Both tick the boxes to get you moving outdoors, a low-risk activity during a pandemic. But are these two forms of exercise really that different from each other? And if so, which one is the best for you?
Walking is typically an exercise you do outdoors in an urban or suburban setting, or indoors in a gym on a track or treadmill. Hiking, on the other hand, is a walk that is done in the open air and along natural terrain. You will usually experience elevation changes when hiking, but not necessarily when walking.
Both activities are low impact cardiovascular exercises that can help you manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They’re also great for your heart, said cardiologist Dr Fahmi Farah, founder and medical director of Bentley Heart Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. “Walking is one of the best heart health workouts for all ages, including those with heart problems and conditions,” she said. “Hiking is also good for the heart and burns more calories in less time.” No one form of exercise is better than the other, according to Farah.
“Both are great for improving heart and lung performance, and hiking and walking can help you lose weight,” said Darryl Higgins, fitness expert and founder of Athlete Desk, a company that tests and evaluates products such as treadmills and bike desks.
Which exercise is best for you depends on your fitness goals and personal preferences. Here are four key considerations to help you decide whether to go for a walk or a hike.
Important note: Before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.
You want to burn the most calories: go for a hike
The number of calories you can burn on a hike versus a walk depends primarily on your weight, the slope of the trail, and how much weight you are carrying on your back. Other factors include the weather, your age and gender, and the roughness of the terrain.
You want the cheapest option: take a walk
The hike often requires driving to a trail, which can be several hours away and require a user fee. And while you can get by with the same clothes you use for walking, you are better off wearing clothes designed specifically for hiking, such as hiking shoes, hiking pants, and breathable layers. You’ll also need at least some specialized gear, like a backpack, hiking poles, and a water bottle or bladder. And if you’re hiking, be prepared to shell out hundreds of dollars for extra gear like a tent, sleeping bag, and camping stove.
You want the safest activity: take a walk
While hiking is not a dangerous activity in itself, it does come with risks. “The hike can be tiring,” Higgins said. “It might not be ideal for beginners who don’t know rough terrain.”
If you stumble and fall on a rocky, root-filled path, you could end up with a sprained ankle or a broken bone. And there are the various bugs and critters in the woods, which range from pesky mosquitoes to potentially deadly snakes, bears or cougars. Cell service is often spotty or nonexistent on the trail as well, so if you’re having issues it can be difficult to ask for help.
Walking, on the other hand, is much safer. Of course, you can still sprain your ankle when stepping off a sidewalk. But if you do, help is close by. What if the weather gets gloomy? You can call a friend for a ride or hail a cab. Perhaps the biggest concern comes from walking after dark. If this is your preferred time, be sure to wear reflective clothing and be aware of your surroundings. And don’t go alone in the wee hours of the morning.
You want to de-stress: Go for a hike
If you can’t hike but need a good dose of calm, walking outside in town or in a local park is always better than walking in the gym. But if you can walk in the woods, do it.