While there is a lot of information available on the number of calories you burn for road cycling, I couldn’t find any resources for bikepacking. Giving it can be very important to know how many calories you are burning each day to ensure that you pack the right amount of food, I thought I’d take a deeper look into how many calories you actually burn when bikepacking compared to road cycling.
The average bikepacker will burn 4509 calories per day or 608 calories per hour. The main factors that impact how many calories you burn for each day of bikepacking are how long you are cycling, the weight of your bike and gear, as well as other factors such as your fitness.
While this is an average, there are many different variables that will impact how many calories you actually burn each day or each hour of bikepacking. To better understand how I’ve come out with these averages, as well as to work out if they are suitable for you, take a look at the rest of the article below.
How many calories do you burn an hour when bikepacking?
What is a calorie?
First of all, we need to understand what calories actually are. Calories are simply a measure of energy. If you put out 1 watt of power for 1 hour, then this is equal to 4 calories
Using data collected in labs we know that certain amounts and speeds of cycling burn a certain amount of energy.
This is a very basic average and does not take into account uphills, downhills, or tailwinds.
How do you measure calories burned?
To accurately measure the calories you burn while cycling you need fancy equipment that measures the different levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen that you are breathing out. This needs to take place in a lab and as you might have guessed, I don’t have one of those.
There have been lots of tests done to work out quite accurately the number of calories you burn when road cycling but unfortunately, no one seems to have done these tests for bikepacking yet. But I still wanted to work this out.
By calculating how many calories I personally burn when road cycling compared to bikepacking I was able to work out a ratio between the two. That way, even though both my calculations are only specific to me, I am able to use the ratio to accurately work out how many calories you burn when bikepacking by using the average numbers we already have from road cycling.
I don’t own a fancy bike computer that tells me my pedaling output in watts, so instead, I used a calorie calculator that used my age, weight, riding time, and heart rate to calculate calories expended.
How many calories do I personally burn when bikepacking compared to road cycling?
I prepared a route on Komoot and cycled this with my road bike as well as my fully loaded bikepacking gravel bike.
I’ve used this 15.8-mile route for my weird tests before (take a look at my article on cycling with panniers or bikepakcing bags), so I knew how long it should roughly take me. I know there would be better options for a route, this one lacks any tough inclines, but this is the best I could do at the moment.
I then calculated the weights of both my bikes as well as the gear I packed onto the gravel bike. Overall, the gravel bike and bikepakcing gear weighed 33lb (15kg) more than my road bike.
It took me 73 minutes to complete the route with my bikepacking gear and only 62 minutes on my road bike. With my bikepacking set-up, my average heart rate was 104 bpm whereas on the road bike it was 113 bpm.
As you might have guessed, with the bikepacking set-up I went more slowly but over a longer period of time.
|Bike||Time to finish||Average Heart Rate|
|Bikepacking Set-up||73 minutes||104 BPM|
|Road Bike||63 minutes||113 BPM|
Putting this data, along with my current weight of 80kg into a calorie calculator I was able to work out how many calories each trip expended.
Overall, you can see that bikepacking burns roughly 10% more calories for the same route. This likely comes as a result of the extended time cycling and the extra weight I was carrying.
To put this more simply, using my specific data:
|10 miles of bikepacking||385|
|1 hour of bikepacking||500|
|10 miles of road cycling||352|
|1 hour of road cycling||538|
So, in my case, bikepacking burns more calories per mile than road cycling, however for a set hour of cycling I tend to burn more calories than when I am road cycling.
So how does this help us? The best way to measure calorie expenditure is per hour. If you get to a rough piece of terrain, it might take you an hour to cover 5 miles, but this doesn’t mean you weren’t putting in much effort.
So in general you will burn only 93% of the calories of road cycling when you are bikepacking, however, you will typically be continuing this for a much longer period of time.
How many calories do you burn per day of bikepacking?
Obviously, the exact amount of calories you will burn each day will depend on a lot of different factors such as the type of riding you are doing, how much gear you are carrying, and for how long you are cycling.
The first step to working out the average calories burnt per day is to work out for how long on average bikepacker is cycling each day. When we asked a group of bikepackers how many hours they cycled each day there was a range of answers from 2 hours up to 7 hours.
Taking an average of these results, the typical bikepacker will spend 4.3 hours cycling per day. Using the results we calculated earlier this would mean that for an average day of bikepacking you would burn 2622 calories.
Basal Metabolic Rate
However, this isn’t the end of the story, the number of calories you burn each day will also be made up of the number of calories your body burns to keep all its normal functions running. This is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR)
The average basal metabolic rate is 7100 KJ per day 1697 calories per day.
However, activity increases your basal metabolic rate even after you have stopped exercising (your body burns more calories expecting to do more exercise). In fact, in a study of athletes, it was found that for an average of 14 hours after exercise you burn more calories, with an extra 190 calories being burnt in this time.
To calculate your body’s overall calories burnt per day of cycling you thus need to sum up the following:
|Calories burnt from cycling||2622|
|Calories burnt through your basal metabolic rate||1697|
|Calories burnt through increased basal metabolic rate after exercise||190|
This presumed you are cycling for 4.3 hours per day.
If you cycle for less (or more) time than this you can estimate your calorie expenditure using the table below:
|Time spent cycling||Estimated daily calories burnt|
This may be a slight overestimate as in reality, you will not be spending your whole time bikepacking each day cycling at the same intensity that I cycled for my 15.8-mile trip, however, it is likely to be similar to this value.
As you can see, there are a wide variety of factors that go into how many calories you burn each day when bikepacking. While you burn more calories for each hour of road cycling, given you are likely to be cycling for a longer period of time and for longer distances when bikepakcing, it appears that bikepakcing burns more calories than road cycling overall.
These same figures would likely be very similar for bike touring as on my gravel bike I use panniers which are often used for bike touring trips, and the length of cycling each day is very similar.