How much is too much when packing a backpack? Well, the correct pack weight for a backpacking trip depends on several factors. The most important are:
- Are there any resupply points for food or water along the way, or do you need to carry everything with you for the entire lenght of the trip?
- How physically fit are you, and how much do you weigh? If it has been ages since you’ve backpacked, does that mean that you are out of shape or just that you haven’t been backpacking recently?
Theoretically, you should keep the pack weight to 25% of your body weight or less. The less, the better, because on extended trips where you are covering long distances, a 25% pack might be too much of a strain, especially if you haven’t been working out much recently. So if you weigh 200 pounds, your pack should not weigh more than 50 pounds according to that formula.
Realistically, you should try to get the weight down considerably below 25% by cutting back on items you plan to carry, getting very light-weight equipment, and so forth. If you are hiking in difficult terrain or with high elevations, like in the extended Philmont Scout Ranch treks, this is even more important, as it could wear you out even at 20%.
Stop and think very carefully about exactly what you need to take (don’t skimp on safety, however). Refer to our list of The 10 Essentials to be sure you don’t miss something important for your safety and survival.
Assuming you can go with a very lightweight sleeping bag, something around 2 lbs or less, and an extremely lightweight tent, your biggest weight problem is likely to be your water supply (close to 10 pounds per gallon) and food, plus a way to prepare the food.
You could go with foods that you don’t need to heat up, thus eliminating a stove and fuel, but on the other hand, a source of cooking hot food can be helpful in colder weather (don’t forget to check if you are allowed to make fire). You can take a stove, or make one using alcohol and empty soda cans.
If you do know that you’ll have a ready supply of water on the trail, you still should plan on carrying at least 4 liters with you at all times (read the warnings in our Hiking Hydration article), and you MUST have a way to purify water. A water filter adds to weight, so you might consider some water purification tablets that can be dropped into your water bottles to purify water in an hour or less.
Don’t take everything. Leave the video recorder and extra batteries behind. Take the tiny, lightweight camera instead of your big Nikon DSLR. Don’t take that collapsible stool unless you can stand the extra weight. And cut back on clothing to just one change, and keep it very light. Use the extra clothes inside a trash bag as your pillow. Cut, Cut, Cut, but keep the essentials.
If you’re hiking with someone else, share the tent and other common supplies between you.
Check one of our Backpacker Tips for keeping the weight down. And share your own tips with us, in the comments.