I heard a story about an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker a few weeks ago named U-Haul. He got his trail name because he’s hiking the AT this year with a backpack that weighs 100 pounds. It’s a sad story because he is unlikely to finish his thru-hike, but it also serves as a cautionary tale about pack weight. The truth is that many backpackers carry loads that are too heavy for their needs. If the thought of carrying a heavy backpack fills you with such dread that your backpacking gear sits idle most of the time, then it’s probably time for you to go on a gear diet.

How Light is Lightweight?

While it’s clear that a 100 pound backpack is too heavy, how much should your pack weigh? There’s no clear cut answer to that question and it really depends on the conditions you expect to encounter and what you need to be safe and comfortable.

Still, for three season backpacking a good base weight to shoot for is 25 pounds. You can certainly go lower than that, but if you carry a pack that weights 40 or 50 pounds today, getting it down to 25 pounds will make a significant difference in how much you enjoy backpacking, how far you can hike and how much you can see and experience.

When discussing gear weights, it’s important to understand how gear weight is calculated. For purposes of discussion, the base weight of your pack is the weight of the pack itself and all of its contents, minus the weight of food, fuel and water. This makes sense because we’re interested in reducing the weight of the items that don’t vary based on the duration of a trip. We also leave out the weight of the shirt, pants, underwear, socks, footwear and hat you wear when you are hiking because you’re not carrying them in your pack.

100 Mile Wilderness ©Philip Werner

Five Step Process

Getting your the base weight of your pack down to 25 pounds is probably easier than you realize. If you want to go still lower and become an ultralight backpacker (10 pounds or less), you’ll need to make more substantial changes to the type of gear you carry and learn new skills to apply it to different situations. This can be a very rewarding process, but it takes time and commitment.

Over the next few months, I will be posting a series of articles that guide you through the process of reducing your gear weight down a base weight of 25 pounds or less. The five steps are:

  1. Weigh your gear
  2. Reduce the Big Three to 9 pounds or less
  3. Eliminate non-essentials
  4. Use multi-function gear
  5. Increase gear compactness

While the process looks simple, there are many tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years that I’ll pass along to help you through this process. I’ll also educate you about some gear alternatives that you might not be familiar with, but which you might like to consider.

Pyramid Trap In Scotland ©Philip Werner

Weigh Your Gear

Let’s get started!

The first step to begin lightening your pack is to get a digital kitchen or postal scale and weigh the backpack, sleeping bag and tent you use today, including stakes, poles, stuff sacks and footprint. These three items are called the Big Three and are usually the heaviest items you carry.  Write down the weights of each in terms of pounds and ounces. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t take a shortcut and look up the weights provided by gear manufacturers. These weights are often wrong or differ based on the size or configuration you use. For extra credit, weigh and record all the items in your pack and record them as well.

Next month, I’ll go into more detail about the Big Three and how you can get their combined weight well under 9 pounds.

So,  get ready to ask questions, share your own lightweight backpacking tips, and lighten up your backpack.

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