View Full Version : Back Pack Weight

04-27-2004, 09:46
I am a very new person to the hiking world. So I will have allot of questions. My first question is: How do you figure the amount of weight on your back that you should carry. This is for a thru-hike that I am going to train for. I just cant seem to find any articles on this topic. Thank you for your help!

I just wanted to thank everyone for all your help. :sun

04-27-2004, 09:58
The answer depends on a lot of things, though the most important factor is: How much do you want to carry? Many people use the idea of a base weight, which is the weight of the pack, without food or water. The reason they do this is so that it is easier to compare day-to-day weights (rather than listing pack weight at the start of a 8 day resupply run, or with 4 days of food, or whatever). I tend to have about a 10-12 lb baseweight during the normal hiking season. Some people are as low as 8. I would say that most people are able to get into the mid 20 lb range for baseweight without giving up too many creature comforts, although there are some (maybe many) who carry (including Jack Tarlin from this site, who has, shall we say, a few thru hikes under his belt) in the 30-40 lb range. I saw a thruhiker this weekend who was humping what had to be in the 70 lb range.

In general, the less weight you carry, the easier (physically) the hike will be, and this aids in the mental struggle (the harder one). The more experience you get, the less you can bring and still maintain a good safety margin. There are various gear lists posted about this site. You can see my PCT gear at mypage.iu.edu/~chwillet/travel/PCT if you are interested.

04-27-2004, 13:02
I am a very new person to the hiking world. So I will have allot of questions. My first question is: How do you figure the amount of weight on your back that you should carry. This is for a thru-hike that I am going to train for. I just cant seem to find any articles on this topic. Thank you for your help!Nessa


Like Chris said...this answer is as varied as the hikers are on the trail.
how long you out for?

all of this fits into the equation...then theres water, food (including gorp, snacks, energy bars etc.,etc.)

my first year section-hiking my pack weight was: approx 45 lbs
next year i got my pack weight down to: approx 35 lbs
this year my pack weight is: approx 25 lbs

(for 8 days on trail, food & water included)

So, you see...pack weight widely varies on hike type...what YOU are willing to carry for "extra comforts" (bigger, roomier tent, pad, bigger stove, etc.,etc). & many more variations. :D

i see you're planning a "thru"...so you can plan for a week or so of supplies then a "maildrop" or a "town-visit" for more supplies. thats where the data book or Thru-Hikers' Companion handbook comes in handy. (planning is a good thing!) or you could ck out the various backpack gear lists FORUMS here on WhiteBlaze.net....they're really helpful! (& it gives insight to what everyone else is taking on the trail!)

good luck!

04-27-2004, 13:39
Excellent advise from Chris.

I would add to this that the "best" pack weight really depends upon the individual. It is really a balance in many cases between comfort while hiking and comfort while stopped. The more stuff you carry for use in-camp, the less "comfort" you may have on the trail; and the less stuff you carry for in-camp comforts the more comfort you'll likely have while walking.

Where an individual's balance lies is something they tend to have to find out for themself through actual experience. Start by looking at gear lists, especially those of accomplished hikers and compare the different ways people approach pack weight. Try to assemble a gear list that has what you truly need and see where the weight comes in. Look at what items are heaviest and consider (a) if they're truly needed and (b) what lighter options may be available. As much as possible, try to have dual-use for everything. As a simple example, do you really need an insulated mug for tea/coffee AND a nalgene bottle? Or can insulate a bottle and have it serve both purposes? When considering "backups" to stuff, consider also that on the AT you are seldom very far from civilization if you need to "bail out" for some reason.

Another good tactic is to divide your gear into three piles: MUST HAVE, Nice-to-Have, and Luxury. Examine how much weight is added by the Nice-to-Have and Luxury "piles".

But really the best thing to do is make as good an effort as you can and then get out on the trails. Meet other hikers and compare notes. You may come up with ideas they haven't seen, and often they'll have had ideas you might use to lighten your pack load too. Most importantly though you'll learn more about what you truly need and use on the trail and how you can tailor your gear to your particular preferences.

04-27-2004, 13:42
I would say that for a beginner thruhiker starting in march, aim for a 35 lb pack with food and water. From there you will learn how to cut weight with experience, but I think most inexperienced people should be able to start at that weight.

Gravity Man

04-27-2004, 13:44
Many of the older guides will calculate an "acceptable" total weight for the pack to be 25% of body weight (and that's down from the 1/3 of body weight rule-of-thumb used in the 60's). At my 175 pounds, that translates to almost 44 pounds. While I have certainly carried that much weight for many miles, I can tell you that my body and well-being are enhanced as I've driven my max weight (including all food and water) down to well under 30 pounds. This requires careful equipment selection and the discipline to only bring what you really need, but I would shoot for a goal of 15-20% of body weight (assuming that you're in reasonably good shape) as the maximum you should be putting on your back.

SGT Rock
04-27-2004, 13:52
It has been written about, but there is a lot of opinion.

There was a study done by the Army once that said 25% of body weight was the optimal weight. But 25% of body weight to a guy that is 165 pounds and ripped would probably be easy to him and 25% of body weight to a guy that is 240 pounds and very overweight is probably too much for that person. I reccomend basing your maximum weight on lean body mass. If you weigh 155 and are 20% bodyfat, then your lean body mass is 124 pounds. So if you keep your pack weight below 25% of that, then you are looking at a maximum pack weight of 31 pounds for optimal pack weight.

