Finding your backpacking weight can be challenging. And it takes a little bit of trial and error. If you have been struggling, I have been there before.
I can recall many times standing at the trailhead, after I had planned the backpacking trip for months, with each day mapped out and every meal packed. To feel my spirits, sink at the trailhead, realizing I had overpacked my backpack.
When you first get started with backpacking it is quite common to find yourself having to take things out more often than adding things to the pack. Over the many years I have learned how much to carry and what depending on the goals of the trip and conditions.
In this guide “How to Find Your Backpacking Weight”. I will help you understand what makes up your backpacking weight, how to reduce weight, and fully experience the outdoors based on your goals.
What Makes up a Backpacking Base Weight?
The term “base weight” gets used often in backpacking. What backpacking base weight refers to is the weight of all your essential gear, excluding food, water, and fuel.
In a nutshell base weight typically includes items that will not change in weight during the trip. Such as your backpack, shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothing, and cooking system. Things like food, water, and fuel often change in the duration of the trip and is why they are not usually included in base weight.
Your base weight is the foundation of your total pack weight, and it’s important to understand what makes up this weight as you strive to reduce it.
To find your base weight, you need to carefully consider each piece of gear you’re bringing and its necessity. It’s easy to pack items that you “might” need, but it’s important to prioritize what you actually need for your trip.
This way, you can keep your base weight as light as possible and increase your enjoyment on the trail.
What is a Standard Backpacking Weight?
A standard backpacking weight is typically considered to be around a base weight of 30-35 pounds for a multi-day trip. This weight includes your base weight, food, water, and fuel, and can vary depending on factors such as trip length, destination, and season.
A standard backpacking weight is suitable for most hikers, but it can still present a challenge, especially if you’re not used to carrying a heavy load.
Despite not having the practice for carrying heavier weights, beginners often end up carrying more weight than experienced hikers because they may not yet have a clear understanding of what they need to bring, or they may bring extra items “just in case.”
Typically, it is not uncommon for beginners to carry up to 40 pounds. Especially on their first few trips. Personally, I still remember my first backpacking trip and our average pack weight amongst our group was anywhere between 34 to 41 pounds.
It’s understandable to overpack on your first backpacking trip. After all, without experience, it can be difficult to determine exactly what gear is necessary for your journey.
As you gain more experience, it becomes easier to find lighter alternatives and figure out how your body does in certain conditions.
For people new to backpacking I recommend taking the time to learn what makes up your weight and just go out, have fun, and backpack. Keep inventory of what you use and don’t. Then over time you’ll figure out what you need and what can be left at home.
What is a Lightweight Backpacking Weight?
A lightweight backpacking weight is considered to be around 20-30 pounds, including your base weight and other necessities. The base weight is usually under 20 pounds as a goal.
This weight range is achievable for those who have taken the time to carefully evaluate their gear and have made an effort to minimize their pack weight. And it is a weight I recommend most people strive for once they start gaining more experience.
Lightweight backpacking requires a different mindset compared to traditional backpacking, as it often involves using lighter gear, prioritizing essential items, and finding ways to streamline your setup.
Why Lightweight Backpacking Matters
- By reducing your overall pack weight, you’ll be able to move faster and more efficiently on the trail, freeing you up to enjoy the journey.
- Lightweight backpacking can also lead to increased comfort, as you won’t be weighed down by a heavy load.
- It will reduce the strain on your body and joints, making it easier to cover more miles each day and allowing you to spend more time on the trail.
What is an Ultralight Backpacking Weight?
Ultralight backpacking is a minimalist approach to hiking, where the focus is on reducing the weight of your backpack to an absolute minimum. This style of backpacking requires careful planning and selection of gear, as well as a willingness to sacrifice some comfort for the sake of lightening the load.
An ultralight backpack base weight is typically less than 10 pounds, excluding food and water. These weight savings are achieved by using lightweight and durable materials, such as titanium and Dyneema, and carefully selecting only the essential items needed for the trip.
Ultralight backpacking is not for everyone, as it requires a certain level of experience, skill, and confidence in the wilderness. While also possibly giving up luxurious items and comfort.
However, for those willing to embrace the challenge. It can lead to a more enjoyable and fulfilling hiking experience, with greater freedom and mobility on the trail.
How to Find Your Backpacking Weight
Determining your backpacking weight involves figuring out what type of backpacker you are. In addition to organizing and weighing each piece of gear you plan to bring on your trip including your base weight, food, water, and fuel.
What Type of Backpacker Are You?
There are a variety of backpacking styles out there and no person approaches them the exact same way. What you bring depends on your own personal needs and style. When it comes to planning a trip the first thing I recommend is thinking about, “what will be the trip objective?” Are you wanting to focus on hiking, camping, or a mix of both? Below I will give examples to help prime your thinking and direction.
Camper: Often with this objective the trip is more relaxed. The focus tends to be more on other activities such as fishing, cooking, and just taking photography. When focusing on this style the base weight will often be more standard in weight. Sometimes this can be more front country hiking compared to backcountry style.
Hiker: The primary objective of this trip is covering miles. On the extreme end this often includes focusing on conquering a challenging endeavor such as a 14er, section hiking or thru hiking a lengthy trail. The goal is to cover the miles in a certain amount of time and if this is the focus it often helps to have a ultralight to lightweight base weight.
Both: This is a blend of which I find most people that backpack tend to fit more into this style. Typically, people looking to cover distance but still enjoying some luxuries at camp will carry a lightweight base weight setup. Personally, I tend to focus on this style often by minimizing the weight on the “Big 4” but carrying more luxuries depending on the trip.
