Carrying or Hiking with an excessively heavy backpack, also known as Rucking is a well known and very efficient way to exercise, lose weight and get fit quickly. It has a long and well documented history in the Military as a means to get it’s soldiers into shape quickly, and for good reason. Carrying a heavy backpack get’s results.
But what are the benefits of carrying a heavy backpack, and are they available to everyone? In the following few paragraphs we’ll have a closer look at the main benefits and drawbacks of Carrying a Heavy Backpack as an aid to training our bodies.
Will Carrying A Heavy Backpack Burn More Calories?
This is an easy question to answer and it is a resounding Yes. If you are doing the same hike, with or without wearing a heavy backpack, you will burn more Calories when doing it with the backpack, fact.
A simple analogy would be “Moving a bigger truck requires more fuel than moving a smaller one”. If we make ourselves significantly heavier, which we will be doing by carrying a heavy backpack, we will need to burn more Calories in the form of Glycogen and Fat to enable our bodies to continue to move.
Sustaining this higher level of calorie burning over an extended distance, such as when we are on a hike, will help us to burn significantly more calories than we would do if we were doing the hike and not carrying the backpack.
Does Carrying A Heavy Backpack Build Endurance?
What is building endurance? Endurance is described as our body’s physical capability to sustain an exercise for an extended period of time without having to quit physically or mentally.
Endurance can be thought of similarly to a muscle, the more we exercise it and push it to it’s limits the more it will grow.
Hiking with a Heavy Backpack, especially for extended periods of time, will increase your cardiovascular fitness, build muscle strength, build stamina and toughen us up mentally. This is one of the reasons that military forces from all around the globe have used Backpacking, Rucking, Yomping or Load Carrying, to name but a few of it’s names as a major part of their strength and endurance building training packages.
If you want to build up strength and endurance quickly, go hiking while carrying a heavy backpack, it really works.
Is Carrying A Heavy Backpack A Good Weight Loss Strategy?
It can be, carrying a heavy backpack will burn a lot more calories than not carrying one, which is exactly what we want if we are trying to lose weight. But carrying a heavy backpack alone is not a good weight loss strategy.
Carrying a heavy backpack for weight loss and then continuing to over-eat, eating the wrong unhealthy fast foods, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and simple overeating will not get you the results you are looking for.
If you are overweight it is usually a simple mathematical problem. You are putting in more calories than you are burning off. There are numerous ways that you can approach the problem of being overweight, but the answer to losing weight is to create a calorie deficit.
In simple terms this means to either burn a lot more calories or reduce your calorie intake so that if you want to continue what you are doing, hiking for example, your body needs to burn some form of stored energy, as it has used up all the available energy that it had on hand from recently consumed food.
When we exercise our body first takes it’s fuel from Glycogen which is a form of Carbohydrates that our body keeps readily available in our Muscles and Liver. Glycogen stores are very limited and are just there for short term easy access to energy.
Once the Glycogen is depleted, usually after 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise our body will switch to burning the far more powerful energy from Fatty Acids in our blood stream from recently consumed food. This too is in limited supply.
As soon as our bodies realise that these easy access Fatty Acids are being used up, it begins to release Stored Fats (Fats from Beer Bellies, Double Chins and Fatty Thighs) to be broken down into more Fatty Acids to replace the one’s being used up so that we can have the energy on hand to continue. This is the Fat Burning Zone that we want to remain in for Weight Loss.
Can Carrying A Heavy Backpack Build Bone Density?
Yes, carrying a heavy backpack will build bone density. Your body is an amazingly adaptable biological machine. It reacts and responds accordingly to the situations that it is regularly subjected to.
If you hike more than a few times while carrying a heavy backpack your body will receive and react to signals that more bone density is required and it will begin to increase the bone density in the areas where it feels it is required.
Increasing bone density is one of the main ways to decrease the effects of Osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a health condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. It develops slowly over several years and is often only diagnosed when a fall or sudden impact causes a bone to break (fracture).
Is Carrying A Heavy Backpack Bad For My Back?
Carrying a heavy backpack is actually good for your back, as long as you carry a well backed backpack that is in balance with the load evenly distributed. It strengthens the back muscles, increases spinal bone density, improves balance and affords many other positive benefits.
However, carrying a heavy backpack incorrectly can be extremely bad for your back. Whenever you carry any heavy load it must be in balance. Carrying a poorly packed backpack, which I never do, or your backpack over one shoulder, which I have been guilty of before when I get lazy, can be dangerous and lead to pulled back and neck muscles, slipped disc’s and numerous other injuries. It can also easily throw you off balance and cause trip or falling injuries.
To get the positive benefits of carrying a heavy backpack and prevent back injuries it is essential that you maintain a balanced, well distributed load which can’t move around during your hike.
What Is The Best Way To Pack A Heavy Backpack For Rucking?
When you are packing your backpack you need to keep a balance between usability and comfort. It is no good packing the things that you use the most right at the bottom just because it spreads the weight better. You will end up looking foolish not to mention wasting a lot of time if you have to completely empty and repack your backpack regularly to get everyday things out. A little common sense is needed here.
The ideal situation is to have the majority of the heavy weight in the centre of the backpack with the items you use the most at the top and the least at the bottom. It is also essential that your backpack is in balance too. You don’t want the left side weighing significantly more than the right, or the effects on your posture could also lead to an injury. Lastly, you need to make sure the weight can’t suddenly shift or move around during your hike. This can be done by correctly packing your backpack, and also by tightening the straps and waist band in such a way so that the backpack itself can’t move around on your back when you are moving.
How Far Should I Hike With A Heavy Backpack?
This is a difficult question to give a direct answer to, as we are all at different fitness levels and have different targets in mind that we are looking to achieve from our weighted hikes.
However, let’s give it a go. If we are looking to improve our fitness, endurance and lose some weight, I suggest hiking for a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour to begin with and building up to hikes of 2 hours plus within a few hikes.
If we say that we are going to be walking at 4-5 km/hr, which is around the average, then that is going to give us distances of anywhere upwards from 3 km (2 miles). This may not seem like a lot, but if you take into account that this is the absolute minimum distance, you are going to be carrying a heavy backpack and the terrain is likely to be undulating, it is a good place to start.
Why do I choose to use these figures? Well, I choose them because 45 minutes is around the point where your body will begin to feel the effects of the exercise and start to burn stored fats. It is also around the time that we take our DofE Students out for on their first hike, to give them a taste of walking while carrying weight so as to not put them off for life.
Nowadays when I hike with my backpack on I rarely go for hikes of under 3 hours and generally many more. As you get used to hiking with a heavy backpack your physical and mental endurance will increase, plus you will begin to enjoy it more, so want to stay out for longer periods.
What Are The Benefits Of Carrying A Heavy Backpack? – Conclusion
As you can see the benefits of carrying a heavy backpack are many and the drawbacks are few, providing you carry your heavy backpack correctly. By hiking with a heavy backpack you will:
- Get Fit
- Burn Calories
- Lose Weight
- Increase Endurance
- Increase Mental Strength
- Build Bone Density
- Enjoy More Time in the Outdoors
If you aren’t used to hiking with a heavy backpack, you should try it, it might just change your life for the better, as it has mine.