Backpacking for fitness, weight-loss, and stress relief

Backpacking is probably one of the best things you can do for your health. After going on an epic weekend backpacking trip in the Castle Crags Wilderness with some great friends, I was motivated to write this post. If you’ve never been backpacking before, a weekend trip is a great way to start out: It’s a short enough trip to easily pack for; most people can get the time off work, and it’s not too difficult to set a challenging, yet obtainable distance goal. Even if you don’t have all the gear, there’s likely an outdoor gear shop near you that rents everything you need. If you just haven’t been in a while, maybe it’s time to pull your backpack out of the garage and plan a trip to somewhere you’ve never been before.

While backpacking can be an extremely strenuous form of exercise, the scenery is so beautiful and the air so fresh that carrying a 30lb pack up thousands of feet can actually be fun. During my trek through the Castle Crags Wilderness with some friends, we came across a couple that was hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail. The Pacific Crest Trail extends from Mexico all the way to Canada, through the varied terrain of the West Coast. According to them, the first few days of their journey were the most difficult, but soon they stopped even noticing their packs were there. They quickly developed the strength and endurance needed to carry the extra weight. Actually, the greatest factor in the strenuousness of backpacking and the amount of energy expended is body weight. The great news for those packing a little extra weight around the mid section, however, is that backpacking requires a tremendous expenditure of calories, therefore causing weight loss. Depending on terrain, distance, and body weight, a backpacker will burn from 4,000 to 8,000 calories in a single day! If you add the calories burned from backpacking to those burned during activities around camp and by the body’s basic functions, a backpacker can easily lose two or more pounds of body fat in one day! Even more important than losing fat however, backpacking builds strength in the largest muscle group in the body, in the core, and in the upper-body.

While there are definitely anaerobic components of backpacking, which occur primarily during steep ascents, backpacking is mostly an aerobic activity that prompts the body to access fat stores for energy rather than glucose. As an aerobic activity, backpacking elevates the heart rate, strengthening the hearth and lungs, and promoting overall cardiovascular health. The advantage of backpacking over some other forms of cardiovascular exercise is that when you’re breathing a little harder and your lungs are expanding, you won’t be sucking smog; instead, every breath is filled entirely with fresh mountain air and the rejuvenating scent of the woods (Unless you’re at the end of the line hiking with a bunch of buddies, then it’s dust and body odor you’ll be smelling. But hey, that’s just more motivation to be in front!). Recent research even suggests that breathing forest air for several days can result in tremendous health benefits that last for up to a month (for more info, read my previous blog on “forest bathing”).

Besides the immediate fitness benefits of backpacking, there is nothing like sitting around the campfire after a successful day’s hike, visiting with good friends or family, then winding down for a well-earned night’s sleep. Relationships are the true building blocks of life, and what better way to get healthy – spirit, soul, and body – than to get outside with friends on a backpacking trip? Backpacking can also be a great time to mediate, pray, or reflect with nothing in the background but the sounds of birds chirping, the wind blowing through tall trees, or the nearby stream cascading over granite rocks. God made everything you need to be healthy, but most of it’s out your front door! For my backpacking trip check list and preparations tips click here.

Originally posted 2011-08-23 07:16:00.

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