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Cycling vs Hiking: Which is Better?

By Jiri Kaloc

Is it better to explore the world on foot or on two wheels? You might think that hiking and cycling is not really a fair comparison. But with the rise of bikepacking, it’s become an interesting question to answer. Let’s take a closer look.

Which one burns more calories?

How many calories you burn always depends on your fitness level, body weight (plus backpack or bicycle weight), and intensity – how steep the hike is. For an average person, this is what calories burned during 60 minutes of activity might look like:

Moderate hiking speed of 3 km/h burns 185 kcal
Fast hiking speed of 6km/h burns 275 kcal
Moderate elevation hiking burns 625 kcal
Steep uphill hiking burns 750 kcal
Light intensity cycling burns 400 kcal
Moderate intensity cycling burns 600 kcal
Vigorous intensity cycling burns 800 kcal

Hiking versus cycling
It all depends on your body weight, fitness level and intensity of the session. © Profimedia

It seems like cycling can burn more calories per hour at maximal intensity. But it’s important to keep in mind that the intensity changes quite often for both activities throughout the day. And while cycling downhill barely burns any calories, hiking downhill can be quite demanding. It’s hard to choose a winner in this aspect. But rest assured that a day of hiking or bikepacking can easily burn north of 4,000 kcal, which is more than you can expect from your typical fitness activities.

Which one is better for weight loss?

When it comes to weight loss, your entire lifestyle has to be taken into account. Eating habits are the most important, but sleep, overall activity, and what exercise you do all play a role. While cycling can burn more calories at max intensity than hiking, it’s not clear if either activity is better at burning more total calories per day. Both can help you create a calorie deficit, which is necessary for weight loss. Both hiking and cycling are the winner here.

Which one is more expensive?

Hiking and bikepacking both require quite a bit of equipment. They both share the need for things like a tent, sleeping bag, mat, and portable stove. The problem is that for bikepacking you need a bicycle on top of everything, and an adventure bike if possible. Even the specialized frame, handlebar, and seat bags will be an extra expense compared to a regular backpack you need for hiking. Plus, you will have to carry tools and materials in case something breaks on your bike. To conclude, bikepacking is clearly more expensive.

Hiking in Bavaria
Hiking is definitely the cheaper choice. © Profimedia

Which one is more fun?

Bikepacking allows you to explore a much wider area. Even those boring parts of a hike along the road can be really fun when cruising on a bicycle. Racing downhill on a bike, over stones and through puddles, is also a thrill you won’t experience on foot. But there’s a clear drawback, you can’t take your bike everywhere. The wildest places and the most beautiful mountain top views are often inaccessible even to the most adventurous bikepackers. It’s all a matter of preference.

So, what is the final verdict on the cycling vs hiking question?

Cycling and hiking have a lot in common. Whether you go hiking or backpacking, you will be able to explore beautiful nature and disconnect from the modern world. While cycling burns more calories on harder terrain, hiking burns more during the easier parts. They are both excellent if you want to stay in shape and manage weight. Even though bikepacking tends to be more expensive, you can enjoy both with basic gear that won’t break the bank. If you want to go far, choose a bicycle, if you want to go to wilder places, go on foot. Anyway, you will likely enjoy yourself no matter the choice.