How Many Calories Do I Burn Backpacking?

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Consuming enough calories while hiking is a never-ending challenge. This is especially true for thru-hikers who are walking day in and day out. We break down how many calories you could burn each day so you can adequately prepare your food for your next hike.

Calculating Your Backpacking Burn Rate

Calorie counting isn’t just for people who want to drop a few pounds (although it’s certainly useful for that purpose). To stay healthy and keep your energy up for the duration of your trip, it’s critical that you sustain your body with the right amount of fuel.

Having a general idea of your caloric expenditure helps you streamline the food you pack for optimal performance and health—whether your goal is to lose weight, build muscle, or simply to make it to the end of your hike without keeling over.

It can be a complex bit of calculation so we created this easy calculator to help you get an estimate of how many calories you burn in a mike of hiking.

Biggest Factors that Affect Your Burn Rate


Your weight is an important factor in calculating your caloric burn rate. The general rule is, the more you weigh, the more calories you will burn per hour.

For example, a 180-pound male hiking three miles with a 15 lb pack will burn 312 calories while a 150-pound male will burn approximately 264 calories.


It’s not only your weight that matters. But, the pounds on your back also need to be considered. The more weight you’re carrying, the more calories you’ll expand. Carrying a light load (like a day pack) burns approximately 50 more calories per hour on the trail. Supplies for a long backpacking trip add roughly 100 calories or more to your hourly burn rate.

For example, a 180-pound male hiking three miles on a flat surface with a 15-pound pack will burn 312 calories while the same person with a 30-pound pack will burn 330 calories.


Men typically burn calories at a higher rate than women, due to their higher muscle-to-fat ratio. According to Livestrong, a moderately active man needs about 2,500 calories per day to maintain his weight, whereas a woman at the same activity level needs about 2,000.

(Note we are not nutritionists. All data was gathered and estimated collectively from Self, Dietbites, Healthstatus, Nutristrategy and Outside Online)


Incline plays a huge role in how many calories you burn while hiking. Walking on an incline of 10 percent more than doubles the number of calories you will burn per hour. Hit an incline of 20 percent or greater and you will more than triple your caloric burn rate.

For example, a 180-pound male with a 15-pound pack hiking three miles an hour on a flat trail will burn 300 calories. The same person hiking at a moderate 10 percent grade will burn close to 700 calories.


Pace not only influences how quickly you’ll arrive at your destination, but it also affects how many calories it will take to get there. The faster you walk, the more calories you will burn. The average person will burn 300 calories per hour while walking at a moderate pace of three miles per hour. Bump that speed up to four miles an hour and you’ll burn an additional 100 calories.


Not many people realize that the terrain you are hiking influences how many calories you burn. Walking on a flat gravel road will burn much fewer calories than scrambling over downed trees and scaling rock slabs. Walking in sand, mud and snow also will increase the calories that you burn.


You may hear people claim that exercising in colder temperatures burns more calories, but that statement isn’t 100 percent accurate. You will burn more calories in cold weather, but only if you are shivering to keep yourself warm. When you are hiking and generating heat, you will burn calories at an average rate. Only when you stop walking and start to shiver will you burn extra calories because of the cold weather. (Source)

calories burned backpacking chilkoot trail

© Anthony DeLorenzo (CC BY 2.0)

Why Do You Burn So Many Calories Hiking?

The calories you burn each day can be broken down into two main components: your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and the active calories you burn while exercising.


Your BMR represents the number of calories you need to keep your heart beating, your lungs breathing, and the rest of your body functioning. Your BMR is influenced by your gender, weight, height, age, and other factors. There are online calculators you can use to estimate your BMR which helps you figure out the bare minimum amount of calories you need to live.

Your BMR is only half of the equation when it comes to how many calories you burn each day.


You also burn calories throughout the day from being active. The more intense or the longer the duration of the activity, the more active calories you will burn. A typical hike can include short bursts of intense climbing mixed with long stretches of power walking. Consequently, these active calories account for the bulk of calories that hikers burn throughout the day.

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Compared to most conventional forms of exercise, hiking burns calories at a slower, steadier rate. A run, for example, can burn nearly twice the amount of calories per minute as backpacking—but the average run usually only lasts between 15 minutes and an hour.

Even the easiest day out on the trail usually lasts many times the length and duration of a run. All that time on your feet adds up, and you may be surprised to learn the number of calories burned in a day of hiking.

