I've grown incredibly bored with your more traditional cardio exercises: running, swimming, cycling, elliptical, et cetera. I'm traditionally a weight lifter, but the aerobic side is suffering due to disinterest.

As an alternative, I've considered trying weighted ruck marching / hiking. This isn't meant to take advantage of some benefit that weighted marching offers above other types of cardio, just as a different angle on the same old cardio problem.

I have seen a program (primarily intended for those entering the military) that would proceed as follows:

  • Week 1-3: 20% bodyweight x5 miles
  • Week 4-6: 25% x5 miles
  • Week 7-9: 30% x5 miles
  • Week 10-12: 40% x5 miles (do not exceed 40% of BW)
  • Week 13-14: 40% x6 miles
  • Week 15-16: 40% x7 miles
  • Week 17-18: 40% x8 miles
  • Week 19-20: 40% x10 miles
  • Week 21-22: 40% x12 miles
  • Week 23-24: 40% x15 miles

Does the above-listed plan sound reasonable to those experienced? Does anyone use this exercise for conditioning? Any tips or advice to share?


  • The only remotely related places to look I am familiar with are Dan John and Stuart McGill advice on loaded carries, and hiking/camping. – Dave Liepmann Dec 3 '12 at 14:35
  • At first glance, this looks very reasonable from a load progression viewpoint. You aren't increasing your load very quickly, so you'll have plenty of time to adapt. The amount of mileage at the end of your program is definitely doable, but could require some dedication and schedule management on your part (just fitting in 10+ mile hikes 6 weeks in a row...) – user4644 Dec 4 '12 at 4:19
  • This also won't really work your cardio pathways very hard. You can't exert 100% effort on hikes (uneven/winding paths, tree roots, mud, etc.) I wouldn't expect the same cardio adaptations that you could expect from HITT. – user4644 Dec 4 '12 at 4:21
  • Thanks for the responses everyone (all two of you, up to this point). I'd vote you up if I could. – Chance Dec 5 '12 at 17:46

I am not experienced in this, and I don't have a definite answer, but since this has been asked a week ago and there are no answers yet, I will give the information that I found.

Looking through PubMed it's surprisingly hard to find information on this. The keywords which yielded the best results were "treadmill backpack". In particular, I found this article, which does not directly answer your question, but provides some insight. They studied three conditions: 1) Unloaded, which they describe as "light sportswear"; 2) Moderate load, which is around 27% of bodyweight; 3) Heavy load, which is around 46% of bodyweight.

They found that the motion of walking itself was changed, but in a way which does not make it unhealthy, even for heavy load. This gives you an important piece of information: 40% load is not unhealthy (something which actually surprised me).

I found another article, which described 25% load as "significant" for trained firefighters. This leads me to suggest that 20% load, the starting load in that program, might be too high for someone untrained in backpack walking (even though a weightlifter is better conditioned than the Average Joe). I would suggest starting lighter, at 10% or maybe even 5% load. Assuming that you are looking for a source of cardio for the long term, it's fine to add 3 extra weeks in the beginning with a lighter load.

By far the most frequently studied aspect in backpack walking is the effect of the type of backpack. In particular, if the backpack is very rigid, you will have a tendency to lean forward; this is OK to a certain point, but excessively it could lead to problems. If it is too "bouncy", it may resonate with your walking pattern and lead to changes in your walking motion which are also problematic.

Unfortunately these papers (well, their abstracts, at least) give zero insight into which types/brands/models of backpacks are best. Perhaps the website where you saw your program can help with that.

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