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How to Burn More Calories by Being Awesome in the Outdoors

Woman burning calories trail running

We all know that being active will only do good things for our health and fitness levels, and to get the most out of our outdoor passions, having enough fuel for the fire is a must. The calories that go in need to balance with the energy that you burn, so having an idea of how many calories you are likely to burn doing each activity can be really useful.

Now I’m certainly no advocate of calorie counting. It can turn the simple pleasures of eating and exercise into obsessive, overly controlled rituals for even the most balanced individuals. But a basic awareness of calories consumed is definitely important so as not to over-indulge regularly. And for those pushing their sport, understanding calorific input and output can make nutritional planning much easier.

To make things simple, we’ve collated some information on the average number of calories burned in each outdoor activity in one hour.

Calculating the number of calories burned

There are many variables that will alter the true values for each individual, including weight, height, age and the intensity at which you carry out your chosen activity.

The below estimated figures are based on people of average weight working at an average intensity level:

  • Men: 180lb / 83kg
  • Women: 155lb / 70kg

So if motivation is lacking and you’re in need of a reason to get off your backside and boss your sport like you know you can, then take a look at these stats for a reminder of just how great being active in the outdoors is for you and how to plan your nutrition to suit. After all, last nights curry ain’t going to shift itself!

If you’re chosen activity isn’t on our list, or if you want to get a more specific idea of how many calories you are burning, then you can put your info into a calorie calculator.

How many calories do outdoor pursuits burn in an hour?

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Calories burned backpacking

Carrying a loaded hiking backpack will instantly increase the amount of effort exerted to haul yourself up a hill, thus increasing the calories you will burn. Uphill backpacking is like doing weighted lunges, but for hours at a time. And aside from the excellent leg workout, the varied terrain provides a joint stability session for your knees, ankles and core – without even knowing it. Just how exercise should be!


Calories burned canoeing

Pootling along in a canoe won’t break any records for calorie burning, but if you get serious about your river journey you can really work up a sweat to maximise your exertion levels. Generating power from your core, to speed a 30kg boat (plus the weight of it’s cargo) through the water, takes a good deal of strength and energy. And doing it efficiently takes some skill too.


Calories burned climbing

Unless you are Alex Honnold, climbing for hours and often days at a time without rest, it’s unlikely that you’ll manage to burn this many calories per hour during a regular climbing session. But you can sure have a good go – keep your rest time to a minimum, and as with your approach to any climb, give it your all every time. Every muscle should be totally engaged to keep your body pinned to that rock and defy gravity. It will also do wonders for your bingo wings and back flab, not to mention it’s ab sculpting benefits.

Cross country skiing

Calories burned cross country skiing

When your adrenaline stores are all used up on your downhill habit, choose a more ‘mellow’ way to enjoy the snow. But don’t be fooled by the lack of mountains to conquer. You’ll be guaranteed all the peaks and troughs that high level calorie burning and endurance activity will throw at you, with it’s fair share of spills and thrills to keep you on your toes.


Calories burned cycling

If it’s a low impact lung busting workout that you’re after, then get on your bike and ride. Your legs will be seriously challenged, and add in some hills to your journey to really get your glutes involved too. Cycling is kind on your joints, so it’s great for those with knee issues and will provide an aerobic alternative to hitting the running trail.


Calories burned hiking

You may feel that a casual stroll through the hills won’t do much for your waistline, but for calorie burning potential taking a hike is right up there. Sure, the figures per hour aren’t the highest and you’re not going to win any competitions for being the gnarliest of calorie burners, but the beauty of hiking is that you can do it for hours without feeling like you’re taking on Everest. A big 6 hour hike could leave you short of up to 2940 calories! Now that’s worth getting outside for if nothing else. Get your hiking boots on and get walking!

For more information on how to get into shape for your next hiking trip read our article on how to train for hiking.

Horse riding

Calories burned horse riding

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the only one burning calories on a casual canter in the countryside is your four-legged friend. But not so. Not to take the glory away from animal horse-power, but simply staying upright on a moving horse takes some work, let alone actively riding the thing. Your inner thighs and glutes will do the brunt of the work, as well as pretty much every muscle in your core.


Calories burned kayaking

Assuming you don’t just sit in your boat and let the current do all the work for you, kayaking with purpose will give your upper body a really balanced workout. Many sports lean towards overuse of a dominant side, and although you might start out your kayaking career with a stronger side, over time this will balance out. As with canoeing, using your core correctly is essential for kayakers to properly generate powerful paddle strokes.


