Running vs Hiking With a Back Pack

Before I forget, the winner of the book Foreign and Domestic is Brad In South FL.  Congrats dude!  Email me at and I’ll see that you get a book in the mail.


So you think you’re in shape because you run three miles a few times a week?  Let me tell you something that happened six years ago on one of the first trips I took Mrs Jarhead hiking.M3361S-3034

A little history first.  We’re both fitness buffs and when we met about eight years ago we were both in great shape.  She was training for a marathon and I was lifting or hiking or swimming every day.  On our first date we took her dogs for a walk on one of the local mountains in Midcoast Maine and it quickly became obvious that we were well suited for each other.

When I told her that I was into winter hiking and camping she said she’d like to try it out some time and I was thrilled to find someone to share winter experiences with.  Our first cold weather camp out was on top of a mountain in -4 F weather and she did great.  The next hike we decided on was a January trip up Old Speck in western Maine.  I’ve never hiked that mountain before and had no idea what to expect.  It’s about a four mile hike from where we left the campground and I wanted to be well prepared for it since the starting temperature that morning was -22 F.

My pack was about 28 lbs starting out and hers was around 17 lbs.  I had far more experience hiking heavy packs up mountains and I was carrying extra stuff like rope and other equipment we probably wouldn’t need.  I didn’t want to take chances with her safety, so I didn’t have a problem with the idea of carrying some stuff up the mountain since it was only four miles.

I told her that it was different from running, but she figured because she was in such good aerobic shape that she’d be able to keep up with me without a problem.  To her credit when we run together (like we did last week) she gets way out in front of me and all I see is her backside as she slowly disappears into the distance.  Not a bad view I must admit, but she can blow me away on a run.

But when you add a 20 lb pack, a steady grinding uphill slope, deep snow, and temps that never go above zero or ten degrees F  to the mix, it’s a whole different story.  I started out hiking my normal pace while carrying 35 lbs of gear.  The first bit of the hill is really steep and by the time we got a couple of miles into the hike we were both sweating.  We had extra clothing to change into, so it wasn’t a big deal, but I turned back at one point and noticed she was looking a little wobbly.  The missus is not a complainer or a whiner.  She won’t ask to slow down no matter how tired she gets.  She’s got enough aerobic capacity and tenacity that she’ll keep going until she drops, so I finally asked if she was ok and she said she was feeling dizzy and nauseous.  Warning bells went off and I stopped and had her drink some water, eat a little when she was feeling better, and take a ten minute break.  I took some of the gear out of her pack to lessen her load and I slowed the pace down a little bit.

Later I told her that she should approach a mountain like that the same way she would treat a marathon.  Work out hard leading up to the hike and then about two days before stop exercising and let your body charge up.  Eat plenty of carbs for energy and don’t be afraid to have a big breakfast that morning because you *will* be burning a whole bunch of calories.  Drink lots of water and pace yourself.  Eat snacks as you go to keep your energy level up.M3361S-3034

The difference between a marathon (which I would never do) and hiking a mountain with a heavy pack is simple.  When you’re running a marathon you’re wearing light sneakers and a few ounces in clothing, whereas on a cold weather mountain hike you’re wearing heavy clothing, clunky boots, a pack and moving through deep snow on snowshoes.  The only similarity between the two is that you’re on foot and breathing hard.

I’m not trying to take away from a marathon.  It requires an extraordinary amount of physical and mental preparation as well a serious time commitment and dedication.  I think that she did as well as she did that day because of the training she had been doing all along.  Later on I hiked Mt Washington with a friend who hadn’t done any training and it nearly killed him.  We barely made it half way and that was after I took ALL of the gear in his pack as well as his water.  He just wasn’t in shape for that kind of effort and was deeply embarrassed and made it his mission to get in shape and hike that mountain, which he eventually did.

So what can we take away from this?  First, just because you’re in good shape for something like running or swimming doesn’t mean you can hike a heavy pack up mountains at the same pace somebody who does it all the time can.  However, it will you give you a big edge over someone who does nothing such as the average beer drinking Joe American.

If you want to hike a heavy pack up a mountain successfully you have to hike a heavy pack up a mountain.

After resting for a few minutes Mrs. Jarhead was able to go on and successfully climb the mountain and we enjoyed ourselves very much.  Later we did Mt. Washington together and we blazed up that mountain in less than four hours.

Get in shape folks!  If  TEOTWAWKI sneaks up on us tomorrow could you get home on foot if you had to?  Or get to your bug-out location?  Or get to your kids or other loved ones?

