Take Your Workout Outdoors: The Health Benefits of Hiking & Backpacking

Benefits Hiking Backpacking

According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. “The problem is, for many of us, exercise can be boring and repetitive. But it doesn’t have to be,” writes Elizabeth Harmon, Huffington Post. The key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is finding an exercise routine that not only gets you up and moving, but also keeps you motivated. So, while the gym may make sense for some, it is not ideal for others.

“I tell people to think ‘outside the barbell,’” says Dr. Marc Tinsley. Fitness is about “having enough energy to do your activities of daily living safely and effectively.”

Instead of dreading the gym, take your workout outdoors! Hiking and backpacking are excellent options for anyone looking for a fun and adventurous way to get in shape. Best of all, “outdoor exercise can be adapted to anyone’s level of fitness,” says Tina Vindum, the author of Tina Vindum’s Outdoor Fitness: Step Out of the Gym into the Best Shape of Your Life and the first outdoor fitness instructor accredited by the American Council on Exercise.

Outdoor Workout Checklist

  1. Plenty of Water
  2. Cell Phone
  3. Sunscreen
  4. First Aid Kit
  5. Flashlight
  6. Waterproof Shoes
  7. Rain Gear
  8. Flashlight
  9. Emergency Food

Take Your Workout Outdoors!

“Fortunately, research shows that the health benefits of hiking and walking provide us with much of the same as running,” says Richard Davis, Hillwalk Tours. “And in some cases even more!”


“The nice thing about hiking is that it exists along an entire continuum, from a gentle walk on a flat wooded path to mountain climbing,” says Dr. Aaron L. Baggish, associate director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Whether you are in peak physical condition or looking to get back in shape, hiking and backpacking offer a truly-customizable exercise experience.

“Nearly everyone, regardless of age or athletic ability, can find a hike that offers the right level of personal challenge,” says Julie Corliss, Harvard Heart Letter Executive Editor.

Hiking can also less physically demanding than running. “Trails are often softer on joints than asphalt or concrete,” says Caroline Stedman, a seasonal Park Ranger at northern Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. “So I find myself feeling less stiff and creaky after a hike than a jog down a sidewalk.”

Cardiovascular Exercise

When you think of cardiovascular exercise, the first thing to pop into your mind is probably not hiking, but “just one hour of trekking can burn well over 500 calories, depending on the level of incline and the weight of the pack you’re carrying,” says Abigail Wise, The Huffington Post. Hiking and backpacking are both great ways to “improve your cardiovascular fitness, particularly if your route includes some hills, which will force your heart to work harder,” says Corliss. The natural ups and downs of most hiking trails require all muscles to play their part, resulting in a full-body workout.

“You usually don’t get that type of lateral motion from walking on a treadmill or riding a bike,” says Dr. Baggish.

Mental Health & Creative Problem Solving

Research has shown that tht spending time outdoors increases attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent.

“There is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting,” write Ruth Ann Atchley, David L. Strayer, and Paul Atchley. “Interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving.”

Natural Stress Relief

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America’s (ADAA) 2006 Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey, 72 percent of people with daily stress admit that it interferes with their lives at least moderately. Researchers Tracy Hecht and Kathleen Boies recommend a simple stress relief solution: exercise.

“Yet another advantage of hiking may be the restorative and stress-relieving powers of being outside in nature,” says Corliss. On top of the natural relief associated with exercise, research shows that nature itself may also play a role. “A number of small studies hint that spending time in green space — nature preserves, woodlands, and even urban parks — may ease people’s stress levels.”

Terrapin Adventures Makes Fitness Fun

“People often tend to forget about the importance of spending time outside and underestimate the health benefits,” says Urmet Seepter, goodrelaxation.com.

Conveniently located in Howard County, Maryland, between Baltimore and Washington DC, Terrapin Adventures not only features the ultimate challenge course with three levels taking you up to 40 ft. in the air, but we also offer several guided tours and outdoor activities, including backpacking, as well as goecaching, caving, kayaking, and biking.

Find Your Next Adventure!

If you have any questions, please call Terrapin Adventure at 301.725.1313, or email us at info@terrapinadventures.com to learn more.


  1. Atchley, Ruth Ann, et al. “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings.” PLoS ONE, vol. 7, no. 12, Dec. 2012, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051474.
  2. Corliss, Julie. “Health Benefits of Hiking: Raise Your Heart Rate and Your Mood.” Harvard Health Blog, 23 Sept. 2016, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/health-benefits-of-hiking-raise-your-heart-rate-and-your-mood-2016092810414.
  3. “How much physical activity do adults need?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 June 2015, www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm. Accessed 15 Sept. 2017.
  4. “Maybe that workout can wait till the weekend?” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
  5. Robinson, Kara Mayer. “How Hiking Is Good for Body and Mind.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/hiking-body-mind.
  6. “Top 10 Health Benefits of Trekking / Backpacking.” Health Fitness Revolution, 26 Oct. 2017, www.healthfitnessrevolution.com/top-10-health-benefits-trekkingbackpacking/.
  7. Wise, Abigail. “Proof That Hiking Makes You Happier And Healthier.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 18 July 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/18/how-taking-a-hike-can-mak_n_5584809.html.
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