Hiking vs Running – Which is Better For You?

Hiking vs Running

Hiking vs running, which one is better for you? Oh, the great debate! Each is the perfect solution for getting outdoors and adding some extra fun to your usual workout regimen. But are there more benefits to running than hiking? Or vice versa? The answer is pretty tricky.

In my opinion, alternating between both is never a bad idea. There’s not much I enjoy more than a day spent hiking trails with my husband and our dogs. Hiking has allowed my family to create so many memories that will last us a lifetime. However, running has become an outlet for me to clear my thoughts and escape the stresses that often pop up in life.

I haven’t always been a “big” fan of running. It’s more of a love/hate relationship, if I’m being honest. But there are definitely days where I enjoy it more and find myself in the mood for a long, relaxing run. Not to mention the runner’s high I get from running a few miles. Talk about an increase in endorphins! And then there are days where my legs feel heavy and I feel like I’m starting back at square one.

Hiking vs Running

However, I have always loved walking and being outdoors. There’s something about being out in nature that helps remind me of just how beautiful life is. Seriously, I spend most of my time outside and am always looking for an excuse to not be inside! But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the Harvard Health Letter states that “Light tends to elevate people’s mood, and there’s usually more light available outside than in. Physical activity has been shown to help people relax and cheer up, so if being outside replaces inactive pursuits with active ones, it might also mean more smiles.”

In addition, the Harvard Health Letter also stated additional benefits to being outside include: Vitamin D levels rising, concentration levels improving, and the possibility to heal faster. So, if you’re not spending much time outside, then you should start trying to make it more of a habit. As you can tell, there are plenty of benefits that come along with the great outdoors!

Whether you’re hiking or running, getting your heart rate up is always an excellent choice – no matter how you do it! Of course, there are plenty of points that make these activities different from each other. Before you hit the hiking trails or head out for a long run, let’s break down hiking vs running.

Hiking vs Running – Reasons for Choosing

Hiking vs Running
When it comes down to deciding between hiking vs running, there are a variety of things to take into account. For example, how many calories do you burn hiking for an hour as opposed to running for an hour? If your goal is to lose weight, then you probably want to know which activity will burn the most calories.

However, if you’re wanting to build muscle, then it’s probably beneficial to know whether hiking or running helps with strength training. In addition, you’ll more than likely be curious what muscles are being engaged during each exercise.

Everyone is different. This means there’s a good chance your fitness goals aren’t the same as mine. It’s important for you to take your goals into consideration when determining what type of exercise is best fit for you.

Hiking vs Running for Cardio

Hiking vs Running

Did you know the American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both spread out through the week? Moderate activity means your heart is beating faster, but you can still carry on a conversation. Vigorous activity is higher intensity and your heart will be beating much faster. Walking and hiking are considered moderate intensity, while running is considered to be higher intensity.

In hiking vs running for cardio, there is no wrong choice. But there are factors to take into consideration that should help your decision making. Since running is considered a high intensity aerobic activity, you only need to perform 75 minutes of it each week. We can break this down into 5 days a week for 15 minutes each. However, hiking is moderate intensity, which has a suggested 150 minutes per week. This can be broken down to 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week.

There are other variables to take into account, like your own personal schedule. Can you allot 30 minutes to exercise five days a week? Or is it more workable for you to schedule out 15 minutes of each day (if so, maybe using a treadmill might help)? Another thing to remember is that hikes vary in intensity. A beginner hike may be considered moderate, while an expert level hike is higher intensity. Using a hiking app such as AllTrails can help you determine the intensity level of the trail you’re going on and help get a better feel for the cardio level.

Hiking vs Running for Weight Loss

Hiking vs Running

If your goal is to lose weight, then it’s imperative to know how hiking vs running can benefit you. You can probably guess that running the same amount of time as hiking burns more calories. But the amount of calories you burn depends on things like distance, weight, etc. You can use an online calculator, like this one from the University of Rochester Medical Center, to help get an accurate depiction of what your calorie burn will be.

But for now let’s say an individual weighs 140 pounds and is curious to find out how many calories they can burn hiking vs running. According to the calculator, when performing an hour of running the individual would burn around 1,188 calories for a 6 minute mile pace, 900 calories for an 8 minute mile pace and 720 calories for a 12 minute mile pace. The same person could expect to burn around 432 calories while hiking for an hour.

Hiking vs Running for Strength Training

Hiking vs Running

Are you looking to build muscle? While neither running nor hiking are known for building large amounts of muscle, they do work your legs and core. Of course, you can make the exercise more difficult by adding in some additional weight like a backpack during your hike or by wearing ankle weights during your run. If you’re feeling really intense, you can add in a pair of trekking poles during a hike and work your upper body muscles.

Hiking vs Running for Mental Health

Hiking vs Running

Exercising has been found to have a positive impact on an individual’s mental and emotional health. In fact, studies have stated exercise is just as effective for treating mild-to-moderate depression as antidepressants. The best part? Exercising doesn’t have the side effects medication has.

According to a study by Harvard Health, the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t. So with mental health, you’ll benefit from both hiking and running. But there are a few differences in the mental benefits you’ll enjoy.

Runners experience the benefit of a “runner’s high.” If you’ve ever had this, then you know exactly what I’m talking about! For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s an increased euphoria and a reduction in anxiety. This happens because of an increase in endorphins and enkephalins the brain releases during exercise.

Hiking may have a bit of an advantage with mental health benefits. Studies have found that the need to analyze your surroundings and change your stride when hiking can lead to cognitive benefits, like an increase in memory. Plus, being out in nature has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.

Which is Better For You?

Hiking vs Running

Hiking vs running – which one is better for you? The long story short, they are both great for your mental and physical health. Each form of exercise has its own benefits, like helping you build muscle and improving your cardiovascular health. I think we could all use some improvements in our mental health and physical health!

My advice to you would be to choose the activity that you enjoy most. The best way to figure that out is to try each. I have found that I enjoy hiking more than I do running, however I don’t always have the time to hike for 30+ minutes multiple times a week. On the weekdays where I don’t have the time to go for a moderate hike, I head out for a run and find that I enjoy it just as much. Plus, it doesn’t take nearly as long for me to fulfill my workout!


Hiking vs running – which is better for you?  It’s a valid question as both activities are great for you.  You first need to decide what your goals are.  Do you want to focus on increasing your cardiovascular health, or is your main goal losing weight, gaining muscles, or your mental health?  Once you know your goals – and your time constraints, you can begin to decide whether hiking or running is the better activity for you!  Or, you could try both! 🙂

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Gabrielle McNair

I am obsessed with all things related to fitness and personal health. Outside of that, I enjoy spending time with my husband, being outdoors and traveling.

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