Welcome to the backcountry, where the weight of your gear is a heavy reminder that you're taking on an enormous challenge. For the best results, you need to train your mind as well as your body. And that's exactly where the many benefits of heavy pack training come into play.
The benefits of heavy pack training include enhanced endurance, strength, and mental resilience. It simulates backcountry scenarios, building muscle memory for hauling heavy loads for miles. This training prepares hunters for rigorous terrain, ensuring they stay agile and fatigue-resistant.
Few experiences can prepare you for the rigors of the wilderness like heavy pack training. This article will explore every major benefit of heavy pack training. You'll understand the 'why' behind it, and then we'll show you how to get started with the MTNTOUGH HP20 Program.
9 Benefits of Heavy Pack Training
Any backcountry hunter knows the feeling: the weight of a loaded pack on your shoulders, the strain on your muscles as you press through undisturbed land, and the mental challenge of pushing forward when every fiber of your being screams for rest.
The backcountry doesn't hand out participation trophies or applaud your casual workout from last Tuesday. It will cut you down without a second thought. That's why heavy pack training is far from your average gym routine.
Before we get any further, let's set a baseline on the definition of heavy pack training.
What is Heavy Pack Training?
Heavy pack training is a functional regimen focused on building strength, endurance, and mental toughness by carrying weighted packs. This training mimics the demands of backcountry hunting, where hunters often bear heavy loads over rugged terrain, for many miles at high altitudes.
With its roots in military rucking (short for rucksack marching), it's no surprise then that rucking has been a cornerstone of military and first-responder training for years.
These professionals understand that real-world challenges don't come with the controlled variables of a gym. They're unpredictable, demanding, and require a unique blend of aerobic and anaerobic strength.
But for any group that puts energy into this training, it's far more than adding weight and moving around. It's a dynamic tool that can be used with nearly any exercise to increase its difficulty, while also challenging multiple parts of the body. It immediately adds a 'grit your teeth' factor to a workout and requires a 'push through to the end' attitude to handle.
Civilians have embraced this training method in droves over the past decade, incorporating both weighted backpacks and vests into their routines. In all instances, it's adapted to simulate the intensity and difficulty of real field work or real-world usage, whatever it may be.
Here are 9 benefits that make this form of functional training so effective, and why every backcountry hunter, every elite mountain athlete, should be embracing the grind of heavy pack training before setting out on their next hunt.
1. Next Level Caloric Burn
In the wild, every ounce of energy counts. Training with a heavy pack primes your body to burn calories at an optimized rate. By adding significant weight to your frame you're challenging more than just your muscles.
You're also forcing your lungs to work harder, your heart to pump faster, and your body to expend significantly more energy with every step. In other words, increasing the weight on your upper body increases resistance and adds compressive force to your rib cage, making it harder to breathe, increasing your rate of fatigue, and emptying your energy reserves at a faster rate.
It's like turning your body into a high-efficiency furnace, burning through more calories at a rate you wouldn't achieve with standard workouts. Consider it a crash course for your body.
Before you step foot into the unpredictable backcountry, you're giving yourself a chance to adapt, to understand the energy demands of the hunt, and to refine your movements for maximum efficiency.
2. Elevate Your Heart
Research has consistently shown that adding weight to your regimen demands more on your cardiovascular fitness. As you trudge through unforgiving ground across long distances, your heart works overtime to meet the increased demand.
The key here though is how your heart works overtime. More than working harder, it's about working smarter. Studies have highlighted the significant improvements in cardiac output resulting from this form of training.
The rawness of nature remains unmatched in its ability to test mountain athletes, but heavy pack training offers a close second. It's a tough dress-rehearsal that preps your heart and body for what's to come, leaving behind valuable cardio benefits.
3. Increase Muscle Strength
True muscular strength can't be measured by lifting weights in a controlled environment. It has to be functional, measured by how well it can adapt, endure, and overcome when you need it most.
Traditional strength training is structured and confined to sets and reps with built-in rests; it doesn't translate to the real world, and certainly not to the backcountry.
However, heavy pack training is functionally relentless. It doesn't stop until you decide it's over, pushing your boundaries every step of the way. Mimicking the real experience of backcountry hunting.
