Why Am I Gaining Weight From Hiking? | Hikers University

When I first started hiking a few years ago, I was quite startled to hear people ask the question “why am I gaining weight from hiking?”

Hiking is an excellent form of physical activity and it can be extremely frustrating to see that instead of shedding those extra pounds, you end up gaining even more weight after your hike.

Some hikers may experience weight gain after hiking due to an increase in their muscle mass (which is actually a good thing), an increase in their water weight, higher consumption of high-caloric food, and body changes, including changes in appetite and metabolism.

In this guide, I can help you understand that hiking is a beneficial activity for your body and the reasons that some people might gain weight after a long hiking experience.

Since I am a workout buff and love to explore new places as well, hiking is one of my very favorite activities. However, when I am not being careful about my lifestyle habits, I too have experienced a slight gain in weight after hiking. Fortunately, I now understand what causes the weight gain and do not repeat the habits that lead to it.

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Reasons Why You Might Gain Weight From Hiking

It can seem like a hopeless situation when you have been trying hiking in an effort to lose weight but do not get the results you wanted. If this is what happened to you, don’t give up yet. There are several logical reasons why the numbers on the scale are going up and with a few changes in your habits, you can see them go down.

It is helpful to remember that if you eat more calories, you will gain more weight. If you eat fewer calories, you will lose weight. In addition, hiking can also result in an increase in muscle weight, which can lead to weight gain as well.

Let’s look at all the reasons in detail.

An Increase in Muscle Mass

When we exercise and do any kind of physical activity, we are working our muscles which makes them stronger. As a result, your accumulated fat mass may very well convert into muscle mass.

However, shouldn’t our weight remain the same if our fat is burning up and is being replaced by muscle?

Our body gains weight since our muscles are much denser than fat. This means that if you place a handful of fat on one scale and a handful of muscles on the other scale, the side with the muscle will dip since muscles weigh more than fat. In fact, 1 liter of muscle weighs 2.3 pounds while 1 liter of fat weighs 1.98 pounds.

Since muscles are dense tissues, 20 pounds of muscles will make your body look more sculpted and firm, while 20 pounds of fat will make your body look soft and flabby.

In addition, muscles also have a different function than fat. While fat is used to store energy, trap heat, and insulate your body, muscles are required to boost your metabolism. Hence, the more muscles your body has, the more calories you will burn during hiking or other physical activities. It will also mean that you will feel hungry more frequently since you are burning calories quicker, which will prompt you to eat more.

Hence, even though you will be burning fat, you will be increasing the muscles in your body. And since muscles are denser, your body will weigh more.

There is a misconception that only HIIT is effective in increasing your muscle mass. But the truth is that even endurance exercises like hiking can promote good muscle growth, particularly in your legs and glutes, where you will notice more toned muscles and increased strength and stamina.

In addition, many people also think that hiking only improves heart and lung health; however, research shows that it is also associated with improved muscle synthesis and increase in skeletal muscle mass.

Hence, if you are hiking on a regular basis, you will gain weight accredited to high muscle mass.

However, keep in mind that this type of weight gain is actually beneficial. It will give your body a more sculpted look and will make you more healthy overall. So if your weight gain is due to an increase in muscle mass, kudos to you!

Getting Water Weight

You might have heard that if you are participating in endurance sports, it is a good idea to increase your consumption of carbohydrates. This practice is known as “carbo loading” and it is commonly seen in both professional athletes and recreational hikers as well, although there is dispute in the academic society whether loading yourself with carbs is actually beneficial.

However, what we do know is that once you are regularly participating in an endurance program, like hiking, you can actually give your body’s ability to store muscle glycogen a hefty boost. This 60% to 70% increase can lead to temporary weight gain known as water weight.

Research shows that for every ounce of glycogen your body stores, it also stores about 3 ounces of water. This water is what contributes toward your overall weight gain.

Hence, if you are consuming carbs and participating in endurance exercise, you may see that you have actually gained weight when you step onto the scales. If you are in a habit of drinking lots of water – and hiking is certainly a thirsty activity – then your weight gain may be quite significant. This water weight is not constant and may fluctuate on a daily to a weekly basis.

The good news, however, is that water weight is not actually the true mass or weight of your body. It is simply the excess water stored in your body which can be beneficial as it can give you an extra boost when you are going on more intense hikes. Storing glycogen for the time when you are hiking is also not a particularly bad thing since it is a good source of much-needed energy. But it can make the number of your scales go up to an alarming degree.

Fortunately, you will be able to lose water weight quickly once you stop consuming so much carbs as part of your diet.

Overestimating Your Caloric Needs

As a hiker, you may believe that you need to consume more calories than you actually do. Although it is true that you will be burning a decent amount of calories for every hour you hike, it is not the smartest idea for you to eat an entire pizza or a whole cake after a hike.

Every person burns a different amount of calories. The number of calories you burn are dependent on various factors like the length of the hike, the intensity of the hike, whether you are hiking load-free or carrying a heavy backpack, as well as your own unique metabolism and your body weight.

For example, if you are an experienced hiker who hikes every week, you will not need to exert as much energy as a person who goes on a hike once every couple of months. Your body has already built up its requisite muscle mass that you need for a successful hiking experience.

Another thing that makes you overestimate the calories you need is telling yourself that you deserve a reward after a hard hike. Although I certainly agree that some reward is due, eating more is the most common reason why hikers gain weight.

It is a good idea to keep in mind why you are hiking in the first place. The number one reason for hiking regularly is to stay in good shape and if that is your goal, then treating yourself with sugar- and fat-rich foods will only have the opposite effect and will lead to weight gain unwittingly.


