes with lots of elevation gain resets my metabolism to a higher level. I can either eat the same amount and lose a bit of weight over the next week or two, or eat more food and not gain weight.

    But if I don’t keep doing climbs, my metabolism eventually re-sets.

    Earlier this month my sweetheart and I did two days in a row of good climbs in Lassen Volcanic National Park, and then another good climb a week later at the Old Ski Bowl on Mount Shasta.

    I look and feel thinner, my legs feel stronger, and I’m eating a bit more food.

    Permalink | Posted September 22nd, 2008, at 8:11 am
  6. Steve says:

    I used to weight pretty much 160 lbs for the longest time, which at 6’3 is kinda skinny. Then I quit smoking about 15 years ago, and everything went to hell in the proverbial handbasket; I (at my worst) was 298, and could not for the life of me start any diet that would burn off the pounds in what I construed as an acceptable fashion. When my oldest son decided he wanted to join Cub scouts, we started taking hikes, going camping, etc, and in less than a month and a half, I’ve lost 25 pounds!

    I have to admit though, part of it was that I went from a job where I was pretty much sitting at a desk all day, to a job where I walk around a large College campus all day (no, Im not a security guard, Im a printer/copier technician), but never the less, the walking, and the change in my diet. I dont drink anything but water/ flavored water, and one cup of coffee a day now(well, maybe some OJ here and there), and I cut out all fast food and cut down on portions as well.
    I walk every other day after work (and all the walking I do there) about 2-3 miles at least, and am trying to work my way up to 4 miles, plus a 30 pound pack.

    Great blog by the way, absolutely one of my favorites!

    Permalink | Posted December 4th, 2008, at 10:14 am
  7. EcoRover says:

    As a longtime backpacker, backcountry skiier etc, thank you for helping promote the fitness advantages of an active outdoors life.

    Permalink | Posted January 7th, 2009, at 1:24 pm
  8. Deb Lauman says:

    I agree, particularly if you have the weight to lose. Which I did when I began my A.T. thru-hike. By the end of the trail, I’d lost 40 pounds while still eating well (not junk, for the most part). I was in the shape of my life. But it’s tough to duplicate that kind of exercise in everyday life. Needless to say, I need another thru-hike! Either that, or I guess I could hike up 12,633-foot Mt. Humphreys here in Flagstaff every day for 178 days (like my A.T. hike), but I don’t think even that would be the same.

    Permalink | Posted January 21st, 2009, at 2:26 pm
  9. Mel says:

    I once hiked to lose weight. If I had been away from hiking for a while I would initially find that my appetite increased along with my weight. As I continued to take hikes my sense of well being grew and that encouraged me to hike further and more often. My interest in food would then decrease to where I had to be mindful about packing sufficient food. An increasing energy level resulted in more and longer sustained physical activity. I would begin to burn fat and convert fat to increased muscle mass in my legs. I would not lose much weight but my body mass index improved. The extremely slow improvement in my figure was frustrating but very soon my focus moved away from concern about weight and fat. My focus shifted to my joy in hiking.

    My entire life style change and my weight and appearance ceased to bother me. My blood pressure became normal with less medication and my weight and body mass Index slowly improved.

    Now I am in a place where several health problems have kept me off the trail. I never abandoned my wish to hike again and I continually tried to pass a disheartening 1/4 mile 200’ barrier.

    Suddenly I am regaining a level of fitness where I can smell that point where all the good stuff kicks in. I began swimming every weekday and hiking 2 days a week allowed me to break through my barrier. After less than a month I am able to hike 4 miles and gain 800’ in elevation feeling good all the way. In two more days I will climb 1200 feet to reach an easy above timberline summit.

    The pleasure of being in wild and high places does more for me than any program involving “metrics.”

    For background, I live at 9,000 feet altitude. Exactly one year ago I was told by a doctor that I had to move down to Denver if I wanted to live. My sincere answer was “I would rather die than give up living where I do.“ Now Denver is experiencing temperatures in the 90’s and triple digits. I wonder if I would be approaching death had I followed the doctors advice.

    I have a intellectual curiosity about occasionally occasionally checking my weight on a scale. I want to climb these hills for the rest of my continuing life.

    My advice about hiking to loose weight is hike for the sake of hiking. The scale is a distraction from finding your bliss. Pursue the quest, if you can. Your life, including your weight will reach the appropriate level for you.

    Live long and prosper!