Heavy pack training forces you to lift and push on with your lower body, creating unrivaled leg strength. All the while, your core is constantly at work to stabilize the weight and ensuring you remain balanced and upright
By training with a heavy pack, you provide the body with a multi-planar stimulus, taking your body weight through forward, backward, and lateral movements that mimic the undulating landscape of the wilderness.
Load carriage training isn't just effective for hunters, it's superior to traditional aerobic and resistance training for improving load carriage performance.
4. Fortify Muscular Endurance
While heavy pack training and rucking might feel like new fitness fads, they've been around for ages. Military training (and first-responder training) has relied on it as a realistic simulation of fieldwork for many years, using it as an effective way to build endurance for real-world challenges.
There are a number of evidence-based reasons the military has relied on this training for so long, but it's perhaps a study conducted on load carriage that underscores its effectiveness: combining the strain of hauling heavy loads with aerobic training significantly enhances load carriage performance.
So, how does this translate into the world of western hunting? It's simple: if you're on a mission to build resilience and grit to make it in the wild, this specialized training is your ticket to peak endurance.
5. Turbocharge Your Metabolic Efficiency
Being an elite hunter is ultimately about transforming into the most efficient version of oneself. Every step, every strategic decision - it all boils down to getting the best and most effective outcome while using the least amount of energy possible.
Heavy pack training can help. At a base level, rucking fine-tunes your metabolic engine through repetition. After pushing your body to its limits over time, you train it to optimize the use of carbohydrates and fats as fuel sources. This is metabolic efficiency, and it's a game-changer on long hikes and intense days in the wild.
Reaching this high state of efficiency will ensure you have the energy to push through when it matters most.
6. Forge Mental Toughness
There's not getting around it; heavy pack training is brutal. But what makes it tough is the same factor that makes it perfect. Every grueling session, every added weight, every extra yard is a step towards forging a mind as tough as granite.
This isn't a matter of opinion either.
Studies show that load carriage training enhances physical capacity and also increases ask-tolerance - in simpler terms, rucking builds your physical and mental strength.
Looking to boost your psychophysical performance? This is how you do it.
7. Armor Against Injures
Imagine the gut-turning feeling of training for months, only to be sidelined by a twisted ankle on your first day. Unfortunately, ankle injuries are one of the most common reasons for ending hunting season prematurely. The culprit is that added weight on your back.
Hunters that aren't used to demands of their weighted backpack lack a high acuity of proprioception, which is the scientific term for your body's self-awareness.
Heavy pack training can help reduce your risk of injury by building your proprioception. It forces your knees and ankles to adapt in a functional manner, which improves sensory motor function and tissue resilience.
While you won't become injury-proof, it will at least make every step more stable and efficient, dramatically reducing the odds of a trip-ending injury.
8. Prepare Your Body for the Pressure
Heavy pack training offsets the physical and mental drain you'll experience while navigating the backcountry for hours on end. You know this.
But it doesn't simply change how you move; training with a heavy pack transforms your entire approach to movement. From step rates to stride lengths, to how you hold your torso - everything adapts to the conditions before you ever step foot into the backcountry.
More than just physical preparation, experience is also a major benefit. Knowing how to move, how to pace yourself, and how to plan is just as crucial as physical strength. It's about being one with the weight, understanding its challenges, and rising to meet them.
9. Efficient and Economical
The unsung hero of pack training? It doesn't break the bank. Use your existing gear, load up your pack (evenly distributed weight of course), and you're essentially good to go.
Plus, you'll get more familiar with your gear in the process. Knowing every pocket, every strap, every nuance of your pack is one of the smartest things you can do to prep for your time in the wild. You can also train like this in just about any place imaginable.
With heavy pack training, you're getting fit and familiar in the most practical sense. It's a win-win.
How to Start Training with a Heavy Pack
Getting started is the easy part. Sticking it out is where you'll face pushback. But we'll get to that in a minute. For those who want to conquer the backcountry like an elite athlete, here are your first steps.
1. Gear Up
You don’t need fancy equipment. Grab a sturdy pack – the same one you'd trust with your life out in the wild.
For a pack fit for the backcountry and the rigors of training, check out the Stone Glacier. This isn’t about brand name; it’s about resilience.