Calories burned kitesurfing

If it’s a full-on, full-body workout you’re after, that will leave your head reeling as much as your muscles, then kitesurfing is for you. This multifaceted extreme sport not only works you from top to toe, but also takes some serious smarts to keep your body in total synchronicity with the kite and board. And with all those extra calories being burned through mental over-stimulation, all you need to do is worry about staying afloat and not getting your wires crossed.

Mountain biking

Calories burned mountain biking

If you approach mountain biking expecting the same physical demands as road cycling, you will be sorely mistaken. Yes, like road biking you will get one heck of a leg workout on the uphills, but without the opportunity for a rest during the cruisy descent. Downhill mountain biking works the upper body and core more than you can imagine, and to top it off your legs will be placed under even more strain by contracting isometrically all the way to the bottom. Sound appealing? Read more about how to get started in our beginner guide to mountain biking.

Stand up paddleboarding

Calories burned paddleboarding

Some casual pootling along on a paddleboard will give your upper body and core a nice gentle workout whilst burning a good number of calories, and enjoying time on the water. Win-win! Add a headwind, choppy waters, tidal currents and time constraints and you’re in for a killer session of iron pumping intensity – and a good deal more calories burnt off, too. Want to learn the basics? Read our guide to stand up paddleboarding.


Calories burned skateboarding

Probably the coolest way to keep the pounds off, providing you are proficient enough to do more than just roll your way to the burger joint and back. A few hours at the skatepark will leave your body feeling the burn of an LBT class, and your head bloated with the satisfaction of not breaking yet another bone.

Skiing and snowboarding

Calories burned skiing and snowboarding

There’s a reason why wall squats are such a good pre-ski training exercise – for the majority of your alpine descents your quads will be contracting isometrically, so building up their endurance for this is key. Don’t underestimate how much you will use your upper body too, and of course the all-important core stabilisers will be doing their fair share. Up the burn with some heavenly powder runs, jumps and jibs, and a day on the slopes will more than compensate for your après-ski consumption.


Calories burned surfing

This relatively low calorie count seems somewhat disappointing, but it will be largely dependent on the conditions. If the surf is hot and you’re lucky enough to bag a wave straight after each paddle out, then more calories will be floating their way off you and into the watery horizon. A strong current and monster waves to negotiate on your paddle out will also help your cause but not necessarily your enjoyment levels. Either way, your core, back and arms will be working their hardest to get you riding to the shore as often as possible.

To see what other great things you’ll get out of surf, read our guide to the benefits of surfing.


Calories burned swimming

Swimming is another low impact solution to your calorie burning requirements, and a fab aerobic workout for injury rehab. But if lapping an indoor pool for hours isn’t your cup of tea then get outside and try some wild swimming. Your body will have to work extra hard to regulate it’s temperature in the cold water, leaving you with less calories to take care of. Just make sure you have that hot cuppa ready and waiting for you after your arctic dip.

Trail running

Calories burned trail running

One of the best activities for high level calorie burning is getting high on the trails in your running shoes. The constant uphill pushes mean that calories won’t be the only thing burning by the top, with every fibre of your body working to drive upwards. And that’s not to mention the demands that the muddy and unstable downhill sections pose on your body. Trail running is not for the faint hearted but if you’re up for the challenge then there’s always a reward of a cracking view at the peak. For tips on how to get into trail running, check out our Try Something New article.

Water skiing and wakeboarding

Calories burned waterskiing and wakeboarding

Embrace the isometric squat stance, but this time on water, to see you skimming weightlessly across the perfect wake on a glassy lake. That is until you catch an edge and face plant into the concrete-like landing, leaving you with ‘worked’ core, shoulder and neck muscles – for days! The speed of your ride is totally out of your control, saving you more energy to use up on generating epic air time and crowd-pleasing tricks.


Calories burned doing yoga

Free your mind of stress and anxieties and get rid of those unwanted calories whilst your at it. Yoga is the perfect complement to almost all outdoor activities, helping you improve your physical capabilities and also your mental approach to your goals. Great for rest days to keep on top of your calories and an excellent holistic approach to wellness.

The above figures have been taken from the following sources:

About the author


Joey Holmes is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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