Hiking Calculator

Created by Piotr Małek, Joanna Michałowska, PhD candidate and Dominik Czernia, PhD candidate
Reviewed by Bogna Szyk and Steven Wooding
Last updated: May 09, 2022

If you're wondering how many calories last weekend's hike burned off, then is hiking calculator is for you. Years and seasons pass, but hiking is still as popular as it's ever been. We tend to do a little hiking to stay fit, spend time with our loved ones, meet new folks and explore the natural beauty of our planet. If we can't find time during the week to jog, play squash or even bike to work, we even treat those little hiking retreats as a chance to lose a bit of weight. And it's definitely a good thing.

Read on to find out the science behind this hiking calculator, how to use it, and an example calculation.

Calculating calories burned

Calculating calories burned during various kind of activities is a fairly simple matter as it revolves around the following equation:

Calories burned = MET × Weight (kg) × Time (hrs)

MET, short for metabolic equivalent, is the amount of oxygen used for particular activities, such as running, walking up the stairs or cycling. You can check here the most common MET values for different activities. As an example, person weighing 70 kg (154 lbs) who jogs for an hour will burn approximately 70 × 7 × 1 = 490 calories. Although this result is only approximate, it can serve as a good starting point for our further calculations.

Back in 2002 a group of researchers published a paper in the Journal of Applied Physiology entitled, "Energy cost of walking and running at extreme uphill and downhill slopes". They put a group of volunteers on a treadmill and started testing how much oxygen they use at different gradients, starting from the flat walk or run and climbing higher and higher.

After a thorough research, they were able to determine how the slope of a hill or mountain affects the amount of oxygen used and, as a result, energy consumed. Having calculated that, they were able to come up with the equation which roughly allows comparing calories burned on a walk and a hike. From there, it was only a short way to use the aforementioned equation and calculate the energy levels for both climbing up and down.

How do I use this hiking calculator?

We took the inspiration for this calculator from the very similar tool published several years ago on Hiking Science blog. And it goes like this:

  1. Enter the length of your trail (one way) as well as its elevation gain (the sum of every elevation hiked during the trail) into the hiking calculator. This information should be available online, as well as at the trail itself.
  2. Add your body weight.
  3. Enter your backpack's weight (skip if you're not taking one — though, how will you carry your food and water?).
  4. Once you have those 4 numbers filled in, all calculations will be performed, and you'll see your approximate results.

Example hiking calorie calculation

Let's discuss a simple example to make things clear. Mark went on a hike last weekend which lasted for 12 miles (19.3 km) in total (so 6 miles one way) and featured a 2500 ft (762 m) elevation gain. Mark is pretty slim himself, weighing 150 pounds (68 kg) and carrying 18 pounds (8.15 kg) of backpack on his back. As you can see from the calculator, the trail averaged around 7.9% grade (remember to use the one-way distance — 6 miles).

Now that we have those numbers, we can calculate the number of calories burned on the way up and down. First, if Mark were to leave his backpack before the trail start, he would burn roughly 924 calories for the way up and 533 for the way down. In total — 1457 calories. Add the backpack and the numbers go up — 998.5 kcal for going up and 575.5 kcal down. In total, Mark should expect to burn around 1574 calories during his hike.

Now, keep note that we based those formulas on a research done in a lab and not on a mountain slope. This means many outside factors were not taken into consideration such as Mark's stamina and individual predispositions, weather conditions, trail structure and speed of hike. Unfortunately, we simply don't have the sufficient amount of data, so can only offer approximate values.

Regardless, it should work as an interesting way to check the calories needed for each trail and could help hikers better prepare for their trips. Use the tool responsibly and don't forget to take some water and food with you, even if you're headed just for a short walk. Best of luck!

FAQ

Is hiking good for losing weight?

Yes, hiking is good for losing weight. On average, steep and more demanding paths make for a fair amount of calories burned. However, running still makes you burn more calories. A very rough approximation of the calories burned is 450 kcal per hour of hiking. Compare it with 300 kcal for walking and 600 kcal for running.

How many calories do I burn on a 20 km hike with an elevation gain of 1000 m?

If you weigh around 80 kg (~180 pounds) and you plan a 20 km hike with an elevation gain of 1000 m, you'll burn approximately 1200 calories. Remember that this number is just an estimate. However, if you are planning on losing weight (or just being healthy), you should definitely pack your backpack and hit the trail!

How many calories do you burn on the Pacific Crest Trail?

A lot! For a cross-country hike with:

  • Length 4270 km; and
  • Elevation gain 127 km;

the calories burned are more than 200,000, corresponding to a weight loss of almost 30 kg. Needless to say, packing enough food (and water!) is a must.

How much food should I pack for a day of hiking?

About 3000 kcal worth of food. Even though this value is an estimate, if you are hiking for 30 km with an elevation gain of 3000 m, your body would burn 3000 calories. If you are not planning to lose weight, you should plan to bring with you an adequate amount of food.

Piotr Małek, Joanna Michałowska, PhD candidate and Dominik Czernia, PhD candidate
Distance
mi
Elevation gain
ft
Trail Average Grade
%
Hiker's weight
lb
Backpack weight
lb
Calories burned
kcal
Weight lost
lb
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