Go for a Hike, Get Fit
Fitpacking Combines Fitness with Wilderness Walks
By Susan Rich
Fitpackers on a hike outside of Phoenix, AZ, in the Four Peaks Wilderness. From left to right, Shirley C., Kervin M., Theresa S., and Vicki L.
Packers on a week-long trip to Cumberland Island National Park, GA, from left to right is Zermain Breidenbaugh, Julie Wehner, and Steve Silberberg.
Packers on Cumberland Island, from left to right; Julie Wehner, Kim Hicks, and Zermain Breidenbaug.
Packer Steve Liljestrand along a stream on a trip to the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains.
If you ever dream of a hiking vacation that combines beautiful scenery, long easy-going hikes, and a chance to convert body fat to muscle, you need to go “Fatpacking.” If you’re shy about telling your friends and neighbors that you lost fat trekking through the Adirondacks, that’s fine. You can go “Fitpacking,” too, and get exactly the same experience.
This either-or business name is the brainchild of one avid hiker: Steve Silberberg. A lifelong outdoor enthusiast, he started this gentle form of hill-climbing boot camp on one single premise: If you crisscross a few miles of hills and valleys every day, carrying all your food and gear, you’ll lose weight.
“I call it ‘Fitpacking’ because that sounds like backpacking with a fitness flair.” Others have dubbed this kind of excursion “Fatpacking” — a clever name for a challenging one- or two-week weight loss program.
From Solo Hiker to Tour Guide
“I love backpacking, and I rediscovered the wilderness again in my 20s,” he says. At the time, he worked in an office, daydreaming about his next hike. “And when I got back from vacation, my clothes would fit better and I would feel better.”
The first Fitpacking trip was in March 2005, and his business — and reputation — have grown steadily ever since.
What sets Silberberg apart from other hiking-as-vacation experiences is all in the attitude. “My disposition is one of patience, less gung-ho. There are some hikers who must climb every mountain, get to the next ridge before nightfall. I’m a laid back type person, so our trips are not that strenuous. I’m OK with hiking slowly.”
These hikes begin and end with a night spent at a hotel. It’s a get-acquainted evening that gives Silberberg a chance to check every pack to make sure all the necessary gear is on-hand (last-minute shopping trips are not uncommon.) It’s also when he weighs and measures each participant. Silberberg uses a body fat composition scale and a tape measure to accurately gauge the weight-to-body-fat percentage of each person. This process is also repeated at the end of the hike, demonstrating how quickly concentrated exercise improves the physique.
That first day, he encourages hikers of any level to head for the hills and just have fun. There are no restrictions, other than you carry your own tent and food. Silberberg plans the menu (mostly vegetarian) and does all the cooking. Hikers are allowed — encouraged, in fact — to eat as much as they want.
“People have this notion, that to get in shape or lose weight, they have to restrict their caloric intake. But I encourage them to eat more than they usually do. I don’t want someone to crash in the middle of the trail!”
As for pre-trip fitness, Silberberg tells people to start walking, even limited training is better than none. “If you shock your body by strapping on a big pack, that’s not as enjoyable, but it can be done. After the hike, I try to encourage people to keep walking hiking afterwards — this way they’ll continue to lose weight and stay in shape.”
Tales from the Trail
Julie Wehner, from Des Moines, IA, wanted a fitness vacation, one that would help her lose weight and regain some of her lost conditioning. A week-long trip to Cumberland Island National Park, GA, was the perfect challenge. “We hiked, and we took our time. Steve wasn’t regimented or pushy. We kept at a pace we could all hike at.”
By the time she got back home, Wehner felt rejuvenated. She was also more trim: “I lost weight, and [according to a body-fat composition scale] my metabolism was reset to younger age,” she says. “I’m 44, and it went down to 33.”
At 72, Zermain Breidenbaugh, from Havre de Grace, MD, is the oldest hiker to go Fitpacking. She and Wehner were on the same trip. Despite the challenge of carrying a 30 pound pack, Breidenbaugh enjoyed herself immensely. “I found out I could do it — and I lost about 4 pounds.”
Breidenbaugh has another reason to feel triumphant: “Steve was reluctant to take me at first. He has never had anyone over 68 complete the trip. [Older hikers] tend to drop out partway through. I was the first one to finish,” she says proudly.
“I had the great privilege of joining Steve Silberberg on a trip to the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains last July,” states Steve Liljestrand, who lives in Wanaque, NJ. “I was getting burnt-out at work, I was concerned about my physical shape and state of mind.
“I had a fantastic time. I learned a lot about nature, backpacking, healthy eating, physical fitness, and myself. No email, cell phone, no communication with the outside world. It was great! I lost weight, converted fat to muscle, and recharged my physiological batteries.”
For more information about future Fitpacking (or Fatpacking) trips including Mt. Rainier and North Cascades National Parks, visit www.fitpacking.com.
Susan Rich regularly writes about walking, health and fitness, and home improvement. Contact her at www.richwriting.com.