How Does Hiking Compare To Going To The Gym?

When you are out on the trail, have you ever wondered the effects hiking has on your body? Do you feel as if maybe you should be at the gym to boost your fitness level? Well, think again. Hiking may just be the best all around activity for fitness.

First let us take a look at some common workout activities done in a gym setting. There are a variety of exercises with a wide range of calorie burn attributed to each. The calorie burn is based on a person weighing 150 pounds and spending one hour at the activity.


Running, 5mph- 576
Running, 10mph- 1224
Swimming, moderate- 414
Swimming, vigorous- 666
Stair step, rowing, or
Ski machine, or
Stationary bicycle- 477
Weight lifting, general- 234
Weight lifting, vigorous- 414

Now, let us compare these numbers to three types of hiking. Calorie burn is still based on 150 pound person who spends one hour at the activity.

Backpacking- 477
Cross country- 405
Mountain/hill hiking- 536

Most of the gym activities are typically done for about one hour unless you are an athlete in training. However when you are out hiking, you are probably out for four or more hours. You may even be on a backpacking trip that will last for one or more weeks. The calorie burn looks much different when viewed as a total activity.

Backpacking, 4 hours- 1908
Cross country, 4 hours- 1620
Mtn/hill, 4 hours- 2144


Now let us look at muscle building in the various activities. A muscle building activity is one that is weight-bearing where the body is working against gravity. Compared to the other activities, hiking can be a total body workout. Weight lifting, running, and most of the exercise machines target only specific muscles. Although swimming is a great exercise, it is not really muscle building since it is not weight bearing. Hiking, especially if using a walking stick or includes some climbing, can strengthen most of the large muscles in the body.

So what are the dietary needs of the long distance hiker as compared to the person working out in the gym? When working out in the gym, you only need to consume enough calories to make up for the calories that were burned. So depending on the activity, you would need to increase your calorie intake by 200-600 calories. To get the best muscle building effects, the calories would need to be mostly protein. These calories can be eaten at any time during the day.

For hiking, especially long distance hiking, the dietary needs are much different. You must take your food in with you, so you will need calorie dense food. If you are hiking for several days you need food for each day that you are on the trail. The easiest food is that which does not need cooking or other preparation. Nuts, jerky, granola, gorp, dried fruit, crackers, chocolate, some cheeses, peanut butter, and powdered milk are good calorie rich, yet lightweight foods. A person weighing 150 pounds should consume approximately 2000 calories per day to maintain weight. Add to that the calories burned while hiking four hours and you reach an approximate total of 4000 calories needed each day. Most likely you will be unable to bring enough food with you to supply this quantity of food. Just be certain that you include enough nutritious, calorie-laden foods so that you are not starving at the end of the day.

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