For many, a new year brings renewed vows to shed pounds. If you are looking to mix travel with weight loss in 2014, then Fatpacking might be your resolution solution.
The brainchild of Hull resident Steve Silberberg, Fatpacking leads groups of 12 or fewer people on backpacking expeditions to see some of the most beautiful areas of the country and lose weight at the same time.
After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Silberberg worked for more than 20 years as a software engineer until he decided to launch his travel company and make the great outdoors his new office. "I have always loved backpacking," he says, "and whenever I returned to my cubicle after a backpacking expedition, I found that I felt better, my pants fit better, my metabolism was higher, and I had a better outlook on life. So I thought maybe others would like to feel the same way as well."
He was right. As the waistlines of its clients have shrunk, Fatpacking has grown. In 2014, the company will offer 25 one- and two-week backpacking trips, including expeditions to some of the country's most famous national parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Great Smoky Mountains as well as a December trip to Patagonia in Chile. For those trying Fatpacking for the first time, Silberberg recommends some of the trips scheduled earlier in the year to flatter, temperate locations such as Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve and Georgia's Cumberland Island National Seashore.
Silberberg says that since Fatpacking teaches outdoor skills, camping experience is not vital for anyone considering joining a trip. A modicum level of fitness, however, is a prerequisite. "If you are a candidate for 'The Biggest Loser,' Fatpacking is probably not for you," he says. "But for someone maybe 30 or 35 pounds overweight, this is a perfect activity."
Fatpacking groups typically hike five to eight hours a day with frequent breaks for activities such as swimming or just soaking in the sights. Sometimes expeditions take a day off the trail to canoe or kayak. Guides prepare and cook nutritious meals, but hikers can also bring their own food as long as they haul it in their backpacks.
Even if dieting is part of your weight-loss regimen, Silberberg warns that the trail is not the place to be counting calories. "Many people have this idea that they are going to expend all this energy backpacking and change their diets radically," he says, "but you actually have to step up caloric intake so you don't bonk. My philosophy is that hunger is a sign of a healthy body saying it's burning calories and needs to be fed, which is different from nervous or emotional eating, and it's important to keep your blood sugar steady and eat continuously throughout the day. When you're hiking, you find that instead of two or three meals a day, your body wants to be fed continually."
What makes backpacking a particularly effective weight-loss activity? "First, you can only eat what you carry," Silberberg says. "There's no sneaking off to the fridge in the middle of the night. Plus, since you're away from civilization and the stresses of daily life, you don't have the emotional aspect of eating." And then there is the physical exertion. Silberberg says hikers typically carry 40 pounds of supplies in their packs and that various studies have found that backpackers hauling those loads can burn 800 calories an hour. One beneficial side effect: guilt-free eating on the trail.
What kind of results can hikers expect? Fatpacking takes tape measurements and uses a body composition monitor — essentially a souped-up scale — to gauge body fat percentage, hydration percentage, and metabolic age before and after expeditions. Silberberg says they have found that people typically lose about five pounds of body fat in one week of backpacking. "Sometimes people are dismayed at the end of the hike when they get on the scale and find they are only one pound lower," he says, "but when we look at the composition monitor, they have maybe lost six pounds of fat but put on four pounds of muscle and one pound of water weight."
And for those who like the idea of hitting the trail to shed pounds but don't want to broadcast to friends and family that they are going "Fatpacking," Silberberg has that covered as well with an alternative name for his company: "Fitpacking."
For more information, visit www.fatpacking.com.
Christopher Klein can be reached at www.christopherklein.com.