Hiking Vs Cycling – Why Choose One Over the Other


hiking vs cycling

Some people prefer hiking and others prefer cycling.  Is one better than the other?

In this post, I’ll try to end the debate of hiking vs cycling.

The Advantages of Hiking Vs Cycling

There are many benefits that hiking can provide over cycling.  Here are a few of them:

  • You get to enjoy your surroundings more.
  • You have access to more trails.
  • You don’t have to buy a bike.
  • You get a great strength workout.
  • It’s easier to go with a group.
  • You burn more calories per mile.
  • You have a lower chance of a high-impact injury.

Enjoying Your Surroundings While Hiking

Hiking is done at a steady pace and you have time to look around and enjoy the majestic waterfalls and beautiful rock outcroppings that you might pass by.  When you’re on a bike, the chances are high that you could whiz by some of these areas without even noticing.

On top of this, a person on a bike is more likely to scare wildlife away.  When you’re hiking, you aren’t quite as scary to the average animal and you might just get a chance to enjoy nature a little more while hiking versus cycling.

enjoying a hike

Trail Access

A hiker can go hiking on any trail that a cyclist can go on.  However, the opposite is not true.

Some hiking trails just aren’t accessible to cyclists.  Sometimes this is because the terrain just doesn’t warrant it and other times it’s because the trail actually forbids people from riding their bikes on it.  Either way, you’re sure to enjoy greater access to trails when you leave your bike at home.

No Bike

A good trail bike can be an expensive investment.  It can also be a hassle to get the trail bike to and from the trails.  This is especially true if you drive a compact car.

Go hiking instead of biking and you won’t have to worry about this issue at all.  You’ll save money, time, and effort and you’ll still get a great workout in on the trails.

bike on street

Strength Training

Both hiking and cycling are great for your health.  They strengthen your heart, your lungs, and your muscles.

The difference between the two activities is that hiking is a load bearing exercise while cycling is not.  This means that hiking will help to protect you from osteoporosis while building up both your muscles and your bones.

Group Activities

Personally, I prefer solo hiking over hiking with large groups.  However, it can be fun to go for the occasional hike with friends and family members.  In fact, I know some people that only go hiking in groups.  They like the additional safety and they find it to be a fun social outing.

Cyclists also hit the trails as part of a group.  The problem is that most trails are not wide enough for people to ride side-by-side.  This means these people miss out on being able to chat with each other during their ride.  They may be part of a group, but they really aren’t interacting with each other until the ride is over.

group of hikers

More Calories Are Burned

More calories are burned per mile of hiking than they are per mile of cycling.  This means that if you do a three-mile trail on a bike versus a 3-mile trail on foot, you’ll end up losing less weight.  In this scenario, hiking will be more beneficial to most people.

High Impact Injury Chances Are Lower

Flying off a bike at 20 miles an hour while going downhill can lead to a series injury.  It can become even more serious if the biker ends up sending themselves off of a ravine while going 20 miles an hour.

Hikers can fall off ravines too, but they are much less likely to do so.  On top of this, they won’t be going quite so fast when they fall so the impact of the fall will be much lower than it would have been on a bike.

biker falling

The Advantages of Cycling Vs Hiking

Cycling has its advantages too.  Here are some of the advantages of cycling over hiking that you might want to consider:

  • You get to travel greater distances.
  • Your joints get a break.
  • You burn more calories for a given time.
  • You can carry more gear.
  • It takes less energy.
  • You can engage in active rest periods.
  • You have greater control over the intensity.

Travel Distances

Cycling can give you the opportunity to cover much greater distances than hiking can.  A hike that might take a week or two to complete on foot can often be completed in just a few days on a bike.

On top of this, cyclists have the opportunity to leave the trails and explore the surrounding cities easier.  For example, if a cyclist decides to get off of a rail trail to explore a city that is 3 miles away, it might only take him 15 to 20 minutes to get there.  For a hiker, this 3-mile detour could set them back an hour.

travel map

Joint Health

Cycling is a lot less stressful on a person’s joints.  While a hiker might end up with knee pain, ankle pain, or even sore feet, a biker usually won’t experience any of this.

For this reason, people with joint problems may prefer to go cycling vs biking.  In fact, some hikers transition to cycling for this very reason.

Quicker Calorie Burns

Hiking might burn more calories per mile, but bikers get to travel many more miles an hour.  Because of this, a hard-riding cyclist will end up burning many more calories than a quick-moving hiker.  This might make cycling especially advantageous to people looking to lose a few extra pounds.

calories burning

More Gear

When you’re on foot, you’re responsible for carrying all of your own gear.  Even lightweight gear can take up a lot of space and some people can feel like they just don’t have everything they need on their hikes.  This is especially true for avid photographers and videographers looking to bring a lot of equipment with them out on the trails.

Bikers have a little more flexibility when it comes to packing gear.  Not only can they carry a biking backpack, but they can also put packs on their bikes as well.  In fact, if you don’t mind looking silly, you can even put a basket on the front of your bike for less serious trails.

Less Use of Energy

Looking to get outside on the trails without a lot of strenuous activity?  Cycle on flat trails at a slow pace and you’ll hardly break a sweat.  The same can’t be said for hiking.  A hiker can walk a little slower but at the end of the day, hiking is going to feel like a workout.

cyclist resting

Active Rest

A cyclist can put many miles on a trail without ever putting in any work at all.  Don’t believe me?  Ride downhill for a few miles and you might find that you don’t ever have to pedal at all.

Even on flat ground, you have the option of picking up speed and then laying off the pedals while you coast for a while.  This allows you to engage in interval training which can be a wonderful form of exercise that has additional health benefits over standard exercise routines.

Greater Control

As we said earlier, you have the option to ride as slow and as fast as you want.  You could bike at a speed of five miles per hour or you could bike at a speed of 20 miles per hour.  With hiking, you just don’t have that kind of flexibility.  In most cases, you’re either hiking or you’re standing still.

cyclist on trail

The Verdict

I can’t really say that either activity is better than the other.  Each activity has their plusses and minuses and when it comes to hiking vs cycling each person will have their own preferences.

My advice is to consider doing both.  Hike some trails and ride your bike on others.  In fact, if you’re unsure about a trail, why not scout it out on your bike first?  You can cover a lot of miles on your bike and you can then come back on foot to explore the sections of the trail that interest you the most.

Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf loves camping, hiking, canoeing, and basically anything that gets him outdoors.

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