You can also purchase packs designed specifically for training. GORUCK is your go-to here. They're best-in-class within the space. Whether you're looking for sandbag training or more traditional rucking, if rucking is how you want to tackle the mountains, GORUCK should be your first and last stop for gearing up.
If you decide to go with a pack that's field-ready or opt for sandbags and ruck training, you can rest assured that both paths lead to a great workout.
2. Load It Right
Start with a weight that challenges you but doesn’t break you. Ideally you'll want to hit your average pack weight and continue building beyond it, but that might not happen on your first session.
Use whatever you've got: dumbbells, ruck plates, old school textbooks, or even your hunting gear. It really doesn't matter what you use, so long as it's challenging and can be distributed evenly.
3. Pack It Tight
Distribute that weight. Make sure it’s even, so you’re not leaning left or right. If things are shifting, wrap them up. A towel, a shirt – whatever prevents movement in your pack will work.
4. Adjust and Secure
Your pack should feel like an extension of you. Adjust the straps so the top is right at the base of your neck and fits like a glove around your shoulders.
The bottom of your pack should sit right at your hips with the hip belt just above it. Fitted correctly, the system of your pack will distribute the weight throughout your body instead of pulling solely on one area.
*Steps 2-4 have a major influence on staying safe while training with a weighted backpack.
5. Hit the Ground Running
Or walking. Or hiking. The point is to move. We'll show you a solid heavy pack workout shortly, but keep in mind that the simple addition of a heavy load is already a workout to any sort of activity you do. With a pack on, you're building strength, endurance, and mental toughness at the onset.
MTNTOUGH HP20 Program: Training for Handling Heavy Packs
Your pack is your lifeline during a hunt. Holding everything you own at the time, it's the weight that keeps you alive, grounds you, challenges you, and through training, molds you into the iron-willed hunter you're meant to be.
Enter the MTNTOUGH HP20 program. We didn't just pull this out of thin air. We created this through a combination of firsthand field experience and scientific credibility in fitness and physiology.
The program simulates the demands of ruck marching and backcountry hunting, which creates strength and endurance while familiarizing yourself with the weight you'll use out in the wild. Movements include: marches, carries, presses, rows, and lunges.
Rookie or elite hunter, it makes no difference. With the HP20 program you can adjust the weight, set your distance, and choose your reps to meet your needs and goals.
The key with any heavy pack training is to start slow and make steady progress with each outing. Begin with a lighter weight for your initial session and focus on performing slow and deliberate movements - it's the same truth for any exercise. That is, correct form is your top priority - resist the urge of adding too much weight or moving too quickly.
Certainly push your limits, but do so at a pace that fits you. This is all about training the right way. It's designed to not only build mental fortitude but also fine-tune your sensory motor functions.
While the outdoors won’t be so kind, here you can control elements such as technique and pacing, strengthening your body by loading your muscles and joints, reducing soreness, and lowering your chances for injury.
This plays right into the ultimate goal - to make you a force of nature and reduce your risk of injury in the wild. So going at a speed and difficulty that matches your fitness level is an important step to achieving this, as staying safe in training directly impacts the mission outcome.
If you jump into the HP20 Program, try our Pack-In, Pack-Out Workout, or any pack training from MTNTOUGH, aim for steady, consistent progress.
Consolidate elite habits and proper form toward your end goal. Doing so will make you capable of taking on anything that the elements that can throw at you, but also provide functional strength that will bulletproof your body and maximize injury prevention.
Conquering the Wild: The Power of Heavy Pack Training
Heavy pack training is as close as a hunter can get to the unfiltered taste of the challenges awaiting them in the backcountry.
While traditional gym routines have their place, it's not with those looking to pack out meat. Where those routines measure success in reps and weights, heavy pack training measures it in grit and determination.
Padded machines and controlled environments won't do you any favors for embracing the unpredictable, pushing past boundaries, and fostering a body and mind that's up for any challenge.
When you're training with a heavy pack, every inch strengthens your body and mind. Your legs are preparing for the wide variety of terrain, your core is stabilizing for the worst footing possible, and your mindset is learning how to thrive in adversity.
Dare to join the ranks of elite hunters and athletes. Load up, step out, and experience the transformative power of MTNTOUGH+ programs. Dive in and explore every heavy pack program and the entire MTNTOUGH library with our 14-day free trial. Let your training become your proving ground instead of the hunt.