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Hiking vs. Walking: What Are the Differences? Which Is Better for Weight Loss?
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Hiking vs. Walking: What Are the Differences? Which Is Better for Weight Loss?

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on September 23, 2022
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10 min

Hiking and walking are common practices in today’s society. However, how different are they from one another?
In this article, we will be looking at hiking vs. walking. Are there any differences? If so, how does it affect the benefits? Join us and find out.

hiking vs walking

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We all know what walking entails but if you do not, let us explain. Walking entails moving at an even pace over a given distance, typically casually.

When it comes to the textbook meaning, you might encounter a lot of definitions between both activities that may further confuse you. After all, walking is walking, and hiking is also walking.

However, under the context of today’s topic, it would be best to delineate the modality that applies to this. In the true sense, all forms of hiking classify as walking, but not all forms of walking classify as hiking.

That is why we will be taking a detailed look at the nuances of hiking and walking to determine the differences between these two physical activities and determine which is best for your weight loss journey.

Hold on to your trekking poles, and let’s walk it through!

Hiking vs. Walking: What Are the Main Differences?

The main difference between hiking and walking is the nature of the activity, which centers on where and how you perform the activity.

For the most part, we closely associate walking with leisure, everyday activity that we carry out over short distances in a more “structured” setting.

By “structured” setting, we refer to a more developed environment, like a city block or an urban environment, typically characterized by its flat terrain.

On the other hand, hiking is a vigorous walk that extends over long distances. The essence of this long walk encircles being in communion with nature and getting all the many benefits.

As a result, you typically carry out your hiking expenditures over harder trails – whether you are scaling over rocky mountains, jungly footpaths, or coastal trails – which you only get in a more natural environment.

However, this is just on the surface, as other underlying factors help differentiate hiking and walking. So, without further ado, let us delve into other all-important factors.

Terrain

When it comes to this, the main difference between hiking and walking is the condition of the terrain you travel on.

Hiking generally involves traveling on rough, uneven terrain, unlike those found in urban and suburban settlements. Instead, these trails typically come filled with rocks, dirt, twigs, bushes, and other things only found in natural environments.

Some common places to find hiking trails includes the woods, mountains, or reserved parks, and this distinction can make the trail dangerous to meander. With it being a date with nature, you are most likely to come across wild animals, steeper inclines, rocky creeks, and other challenges.

On the other hand, walking revolves around threading on flat terrain, regardless of whether it is a paved or unpaved road. The terrain for walking can be sand, gravel, concrete, or asphalt.

You typically find these on sidewalks, alleyways, walkways, public passages, and other similar places. Even your local park is more or less a walking terrain. This is because the entire walking length consists of paved paths.

Exertion levels

Having looked at the nature of the terrain involved in hiking and walking, it is only fitting that our follow-up point centers on the effort and energy expended.

Walking requires minimal exertion since walking trails are typically flat and even. However, even if you intend to get a bit of cardiovascular exercise done, the energy level expended going on long walks will not cross the minimal threshold.

Alternatively, hiking requires that you exert more effort and energy. This is because your preferred hiking trail comes in varying topography, thus, accounting for a more challenging experience. The elevation change (walking uphill and downhill) and uneven terrain force your body to consume more energy as you toil to find a suitable stepping ground.

You also require a certain level of stamina to go hiking. A typical example of where this plays out would be while mountain hiking.

The high altitude coupled with walking uphill with heavy luggage strapped to your back might be too challenging for your cardiovascular and respiratory system; therefore, you require an advanced fitness routine to prepare you.

Purpose

Another glaring difference between hiking and walking is why you choose to do either of them.

The primary purpose for going on walks includes commuting from one point to another, leisure, and moderate exercise. This typically incorporates mundane activities such as a trip to the park, mall, gym, and many more.

As for hiking, you usually do this for pleasure with the intention of enjoying nature and exercise. But then again, you could also take a hike to a particular location such as a mountain summit, waterfall, or even your state park.

The difference is that these nature walks are anything but mundane. After all, many people see hiking as the ultimate outdoor experience.

Distance

There is no clear-cut metric that outlines the difference in distance between hiking and walking. Therefore, the answer you get most of the time will undoubtedly be subjective regarding distance.

However, one fact stands, and that is that hikes are a lot longer than walks. Even the so-called easy hikes span greater lengths than walks.

When we talk about going on walks, we typically refer to an everyday activity that spans short distances. Hiking, however, involves covering great distances.

There are even hiking expenditures that span over several days, called backpacking. This includes cross-country journeys, mountain hiking, and voyaging through reserved parks.

Gear

Hiking demands that you carry out extensive gear preparations than walking. Walking through your local park only requires the essentials, and the number of gear carried along depends on the walk’s purpose. Hikers, however, need a plethora of hiking gear to increase their chances of survival while on a hike.

This is because the odds of camping outdoors are high with hiking. Therefore, a hiker’s ensemble will include hiking clothes, hiking shoes, navigation devices, pocketknife, insect repellant, personal medication, fire starters, sunscreen, blanket, maps, ID, food, money, etc.

Which Burns More Calories?

Hiking takes the cake when it comes to your calorie burn count, but let us look at the demographics.

