The Weight of Hiking – Packing Light

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.

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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).

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Packing Light
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
Tent 2,700 95.3
•Sleeping Bag 1,200 42.3
•Sleeping Mat 950 33.5
•Camping Pillow 275 9.7
Sleeping Bag Blanket 275 9.7
Sleeping Bag Liner 100 3.5
Plastic Trowel 75 2.6
Water Bladder 100 3.5
Whistle 25 0.9
Total 9,025 19lb 14oz
Easy Access Equipment
Money/Cash Card 25 0.9
Toilet Paper 125 4.4
Alcohol Based Hand Wash 50 1.8
Insect Repellant 125 4.4
Sunscreen 120 4.1
Head Torch 100 3.5
Pen and Paper 150 5.3
First Aid Kit w/ Survival Blanket 300 10.6
Pocket Knife 50 1.8
Pack Cover 150 5.3
Waterproof Jacket 400 14.1
Empty Plastic Bottle 25 0.9
Kindle/Book 300 10.6
Phone 150 5.3
Maps, Itinerary 75 2.6
Compass 25 0.9
Duct Tape 125 4.4
Total 2,295 5lb 1oz
Night Clothes
Thermal Shirt 275 9.7
Thermal Pants 175 6.2
Fleece Jacket 525 18.5
Flip-Flops 400 14.1
Gloves 25 0.9
Hiking Towel 175 6.2
Underwear 125 4.4
Wool Socks 125 4.4
Beanie 75 2.6
Total 1,900 4lb 3oz
At Camp Equipment
Cooking Stove 275 9.7
Cooking Pot, Lid & Handle 250 8.8
Plastic Mug 75 2.6
Cutlery 100 3.5
Lighter 25 0.9
Matches (Waterproof) 15 0.5
Scourer 10 0.4
Sewing Kit 25 0.9
Lightweight Durable Cord 100 3.5
Spare Batteries 3 x AAA 30 1.1
Toothbrush/Paste 100 3.5
Wet Wipes 40 1.4
Small Garbage Bags 4 100 3.5
Deodorant 50 1.8
Gas Cylinder 345 12.2
Water Treatment Tablets 100 10 0.4
Total 1,550 3lb 6oz
Food
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
Water 2l 2,000 70.5
Total
5,067 11lb 2oz
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.

Water
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).

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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

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