The Weight Factor: Losing Weight on a Long Distance Hike

When the word weight is used in the backpacking world, it usually refers to what you are carrying in your backpack.  The weight I’m thinking about now, is the weight I carry in every day life.  The weight of my body.

EarthTone and LoGear

I’m the fat one in front

The Old days

Back when I was still active duty military, I was expected to keep my weight within standards and I was pretty good at doing that.  (Although, as I got older, it became harder to drop weight quickly if I needed to).  I had become a rather big boy in the last thirty years.  Mostly from weight lifting and other activities, but also from my fondness of eating and the fact that I never turn down a beer.  Once I retired and that restriction was no longer something I had to adhere to, my weight started to creep up a bit.  And by creep, I mean, shit, I’m fat.

Listing my Reasons

When I made my lists for why I wanted to attempt a Thru Hike of the Appalachian Trail, I never wrote down, “to lose weight”.  I’m pretty sure it was always in the back of my head, that the “side effect” of long distance hiking causing drastic weight loss wouldn’t be a bad thing, I never came out and stated that that was one of the reasons I was hiking.  Until now.

I have met a lot of hikers who have dropped 30, 40, 60 pounds during their hike.  I’m sure I want to be one of those people now.  My fear is that the start of the hike is going to be pretty rough as my body gets used to lugging a pack all day long, up and over mountains.  I’m thinking that I should at least attempt to drop a few (or ten) pounds before we step off in late April.  My problem is some back issues have made most of my old workout activities painful.  The one thing I found I can still do is put a pack on and hike.  Right now, that just isn’t enough.  The trails near my house aren’t nearly challenging enough to give me a good workout.

I’m starting to feel (and look) like the character named Captain Stupid from the novel, THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story by Richard Judy.  I do feel the need to get my before pack weight (BPW) down at least a few pounds.  I do this because I want to have at least a fighting chance to hike long enough to get my hiker legs and not damage myself in the process.

The Plan

I am trying valiantly to get my fat body to the gym, but the thought of working out indoors, is no longer appealing.  Jumping on their new steppers just doesn’t excite me.  When I am outdoors, I feel alive.  My short one mile dog walks with my faithful companion, Ginger, are very rewarding if not very strenuous.  I hope to start getting out there three or four times a week.  Anywhere.  With my full pack on.  I enjoy the stares I get from the muggles, who just don’t understand.  They never will and that’s OK.  I will also try to do some body weight exercises.  I need to get my fat body at least a little better used to the work.  The gym will see me there.  At least every once and a while.  I just need to drop some pounds and strengthen my body a bit.

From there, I will let the Trail do the rest.  I figure, that by the time we reach Fontana Dam, we should be good.  Getting to the Dam and the beginning of the Smokys is one of my goals.  Hopefully all my parts will still be working when we get there.

Wish me luck.

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Comments 10

  • George Turner : Dec 30th

    while I managed to tear my rotator cuff on a trip home, I still got in 1000 + miles this year and lost 27 pounds. 1) do everything you can to get your pack weight down. Gear is a big part of that but you can also limit the number of days you go between resupplying 2) no rain, no pain, no Maine! Walk at least a hour 5 days a week in all weathers. Best way to prepare to endure the conditions you will face on the trail. If you avoid it now why do it on the trail?

    I’ve gained about 9 since I got back, but I am able to run for the first time in years. Slower than Christmas, but still getting it done

  • Doug C : Dec 30th

    EarthTone and LoGear, I wish you all the best of luck. Will you be blogging your “long walk”? My wife and I do trail magic in the Roller Coaster, just before Bear’s Den in Bluemont, VA. I will try to follow you all and hopefully we can be out there when you pass through. If you need anything between Front Royal and Harper’s Ferry please reach out to me at doug (at) BTW, I used to live in Pasadena, MD for a time. We lived off Ferry Point Rd on the Magothy River.

  • Zach : Dec 30th

    Body fat will melt off you at the speed of sound on the Trail. But, I agree with George, getting a solid base level of fitness will be a huge advantage for your mental wellbeing early on.

    I too have never turned down a beer, that’s just bad karma.

  • Ken Fletcher : Dec 30th

    I’m right there with you! I would love to partner up with an older guy to hike thru God willing!!! I’m 63 and in decent condition but can stand to lose 20-30 pounds! Not my reason but we will add it on there! Please email me if you want a hiking partner! It will be a fun adventure! I’m ready!!!

    • Julius kickatree Daniels : Jan 5th

      I’m 58. Not terribly slow. If you’re starting around March 24th ish. I’ll see you there. Hiking the first 100 with my gal pal, but you’re welcome to join in.

  • Melissa : Dec 30th

    Me too! Hiking is my sport of choice…I’ve always had strong legs, but between a desk job, not being young anymore (I’m 37) and eating my way through an awful divorce, I got mega fat. I hike a lot, but I’ve been practicing with a heavy pack and short overnights now to build my strength (and reduce my fear) of going on an extended thru hike. It’s still a slow process and I’m not sure I’m quite ready, but losing weight and curbing my bad habits of both thought and body are good motivators! I look forward to reading about your progress, much luck to you! 🙂

  • Haiku : Dec 30th

    I was really frustrated on trail because I didn’t lose much weight. I didn’t get hiker hunger either, until maybe about 2/3 of the way thru the trail. I only lost about 10 lbs total, most of that again was in the last part of the trail. I wasn’t fat by any means before the trail but I definitely had some weight I could lose. On the plus side, while I gained most of that 10 lbs back it does seem like the muscle stuck. My legs are more muscular-looking than amorphous-blob-looking, which they were before. Still have my pudgy face and belly tho.

    Well, anyway my fingers are crossed for PCT 17 haha. Feel great on trail regardless of how I look.

  • Jeff Mann : Dec 30th

    I am all in for a spring thaw that reduces a few pounds. I start my efforts in early March.

  • Fred Genualdi (fregen) : Jan 9th


    I would be lying if I did not admit that losing weight is one of my top 3 reasons for hiking the trail this year.

    At our age conditioning is the key and I also have been hiking with full pack (25+ lbs). Since March 2015 I have put in 2000+ miles. My legs look great! – But then my belly shows up. I had dropped 15 lbs but after the prostate operation it came right back.

    I also worry that the terrain here is not tough enough but not overdoing at the beginning will give us a chance to adapt. My target start is early April but no firm date yet. Hope to see you on the trail.



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