Hiking Vs Running – Reasons to do One Over the Other

hiking vs running

Hiking and running both have their plusses and minuses and one isn’t necessarily better than the other.  In this post, we’ll go over the reasons when and why you might want to choose one over the other.

Hiking vs Running for Weight Loss

Both hiking and running can help you lose weight.  But what burns more calories, running or hiking?

My assumption would be that running for the same period of time would burn more calories than hiking but I wanted to be sure.  Luckily, the USDA came up with some studies on the number of calories that are burned during difference exercises and the University of Rochester Medical Center created a nice calculator to work with this data.

I used this calculator to help me find out how many calories would be burned while hiking and how many would be burned by running, depending on the weight of the person doing these activities.  Here were my findings:

Weight Calories Burned While Hiking Running at a 6 minute per mile pace. Running at an 8 minute per mile pace. Running at a 10 minute per mile pace.
125 Pounds 360 990 750 600
150 Pounds 432 1188 900 720
175 Pounds 504 1386 1050 840
200 Pounds 576 1584 1200 960


If you’ll look at the chart, you’ll see that you burn more calories the more you weigh and you burn more calories the faster you run.  There are other variables, however, that could change how many calories a person actually burns while exercising and it would be impossible to account for all of them.

This being said, this data gives us a pretty solid indication that running simply burns more calories than hiking.  Of course, this assumes that you’re running for the same amount of time that you would be hiking.

In my experience, it is easier for the average person to go on a hike for a few hours than it is for them to go running for a few hours.  This is especially true if the person is overweight or if they suffer from bad joints.

Running is much harder on a person’s joints and therefore a person trying to lose weight might not be able to run for as long as they could hike.  In fact, studies show that when a person runs they come down at a force of 2.5 times their body weight.  Someone who is walking only comes down at a force of 1.2 times their body weight.

Not only this, but runners have a 25% higher chance of developing injuries when compared to hikers.  This means that a runner’s weight loss quest is more likely to be interrupted than a hiker’s quest to lose weight.

weight loss

Hiking vs Running for Cardio

The American Heart Association recommends that a person get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or at least 75 minutes of high intensity exercise each week.  They classify running as a high-intensity exercise and hiking as a moderate intensity exercise.

What this means is that both hiking and running are good for your heart but you’ll have to do more hiking to get the same heart health benefits.  In fact, according to their research, you’ll actually have to hike for twice as long to get the same benefits.

However, the AHA goes on to suggest that you get started by doing moderate intensity exercise.  They suggest that starting off with moderate exercise is better for you because it is less stressful on your body and you’re more likely to stick with it.

heart health

Hiking vs Running for Muscle Building

Neither running nor hiking is known for building up large amounts of muscle.  However, they are both load-bearing exercising and they’ll both work your legs and your core.

The main difference in the muscle-building potential of these activities will be determined by whether or not you take a backpack along with you while you hike.  A backpack will increase the number of muscle fibers needed to hike and will increase the muscle gains your legs and core receive.  Add in a pair of trekking poles and you’ll work your upper body muscles while hiking as well.

For a more in-depth look at how hiking affects your muscles, please see my post titled, “Hiking and Muscle Building – Everything You Need to Know“.

Hiking vs Running for Mental and Emotional Health

Exercise, in general, has been proven to have a positive impact on mental and emotional well-being.  According to a study done by the Harvard Medical School, exercise stimulates the pre-frontal cortex which is what controls both our ability to think and to remember.

The same study also goes on to suggest that regular exercise can positively affect the health of brains cells, increase the number of new brain cells, and even increase the number of new blood vessels in the brain.  As you can see, when you run or hike, you’re giving your brain a workout too.

Mentally, hiking may have a little bit of an edge over running.  This is because studies have found that the constant need to analyze your surroundings and change your stride while hiking can lead to even more cognitive benefits like increased memory recall.

mental health

Emotionally, you’ll benefit from both hiking and running.  This is because exercise, in general, has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve mood.  In fact, PsychologyToday.com has found that exercise can even help to cure long-term depression.

Running, however, offers the added benefit of the legendary, “runner’s high”.  If you’ve ever experienced this after a run, you know exactly how this feels.  You finish your run only to enter a state of increased euphoria and reduced anxiety.  This isn’t just because you’re happy with yourself for running, you’re actually under the spell of an increase in endorphins and enkephalins that your brain released while exercising.

Hiking has its own benefits as well.  If you read my, top 11 reasons why camping is good for you, then you’d know that being in nature has been shown to dramatically reduce stress and anxiety.  You can get this same reduction in stress and anxiety while running as well, but you’ll have to make sure you go running through a park or hiking trail.  Running on a track, a treadmill, or through your neighborhood just won’t give you the same effects as running through nature.

Additional Advantages of Running

You can run pretty much anywhere at any time.  In fact, if you own a treadmill, you don’t even have to leave your house to go for a run.  The same can’t be said about hiking.  To go for a hike, you’ll need to find a hiking trail and these aren’t easy or convenient to get to in some areas of the country.

Running is also less time-consuming in that you don’t have to do as much to reap the full benefits.  Spend about 11 minutes a day running and you’ll get all the exercise you need for a week.  To get the same benefit of hiking, you’ll need to hike for at least 22 minutes a day.

Some people also prefer running because they don’t feel safe hiking alone.  Solo hiking isn’t for everyone and I completely understand why a person might choose to go for a run at the gym instead.


Additional Advantages of Hiking

Hikes take place in natural areas where the air quality is often much higher.  Running often occurs on a treadmill or through the cities and suburbs.  Cities and suburbs have high levels of outdoor pollution and air pollution has actually been shown to be even worse indoors than outdoors.

Hiking is also more likely to occur on uneven surfaces which give hikers better balance than that of runners.  This is especially true when hiking on graded surfaces.

A hiker gets the added benefit of being able to spend time in nature and to view wildlife that you’d miss out on while out on a run.  This is a benefit that not many other forms of exercise can provide.

hiking benefits

Final Thoughts

Running and hiking are both great for your health.  They’re good for your cardiovascular system, they’re good for your muscles, and they’re even good for your mental and emotional well-being.

Each of them brings with them their own unique benefits.  You’ll burn more calories quicker while running but you’ll be able to hike longer than you can run.  You’ll become more euphoric after a run but you’ll be less stressed after a hike.

My personal advice would be to decide not to choose between either of them.  Go for hikes and go for walks and reap the benefits of both of these activities.

Running Vs Hiking pin4
running vs hiking pin3
running vs hiking

Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf like to write about hiking, camping, snowshoeing, kayaking, and anything else that gets him outside.

Recent Posts