Is It Easier to Burn Calories by Hiking or Biking?
Bicycling offers you more opportunities to burn calories than hiking. In fact, bicycling fast burns more calories than every other exercise except running fast, according to studies by “Harvard Heart Letter” and the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services. In general, burning calories by bicycling is also easier than burning calories by hiking because bicycling with a light effort burns the same number of calories as hiking, according to the Wisconsin report.
Hiking is much more difficult than walking on flat surfaces because rough terrain makes your leg muscles work much harder, according to walking expert Mark Fenton in “The Complete Guide to Walking." Fenton estimates that walking up a hill with a 10 percent incline burns 52 percent more calories than walking on flat surfaces, and walking up a hill with a 20 percent incline burns 70 percent more calories. Yet hiking burns only 354 calories per hour if you weigh 130 pounds, 422 calories per hour if you weigh 155 pounds, and 518 calories per hour if you weigh 190 pounds, according to the Wisconsin study.
Bicycling with a light effort burns as many or more calories than every form of walking except walking upstairs, according to the Wisconsin report. Consequently, it is easier to burn calories by easy bicycling than most vigorous walking, including hiking. When you bicycle with a light effort, about 10 to 11.9 mph, your heart rate should be between 35 and 54 percent of your maximum heart rate, which is 220 beats per minute minus your age, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. If you’re 50 years old, your heart rate will be 59.5 to 92 beats per minute if you bicycle 10 to 11.9 mph.
While an easy bicycle ride burns the same number of calories as vigorous hiking, you can burn far more calories if you increase your effort. When your effort increases, your heart rate increases. Bicycling with a moderate effort, or bicycling 12 to 13.9 mph, requires your heart rate to be between 55 and 69 percent of your maximum heart rate. Moderate bicycling burns 563 calories per hour if you weigh 155 pounds. Vigorous bicycling, or bicycling 14 to 15.9 mph, requires your heart rate to be between 70 and 89 percent of your maximum heart rate and burns 704 calories per hour if you’re 155 pounds.
Hiking burns 35 more calories per hour than stationary bicycling with a light effort if you weigh 155 pounds, but fewer calories than moderate and vigorous stationary bicycling. Bicycling with a moderate effort on your stationary bike burns 493 calories per hour if you weigh 155 pounds, according to the Wisconsin report. Bicycling with a vigorous effort on a stationary bike burns 739 calories per hour in the same person.
- State of Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services: Calories Burned Per Hour
- Harvard Heart Letter: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- "The Complete Guide To Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness"; Mark Fenton; 2008
- American College of Sports Medicine: The Recommended Quantity and Quality of Exercise; 1998
- "Swim Bike Run"; Wes Hobson, Clark Campbell, Mike Vickers; 2001
- “Start Strong, Finish Strong: Prescriptions for a Lifetime of Great Health”; By Kenneth H. Cooper, Tyler C. Cooper, William Proctor
Jay Schwartz has had articles printed by the "Chicago Tribune," "USA Today" and many other publications since 1983. He's covered health, fitness, nutrition, business, real estate, government, features, sports and more. A Lafayette, Pa. college graduate, he's also written for several Fortune 500 corporate publications and produced business newsletters.