Hiking and the Calories You Burn - Initial Ascent

Hiking and the Calories You Burn


How well do you know your body? Do you know the right amount of calories you should be taking in when you have a long day of hunting ahead? Do you know how much food you should carry with you for that climb into the high country?

We ask these questions, because we have found that many people often overlook this very subject when they are preparing for a hunt. Many people check and double check their list of supplies and necessities, but they don’t think of their as food as an actual tool to be used. Do you weigh your arrows? Do you portion out your black powder? Do you make sure you  have the correct caliber of bullet? Of course you do. Why? Because you know that when it is time to send it, you’ve got to be prepared with the correct amount/weight or your weapon will not perform properly.

That brings us to why we are here today, we are here to get a better understanding of how many calories our bodies ACTUALLY use throughout the day during these excursions. Why? So that we can pack the right amount of food we need to keep us performing at our best whether we are walking the plains in search of antelope in the woods chasing deer, or on that mountain after elk.

In all of our research across the hunting and outdoor industry, and through all the gear guide videos that we have watched, it is apparent to us that very few people really understand the amount of calories that our bodies burn in hunting conditions. Many people go through and guess how many miles they are going to walk over the course of a day, guess that they’ll need a couple of hundred calories a mile and they use these two guesses to try to come up with an idea of what they should be taking. Then by day 3 they’re wondering why they’re so exhausted and why they are so sore? If this has ever been you . . . we need to tell you it’s because you’ve burned significantly more calories than you thought, and you were not replenishing your body with the food it needed to continue to go at the pace in which you started.

What do I mean by all of that?

Our bodies burn a lot of calories during these scouting and hunting trips, and there are a several variables that need to be reviewed to figure out just how much you need to eat to fuel your body properly for these adventures. These variables include things such as your basic metabolic rate (BMR), the speed at which you’re moving, the type of ground you are moving across, the distance at which are traveling, the temperature, and the weight of the pack on your back. To try to keep this as simple as possible, we will section this individually, and add links back to pages to calculate your own calorie expenditure.

Basal Metabolic Rate

What is Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and why is it important? BMR is the number of calories that your body burns on a daily basis just to live. On average, a 160lb individual male of average structure, will burn between 1500 and 1700 calories per day just eating, breathing, and moving around in their daily activities. We all burn these calories throughout the day and yet somehow almost no one factors these calories when preparing for their trip. Sadly we see many people even on YouTube making videos in which this important information isn’t even mentioned as they talk gear. (Not sure where your BMR is, click HERE to use the calculator we use).

Exercise & Hiking

Take the 160lb male we spoke of earlier. He will burn roughly 850+ calories per hour when running at a speed of 8 miles per hour. Studies have found that hiking burns roughly half that amount without a pack on and on a reasonable trail. If we break that down, that means you are burning roughly 425 calories per hour on a simple trail hike, with no pack, and this is in addition to the calories your body burns just to stay alive!

Pack Weight

According to Livestrong.org, a light pack that you might wear on a day hunt would burn 50 to 100 more calories per hour throughout the day. We will go even farther and say that number is closer to the 100 mark or above because we all carry a weapon on these hunts as well. If you are following the math here, when out on your day hunt with your weapon and light pack, on an average trail, you are burning roughly 600 calories per hour including your BMR! When you calculate in a heavier pack for multiple day backcountry hunts, you can burn 200-300 more calories per hour as you go.

Trail and Terrain Slope

One factor that has not been included into the equation above, is the type of trail you are on and the angles at which you are hiking. This is extremely important because this will adjust your pace, use more muscles, and put the calorie burning into overdrive. If you’re hiking on a rugged trail, climbing over deadfall, dealing with sand or rock, you will have increasing use of the muscles around your knees and other joints to keep you balanced. Each flex of the muscle burns calories. When you factor in the angles/grade you’re hiking, all hell breaks loose.

Now we don’t want to make this a math class, so the easiest way to get a rough estimate of what’s going is to reference the United States Military. In the 1970s, the military developed the Pandolf Equation, to calculate how many calories you’re burning as a function of your weight, pack weight, hiking speed, the slope, and the nature of the terrain. Researchers have broken down this equation and have proved that it will often underestimate the true number, but it will be good enough for a rough estimate for us.

One thing we noticed when messing around with this equation is that a 1% increase in the slope you are traveling can increase the number of calories you burn a ton. Another thing is that it also breaks down the calories burned by mile instead of per hour but does not factor in your BMR. This is very important to us as outdoorsmen because let’s face it, we are going to take a LOT of breaks when hiking back into the remote country, and a per hour burn rate isn’t actually going to be relevant to us. (We will get to examples and links at the bottom for you to go and calculate your own rates).

Other Factors

To know the exact number of calories you burn, precise calculations would be involved. This means that in this article we can’t give you exact numbers they change from one person to the next. Type of pack, load distribution, age, fitness level, gender, the weight of your boots (one pound on the foot equals Five on the back), and more all play factors here. Men burn calories faster than women due to a higher muscle to fat ratio as well, so with that in mind we will use myself as an example.


When my September hunt hits, I will stand at 6 ft tall and will weight roughly 195 lbs, with around 10% bodyfat. My calculations which are based on the fitness level state that my BMR has me at, shows that I am burning around 2,100 calories a day just surviving. By reviewing my tracked hikes from my Garmin from previous years, I see that when moving, I move at a speed of around 3.6 mph, and I hike roughly 6-10 miles per day. I can then scroll through the Outside Analytics maps to see the average slope percentage that I am hiking to be around 20%-25%. I know that my day pack is roughly 45lbs, and my pack weight when I head in for 4-5 days is around 70 lbs. If we gather that data and enter it into the Pandolf Equation HERE, I will just use the gravel road setting although that will underestimate my burn rate, the input reads that I will burn 564 calories per mile with my day pack and 611 calories per mile on the trek in to spike camp!

Now, let’s say that it was a long day on the mountain and I covered 10 miles that day. If we don’t calculate any other movements except the hiking, I will have burned 5,640 calories just completing that one activity! Add in my BMR and my total calories burned that day are roughly 7,740 calories!!

Now just for fun let’s consider that the terrain is closer to ‘sand” and not a gravel road due to deadfall, heavy brush, and so on. Then let’s cut the slope to 20% from 22.5%, and the miles traveled down to 7 from 10. This equation has me personally burning 842 calories per mile. The numbers come out to 7,994 calories in a single day and I can guarantee you it is actually much higher if you consider setting camp, loading the pack, getting up and down to glass and so much more.


Would you say that this was a bit of an eye opener? Probably so. Knowing what you know now, if we were to tell you that of the gear guides we reviewed last year had an average male packing 2,800 calories per day into his pack for a 5 day hunt into sheep country . . . would  you say it’s safe to say after doing the calculations that he needs more than double that? Absolutely you would and we would agree.

If anything, we want you to take away from all of this is that when day three or four hits, and you are flat out exhausted, it directly correlates to the amount of calories you have been consuming compared to how many calories you are burning. And even if my example is on the extreme side (compared to the numbers of others)  I can promise you that you aren’t eating enough. And trust me when I say, at that point it doesn’t matter what type of calories you are consuming, just EAT!

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1 comment

Great Article!

Brian Austin

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