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Calories Burned By Sport


The number of calories you burn while hiking varies based upon the incline of your hike, the weight of your backpack, and the terrain. The average 180-pound male hiking on a flat surface with no backpack will burn a moderate 300 calories per hour. Hiking on steep and rugged terrain that requires you to use both your arms and legs while scrambling will burn close to 900 calories per hour. Over a full day of hiking, you can easily burn close to 5,000 calories.


You can burn up to 450 calories per hour while walking. The total amount depends on your weight, the speed at which you walk, and the incline of the walk. The 200-450 calories per hour estimate above is for the average 180-pound male person walking on a flat surface. As soon as you add an incline, these values will skyrocket. For example, a 180-pound man walking at a rate of 3.5 miles per hour will burn 311 calories on a flat surface and a whopping 490 calories going uphill.


Rock climbers make climbing look so graceful and easy, but it is the complete opposite. Rock climbing is an intensive activity that uses your arms, legs, core muscles, and more to proper yourself up and down a rock face. It burns a significant number of calories, up to 900 calories per hour for a 180-pound male on an aggressive climb.


Cycling burns at least 450 calories per hour, but this amount can change based on your weight, the type of bike you are riding, and the terrain through which you are riding. Riding a low-resistance road bike on a flat road will burn fewer calories than pedaling a mountain bike up a hill.


Swimming is an excellent exercise for burning calories. It uses your arm and leg muscles allowing you to get an aerobic workout without the bone-jarring effects of walking downhill. Similar to hiking, the faster you swim, the more calories you will burn. A 180-pound person swimming freestyle for one hour at a fast pace will burn 817 calories, while a slow swimmer will only burn 572 calories.

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Expert Advice on Replenishing the Lost Calories

We asked two nutritionists what their recommendations were for fueling back up on the trail. Here are some of the insight they shared.


Consuming enough calories is a major challenge for thru-hikers, especially for those who hike quickly or carry a heavy pack.

Hiking nutrition will vary based on the type of hike you are planning. As a general rule of thumb, the longer the hike, the more planning is required.

You can get by with regular food on a weekend trip where you are burning 3,000 calories per day. But on a thru-hike, you can burn up to 5,000 calories per day.

Hiking for weeks at a time with a calorie deficit will take its toll on your overall health and well-being, and will jeopardize your chances of finishing the hike.

You must pack enough fuel to offset the calories you are burning, especially on a long-distance hike. (here’s a sample 5-day meal plan)


If you don’t consume enough calories each day, you will struggle on your hike. Your energy level will drop and you will have to rely on your mental strength to drag yourself over the next mountain top.

Your body also will begin to burn off extra fat and then turn to muscle to get the calories that you need. Needless to say, keeping your muscular strength is critical to finishing a thru-hike.

Except for paleo hikers who are conditioned to use fats for fuel, most people “need a constant carb supply to keep the glucose flowing to cells as you exercise,” says Diane Spicer, founder of Hiking for Her.


“Fruit and nut energy bars, as well as trail mix, provide concentrated calories, along with a nourishing mix of macro-nutrients. A simple nut butter sandwich also does the trick, and is easy to make.”, says EA Stewart of Spicy RD Nutrition.

“Carbohydrates and fat should supply the bulk of thru-hikers calories. In terms of ratios, aim for 55% carbohydrates, 35% fat, and 15% protein.”

To consume enough calories, you need to skip the low-calorie food you eat at home and focus on calorie-dense backpacking food.


Even if you pack enough calories, how you consume those calories throughout the day is important.

Spencer advises becoming a trail grazer during the day by snacking on “small amounts of dried fruit, cookies, or a small trail bar every hour to replenish carbs. Slow and steady fuel delivered to your cells will translate into stamina on the trail, without digestive upset.”

“It’s important to get enough calories at the end of the day, something some hikers may skimp on if they’re too tired to eat much.”

At night, it’s important “to put your body into rest/digest mode, emphasize protein and fats, rather than the high proportion of carbs you needed on the trail,” says Hiking for Her Spencer. Healthy fats have the added benefit of “making you feel satisfied and keeping your body warm throughout the night”.

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Kelly Hodgkins photo

About Kelly Hodgkins

By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.

About Greenbelly

After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail .

The Calories Burned Per Hour in Hiking

Her favourite spot to trek to

If you’re trying to lose weight, you don’t always have to confine yourself to indoor treadmills or ellipticals. In the warmer months, getting outdoors is one of the easiest ways to get active — and hiking or walking are some of the most convenient.

