Humans Were Born to Carry Weight on Our Backs

Carrying weight for distance — or rucking — is part of the human design and it can keep us fit and healthy

Michael Easter
Elemental
Published in
7 min readMay 17, 2021

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Photo: Sicmanta

Last fall I found myself standing on the Arctic Tundra, about 120 miles from civilization. One hundred pounds of caribou filled my pack. I had to hoof the weight back to camp, which was five miles away. All uphill and across the tundra. And the tundra is a savage landscape comprised of dirt that exists in an ice-cream-like state: spongy layers of dense moss, mucky swamp, and basketball-sized tufts of grass called tundra tussocks. A mile out there is like five on a regular trail.

I was in the Arctic for more than a month on a backcountry hunt while reporting my new book, The Comfort Crisis, which investigates the shocking downsides of our overly comfortable (first) world and reveals how we can leverage the power of a handful of evolutionary discomforts that will dramatically improve our fitness, health, and happiness. The Arctic is one of many places around the world I embedded myself in while investigating the upsides of getting out of our comfort zones.

My career as a human health and performance journalist has sent me to train inside some of the world’s most hardcore gyms and undertake 24-hour endurance challenges. But packing out my caribou was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Yet it felt oddly primal — and emerging scientific evidence suggests there was probably a good reason for my notion.

Why we’re born to carry

After the Arctic, I traveled to meet researchers at Harvard, who told me that, compared to most other mammals, humans are “athletically pathetic.” We’re slow and weak. But we are damn good at endurance running and carrying. We can’t go fast. But we can go far — especially in hot weather. On a hot day, a relatively fit human will beat most other mammals in a distance race — lions, tigers, bears, dogs, etc. And we’re also the only animal that can carry well.

Endurance running and carrying are, quite literally, acts that made us human. The human body is built the way it is so that we could slowly but surely run down prey for miles and miles in the heat until the animal toppled over from…

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Michael Easter
Elemental

Author of The Comfort Crisis // Professor // Writing about physical + mental health, psychology, and living better 1x week // eastermichael.com