Make a List of All Your Gear
Before you get started the first step in finding your backpacking weight is to make a list of all the gear you plan to carry. This includes your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, food, water filter, and all your clothing. Write down the weight of each item, and don’t forget to include small items like your toothbrush and first-aid kit.
The 20% Rule
Loosely consider the 20% rule, which states that your pack weight should not exceed 20% of your body weight. The 20% rule has been a widely discussed topic among hikers and backpackers, but it should be used more as a loose guideline and not the rule of thumb.
My main beef with the 20% rule. It is based on the idea that your backpack weight should not exceed 20% of your body weight. This rule is simply not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Why? Well, consider this:
- A 130-pound experienced hiker should have a pack weight of 26 according to the 20% rule.
- A 300-pound beginner hiker should have a pack weight of 60 according to the 20% rule.
At first glance the math may seem to make sense. However, when other factors such as personal experience, physical capability, and weight are accounted for. It turns out that this rule is not necessarily true and it depends on the person.
While the 20% rule can be a useful starting point, it’s important to understand that it’s just a general guideline and not a hard and fast rule.
The ideal pack weight will vary depending on a few factors, including your physical fitness, the difficulty of the trail, and your personal comfort level, your goals and not just your body weight.
Instead, use it as a starting point and adjust your pack weight based on your individual needs and circumstances. The key is to find what works best for you and to be mindful of how your pack weight affects your overall comfort and experience on the trail.
Categorize your items
Divide your gear into categories such as shelter, sleep system, clothing, food, cooking gear, water filtration, and other miscellaneous items. This will help you organize your gear and ensure that you don’t forget anything. Also, focusing on the 10 essentials for those emergency items is helpful as well.
Weighing Your Gear
Start by weighing each piece of gear you plan to bring and add it up to find your base weight. Then, factor in the weight of your food and water to determine your total pack weight. From there, you can adjust as needed to reach your desired pack weight and optimize your backpacking experience.
You can use a bathroom scale, where you weigh yourself while wearing and carrying each piece of gear or use a scale to weigh individual items. Smaller items will be able to be weighed on a kitchen scale. Also, check out the company’s site, they often put the weight in the specifications or product details.
Whichever method you choose, record your results and compare them to the weight recommendations for different types of backpacking trips.
Consider the Season and Trail Conditions
The weight of your backpacking gear will vary depending on the season and the trail conditions. In colder months, you’ll need more warm clothing, a heavier sleeping bag, and possibly a thicker sleeping pad.
In warmer months, you can get away with lighter clothing and a lighter sleeping bag. Consider the terrain and elevation gain of the trail, as this will also affect the weight of your gear.
Tips for Lightening Your Backpacking Weight
Reducing the weight of your backpack is a crucial aspect of backpacking, as it can greatly impact the comfort and enjoyment of your trip.
In regard to the best base weight for backpacking it really depends on your goals for the trip. If I am wanting to enjoy myself at camp my pack will be heavier than if I just want to cover miles on a trail.
But, if you are looking for tips to lighten your backpack weight here are some of the best one I can provide:
Focus on the Big 4
The “Big 4” typically consists of your backpack, tent or tarp, sleeping bag/quilt, and sleeping pad. These items tend to be the most expensive and heavier items you will bring.
This means that by finding lighter options for your big items will have the most impact with your overall base weight.
Below are a few examples among many that will work well to lighten your load:
Lightweight Sleeping bag/quilt:
Lightweight Sleeping Pad:
Re evaluate Regularly
Once you have calculated your backpacking weight, consider ways to reduce it. You can replace heavy items with lighter alternatives, bring only the essentials, and plan your meals and water sources to minimize the weight of your consumables.
Always be testing your gear and taking inventory of what you did not use and what you did.
Choose the right gear
When selecting gear for your trip, choose lightweight and durable items that serve multiple purposes. Consider using multi-functional items like a tarp for shelter and a bandana for a variety of uses, rather than separate items for each purpose.
Also, opt for lightweight materials like titanium and dyneema, as they are both strong and lightweight.
Reduce Food Weight
Food is one of the heaviest items in your backpack, so be mindful of what you bring. Opt for lightweight, high-calorie foods like energy bars, trail mix, and dried fruit, and bring only what you need for each day of your trip, with a day of extra rations for emergencies.
Leave unnecessary packaging at home by taking your food and other items out of their original packaging. Then pack them in reusable bags or containers to reduce weight.
If you’re backpacking with others, consider sharing gear to reduce the weight of individual backpacks. For example, one person could carry the tent while another carries the stove and cookware.
Ditch or Repack Toiletries
I find this to be one most people struggle with. But try to focus on only bringing necessary toiletries, like toothbrushes, toothpaste, and sunscreen, to lighten your backpack.
Abandon the allure of luxury toiletries and rejoice in the natural aroma of the outdoors – because, hey, animals will be attracted to those lotions and creams too!
Reduce Water Weight
Bring a lightweight water filter or purification tablets instead of carrying all the water you’ll need for the trip. Research the availability of water sources along your route, and plan accordingly.
I really like using my Sawyer squeeze filter to clean up water. I also carry these chlorine tablets as my second means of cleaning water.
Be Selective with Your Clothing
Clothing can add a significant amount of weight to your backpack. Be selective with what you bring, and focus on items that are versatile and can be layered.
Consider bringing clothes that can be worn for multiple days without washing. And don’t forget to pack a rain jacket and warm hat, as weather can be unpredictable in the backcountry.
Finding your backpacking weight is an important part of preparing for a successful and enjoyable backpacking trip. By considering the weight of all your gear, factoring in season and trail conditions, and testing your pack weight.
You can ensure that you’re not carrying more than you need. Remember to be selective with your gear, pack smart, and reassess your pack weight regularly. With a little planning and preparation, you can hit the trail with a well-balanced and manageable backpack.