To the casual observer, hiking is just a bunch of walking, camping and stuff. While that pretty much covers it at a very basic level there’s far more to it than that. Hiking is a physical experience especially when walking long distances and intense climbing. Add to this a pack filled with food and camping equipment and it can become quite a heavy work out.
In saying that, the weight of your pack can make or break the hiking experience. Too light and you’re probably going hungry or shivering away in your tent trying to keep warm instead of sleeping. Too heavy and after hour three on the trail you’re struggling to put one foot ahead of the other and the pain in your shoulders/hips is killing you.
The Optimal Carrying Weight.
To find the optimal carrying weight, we need to look at what we as humans can carry comfortably.
It’s suggested that the maximum carrying capacity is 50% of our weight, although for those of us not trained to carry this much it’s not sustainable for long. At my own optimal weight of 95kg (209lbs), this would mean carrying 47.5kg (105lbs). Even though I’m fairly strong, this wouldn’t be an enjoyable experience over any distance.
Comfortably then, we can carry about 25% of our own body weight, half of the above maximum capacity. This is more sustainable and while it would still be quite a workout, it can and has been done. I’ve personally carried almost 30kg (66lb) on hike.
Optimally, and for the most enjoyment, the general aim should be to carry 15-20% of our body weight. My average carrying weight on a 3-day hike is 18kg (40lb) and for a week or longer hike is 22kg (48.5lb).
Putting together one list to suit everyone is impossible as there’s too much variation in requirements and item weights. So, what follows is a list of items and weights based upon what I would take on a hike. In this particular case, a 3-day solo hike, with a good water source at camp and a moderate temp requiring some warmer clothing at nights.
Note that weight referenced here relates to items carried only and excludes hiking clothing and boots.
|Base Equipment||Metric Weight (gm)||US Weight (oz)|
|Hiking Pack (70l)||2,500||88.2|
|Camera, Carry Case, Spare Batteries||825||29.1|
|Sleeping Bag Blanket||275||9.7|
|Sleeping Bag Liner||100||3.5|
|Easy Access Equipment|
|Alcohol Based Hand Wash||50||1.8|
|Pen and Paper||150||5.3|
|First Aid Kit w/ Survival Blanket||300||10.6|
|Empty Plastic Bottle||25||0.9|
|At Camp Equipment|
|Cooking Pot, Lid & Handle||250||8.8|
|Lightweight Durable Cord||100||3.5|
|Spare Batteries 3 x AAA||30||1.1|
|Small Garbage Bags 4||100||3.5|
|Water Treatment Tablets 100||10||0.4|
|Porridge (3 portions)||225||7.9|
|(tablets) x 20||2||0.1|
|Coffee (instant) 6 teaspoons||30||1.1|
|Teabags x 3||10||0.4|
|Pre-made Sandwiches x 3||900||31.7|
|Snack Bag (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, sweets etc)||900||31.7|
|Camping Meals (2 serves) x 3||900||31.7|
|GRAND TOTAL WEIGHT||19,837||43lb 11oz|
The above packing list is typical for me at the beginning of a hike. Please note that I’m 189cm (6’3”) and fairly strong. I’m used to carrying weight and because of this include a few extra items for a more enjoyable personal experience, such as a 2-man tent, a Kindle and a full set of ‘night’ clothing.
Based on consumption of food, each day on the trail should reduce the load by approximately 1kg. While this is a reduction in weight, it’s barely noticeable. By the end of the 3-day hike, carrying the above equipment, my weight would be 15.1kg (33lb 6oz) due to my having used most of the food and water.
This should give you a general idea of weights and hopefully an understanding that a few extra items, even small items, can really add to your weight.
While water is the greatest requirement on any hike, it’s also one of the heaviest consumable items. On the average hike, a person should carry between 2-3 litres (2.1-3.2 US quarts) per day for drinking, more in a hot climate or summer hike. This equates to about 2-3kg (4.4-6.6lbs).
The amount of water carried should also take into account the availability of water at or near the campsite. With limited water availability an extra1.5 litres (1.6 US qt) should be carried for food preparation and cleaning (covers both dinner and breakfast) plus the water required for the following day. If your aim is to carry a 15kg load, water per day will cover between 3 and 6 litres. (6.6-13.2lbs), which doesn’t leave a lot for the rest of your equipment. While the water may appear to be clean, it is always safest to purify any water you get on the trail, especially if it’s from a water tank.
Weights by Season
On average, pack weights during a summer or hot climate hike should be lighter because of the reduced requirement for heavier, warmer evening clothing needed on a colder hike. While more water is required during a ‘hot’ hike, the added weight is still lighter than extra clothing and heavier sleeping bags.
The Trail Wanderer