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Whether you’re trekking for weeks across the Appalachian Trail or doing a quick half-hour nature walk, your calories burned hiking can help you lose weight.

The calories you burn while hiking depend on a variety of factors, including how long you hike, how quickly you’re moving, what you’re carrying and your body weight. A 160-pound person hiking for one hour, for example, would burn around 370 calories.

Your Body Weight

The number of calories burned hiking, or doing any sort of physical activity, depends on how much you weigh. The first step of figuring out your calories-burned calculation is to consider your current body weight.

A smaller person will burn fewer calories than a heavier person per hour when exercising, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC estimates that a 154-pound person would burn about 370 calories per hour when hiking, but this could be higher or lower, depending on where you’re hiking or how fast you’re going.

How Long You’re Hiking

Being outdoors on a mountain hike for several hours may actually be better for your overall mood than exercising indoors, a May 2017 study published in PLoS One found. That study found that people who did outdoor mountain hiking for several hours experienced more of an increase in calmness and elation, as well as a decrease in anxiety and fatigue, compared to people who walked on an indoor treadmill.

That may be reason enough to put in the exercise hours outdoors. Keeping your body weight in mind in your calories-burned calculation, if you’re burning around 300 calories per hour while hiking, that means hiking for three hours will get you up to burning some 900 calories.

Whether or not you’re hiking to lose weight, it would likely qualify as moderate physical activity, which can help reduce high blood pressure, lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and even improve mental health, according to the CDC.

Mountains or Flat Hikes

While a brisk walk on a nature trail by your office might leave you feeling refreshed, a mountainous scramble for several hours may give you a more vigorous workout, leaving you with sore muscles the next day.

While you can lose weight from walking an hour a day, the calories burned during more intense hiking will be even greater. The type of terrain you’re covering on your hike will have an impact on the calories you burn.

Your body uses 28 percent more energy walking on uneven ground, like wooded trails or steep hills on hikes, than it would on flat terrain, according to a November 2013 study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. That’s because the muscles in your legs, particularly around your knee and hip, have to work harder to twist, turn and step on uneven terrain than they would on a flat path.

Backpacks and Gear

What you’re carrying will also have an impact on the number of calories burned while hiking. That could include full camping gear, a backpack or even a light bag.

Soldiers in the military, for example, routinely wear packs — and historically used a mathematical equation known as the Pandolf equation to estimate energy expenditure based on weight, the weight of the backpack, the percentage grade of the incline, the hiking speed and the terrain.

The Pandolf equation may not be the best way to estimate how much energy you’re burning, however. A November 2017 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that the Pandolf equation under-estimated the number of calories burned while carrying a pack

That being said, you should be able to generally estimate the number of calories you’ll burn while hiking dependent on your weight, your speed, and how vigorous the walking or climbing is.

How Many Calories Does Hiking Burn Per Hour?

Amber Sayer

Hiking is an often-overlooked form of exercise in our modern, tech-obsessed society. Most guys are far more likely to go for a run in their neighborhood, hit the gym for cardio and weights workouts, or head to the tennis or basketball court with a buddy. However, hiking offers a welcomed departure from the hustle, bustle, and connectedness to electronics that largely typifies our everyday life these days, immersing you in the serene natural soundtrack of Mother Nature and giving your eyes and ears a break from screens, programming, and manufactured stimulation. It’s also a viable form of cardiovascular and muscular exercise, enabling you to burn calories and stoke your metabolism like other forms of exercise.

Having a decent estimate of the number of calories you burn while hiking is helpful if you’re trying to lose weight, maintain your weight, or even put on mass, as your energy expenditure during physical activity factors into half of the ever-important “calories in versus calories out” truism of body weight manipulation. It also helps inform your fueling needs so that you can hit the trails with ample hiking snacks to power you up and down all the peaks you hope to summit without bonking from low blood sugar while you’re stuck thick in the woods.

Unfortunately, ballparking the number of calories you burn while hiking isn’t as simple as reading the calories readout on an elliptical machine at the end of your workout; rather, many factors affect your energy expenditure from hiking. However, as described below, it is possible to gauge calories burned hiking, so keep reading to see how hiking stacks up in your fitness and weight plan and what factors affect the number of calories you burn hiking.

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Factors That Affect the Number of Calories Hiking Burns

A smiling man carrying a backpack.

The number of calories you burn on a hike depends on numerous factors, including the following:

Body Weight

Two male hikers making a high five in a forest.

