Walking vs. Hiking: The “sister activity” of walking can burn more calories

In addition, the sister activity of hiking beckons, hiking 57.8 million Americans Hitting the trails in 2020, a number that has increased significantly since 2014.

Both tick the boxes to allow you to exercise outdoors, a low risk activity in a pandemic. But are these two types of training really that different? And if so, which one is better for you?

Generally, walking is an exercise that you do outside in an urban or suburban setting, or inside a gym on a running track or treadmill. Hiking, on the other hand, is walking in nature and on natural terrain. You will usually encounter changes in elevation when hiking, but not necessarily when walking.

Both activities are gentle cardiovascular exercises that can help you control blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They’re good for your heart too, said cardiologist Dr. Fahmi Farah, founder and medical director of Bentley Heart Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. “Walking is one of the best heart health exercises for all ages, including people with heart problems and conditions,” she said. “Hiking is also heart-healthy and burns more calories in less time.” According to Farah, no form of exercise is better than another.

“Both are great at improving heart and lung performance, and both hiking and walking can help you lose weight,” said Darryl Higgins, fitness expert and founder of Athlete Desk, a company that tests and evaluates products like treadmills and bike tables.

Which exercise is best for you depends on your fitness goals and personal preferences. Here are four important considerations to help you decide whether to go for a walk or a hike.

Important NOTE: Before starting a new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you are in pain.

You want to burn the most calories: go hiking

The number of calories you can burn on a hike compared to a walk depends mainly on how much you weigh, the incline and how much weight you carry on your back. Other factors include the weather, your age and gender, and the rough terrain.

While you can burn about 100 calories per mile while walking, you can easily double that number while hiking. And when you strap a heavy backpack on your back and tackle steep, arduous terrain, that number can skyrocket well over 500 calories per hour.
Don’t have time to go to a trail? Then embark on a city walking tour where you load a backpack and stroll through a hilly area. When you use trekking poles and move quickly, the arm movement increases the intensity of your aerobic exercise and helps increase your calorie consumption, noisy the Mayo Clinic.

You want the cheapest option: take a walk

Walking is free. Just put on comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and supportive shoes, then walk out the door. It really isn’t much more, but check out the video above for some expert tips on getting the shape right. Hiking can be as cheap as walking if you have easy access to a trail and only make a short excursion. But that is usually not the case.
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Hiking often requires driving to a trail that can be several hours away and requires a usage fee. And while you may get away with hiking with the same clothes you use for hiking, it’s better to wear clothes that are specifically designed for trekking, like hiking boots, hiking pants, and breathable layers. You will also need at least special equipment such as a backpack, trekking poles and a water bottle or hydration bladder. And if you’re backpacking, you might have to spend hundreds of dollars on extra equipment like a tent, sleeping bag, and camping stove.

You want the safer activity: take a walk

While hiking is not a dangerous activity in itself, it does involve risks. “Hiking can be tiring,” said Higgins. “It may not be ideal for beginners who are unfamiliar with rough terrain.”

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Stumble and fall on a rocky, root-filled path and you could get a sprained ankle or broken bone. And there are the different insects and creatures in the forest, ranging from pesky mosquitoes to potentially life-threatening snakes, bears or pumas. Mobile communications are often spotty or non-existent even when on the move. So when you run into trouble, it can be difficult to get help.

Walking, on the other hand, is much safer. Sure, you can still sprain an ankle when stepping off a curb. But if it does, help is nearby. When the weather turns bad? You can call a friend for a lift or hail a cab. Perhaps the biggest worry is going after dark. If this is your preferred time, wear reflective clothing and be mindful of your surroundings. And don’t go out alone in the early hours of the morning.

You want to relieve stress: go hiking

Both walking and hiking help relieve stress and anxiety, as do most forms of physical activity. Exercise is also great for improving alertness and focus, reducing fatigue, and increasing your general cognitive function, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. But hiking offers additional calming benefits as it takes place in nature.
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Numerous studies over the years have linked being in the great outdoors with mental wellbeing. Just 10 minutes outside in a natural environment increased happiness and decreased physical and psychological stress. according to a 2020 study by Cornell University. And a Study 2018 published in Archives of Psychiatric Nursing showed that when people were in nature, they became calmer and developed a sense of community, common goals, and belonging.

If you’re unable to take a hike but could use a large helping of rest, a stroll outside of town or in a local park is still better than a walk at the gym. But if you can hike through the forest, do it.

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