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Like Ants, Small Backpackers Are Adept at Carrying Proportionally Heavier Loads

The weight a person or animal can carry does not increase uniformly with size

(Photo: Laurence Mouton/ZenShui/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Some ants can carry objects up to 100 times their body weight. While humans cannot accomplish anything nearly as impressive, it does turn out that we have been underestimating the load sizes that the smaller members of our species can comfortably carry.

Hikers are normally advised to carry packs that are a certain percentage of their weight, meaning smaller people should carry lighter loads. But according to a new study, petite-sized hikers might be able to safely shoulder a comparatively heavier backpack than their larger trailmates. 

This finding starts with the fact that, as an animal (or person) gets bigger, strength does not increase proportionally. The larger the animal, the more incremental the strength increase relative to size, explain researchers from Kansas State University in a release.

To find out how that law applies in the real world, they built a model to apply these facts in relation to backpackers. The model calculates the appropriate load for a hiker given his or her body weight, fat percentage and estimated overall strength. The models found that "hikers of sufficiently large (but otherwise healthy) weight [are] not able to carry as much backpack weight as hikers of smaller weight."

With this finding now public, the tides might have turned for hiker dynamics. Larger hikers now have an excuse to offload extra gear on their smaller but relatively stronger friends. 

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