Consuming High-Calorie Snacks

It is a smart idea to keep some hiking food at hand when going on a long hike in case you experience a dip in your blood sugar levels. Keep in mind, though, that the store-bought trail mix that you buy from your supermarket is chock full of calories, which is very effective in giving you an instantaneous boost of energy, but will also lead to fat storage that will result in weight gain.

This is another very common factor that leads to weight gain on hiking trips. Since hikers are focused on packing lightly, they aim to bring as many lightweight and high-calorie snacks as they can. During a hiking session, it is easy to eat more than the recommended amount of snacks or lose count of how many calories you have consumed.

It is true that hiking can burn a lot of calories; a person weighing 200 pounds can burn about 550 calories in just an hour. However, since we have a ready supply of high-calorie food at hand, we can easily eat too much of it in a single meal session. Let’s face it; how many of you have eaten a bag of chocolate nut trail mix in one go?

Just consider how many calories that is!

If you are prone to feeling peckish during a hike, I strongly recommend you keep healthy snacks on hand like low-sugar oatmeal bars, fruit, nuts and seeds, and boiled eggs, all of which can do a great job of keeping you energetic throughout your hike.

Undereating During Your Hike

Some people do not feel hungry while they are performing physical activities like hiking, or even immediately after they have finished hiking. However, not eating the required amount of calories at the right time can also lead to an increase in weight.

The logic is that the longer you wait to eat, the more your body starts to crave high-calorie food that has a high ratio of sugar and fats. That’s because carbohydrates and fats are the biggest sources of energy in our body and so, our body will naturally start to crave them when we expend energy during hiking.

However, giving in to these cravings is not the smartest choice if you want to achieve an optimal weight.

If you wait an hour to eat after you have finished a hike, you might be susceptible to making unhealthy food choices that you will instantly regret once you have consumed them. While you have every right to eat a good hearty breakfast after a hike in the morning, it may be a good idea to eat a healthy granola bar or an apple or banana during a hike or right after it, in order to appease your hunger pangs and prevent yourself from indulging in zero-nutrition, high-calorie food.

Developing Hike Hunger

Hiking is a good physical activity for us overall; however, like all other exercises, it can lead to changes in your appetite, which can be a bit concerning if you are looking to reduce your weight.

It is normal to feel famished after a long hike. Of course it is, considering you can burn up to 800 calories in a single hour of hiking. The energy expended during hiking is four to five times higher than other day to day activities that we do, like driving or working on the computer.

You are also not eating your regular meals at the table like you normally do. Plus, you are also carrying a weight on your back, which can make you exert more effort and make you incredibly hungry even after just a few hours.

If you are backpacking, you are also carrying as little as possible, which means there isn’t a whole lot of food in your bag. As you hike, your body will begin to adjust to the new level of physical exercise and will send signals to your stomach that you need more food. Even once you have finished your hike and had your dinner, your body will continue to crave higher amounts of calories for days after since it will take some time for it to adapt to your normal everyday routine.

Long-term Changes in Appetite

As we mentioned above, it is also normal to have an increased appetite for several days after a long time. Interestingly, some hikers also experience the opposite effect, that is they experience a decrease in appetite.

There are several reasons for why you are not as hungry during a long hike including changes in your schedule, not liking the food that you have to eat on the trail, a sharp focus on finishing your hike as soon as possible, as well as the fact that hiking is an exercise in endurance.


If you are prone to not feeling hungry, or even nauseous, when eating on a long hike, this is not an uncommon condition. There is some evidence that people who do endurance exercises do not feel as hungry during or after the exercise as compared to those who participate in high intensity workouts.

However, if you have worked up a healthy appetite after a long or short hike, it may be because your metabolism has received a significant boost from all the exercise. In addition, it could also mean that you did not eat enough during the hike or you did not have a large enough breakfast that would tide you over for the duration of the hike.

Since you experience a boost in appetite, you may find that you are eating a lot more food that is high in calories as compared to the times when you are not on a hike. Your body will also take into consideration the calories that you burned out while you were hiking, so it is very easy to overeat, which may lead to more weight gain as compared to when you are not hiking or at home.

Changes in Metabolism After Hiking

The amount of calories that we consume is impacted by a number of factors including our body weight, our genetic constitution, our environment, and our daily activities. All of these determine how many calories we need to eat in order to offset the calories that we have burned. This is known as lumen learning and is defined by the amount of calories we need to have enough energy to perform our tasks.

People who have high metabolic rates will burn off more calories more easily than people who have low metabolic rates. You may experience a spike in your metabolic rate after a long hike due to the constant activity and carrying a load on your back, as well as the fact that your body will need to acclimatize itself to the changing external temperatures.

Therefore, even a short hike can give you a good amount of metabolic boost even several hours after you have finished a hike as compared to when you have sat at your work desk all day.

This is a very normal process and you can expect it after every hike, no matter its length.

It is also very beneficial since the quicker burning of calories means you will lose weight. However, people who have issues with their metabolism may actually gain more weight even after a hike, particularly if they are not paying attention to the amount of food and calories they are consuming.


How Can You Prevent Weight Gain From Hiking?

As you can probably see by now, hiking is not the cause of weight gain; your unhealthy eating habits are. To ensure you do not gain weight after a hike, here are a few basic things to follow:

●     Choose low glycemic food which are high in protein and fibers

●     Commit yourself to a new dietary plan once you come back from a diet

●     Start becoming physically active at a regular level

●     Prepare yourself for the next adventure





Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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