Hiking is such good exercise! Learn what the great outdoors can do for your health

  • 2 Minutes Read
Brenda Braslow
Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

Hiking is a good way to get exercise while exploring the great outdoors. Learn why hiking is even better than walking and this popular activity's many health benefits.

Is hiking good exercise

Hiking is more than good exercise. It's great!

Hiking trails can be found in forests, the countryside, the seaside, and parks. We call hiking "green" exercise because it takes place outdoors. Research shows that outdoor exercise may provide additional physical and mental benefits over indoor activity. Hiking is a good exercise for the family to enjoy together without really calling it "exercise." Here's why–green exercise is believed to result in increased enjoyment of exercise with lower levels of perceived exertion, perhaps due to being distracted by surroundings. In other words, you are likely enjoying nature and less focused on how hard you "work out." Let’s face it, hiking in nature sure beats walking on a treadmill.

Health benefits of hiking and walking trails

How does hiking compare to walking and running for calorie burn?

A higher-intensity workout than walking but less intense than running, hiking often involves changes in elevation, which is a good thing! Navigating up even relatively minor slopes burns more calories. For example, walking a 5-percent grade burns about 50 percent more calories than walking on a level surface. Your downhill journey works your glutes and quads and keeps the calories burning—about 10 percent more than walking on level ground. In areas with snowy winters, add some good snowshoes or shoe ice grips and proper clothing to hiking, and you have a powerful, calorie-burning outdoor exercise to do in the winter, too.

Exercise intensity is measured in MET (metabolic equivalents). MET is the energy ratio expended with a particular activity compared to the resting metabolic rate. One MET is defined as one kcal/kg/hour and is roughly equivalent to the energy cost of sitting quietly. As you can see from the chart below, hiking with a pack and using poles increases the calorie burn even more.

Calories burned for different activities

Activity: Sitting quietly
MET: 1.0
Calories burned in one hour for 150-pound (68.2kg) person: 68 calories

Activity: Walking, 3.5 mph on level, firm surface
MET: 4.3
Calories burned in one hour for 150-pound (68.2kg) person: 293 calories

Activity: Hiking at normal pace through fields and hillsides
MET: 5.3
Calories burned in one hour for 150-pound (68.2kg) person: 361 calories

Activity: Walking with ski poles (Nordic walking) uphill
MET: 6.8
Calories burned in one hour for 150-pound (68.2kg) person: 464 calories

Activity: Backpacking, hiking with daypack
MET: 7.8
Calories burned in one hour for 150-pound (68.2kg) person: 532 calories

Activity: Running, 6 mph (10-min. mile)
MET: 9.8
Calories burned in one hour for 150-pound (68.2kg) person: 668 calories

Hiking safety tips

Resources for finding hiking trails


National Park Service

You can also find city and state hiking trails through your local government websites.

Related content

Get out and play! The benefits of exercising outside

Get fit while having fun! Discover the benefits of cycling for weight loss

Planning outdoor activities with family and friends that burn calories

Is walking good for weight loss? Here are 7 ways to maximize the benefits of your walking workout plan

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Exercise->Health Exercise->Walking & Steps
Jul 17, 2023

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