Hiking With A Weighted Vest: Is It Worth It?

hiking with a weighted vest

Hiking is a workout routine for some, while others use it to socialize, reflect, or improve their mental well-being. For me, it’s sometimes a bit of both. Irrespective of your reason for hiking, those long, hilly walks can help build muscle and increase strength, especially with a weighted vest.  

Weighted vests are tactical clothing with heavy materials (typically sandbags) that add extra weight to your body, increasing the challenge of your movement. These vests help distribute weight evenly around your torso, helping you build muscle and fitness while hiking.

The consensus is that hiking with a weighted vest is worth it for fitness, but is it ideal for everyone? What are the benefits of a weighted vest while hiking? Read on to find answers to these questions and other important things you need to know about hiking with a weighted vest.

Is Weighted Hiking Beneficial? 

The answer to this question is a resounding “yes”! Hiking with a weighted vest has many benefits, chief among them being an increased ability to build muscle. When hiking uphill, the added weight of the vest challenges your muscles more, making them work harder and resulting in better muscle development over time.

In addition to building muscle, hiking with a weighted vest also helps improve your cardiovascular health. The added weight makes your heart work harder to pump blood throughout your body, helping increase your overall fitness and stamina over time.

Finally, hiking with a weighted vest is great for those looking to improve their balance and coordination. The added weight makes it more difficult to maintain balance, forcing you to use more muscles and better coordinate your movements.

Overall, hiking with a weighted vest is an excellent way to improve your fitness, strength, and balance. While it may not be ideal for everyone, those who are able to hike with a weighted vest will see significant benefits.

How To Hike Safely With A Weighted Vest

So, how do you safely go hiking with a weighted vest? 

Below are some safety tips to take into consideration when hiking with extra weight:

Go for Lightweights

If you are just starting out, it’s best to begin with lightweight weighted vests. These vests typically have 2-5 pounds of weight, which is enough to challenge your body without being too strenuous. As you become more accustomed to hiking with weights, you can gradually increase the amount of weight in your vest.

Start Slow

When beginning any new workout routine, it is essential to start slow. This is especially true when hiking with a weighted vest. Start by adding just a few pounds of weight to your vest and gradually increase the amount as you become more comfortable. This will help minimize the risk of injury and allow your body to adjust to the added weight.

No Lengthy Walks

Regardless of your hiking experience level, when you start using a weight vest while hiking, ensure to keep your walks short. Start with about 10 to 15 minutes and increase the duration as your body adjusts to the additional weight. If you are hiking in a warmer climate, you need to consider all the extra warmth the heavy layers add to your body.

Heat stroke is serious and can sometimes be fatal – so make sure to give your body time to breathe and cool down regularly.

Drink Plenty of Water

It is essential to drink plenty of water while hiking, especially when wearing a weighted vest. The extra weight makes you sweat more, so it’s important to stay hydrated at all times. Carry a water bottle with you and drink frequently, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

Watch Your Posture

Maintaining correct posture when walking with weights is the best way to reduce your risks of injury. While correct posture is always important, we cannot overemphasize its importance with weights. Incorrect posture puts stress and strain on your joints.

When walking with a weighted vest for hiking training, ensure you stand straight, keep shoulders relaxed, and footing light.

Watch Your Pace

On adding weights to your hiking routine, walking too fast is not a good idea, as they expose you to the risk of joint injury. Ensure you keep your pace steady until you are comfortable with the weights enough to warrant increased pace.

Walk Without Weights

Hiking in a weight vest puts strain on your muscles and joints, so using them for every hike exposes you to the risks of injury. Take a walk with and without weights for the perfect balance.

Does Hiking with A Weighted Vest Build Leg Muscle? 

Hiking on its own is a great workout for your legs, but adding a weighted vest can intensify the workout and help build muscle. The added weight will cause your muscles to work harder as you hike, resulting in a more effective leg workout. If you’re looking to add some extra muscle mass to your legs, consider using a weighted vest while hiking. Not only will you see improved muscle definition, but you’ll also be able to hike longer and faster with less fatigue.

Plus, let’s be honest here. It’ll help make up for those skipped leg days at the gym (which is totally understandable because, c’mon, leg day is hard).

Is a Weighted Vest or Backpack Better? 

hiking with a heavy backpack vs hiking with a weighted vest
Image Credit: Shutterstock

Both backpacks and weighted vests improve your workout routine as they perform similar functions, from muscular endurance and aerobic fitness to strength and power. 

