Do Current Predictive Equations Underestimate the Metabolic Cost of Load Carriage by Military Personnel over Complex Terrain?

Research Paper Title

Metabolic Costs of Military Load Carriage over Complex Terrain.


Dismounted military operations often involve prolonged load carriage over complex terrain, which can result in excessive metabolic costs that can directly impair soldiers’ performance. Although estimating these demands is a critical interest for mission planning purposes, it is unclear whether existing estimation equations developed from controlled laboratory- and field-based studies accurately account for energy costs of travelling over complex terrain. This study investigated the accuracy of the following equations for military populations when applied to data collected over complex terrain with two different levels of load carriage: American College of Sports Medicine (2002), Givoni and Goldman (1971), Jobe and White (2009), Minetti et al (2002), Pandolf et al (1977), and Santee et al (2003).


Nine active duty military personnel (age 21 ± 3 yr; height 1.72 ± 0.07 m; body mass 83.4 ± 12.9 kg; VO2 max 47.8 ± 3.9 mL/kg/min) were monitored during load carriage (with loads equal to 30% and 45% of body mass) over a 10-km mixed terrain course on two separate test days. The course was divided into four 2.5-km laps of 40 segments based on distance, grade, and/or surface factors. Timing gates and radio-frequency identification cards (SportIdent; Scarborough Orienteering, Huntington Beach, CA) were used to record completion times for each course segment. Breath-by-breath measures of energy expenditure were collected using portable oxygen exchange devices (COSMED Sri., Rome, Italy) and compared model estimates.


The Santee et al equation performed best, demonstrating the smallest estimation bias (-13 ± 87 W) and lowest root mean square error (99 W).


Current predictive equations underestimate the metabolic cost of load carriage by military personnel over complex terrain. Applying the Santee et al. correction factor to the Pandolf et al. equation may be the most suitable approach for estimating metabolic demands in these circumstances. However, this work also outlines the need for improvements to these methods, new method development and validation, or the use of a multi-model approach to account for mixed terrain.


Looney, D.P., Santee, W.R., Karis, A.J., Blanchard, L.A., Rome, M.N., Carter, A.J. & Potter, A.W. (2018) Metabolic Costs of Military Load Carriage over Complex Terrain. Military Medicine. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usx099. [Epub ahead of print].


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