Questions?  Comments?

Sound off below!

-Jarhead Survivor


I found my trail notes from that hike up Old Speck and thought I’d share them with you.

We arrived at the trailhead on Route 26 and quickly got ready.  It was still very cold, but luckily the wind wasn’t blowing so we only had to deal with the ambient air temperature of about 12 below 0.  There were some other people in the parking lot and one of them snapped a photo of us just before we headed out.


Hiking Old Speck.  Quick notes.

(I left out the first page of notes.  It’s basically the logistics of getting there and so forth.)


The first few hundred yards is all fairly level, but this trailhead is very close to the mountain and very soon you start to climb.  We’d been climbing about twenty minutes when the hats came off and the jackets opened up.  We were packing fairly heavy packs, I had about 35 lbs to start with and she was probably carrying about 20 lbs, which causes you to work that much harder.  I probably over packed, but I’ve learned that it’s better to have too much stuff than not enough if a storm sets in or if someone gets injured on the trail.  In the summertime a broken ankle sucks, but in the winter it can kill you in an hour if you don’t have the proper gear.

The trail follows a large circuitous route that heads North and then swings around to the Southwest.  And it’s all uphill.  We climbed for awhile at a moderate pace and eventually the other group showed up and we started leapfrogging each other.  They had about six or eight people in their group – I believe it was an AMC group practicing cold weather skills – of various fitness levels and areas of competence.

The temperature was still cold enough that the water we had with us was freezing in the containers.  When we stopped to drink it was always a struggle to get the cap off, plus we had to be careful about getting cold ourselves.  When you’re climbing you’re working hard, but when you stop you start to get cold fast.  You either have to have a sweater or another layer to put on or start moving again.

There was some snow on the trail, but it was packed pretty good and it was fairly good going.  For some reason about 45 minutes from the summit the other team stopped and about half of them broke out snowshoes.  They certainly didn’t need them and it seemed to me that it was just going to slow them down and cause them to work harder.  Bonnie and I talked about it and all we could come up with was that it was for their training, but why half put them on half didn’t remained a mystery.

On the trip up is where she learned the difference between running and hiking with a backpack.  She’s a long distance runner and is in phenomenal shape running between six and twelve miles a day year round.  I wouldn’t even think about trying to keep up with her on a run.  However, backpacking is a different story.  My training consists of weight training and lots of hiking with moderate weight packs – about 20 lbs or so.  I was also in the Marine Corps and got to carry a heavy backpack all over the place in my younger years and got used to what it was like.

We stopped for a break about a mile from the summit and I asked how she was doing.  “I’ll be ok once the dizziness goes away,” she said.

Hmm.  That’s when it’s time to reevaluate who’s carrying what.  I grabbed the rope from her (it wasn’t needed, but I wasn’t sure what the trail conditions were going to be) and added it to my pack.  This two or three pound reduction in weight was all that was needed to quicken her step.  She had mentioned at one point that she thought she might throw up and I had slowed the pace a little.

She’s not a quitter though and being a runner it was possible for her to push through the pain and keep marching.  My biggest concern was that she wouldn’t tell me if she was feeling uncomfortable, which might lead to some problems on the trail somewhere.  I asked her frequently how she was doing;  Toes cold?  Ears?  Pace ok?  Etc, and she was very honest and forthright about how she was feeling, which is what makes for a successful day in the mountains.  Climbing like that is a team effort after all.

After four hours and fifteen minutes we hit the summit.  The view was spectacular and she was eager to climb the tower after reading about it on the Internet.  We climbed up and got some pretty good pictures of the surrounding countryside.  After climbing down from the tower we ate some pop tarts and drank the coffee that we’d picked up at McDonalds earlier that morning.

The thing about climbing is that I get hungry and after humping that big pack to the top of the mountain I had a pretty good appetite started.  We picked up our stuff and headed back down the mountain at a pretty good clip.  She calls this my, “Tater tot frenzy,” or something like that.  Basically I’m driven by the need to eat and the more calories it has the better off I am.  We descended in about two hours to the parking lot and when we got there I found a frozen bagel in the back of her jeep that I immediately attacked.  I’ve got to say that it was the best bagel I ever had.  She was making fun of me, but I had to eat and that’s what there was.  She said something to the effect of, “I’m glad you found that bagel, otherwise you’d be eating my arm without ketchup right now.”



