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Why Hiking Is the Best Way to Lose Weight

You don't see breathtaking scenery like this at the local gym. This picture taken atop Mt Marcy in the Adirondacks.

Why Hiking Is the Best Way to Shed Unwanted Pounds

As weight loss seems to be a priority in many people’s New Year’s resolutions, you may want to try hiking for an easy way to lose and maintain your weight and build your physical fitness. The great thing about hiking is that pretty much anyone can do it, it doesn’t cost a lot of money, and it gets you outdoors.

Sure, walking is a fantastic exercise too, but hiking is better for all around physical and mental fitness. So what is this difference? Hiking involves walking over varied uneven terrain – AKA trails. Generally, most hikers also carry a small day pack for safety and comfort reasons because their route lies in a more remote “woodsy” area.

Hiking with a pack works every major muscle group in your body, building muscle tone, while improving your cardiovascular fitness. Though many people only think you are developing your quads and glutes, hiking requires and develops a strong sense of balance and powerful core muscles. Hiking with poles tones and firms your arms as well.

Of course, you could get all these benefits by signing up at the local gym too. However, you can’t experience the inner peace of being in nature from working out on an elliptical. In Walden Henry David Thoreau writes:

“We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain.”

As Thoreau states, nature refreshes us from the hazards of an everyday life plagued by the mechanisms which shroud us from the natural world. Hiking invigorates not only the body but the soul as well.

Top 3 Reasons Why Hiking Is a Fantastic Fitness Activity

  1. You aren’t confined to a gym.
  2. Easy to do and keep doing.
  3. Works both muscle and cardio fitness.
To burn more calories hike over more rugged terrain and carry heavier packs.
To burn more calories hike over more rugged terrain and carry heavier packs. Source

Calories Burned While Hiking

Though to experience peace with nature is outstanding, just take a look at how many calories you burn while hiking.

Using the Calorie Burn Calculator from Health Status, I determined that I (as a 210 pound male) burn 567 calories in one hour. The thing is, I rarely go hiking for only an hour – usually it is for about four or five hours. Compare that to walking at 3 mph: I’ll burn about 410 calories in one hour.

Of course adding a pack and scrambling over more challenging terrain will burn even more calories. When I backpack for sixty-minutes I generally burn about 706 calories.

Of course writing for an hour only burns 101 calories. Ugh – time to take a break and go hiking for a bit!

The variances in trail locations, make for changes in your workout routine.
The variances in trail locations, make for changes in your workout routine. Source

Sample Hiking Workout

Though each person’s schedule and abilities differ, this is the current hiking workout plan that I use to try to keep trim. This plan is a great way to lose weight and maintain that weight loss.

  • Sunday – Long Hike with medium weight pack and poles – at least ten miles
  • Monday – Yoga and stretching – 40 minutes
  • Tuesday – Muscle endurance / Core workout – 30-40 minutes
  • Wednesday – Short hike with heavy pack – five miles
  • Thursday – Yoga – 40 minutes
  • Friday – Muscle Endurance / Core workout – 30 -40 minutes
  • Saturday – Short hike with medium pack – 5-to-10 miles

Official Disclaimer: Before engaging in hiking or any physical activity, consult with your doctor to ensure you are healthy enough for the physical activity.

To Mid or Not to Mid?

Though most people conjure images of mid-cut (ankle high) boots when thinking of hiking boots, sometimes they aren’t the best thing to wear. Though mids offer more support, they reduce ankle flexibility making you less agile over rocks and logs. Most hikers find that a sturdy low-cut hiker is an adequate compromise between flexibility and sturdiness.

Hiking Boots

Though your sneakers are fine for walking on sidewalks and on some light trails, invest in a good pair of hiking boots for safety and overall comfort. No, you don’t need the stiff leather crampon compatible “waffle stompers” with classic red shoelaces either. Generally a light to medium weight hiker will work for most people.

Tips for buying hiking boots:

  • Wear the socks you plan on wearing while hiking (a wool or synthetic hiking sock) when you go to try on boots.
  • Go boot shopping at the end of the day when your feet are more swollen.
  • Try on many different brands and types of boots and walk around in them.
  • If they are not comfortable in the store, they won’t be comfortable on the trail.
  • Use shopping apps, web research, and user reviews to evaluate the reliability of the boot.

A hiking boot is only as good as the hiking sock you pair it up with. You can buy the most technically advanced boot on the market, but if you wear a cotton sock you bought in a big box multi-pack you are asking for blisters and discomfort. Wear a sock that has been specifically designed for hiking. I wear merino wool socks year around for hiking; the thermo-regulating properties of the wool keep your feet cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Some hikers are also big believers in lightweight polypropylene liner socks worn in conjunction with a heavier wool sock.

Make sure you keep yourself well hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after the hike.
Make sure you keep yourself well hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after the hike. Source

Safe Hiking

Perhaps the biggest change between walking and hiking, is that you are on a trail in a more remote location and is therefore a little more dangerous. If you fall while on a walk around your neighborhood, you can always hobble up to a nearby house or flag down a passerby. What do you do however, if you slip on a log on a local hiking trail?