    Permalink | Posted July 15th, 2009, at 9:41 pm
  10. Fitness for hiking: the basics at Hike Hacker says:

    […] Hiking to lose weight. 2 comments | Permalink | Tags: hiking workouts | Tom posted at 7:29 am August 19th, 2008 […]

    Permalink | Posted March 10th, 2011, at 10:59 am
  11. Shout-out to Husky Hiker says:

    […] Hiking to lose weight at Hike Hacker. jQuery(document).ready(function($) { […]

    Permalink | Posted March 10th, 2011, at 11:32 am
  12. Leigh says:

    I heartily agree with your proposition that hiking is amazing for weight-loss. I lost over 100 pounds four years ago based on hill hiking 4 times a week. It is effective, in my view, because it sorts out many of the psychological issues that lead to over-eating etc. I was going through a divorce and the only thing that help my anger was a nice long intense series of steep inclines in a deep green forest. I would be grinning uncontrollably when I reached the top. I also found it reduced my appetite and compulsive thinking about food the rest of the day. I never dieted. I focused on abundant nutrition and going to my forest whenever I had the chance. About 6 months in I added a bit of situps and weights, but really, my faith in a fine hill is what did it. When in a city I find a great hill with some shade and walk it. I recommend it to all. Besides, hiking becomes a loose interval training session, alternating between intense grades and less intense parts of the trail. Last point I will mention is that Japanese researchers found that walking in forest caused release of an anti-cancer protein in the blood. Cannot cite the study but it makes sense to me. Thanks for this blog.

    Permalink | Posted June 23rd, 2011, at 7:21 am
  13. Brian Keith Goodwin Longcor says:

    Today is my first time on your website & I’m finding it to be very inspiring. I found it by doing a brief search about “hiking calories”. Sticking to the title topic, I’m surprised noone has talked about hiking combined with overnight back-country camping, where you are strictly kept on a diet simply because of your circumstances. I recently started studying rock-climbing (vertical hiking), which burns calories like crazy! You might try it. Congratulations on losing 37 pounds in three months!

    Permalink | Posted June 25th, 2011, at 12:15 pm
  14. Traci says:

    I too have lost 40 pounds in the past 8 months. Not just from hiking, but walking combined with eating less. You can lose weight without any activity just be reducing your calorie intake. But a combination of walking and eating is great and better for your health and frame of mind, of course. Great post and congrats on that weight loss.

    Permalink | Posted July 5th, 2011, at 4:54 pm
  15. virginia says:

    I can honestly say the scale did not move at all until I started hiking.
    It’s addicting..you feel exhilarated and alive. Put a goal-let’s say 21 days. When you see you reach your goal you will be hooked.

    Good luck and thanks for looking…


    Permalink | Posted July 28th, 2011, at 1:32 pm
  16. Kevin says:

    Reading everyone else’s success story on here is great social proof that what we are doing is healthy and FUN.

    On my first backpacking trip I lost 5 pounds! I had no idea that hiking had such powers. I went from 180 to 175 and I am 5’10”, so I wasn’t even that overweight, but a bit chubby which I gained in college.

    This was a godsend because I hate gyms and I actually used to pay a membership that I never used for a year before waking up and smelling the pollen. Me and my friends kind of joke how we are getting sexy when we do backpacking but ever since I started, my love for the outdoors has grown compoundedly. I love looking for new challenges and being healthy is a good side effect of backpacking, hiking, climbing, anything that you can do outdoor and relatively for free is awesome in my book.

    Permalink | Posted September 9th, 2011, at 2:56 am
  17. Bree says:

    I was a member at a gym for 6 months, worked out 4 times a week, not seeing enough results, i quit working out indoors and stepped outside. I started running hills, stairs and mountains. 5 days a week for about 3 months, and i went from 160 to 135, i am 5″6. I have always eaten pretty healthy. No fast food, sodas, sweets, or fried foods. I also began juicing fruits and veggies daily. Being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine is a wonderful feeling. Happy hiking everyone!!

