Weighted vests and backpacks are used by sportsmen and recreational exercisers looking to add an extra element to their workouts and develop an even higher level of fitness and conditioning. To avoid developing lower limb or back injuries, slowly increase the load and intensity of your workouts. Begin with a load of 10 percent of your body weight and increase gradually.
The training effect of most exercises is increased when you work out wearing a weighted vest or backpack. Walking, jogging, running, body weight exercises and sports are all more challenging as your muscles and cardiovascular system have to work harder than normal.
Lightly loaded vests and backpacks will increase your aerobic fitness and muscular endurance whereas heavy vests and packs will increase your strength and power--especially in running and jumping movements.
Weight vests and backpacks can hold a significant amount of weight although some vests have are designed with a specific loading capacity e.g. 40 pounds. A few "hardcore" vests will hold up to 100 pounds and are popular with firefighters and military personnel. Weight vests use specially designed weight inserts so that you can adjust the load of your vest.
You can use a variety of materials to load up your backpack including sand, gravel, weight plates, books or household objects. The limiting factor when using a weighted backpack is the amount of weight you can comfortably support on your shoulders.
Weight vests are more comfortable to use than backpacks--especially when heavily loaded. Weight vests allow you to distribute the load on your front and back and, because the weight is held close to your body, the weight is less likely to move around as you exercise.
Backpacks place all of the weight on your back, which means that, if you are using heavy loads, you will probably have to lean forward to maintain your balance. Backpacks also place a lot of pressure on your shoulders, and this can be uncomfortable when carrying large loads for extended periods of time.
Weighted backpacks are fine for walking, jogging, climbing stairs and other linear movement patterns. However, as soon as you introduce changes in direction or body position, the backpack is likely to shift and become a distraction.
Weighted vests fit snugly around your body and do not move around much. This means that you can move in a variety of directions without worrying about shifting weight.
If you only intend to walk or jog, a backpack is an effective workout tool, but if you want to perform more demanding workouts, a weight vest would be the better choice.
Backpacks generally are cheaper than weight vests. This is because the ballast for the backpack is often stuff you have lying around the home such as books or sand as opposed to expensive metal ingots or weight plates.
As of August 2010, a good quality backpack cost around $40 compared to $75 for a basic lightweight weight vest. Heavier load capacity weight vests cost as much as $200 whereas the same $40 backpack has a similar loading capacity for a fraction of the price.
A weight vest is the more expensive exercise option but also offers the greatest degree of versatility and comfort, especially when heavily loaded.