According to the American Council of Exercise (ACE) official physical activity calorie counter, a person weighing 160 pounds can burn 75 calories in 30 minutes if they walk at a casual pace of 2 miles per hour.

If the same person were to increase their pace, walking at a very brisk pace of 4 miles per hour, they could burn up to 181 calories.

Regarding hiking, you need to factor in the elevation traveled, and extra weight carried, as they both play active roles in how many calories you burn. So, it is safe to say that hiking burns way more calories than walking.

At 160 pounds, a person will burn 430 calories in just one hour of hiking. This goes to show that your current weight and walking pace factor into how many calories you burn and lose weight on a timely basis.

Which Promotes Muscle Gain?

Hiking and walking are excellent ways to log in your dosage of cardiovascular exercise. However, when it comes down to building muscle, the apparent answer is hiking, for good reasons.

Although both physical activities use the same sets of muscles, the intensity of hiking makes it so that you can gain proper muscle mass.

Unlike walking, where muscle gains come from going on consistent walks, as you mostly travel on a flat path, hiking accounts for more prominent muscle growth due to the difficulty of the activity.

When hiking, the muscles in your upper and lower body, such as your quad, hamstrings, glutes, calves, abs, and back, work even harder, allowing you to meander through rocky patches, windy creeks, and navigate steep hiking trails.

This leads to more prominent and stronger muscles and improved stamina and endurance. Thus, allowing you to carry out other high-intensity activities with relative ease.

Nonetheless, both activities demand that you include other exercises to complement your fitness routine. For walking, this is because walking alone will not result in great physical changes. As for hiking, you need supplementary strength training to build and maintain a strong core.

Which Is Better for Heart Health?

Hiking and walking are excellent ways of reducing the risk of heart diseases and keeping your cardiovascular system in good working condition. Hiking uphill, on steep inclines, short walks, or long walks matters very little.

So, considering how popular both activities are today, the metric is indeed positive.

The metric for stalling heart disease is favorable, considering both activities’ popularity.

The American Heart Association instructs adults to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of intense exercise every week. In the same regard, they also suggest combining both modalities, spreading them evenly across the week to get the most out of it.

This routine ultimately helps increase your heart rate, lower blood pressure, maintain blood sugar and cholesterol levels, unclog blood vessels, and offset the risk of being sedentary.

Then again, you must be careful when planning your workout routine. Again, the goal is to improve cardiorespiratory fitness, not overworking your heart.

A study by Mayo Clinic revealed that you could drastically reduce your heart health and potentially suffer cardiac overuse injuries if you engage in vigorous exercises for more than 5 hours every week.

Reduced heart health puts you at risk of suffering from myocarditis, cardiac arrhythmias, premature heart aging, and other cardiovascular diseases.

You can also take your heart health to the next level by utilizing Walking Diet and its unique training program.

Walking Diet is a fitness program developed by a tag team of fitness coaches and nutrition experts. It offers individuals personalized walking programs and meal plans that cater to their workout goals.

The program’s design allows users of varying age groups, health states, and weight classes to benefit. All you have to do is take the minute-long quiz and gain immediate access to your plan.

Is It Possible to Tone Muscles by Walking or Hiking?

Yes, it is entirely possible to tone your muscles with either exercise. Although, you get more muscle toning effects from hiking due to the intensity and difficulty of the exercise than walking.

Contrary to popular beliefs, your leg muscles are not the only muscle group gaining from these movements. Yes, walking and hiking mainly develop the muscles in your lower body, but your core muscles still receive a fair share of engagement.

Furthermore, you can burn a good amount of fat in your back by engaging your core muscles.

You can scale things up by incorporating bodyweight exercises to help improve muscle strength and definition.

Which Requires Less Budget?

In reality, walking is less expensive than hiking because walking does not require you to acquire a ton of special equipment before you are able to start.

Irrespective of the purpose of your walk, whether it is to receive fresh air or grab something from the nearby store, all you need when walking are the essentials such as appropriate clothing and proper footwear.

These essentials keep you comfortable and going if you eventually decide to extend your walk by a few miles.

But, unfortunately, we cannot really say the same about going on a hike – you need special gear because of the challenges you will eventually face. 

Depending on the length of your hiking trip, you will require first aid kits, water bottles, hiking boots, waterproof matches, a flashlight with extra batteries, multiple layers, a backpack, etc. These items are necessary to increase your chances of survival.

A Word From Our Coach

Both physical activities are excellent ways of combating the effect of being sedentary and improving overall health.

There is nothing wrong with picking one over the other. However, this decision depends on your preference, and you should stick to whatever makes you comfortable.

Nonetheless, considering your health condition before deciding which exercise to undertake should be a top priority for every fitness enthusiast.

Hiking burns more calories, consumes more energy, and could span multiple days than walking, but the overview shows they offer similar health benefits.

Conclusion

Hiking and walking are both exciting outdoor activities, offering many benefits. However, you will require putting on your hiking shoes if you seek an adventure, hoping to bask in nature with family and friends.

On the other hand, if you want something less challenging, Regardless of if it is in a natural setting or not, go for a walk, whether a long-distance or short-distance one. Of course, you are free to go with as many people as possible because, why not?

On the flip side, either physical exercise offers many physical and mental benefits you absolutely cannot miss. So, why not get started?

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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