What Should the Weight of Your Pack Be?

(Source: Zach Dischner)

This is a common question we get from both new and experienced hikers: What should the weight of your backpack be?

Since there are so many variables that go into deciding pack weight, it's difficult to provide an exact weight recommendation for each hiker.  

Backpacking and hiking pack weight:

Follow these general guidelines when calculating your pack weight: 

A fully loaded backpacking pack should not exceed 20% of your total body weight. (If you weigh 130 pounds, your backpack should not weigh more than 26lbs.)

A fully loaded day hiking pack should not exceed 10% of your total body weight. (If you're 130 pounds, your pack should not weigh more than 13lbs.)

You can keep your pack at a comfortable weight by using these bodyweight percentages as a reference. They may not, however, work in every case. Since you can only keep your pack weight so down, very petite backpackers will always end up carrying more than 20%. In addition to body weight, the following factors play a significant role in the total weight of your pack:

Trip length: The longer your trip, the more food, water, and fuel you'll need to bring, adding weight to your bag. Even on multiday trips, you'll want your pack to be equal to 20% of your body weight, so you'll have to be extra careful about the gear and clothes you bring to compensate for all that extra weight. 

Season/weather: If you're hiking in the winter, you'll need colder, heavier clothes and equipment than if you're hiking in the summer sun.

Personal preference: Some campers enjoy the convenience and can tolerate the extra weight that comes with bringing in extras including a hammock, chair/stool, extra clothing, and a heavy, cushy sleeping pad. While others are content to sleep on a lightweight pad and wear the same clothes for days on end.

How to Lighten Your Pack

(Source: srslyguys)

The majority of hikers and backpackers recognize the benefits of carrying less weight: it allows you to travel easier, farther, and more comfortably. Bear in mind, though, that you don't want to jeopardize your health by skimping on things including a first-aid kit and other known essentials. Instead, go for lighter versions of gear you can find, but don't completely disregard them.


Figure out your base weight: The base weight of your loaded pack is the weight of your pack minus "consumables" like food, water, and fuel. These items are excluded because their quantities differ from trip to trip and will decrease as you eat, drink, and cook. However, the contents of your pack, such as your tent, sleeping bag, water filter, stove, and clothes, will not change significantly from one trip to the next. Knowing your base weight gives you a consistent amount to work with while trying to shave weight off your pack.

Some backpackers would classify themselves by the weight of their bags. For example, if your base weight is under 10 pounds, you're considered an ultralight backpacker, and if your base weight is under 20 pounds, you're considered a lightweight backpacker. The majority of standard backpackers can carry a base weight of fewer than 30 pounds.


Weigh your gear: Weigh all your existing gear using a kitchen scale or luggage scale. Knowing how much each one weighs will help you determine which to carry.


Remove unnecessary items: When you return from a trip, empty your backpack and place it on the floor. After that, divide your belongings into three piles: You had things that you used often, items that you used rarely, items that you never used. Examine the items in the once-in-a-while and never-in-a-while piles to see if you still need them next time. Snapping a photo of your piles will help you remember what you used and didn't use while preparing for your next trip. Remember that certain objects, such as a first-aid kit, may not be used often but must always be carried with you.


Meal prep: Grabbing a lot of food on the way out the door is a surefire way to end up with an overstuffed backpack. Take a few minutes to write down what you'll eat for each meal and prepare your menu ahead of time. While it's a good idea to bring a little extra food, a little bit of planning would help prevent you from carrying an excessive amount of jerky or trail mix with you. Depending on the height, weight, and level of activity, a healthy target is 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of food (or 2,500 to 4,500 calories) per person per day.


Repackage: It's simple to lose weight by repackaging or removing products from their original packaging. Small reusable travel bottles can be used for toothpaste and sunscreen. Instead of bringing the original packaging, place your food in clear, lightweight plastic bags (don't repackage freeze-dried meals; they're supposed to be carried as-is).

(Source: Joshua Tree National Park)

Share the load: Distribute the weight among your hiking companions. You don't have to bring everything just because you have a tent, stove, and water filter. To help even out the weight, distribute these shared items among your hiking group.

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