    Permalink | Posted February 27th, 2012, at 12:36 pm
  18. Scott says:

    To all hiking lovers,
    I live close to a 3-mile hiking trail and been going 3 times a week. I’m not an athletic person and I think gyms are boring. My body and overall health feel great. If you workout for health and not the perfect body, this workout is for you. My perfectionist workout friends say I have to workout arms and abs to be “healthy.” I’m not a doctor but I believe legs are very important and can easily be injured if you don’t exercise them. When it comes to eating, I add at least a cup of veggies with my meats and fruit for my dessert. I rarely eat out and I’m very organized in the kitchen. I prefer hiking also because it’s an affordable activity. All I needed to buy were $20 hiking shoes. It’s not even a workout anymore; it’s a hobby I’ll always enjoy. After another 6 weeks, I will examine my progress.
    Live free, hike hard,

    PS, don’t rip yourself off on some Northface website. Hiking is a cheap activity. Just go to your nearest sporting goods store for shoes, jackets, walking sticks, etc.

    Permalink | Posted March 6th, 2012, at 11:17 pm
  19. Jon says:

    I had drink and fast food problem after i got married.. went on a 2 weeks honeymoon, gained about 14 pounds then got home and was drinking alcohol and eating fastfood upto 5 nights a week which is extremely unhealthy i know! but couldnt help myself. I didnt have a care in the world.. my mates would call me fatty and i would laugh as i really didnt care. (i was about 13 stone 6 pounds at 5’8.)

    That was until my son at 4 years old called me fat! i laughed nervously then i thought i need to here for him when he grows up. i need to get into shape and live longer.

    I stopped drinking on week nights and ate more healthy which i found was easy… no hangover in the mornings! yay! Our bank balance was even healthier as we was saving about £100 a week! on wine, beer, takeaways.

    I then started walking on my local hill called roseberry topping in great ayton UK (1 hours hike at around 950 feet) Every morning about 7am which set me up for the day. after 2 days i lost 6 pounds. after a week lost 8 pounds. now today 23rd January 2013 ive lost a few more pounds and i feel i have so much energy.

    I will never give up as i am so determined to be a healthy loving husband and the best Dad a son can ask for.

    Wine and takeaway food is expensive Hiking is FREE.

    I still have a wine and takeaway but only on a Saturday now which me and my wife both enjoy. even though it only takes about 2 glasses and i am on my back..

    Thanks to this blog i have shared my experiences.

    I am 100 times happier and its only the beginning!

    Permalink | Posted January 23rd, 2014, at 7:42 am
  20. Emil says:

    For anyone who is doubting whether or not hiking is an efficient way of losing weight: I lost over 120 pounds in one year by mainly just hiking and eating healthy! For proof click my link and go to progress pictures!

    Permalink | Posted March 25th, 2014, at 3:35 pm
  21. James says:

    Nice to read all these positive stories! I have been hiking for many years. My mountain is over 1,300 feet. I climb it about 2 or 3 times a week in the summer months, April to October, and in the winter I jog about 3 miles. The mountain is so much better, even if the jogging is through woods. All that time my weight has remained the same – about 180 lbs. I am 5′ 11″.

    What people say about the pleasure of being in the woods is the same for me. I could lose weight if I wanted to, but I feel I’m ok. Just calculated my BMI at 24.8, (now at 178 lbs), just barely within the ‘normal’ range. I guess I would feel even better if I lost 10 lbs.

    I love my climbs, and the huge bonus is pushing myself quite hard, which in itself is satisfying on the days that I feel like it – and when I do I get a great shot of endorphins. If I get to the top of the mountain in 32 minutes or so, that’s usually enough for the endorphins to kick in. Then I feel like running down, which I often do anyway. It’s a kind of action meditation, making sure you place your feet right so as to avoid a fall. The mountain has a very rough trail with lots of chunky rough rocky places.

    Those endorphins keep me calm and serene for all the rest of the evening. My hikes are late afternoon – after 5:00, even 7:00 in the mid-summer, to avoid the heat of the day.

    My legs are strong and my mood is great because of these hikes.

    I notice that the next day after a good hike, I feel fine, but on the day after that, my body feels tingly and charged up. From experience I know the only thing that will do is another hike, and that hike begins and continues with that charge of energy which feels great.

    I feel sorry for people that don’t have this experience. I can see that many of the posts here have the same appreciation for their hikes. It only takes an hour plus a 10 minute drive there and back… that is probably the best time I spend most weeks.

    Thanks for this chance to share this experience!

    Permalink | Posted October 5th, 2014, at 11:28 pm
  22. Nancy says:

    I’m new to hiking, started a month ago, and so far I have lost 8 pounds. I’m enjoying reading all y’all’s stories, gave me more motivation to continue doing what I’m doing, my goal is to lose 35 pounds ???

    Permalink | Posted August 3rd, 2019, at 10:01 am

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