Who doesn’t want to lose weight and be more fit? It’s the most common New Year’s resolution, and though many of us will have abandoned those champagne-fueled vows by now, that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth making. Or keeping.
But sometimes one needs a bit of a kick start to actually adopt a healthy lifestyle. Enter the “Fatpacking” trip, known also by its more polite name “Fitpacking”. An outdoorsy, adventurous alternative to the fat farm, these backpacking tours take travelers to some of the most beautiful nature areas in North America for one to two weeks, and do so on such a vigorous itinerary that most participants shed inches and fat pounds without resorting to a traditional diet.
“I used to have a corporate job. I was about 25 pounds overweight then,” recounts Fitpacking founder Steve Silberberg. “I was always into backpacking and when I went on vacation, I noticed that afterwards my clothes fit better and I felt a whole lot better.” Inspired by his own trips, Silberberg decided to start a company (in 2005) that would take novices backpacking, and help them lose weight in the course of the trip. So each trip starts and ends with a measuring tape and body fat evaluation (with a body composition monitor). “If you’re going to claim that people are going to lose weight, I feel it’s important to demonstrate that,” says Silberberg. On average, participants lose several inches and 5 pounds of fat weight in a week (which may be different than their overall weight loss as many travelers will add muscle weight).
Tours vary greatly, but will usually involve about 8 to 10 hours of hiking a day, with each participant carrying roughly 40 pounds on their backs. “Two week trips are better than one, and not just because you’ll lose more weight,” notes Silberberg. “If you’ve never backpacked, it can be a shock to the system putting 40 pounds of weight on your back. By the fourth day, most have overcome that hurdle and are able to enjoy themselves more.” Silberberg coaches participants to start walking regimens before the trip, so that they’ll feel more comfortable once in the wilderness.
That being said, these trips aren’t hard-body competitions; most of the participants are between 25 and 60 pounds overweight, sometimes more, so the group is sympathetic to those who are struggling, and the guides well versed in treating blisters and other common problems (all have multiple certifications in wilderness and CPR skills).
All meals are included in the tours (which average $1000 per week, far less than most weight loss spas charge), and they will vary day to day. “Our philosophy is that calories are calories, and when you’re carrying 40 pounds a day on your back, you need to give your body enough calories,” says Silberberg. “That doesn’t mean we fill our packs with M&Ms, though. Instead we take in food that’s lightweight, won’t spoil, and is healthy and tasty. So you might have vegetable stir fry at night or lunch of hummus. And yes, we do have some desserts after a day on the trail.” He notes that while some people have snuck in extra food over the years, most don’t since it adds extra weight to their packs.
He also stresses that these tours aren’t about addressing the psychological roots of weight problems. “We’re not a ‘Kumbaya’ type outfit, he laughs. “We don’t sit around the fire complaining that we gained weight because our mothers never loved us. Most people are talking about how awesome the day had been and the beautiful sights they saw. My not-so-secret ambition is to take people to the wilderness who would otherwise not go there, and learn to protect it.”
“But we’re not here to indoctrinate people. We’re just helping people have a great time and live more healthy lives.”
If you go: Fitpacking (www.fitpacking.com) will be offering 23 trips in 2013, the vast majority in the United States (including Canyonlands National Park in Utah, the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, and Redwoods National Park in California), along with a trip to Israel and Chile. Costs average $1000/week, not including transportation to the start of the tour and equipment (which can be rented for a nominal fee). About 45% of participants on the tours are returnees, so be sure to book at least four months in advance because these tours can sell out quickly.