As with all forms of exercise, the number of calories burned while hiking is largely dependent on your body weight. Simply put, the more you weigh, the greater your caloric burn for any given hike. For example, a man who weighs 160 pounds will burn somewhere in the neighborhood of 425 and 450 calories per hour hiking, while a 200-pound man will burn closer to 550 calories per hour on the same hike.

Body Composition

A man hiking in a forest.

Less significant than total body weight as a factor in caloric expenditure but still significant is your body composition, or the relative percentage of lean body mass and body fat. Muscle tissue is far more metabolically active than adipose tissue (fat) — especially during exercise — which means that if you have a more sculpted build, you’ll burn more calories per hour hiking than someone with the same body weight but a higher body fat percentage.


A male hiker checking the time on his watch as a dog walks behind him.

The faster you hike, the greater the intensity of the workout. Your pace dictates the distance you hike in an hour, which ultimately determines how many calories you will burn. Moreover, much like the principle applied with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, if you hike at a vigorous enough intensity, you’ll stoke your metabolism so significantly that you’ll continue to have an elevated metabolic rate, or burn additional calories, even after your hiking boots have come off. Using trekking poles can also increase the speed, intensity, and muscular demand of the hike, and thus the number of calories burned.


A male hiker standing on the summit.

One of the unique factors affecting the number of calories burned hiking — absent in controlled forms of exercise such as cardio machines like rowers, ellipticals, and spin bikes — is the terrain you traverse on the bike. Terrain refers to the topography in terms of uphills and downhills as well as the footing on the ground. Hikes over challenging and varied terrains, such as those with long or steep inclines or lots of rocky sections, burn more calories than flat hikes with even, smooth walking trails because the muscular work to power up hills or to stabilize when dealing with unpredictable footing burns additional calories. If you’re looking to torch some serious calories, take on that mountain peak you’ve been eyeing instead of the flat garden path that meanders around a small brook.

Pack Weight

A hiker carrying his hiking pack and gear.

It probably comes as no surprise that carrying a day pack or backpacking with a heavy pack burns more calories. A heavier pack may increase your energy expenditure by 50-100 calories per hour hiking, while a substantial pack may boost the number of calories you burn hiking by upwards of 300 per hour.

Fitness Level

A man carrying an orange backpack enjoying the view from a mountain top.

If you’ve ever hit a weight loss plateau despite following your diet plan to a T and keeping up with your usual fitness routine, it’s likely your body has adapted to the workout and become more efficient. Unfortunately, as much as it’s a relief when what was once a brutal workout starts to feel totally manageable over time, this reduction in necessary effort is evidence of the progress your body has made and the fitness adaptations that have occurred from the same exercise stimulus. In other words, if you haven’t been working out and then decide to run five miles one day, your body is going to struggle to get you through the workout.

However, if you continue to run the same five-mile route at the same pace for the next six weeks, it will become easier and easier. Your muscles become more efficient at extracting oxygen from the blood, neuromuscular connections operate in a more coordinated manner, and your heart, lungs, and muscles become stronger. These adaptations improve your running economy and the number of calories you burn during the same run decreases. The same principle holds true for hiking. The fitter you are, and the more inured you are to the challenges of hiking, the fewer calories you’ll burn on your hike. With that said, this difference isn’t all that drastic, and certainly shouldn’t deter you from being a regular on the trails.

How Many Calories Does Hiking Burn?

A man going on an early-morning hike in the mountain.

So, with all that said, determining the number of calories you burn on a hike doesn’t necessarily have an easy answer. Your best approximation will come from wearing a heart rate activity monitor. This will gauge your exercise intensity and the associated metabolic cost. If you don’t have a fitness tracker or an app on your phone, the metabolic equivalent (MET) formula can be used to provide a generalized estimate of how many calories you’ll burn hiking:

Calories burned = MET (6) * weight (kg) * time (hrs)

The MET value relates to the amount of oxygen used in the particular activity. It is generally between 6-7 for hiking. The more intense the hike (steep, fast), the higher the number you should use.

For example, if you’re a 180-pound (82 kg) guy hiking for 1 hour, you can expect to burn around 492 calories (6*82*1=492) for a moderate hike and around 574 calories (7*82*1=574) if you’re working a little harder. Of course, if you’re carrying a pack, you should add the weight of the pack to your body weight.

Though burning calories is certainly one of the perks of a challenging hike, even if you’re just out there to get some fresh air and move your body at a leisurely pace, you’ll reap plenty of rewards from any hike whether it leaves you breathless from exertion or breathless simply from the beauty of the nature surrounding you.




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