So, which of them is better?

Functionality

Let’s just get this one out of the way first. The only real function of a weighted vest is to add weight. On the other hand, backpacks have a lot of different compartments and pockets, which can be filled with various useful objects to make them heavier or lighter. This also makes backpacks are more adjustable to your specific needs and can provide a more tailored workout.

Weight Capacity

Backpacks also have the advantage of holding more weight than weighted vests. As we mentioned before, backpacks come with compartments that can be filled with different objects. Before I had my weighted vest, I would fill up my backpack with several 5 to 10lb weighted plates.

On the other hand, a weighted vest comes in different weight capacities, which is often a function of its style. Weighted vests also assure you even distribution of weights around your torso. 

You might argue that a backpack is better for carrying weights, but remember that weight not evenly distributed is risky. Also, your shoulder limits the amount of weight you can carry comfortably. On the plus side, you can load up your backpack with anything that would make it heavier.

Comfortability

With a backpack, the focus of the weight remains on your shoulders and lower back, which is often detrimental to posture. You tend to lean forward when wearing a loaded backpack to counter the horizontal force of the weight, pulling you backward, thereby pressuring your lower back. 

On the other hand, hiking with a weighted vest does not put any horizontal force on your body as there is an even distribution of weight on both sides of the vest. The only force experienced with a weighted vest is the downward force, which is safe for your spine and posture.

Design

Designed to fit snugly on your body, weighted vests are relatively immobile. One advantage this design gives you is the ability to move in any direction without unnaturally redistributing weight. 

There is no even distribution of weight on a backpack, and it does not fit snugly to the body, which keeps it in a state of perpetual movement. If you are using a backpack to carry everything you would need during a hike, it is ideal, but it is not advisable for workouts.

Budget

Backpacks are relatively cheaper than weighted vests, and most of us have a backpack somewhere at home, making them the most budget-friendly. 

There are budget-friendly weighted vests, but also note that the higher the weight of the vests, the higher the price. If budget is a deciding factor for you, a backpack might be ideal. If not, I recommend hiking in a weight vest.

How Many Calories Burned Hiking with A Weighted Vest?

Based on a study carried out by the American Council on Exercise, hiking with a weighted vest that is at least 15% of your total body mass helps you burn 12% more calories.

Bodies differ! Heavier people often burn calories more than lighter people when given the same tasks. Putting on a weighted vest during simple exercises like walking or hiking encourages more calorie burn. 

Also, when there is a sudden increase in weight, which the weighted vests add to the body, bones register this increase. They also try to restore the body’s balance, and they do this by causing a reduction in appetite, which leads to weight loss.

What’s the Best Weighted Vest for Hiking?

The Aduro Sport Weighted Vest is my recommendation for the best weighted vest for hiking. It goes up to a maximum of 30 lb and has a minimum of 4 lb.

It’s made with comfortable neoprene material and contours to your body. The vest has hypo-allergenic iron fillers instead of the typical sand that’s often used.

Lastly, it’s small, so it’s not obtrusive. You can comfortably wear clothes on top of it. Before this, I had an adjustable vest I bought from Academy Sports Outdoors, which I thought was great – until the bulk started to get in the way and became a nuisance.

Conclusion

Hiking in a weight vest is suitable for cardio and strength training. When using weighted vests, be mindful of your limits. Always start slow and with lighter weights. You can gradually increase your pace and add weights as you build resistance. 

Starting with higher weights or a faster pace would ultimately lead to injuries that hinder you from reaching your training goals. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a weighted vest hurt your back?

No, a weighted vest should not hurt your back if you use it properly. Always start slowly and with lighter weights to build resistance. If you experience pain, stop and consult a doctor.

Is it better to hike with a backpack or weighted vest?

Excluding functionality – Hiking with a weighted vest is generally better than hiking with a backpack. This is because weighted vests evenly distribute weight on your body, whereas backpacks do not. Backpacks can also be bulky and hinder your movement.

Do weighted vests stunt your growth?

No, weighted vests do not stunt your growth. In fact, they can help improve your posture and spine health. However, as with any workout routine, be mindful of your limits and always consult a doctor before starting any new exercises.

How heavy should a weighted vest be for walking?

A weighted vest should be heavy enough to challenge you, but not so heavy that it hinders your movement or causes pain. A good starting point is a vest that is 10% of your body weight. You can gradually increase the weight as you build resistance.

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