11 comments… add one
  • Pineslayer August 16, 2013, 10:37 am

    I have to agree, walking with weight on your back changes everything. Survival rule #1, cardio :) It is the great equalizer. What kind of shelter do you carry on such a hike?

    • Jarhead Survivor August 16, 2013, 12:28 pm

      Just a 3-season two man tent. I’d have used the sleeping bag for warmth if we got into trouble.

  • GoneWithTheWind August 16, 2013, 11:18 am

    You illustrate the problem of women in the military. Women in general have good lower body strength and with regular exercise can have fairly decent body strength relative to their body weight. It isn’t uncommon that a woman in good shape can run faster then a man in good shape (good shape being defined as weight lifter and strong upper body). But with few exceptions women never gain enough upper body strength to allow them to compete with men when dead weight is involved in the equation. I have one son who is very thin, 115 lbs, (he had to gain weight to join the army) but he can work just as hard and lift/carry weights that a larger and stronger man would be expected to carry. For whatever reason men even small men, or men in poor physical condition can usually pick up 60, 80 even 100 lbs and carry it to where it needs to go. While women generally cannot.
    I don’t mean to imply women cannot build body strength or cannot be in great physical shape or in any way to demean them. I do believe it is a simple fact of life that men have greater upper body strength even when they do not excercise to increase that strength. If you took the first 100 high school seniors (50 girls and 50 boys) and tested each of them seperately to move 100 50 lb 5 gallon buckets over an obstacle course I would be willing to bet all 50 boys would complete it and none of the girls would. I have met a few women who may well be able to do something like this but there are very few.

    • babycatcher August 16, 2013, 9:01 pm

      We need more lower body strength to carry a twenty five pound full term baby,uterus, placenta and amniotic fluid, while still being able to pick up a twenty pound toddler… :-)

    • Ray August 17, 2013, 8:40 pm

      Have you ever seen a woman in the third world strap 150-200 lb. of fire wood on a trump line , or put a 10gal. can of water on top of her head and walk 1o–15 miles. And do it every day or two? Pregnant. Ever watch girls play field hockey? or la cross? A human female can be conditioned to do any work a male can. Women and girls in the “west” aren’t expected to work any harder than an office worker, But trust me You can train most of them up to the point that they can work the “Average” man to death. And Do go ask any girls field hockey team if you can play-They will laugh and very probably let you—-But you wont like it.

  • Michael August 16, 2013, 12:07 pm

    I run into the same issue when switching from bicycling to hiking. No gears or coasting when you’re on a hike!

  • Roseman August 16, 2013, 6:12 pm

    Good story Jarhead.
    I could not agree more with GWTW on women in the military. No question we need their service but not on the front lines. My Aunt was a WWII nurse.
    It’s natural for men to assist women re: physical strength/stress situations but in combat it will be a distraction at best. Few women will be able to carry their own weight and possibly compromise the operation. I shudder to think of women as prisoners of war.
    The feminists don’t care about the consequences of their political agenda but consequences there will be.

  • Pineslayer August 16, 2013, 8:23 pm

    Well I have to chime in on the girl thing. I coached girls HS B-ball for 10 years, many of the girls would outwork the boys everyday. One in particular is now a doctor and has a room waiting for her here if the balloon goes up. I adopted another who needed a stable home, she is not one to take lightly. Yes guys can carry more, but women are meaner when the chips are down. I would put my life in their hands anytime, I know they would be there for me. Since Title 9 women have gotten stronger, faster, and more athletic. Why? Because society allowed them to finally compete like the guys. We haven’t seen the end of their achievements. Tell Mrs. Jarhead, girls rock!

  • riverrider August 17, 2013, 10:50 am

    back to the original article, i once prepped for a long backpacking trip by running upwards of ten miles a day. the terrain was lightly rolling hills. thought i was good to go. leaving the trailhead i quickly realized my mistake, huffing and puffing my way up. same for my buddy that ran on the treadmill every day. by days end, i was toast and had leg cramps half the night. next morning i was so sore i thought about quiting. after several days i got my mountain legs and it was a joy again…. no substitute for humping the ruck.

  • The Road Warrior August 18, 2013, 9:33 am

    It’s funny, both my son and I walk a LOT, ride bikes, etc. But we went up a local mountain for some exercise and to place game cameras in preparation of the coming hunting season, and we were both huffing and puffing in minutes. I was humping my BOB for training and my AR with 55-grain soft-point loads (lots of coyotes in this region) and it about killed me in a couple hours of leisurely walking in the hills. Time to get to it…


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