The Numbers Game (or, How My OCD Gets The Best Of Me)

Data. Statistics. Averages. Numbers.
For someone who hates math as much as I do, I have more than a passing interest in those four things, especially when it comes to hiking.

So, I’m planning for my first overnight hike on the Appalachian Trail for 2015, and after mulling over gear, where to go, weather concerns, parking and shuttle options, it’s time to get the food bag packed. The plan is to hit the trailhead around noon, camp that night, hike a full day and camp out, then hike a half day to my truck or designated pick up spot. After mindlessly grabbing things saying “breakfast, dinner, snacks, GORP, jerky”, I wanted to be sure that I was 1) taking enough food to satiate my appetite, 2) had everything divvied up so I wasn’t eating the most calories on Day 3, when I’d surely stop somewhere for food on the way home.

That led me to wonder “how many calories do I actually burn through in a day”. Well, the answer was relatively easy to come up with; I always wore a Polar F7 heart rate monitor (chest strap and watch combo) that has a calorimeter built-in. It takes your heart rate, age, gender, and weight and calculates how many calories you’ve burned in a particular session. All the data from 2014 was still in the watch, so there’s that.

BCNav status screen

BCNav status screen

Whenever I’m on trail, there’s always an app of some kind tracking my distance, speed, location, elevation, etc. When I’m here locally I’ll use Map My Hike and/or Cardio Trainer. Both of these are available for iPhones and Androids. They have a rudimentary algorithm for calculating calories burned, but they’re usually on the higher side than my Polar.

Map My Hike


BackCountry Navigator

Since I’m driven by data, all my hiking miles for 2014 were logged on a spreadsheet, with one being solely for AT miles and another for miles I did on local trails here in the area, so it wasn’t long before that evil little voice in my head said “take all the data, import it into another spreadsheet, do calculations…joy!” Let’s just say I came up with a few interesting results from my hikes on the AT last year.

AT log 2014

AT Mileage and calories (sample selection)


  1. On average I burn 3,258 calories /day on the AT
  2. I hike an average of 6 hours and 53 minutes per day
  3. My average distance hiked per day was an abysmal 6.75 miles, BUT that number included several half day hikes at the beginning and end of each trip.
  4. Average full day hiking distance was 10.25 miles
  5. My average speed was 1.8 mph. I don’t really hike that slow (maybe more like 2.3)- but once I’m underway, I don’t pause the GPS recording when I, say, stop for lunch, take a break, stop to snap a few photos (or answer nature’s call). Maybe one day I’ll try to get a more accurate reading, but I’ll probably just be too busy walkin’.
  6. Basically, on the AT I burned right around 300 calories per mile hiked; this fluctuated from trip to trip- some were as high as 335 and some as low as 280. I burned over 4,000 calories in the 7 miles going up to Roan Mountain, but only 3,200 on a 14 mile walk back to Damascus via parts of the Creeper Trail. Terrain matters!

A side note, my average speed is way faster on the trails back here. I averaged 3.3 mph. Know why? There are no mountains in eastern NC. No rocks and tree roots for me to curse, and no deadfall for me to negotiate as if I’m on a jungle gym (like my November trip).

2 thoughts on “The Numbers Game (or, How My OCD Gets The Best Of Me)

  1. I’m so torn about things like this while I’m hiking. I’ve mapped my hikes and kept a heart rate monitor on while walking, and I loved getting that data feedback at the end of the hike. (You hiked 10 miles! burned 1,100 calories! Top it next time! etc)

    BUT – I also see the flip side of disconnecting in the woods. Now I fall more on this side of the argument, that we enter the woods to decompress. So, while I still track total miles walked, I’ve given up on the heart rate tracking and pacing. Makes me more willing to do side trips and climb stuff if I feel like it! I do enough number tracking at work anyway.


    • Well I track my miles and heart rate for fitness purposes. Once I get to 85-90% of my MHR, I stop and take a break. Had some previous cardiovascular issues like arrhythmia so I that’s why I keep tabs on it. Every time I work out I keep track of my calories. Trust me, it doesn’t detract from my wilderness experience- remember, my average speed & miles per day is because I’m taking it all in (at least trying to).


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