There are a few safety rules of hiking:

  • Always hike with a friend, or even better a small group of friends
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return
  • Pushing your body is fine, but know your limits and when to turn around
  • Be prepared for rapidly changing weather
  • Stretch before and after hiking

Choose the Right Hiking Clothing

As you continue to hike, you’ll notice that some clothing seems more comfortable than others. However, did you know that like every other sport, there is clothing specific for hiking?

Hiking clothing consists of lightweight flexible apparel usually made out of synthetic materials; however, merino wool has become popular for base and mid layers. Moisture management and thermal regulation are the key advantages to these kind of materials over textiles like cotton. Remember that cotton kills!

Avoid heavy parkas and non-breathable garments – they will only make you sweat as you walk. If it is colder out, you’ll find that several light layers are much more effective than one heavy one.

A small day pack is essential for carrying hiking essentials.
A small day pack is essential for carrying hiking essentials. Source

Basic Hiking Equipment

The cool thing about hiking is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started. In fact most of the things you need, you probably have lying around in your house. Of course, as you progress to more challenging hikes with longer distance and more remote locations, you’ll have to carry more equipment.

  • Day Pack: A day pack can be as simple as a school book bag or as complex as the newest lightweight, ventilated, hydration compatible, weight adjusting, bulletproof pack on the market. Quite simply, you just need something to carry your outdoor essentials.
  • Snacks and WaterWater is a definite must for hiking at all times of the year, for dehydration is one of the dangers that all hikers face. Carry your water in a reusable bottle, like the ones from Nalgene. If you don’t have a canteen yet, use a pop bottle – just make sure the lid is on tight. For snacks, carry a few long burn snacks. GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) is the most popular of quick trail snacks.
  • Rain Gear: Though ponchos are great, pack a waterproof/breathable rain suit – they are warmer when the temperatures drop and don’t flap as much in the wind.
  • Extra Layers: This is entirely season and climate dependent; however, an extra pair of socks, a warm hat, and a fuzzy fleece and some of the things I usually carry with me.
  • Flashlight / Head Lamp: It gets dark when you least expect it so always carry a flashlight. Most hikers prefer headlamps because it is nice to keep your hands free, especially is you are using hiking poles.
  • Whistle:A whistle is a critical piece of emergency signaling equipment. If you need help, just blow three times: a whistle blast carries much father than a yell does.
  • Pocket knife: Leave the big bowie knives at home – they only scare other hikers. A small pocket knife or multi-tool will do for most hiking needs.
  • Matches and Firestarter: Though no one condones starting fires a random along a wilderness trail, you should always be prepared to start one should the need arise. Starting a fire is an essential survival skill and one you should practice.
  • Map and Compass: Though many local hiking trails don’t require the level of proficiency at navigation that a backcountry trail requires, it is good to get into the practice. You’ll never know when your journey will take you off the beaten path – it is good to be able to get back if you do.
  • First Aid KitUnfortunately accidents do happen when hiking; be ready with a first aid kit. The most common hiking accidents are cuts, abrasions, and of course: blisters!
  • Sun Protection:The sun’s rays can be dangerous at all times of the year so always carry sunblock and sunglasses. It doesn’t hurt to wear a wide-brimmed hat either.
  • Cell Phone Though cell phones offer false confidence for those undertaking outdoor adventures, in some locations they can be handy in an emergency. Make sure you watch your battery drain and store the phone in a waterproof pouch.
  • Garbage Bag: Well yes, in accordance with Leave no Trace you should be picking up garbage you find along the way, but that isn’t the only reason to carry a garbage bag. From a makeshift shelter to a vapor barrier liner, garbage bags are an essential piece of outdoor equipment.

Where to Go Hiking

So the question is, where can you go hiking? I know around my Buffalo – Niagara Falls home, there are plenty of places to day hike from the Niagara Gorge to the Conservation Trail. Backpacking overnight requires a bit of a drive down to the Finger Lakes Trail or up to the Adirondacks.

So how did I find out about these places? I found out by reading several trail guides, participating in internet forums, and talking with like-minded outdoors folks. So, read all you can and consider joining a hiking or outing club.

Trekking poles not only help in balance but are essential if you on making a difficult stream crossing.  Here, a friend is crossing a stream with his Leki trekking poles.
Trekking poles not only help in balance but are essential if you on making a difficult stream crossing. Here, a friend is crossing a stream with his Leki trekking poles. Source

But it’s Winter

Yes, I know as you contemplate your New Year’s resolution to drop a few pounds, you’re looking out the window and thinking, “Hiking, sounds like fun – but it’s awfully cold and snowy.” Yes there may be a few inches of snow on the ground, but you don’t have to wait until spring to start hiking.

Winter, is in fact one of the best times of year to hike. The bareness of the trees and the starkness of the landscape against the blanket of snow is absolutely amazing.

However, you might need some additional equipment, so check out my other hub on getting started in snowshoeing

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