Backpackers are always looking for ways to make their lives easier. One of the ways that have the most impact on their comfort and ability to hike for many miles is the weight of their backpack.
By shaving off pounds, or even ounces, backpackers can enjoy their activity of choice for long periods of time. Other hikers can also benefit by learning how to reduce pack weight for a more enjoyable experience.
All this information begs the question of what is a good base weight when it comes to backpacking? Typical backpackers will have a base weight of around 30 pounds and this is a good goal for most casual backpackers.
So what is a good base weight for backpacking?
A good median base weight for backing is somewhere between 20lbs to 30lbs. A base weight under 20lbs is considered superior but is usually only achieved by experts with expensive ultralight equipment and a great deal of research or planning. A backpacking base weight over 30lbs would be too heavy for a long hike and would even be tough for short hikes.
What is Base Weight?
First, let’s address what base weight means. Some may misconstrue it as the weight of the backpack itself when it is empty.
Although backpack weight should be taken into consideration, this is not what is meant by base weight when it comes to backpacking.
Instead, the base weight is the total weight of the pack without including consumables like food and water. Depending on the duration of the hike, the amount of food and fuel needed will vary.
Instead, base weight is just the bag and whatever gear you take with you on all your trips, both short and long. This allows you to have a better idea of how much your necessities weigh and you can compare with others to get ideas of how to lighten your load.
For backpackers, there are various categories of weight based on base weight. Super ultralight backpackers carry under 5 pounds while ultralight backpackers will have a base weight of fewer than 10 pounds.
Lightweight backpackers have a base weight that is under 20 pounds which is much heavier than super ultralight backpackers but still not very heavy compared to conventional backpackers who can have packs up to 35 pounds or more.
What Determines Pack Weight?
The base weight is the starting point to determining overall pack weight, which is the total weight of all your gear once you’re on the trail. Once you have your backpack and all the gear necessary, you can start adding in other items.
The three things that should be added to base weight are often referred to as consumables. These include food, water, and fuel for cooking or reheating food while on the trail.
The total pack weight will depend on how long the hike is and how much food you will need to bring. The type of food you bring may also determine how much fuel is necessary.
If you plan to subsist on energy bars and trail mix instead of boiling water and cooking, then you will need less fuel. However, dried foods may be heavier than freeze-dried meals that have been vacuum packed in individual pouches.
So the total pack weight will vary depending on how much food you choose to bring with you. If you opt to filter water along the way or stop at other sources, this will reduce the total weight because you won’t have to carry as much water.
How to Reduce Base Weight?
In the backpacking community, especially among ultralight backpackers, there is a tendency to try to reduce base weight as much as possible. Some backpackers feel a sense of pride when they are able to shave mere ounces from their base weight.
When you begin assembling your pack, the first thing to look at is your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and shelter of choice. These staple items are often referred to as the big 3 because they are an essential part of any backpacker’s gear.
They are often some of the heaviest items you carry with you when hiking, so it’s vital to have them be as light as possible if you want to have a smaller base weight. One of the ways to reduce the weight of the big 3 is to upgrade to lightweight options.
Of course, many lightweight alternatives are often expensive. You can also opt for using alternative types of shelter such as a tarp or hammock. However, these cannot be used in a large range of temperatures, so there are some tradeoffs.
Another way to reduce tent weight is to choose a tent that can be put up with hiking poles. If you already use hiking or trekking poles, then you won’t be adding the weight of traditional tent poles.
Once you know how much the big 3 weigh and how much space they will take up, you can start to look into backpacks which weigh much less. There have been many improvements in the design of backpacks, and you can even find some under 5 pounds that are quite affordable.
Next, you will have to examine the rest of your gear and figure out what is absolutely essential. Even very small things that don’t weigh very much alone can add up to several pounds worth of excess goods.
Going on a few backpacking trips is the best way to get an idea of what you actually use so you can leave any un-utilized items behind next time. Have a look at luxury items that are nice to have but aren’t essential and leave them at home.
Repackage whatever you can into smaller containers and take only what you need. Instead of a bottle of medicine, only pack a few tablets. Ditch the heavier original packaging and get lightweight plastic bags instead.
Find small bottles for things like toothpaste and sunscreen and only take as much as you need for the duration of the trip. Stuff sacks can help keep things organized inside your pack, but they also add additional weight that is often unnecessary.
Try to make your gear as multipurpose as possible. Instead of a heavy pillow, just use some clothes or a jacket. Eliminate any items that are duplicates such as multiple sets of clothes or a GPS and a map and compass combination.
How NOT to Reduce Pack Weight
Although having a lightweight pack makes your hike much easier, there is such a thing as a pack that is too light. This refers not to the weight itself but has more to do with not having the items you need along the way.
You should never reduce the number of consumables in your pack in an effort to keep the weight down. Food and water are absolutely essential for your health and survival while backpacking so don’t skimp on either of them.
Plus, consumables naturally decrease in weight as the hike goes on. So it’s okay to start off with a heavier pack that is full of food, snacks, fuel, and water because as the days pass, the pack will continue to get lighter.
You also do not want to put yourself in a situation where you don’t have the necessary gear you need to survive. Safety is the utmost concern when backpacking so make sure you don’t leave behind any survival gear in an effort to reduce pack weight.
The 10 essentials which are recommended for all backpackers should be included in your gear whenever you hit the trail, even for a short amount of time. The weight of these items can be reduced, but none of the things on the list should be neglected.
Not only is safety a priority, but backpacking should also be an enjoyable experience. Although you can brag to all your friends about how light your pack is, you don’t want to trade off weight for an unpleasant or miserable time.
It’s possible to find a happy balance between safety and comfort that allows you to enjoy backpacking to the fullest. After all, being outdoors and active on the trails is a huge passion for many people, so don’t let pack weight deter you from achieving your dreams.
Finally, you shouldn’t spend too much money trying to get your pack to be as light as a feather. Not only is it unnecessary, but the rest of your life could be negatively impacted if your backpacking hobby starts to break the bank.
When and Why to Consider a Lighter Base Weight
If you’ve already done a few backpacking trips and are considering upgrading your gear to get to ultralight status, there are a few things to consider. One of the things that push people into more serious backpacking is doing longer trails where you will be walking many miles a day.
If a long through-hike is in your future, then it will be worth it to reduce the base weight of your backpack and invest in some lightweight gear. Not only will it be safer because your risk of injury will be reduced, but you will feel much more comfortable.
For those who don’t dream of completing the Appalachian Trail, for example, but simply want to spend more time hiking than camping, a lighter pack will be worthwhile. For those who simply love lightweight backpacking as a hobby and have the financial means to invest in better gear, then it makes sense to upgrade to lighter options.