04-27-2004, 15:23
Hi, A good rule of thumb is to carry a third of your body weight. I suggest you try packing different weights on short hikes to find out what you can carry confortably. It will not take long for you to find out what works for you. Good luck and have fun. :jump

04-27-2004, 16:13
Calculated pack weight just doesn't make sense to me in the era of lightweight backpacking. You are pretty much trying to get as light as possible, so to say you want to carry a certain % of your body weight doesn't really take that into consideration.

Relatively good backpack, sleeping back, clothing, stove, and other stuff will put you around 35 lbs with food and water. Just about everyone should be able to get to that weight by cutting out true "luxury" items.

To get lower you have to go to lightweight sleeping bags, single wall tents or tarps, foam pads, less clothing, alcohol stove, etc etc. To do that, you really should have some experience.

Just my thoughts on what people are saying for your starting pack weight...

You will start with what you start with. Don't try to go too light, but do try to get somewhat light. Then you can start making changes out there...

Gravity man

04-27-2004, 16:28
The figure of 1/4 or 1/3 of your body weight is the number generally used as the maximum recommended pack weight. So, the object is how much under this figure can you be and still have safety and comfort. Wether you are going out for a day hike, overnight or a thru-hike, it doesn't change.

What is true is that the lighter you can go, the further and faster you will go.

Everyone has their own idea of how much they need to carry for safety and comfort. And not everyone can affort the lightest gear either. So, everyone's gear, food, and water is different, and thus everyone's pack weights different.

04-28-2004, 09:44
Thank you so much!!

04-28-2004, 10:53
The "percentage of body weight" approach is just a rule of thumb and, as you have already seen ...is somewhat based on opinion. When I used to teach beginners classes on hiking I suggested that each hiker do some research on gear/clothing/food. Lay out what you think you might need to start your hike. Remember that on a distance or thru-hike you generally don't have to carry the entire load up front. You can generally re-supply somewhere along the trail. Pack your pack, put it on and carry it around for 20 - 30 minutes. If it seems like a reasonably comfortable load ...go for it.

If you stick with distance hiking you will no doubt (sooner or later) begin to weed out the items you thought you needed but really didn't ...and some weight will disappear. Most distance hikers work at getting their pack weight down to a minimum, without compromising safety or essential comforts. Then again, there are hikers who are not willing to give up any of their gear/clothing and are comfortable carrying the heavier loads.

In the end, what you end up carrying on your back is entirely up to you. One thing for certain though ...the lighter your load ...the more enjoyable your hike and the less wear and tear on your body. Over my many years of hiking I have found that the quality of my experience has generally not been dependant on the amount of gear/clothing I carried.

Hope that helps ...

04-28-2004, 11:25
As a starting point:

Full packed with food, water, fuel, skin out:
Summer = 20 pounds
Spring/Fall = 30 pounds
Winter = 40 pounds

For me an ideal weight for thru-hiking is a total weight on bathroom scales that I can run 10km with comfortably = 210#. This means getting down to at least 20% body fat (180# at 6') so that I can carrying an extra 30 pounds skin-out rather than skin-in. Best way to lose the weight - long walks around town, backpacking trips, long cycling trips, and a healthy diet that naturally follows these activities.

Once into your thru-hike, you should expect to lose more weight and carry and eat more food and miles, and gain a lot of fitness and experience. If you are young, weaknesses are more mental than physical but this too will improve with age soon measured in miles rather than years. I should think that first time Winter Thru-hiking begins in June. :-? Don't know. Not there yet. Long road ahead.

04-28-2004, 12:15
The best packweight is the lighest one you can achieve. Regardless of what others may say on this point the lighter your pack is, the easier it is to complete a long journey. Long distance hiking is much different than week long trips and long weekends and such. On a distance journey anything not USED EVERY SINGLE DAY will usually find its way home. The things you do use every day should be the lighest you can afford to purchase. Many items can be had for super deals by a thrifty shoppper and many items in the Salvation Army are just what the light weight hiker is looking for. If you are handy with a sewing machine there are many excellent sites that discuss homemade gear. Light is Right!

03-19-2009, 15:19
My very first post on this site, unless others were lost in some crash, was in this thread, almost 5 years ago, April 28, 2004. Still haven't stepped foot on the AT yet. Maybe this year.

03-19-2009, 15:35
Hi, A good rule of thumb is to carry a third of your body weight.

Wow! That would be 70# for me. Guess I'll have to buy all new gear. And right after I had finally gotten my WM bag. Oh well.

03-19-2009, 17:23
Wow! That would be 70# for me. Guess I'll have to buy all new gear. And right after I had finally gotten my WM bag. Oh well.[/LEFT]

Yeah, me too. 70 pounds. Guess I'll bring that espresso maker and the 14-piece cook kit after all.

Can I carry 70 pounds? Sure -- did more than that in the army, and close to it on my first couple of hiking trips. But it sure isn't comfortable. The old "one third of your body weight" concept is a little outdated, methinks.

03-19-2009, 17:27
At 225# that would be 75 pounds for me, which I've been carrying in my front pack.

03-19-2009, 17:29
But Rock said it right in post#7, 5 years ago. :)

Love these old threads. We should do this March 19th every year. :D