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).

wpid-hiking-in-michigan-2014-05-14-13-56.jpg

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).

wpid-filling-up-water-hellfire-creek-2014-05-14-13-56.jpg

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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Modified Packing Lists when Hiking in Different Environments

In my last post I provided a standard packing list usable in many different environments. But as not all hikes are the same it’s sometimes necessary to adapt your packing list to the environment where you’ll be hiking.

What follows are four packing lists relating to different environments: Jungle, Rocky Desert, Cold Mountain and Wet Weather. These lists should be considered minimum necessary for first time hiking in these environments.

While these four environments are considered a little more extreme than standard hikes, there are other environments that fall outside of the scope of this blog. These are hikes, such as Ice Climbing hikes or Snow hiking, where specialised equipment is required. Lists haven’t been provided for these types of hikes.

Jungle Trekking Packing List

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Jungle treks are hot and humid affairs, and will see you covered in sweat for much of the walk. You’ll also need to deal with the almost constant attacks from biting insects, some potentially carrying dangerous diseases.

Jungles tend to be wild and have few tracks, making it easy to get lost. Thus, most jungles hikes cannot be walked without first hiring a guide. Depending on the number of people in the party, the guide may have porters and/ or donkeys to carry equipment. The packing list that follows is built around your food and equipment being carried for you and accommodations being available in jungle villages or cabañas.

Base Equipment

  • Hiking Pack
  • Walking Poles
  • Camera and Carry Case
  • Water Bladder
  • Whistle
  • Plastic Trowel
  • Sleeping Bag Liner

Day Clothes

  • Hiking Boots
  • Boot Collars
  • Socks Wool
  • Sock Liners
  • Underwear
  • Hiking Pants/Shorts
  • Hiking Shirt
  • Hat/Bandana
  • Sunglasses

Easy Access Equipment

  • Money/Cash Card
  • Duct Tape
  • Toilet Paper
  • Alcohol Based Hand Wash
  • Strong Insect Repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • Head Torch
  • Pen and Paper
  • First Aid Kit including Survival Blanket
  • Pocket Knife
  • Pack Cover
  • Empty Plastic Bottle
  • Night Clothes
  • Wool Socks
  • Underwear
  • lightweight Shirt
  • lightweight Pants
  • Flip-Flops
  • Hiking Towel
  • At Camp Equipment
  • Deodorant
  • Water Treatment Tablets/Device
  • Sewing Kit
  • Lightweight Durable Cord
  • Spare Batteries
  • A Book
  • Toothbrush/Paste
  • Wet Wipes
  • Many Small Lightweight Garbage Bags
  • Medication

Rocky Desert/ Beachside Trek Packing List

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Hiking in a rocky desert environment will generally mean being hot during the day and cold at night. Constant exposure to the sun will be one of the harsher aspects of this type of hike as well as the potential that some places may not have available water.

Depending on where the hike is, and how well set up it is, a guide will likely not be required. Simply having a good set of maps and suitable information will enough.

Base Equipment

  • Hiking Pack
  • Walking Poles
  • Camera and Carry Case
  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Bag Blanket/ Liner
  • Sleeping Mat
  • Water Bladder
  • Whistle
  • Plastic Trowel

Day Clothes

  • Hiking Boots
  • Boot Collars
  • Socks Wool
  • Sock Liners
  • Underwear
  • Hiking Pants/Shorts
  • Hiking Shirt
  • Hat/Bandana
  • Sunglasses

Easy Access Equipment

  • Compass
  • Money/Cash Card
  • Maps, Itinerary
  • Duct Tape
  • Toilet Paper
  • Alcohol Based Hand Wash
  • Insect Repellant
  • Strong and Plentiful Sunscreen
  • Head Torch
  • Pen and Paper
  • First Aid Kit including Survival Blanket
  • Pocket Knife
  • Pack Cover
  • Waterproof Jacket
  • Empty Plastic Bottle
  • GPS/Emergency Beacon
  • Night Clothes
  • Wool Socks
  • Underwear
  • Thermal Shirt
  • Thermal Pants
  • Warm Long Pants
  • Fleece Jacket
  • Beanie
  • Flip-Flops
  • Gloves
  • Hiking Towel
  • At Camp Equipment
  • Cooking Stove
  • Cooking Pot
  • Plastic Mug
  • Pocket Knife
  • Gas Cylinder
  • Deodorant
  • Cutlery
  • Water Treatment Tablets/Device
  • Lighter
  • Matches (Waterproof)
  • Scourer
  • Sewing Kit
  • Lightweight Durable Cord
  • Spare Batteries
  • A Book
  • Toothbrush/Paste
  • Wet Wipes
  • Small Lightweight Garbage Bags
  • Additional Water Bladder

Cold Climate / Mountain Treks

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The grand mountain chains of the world, such as the Himalayas and the Andes, are perfect hiking environments and many of them have been set up as such. The common difficulty you’ll face on these hikes is the cold.

While many mountain treks have villages with huts/refuges stay in, this isn’t always the case, it may still be prudent to still carry a tent.

Base Equipment

  • Hiking Pack
  • Walking Poles
  • Camera and Carry Case
  • Tent
  • Warm Sleeping Bag or additional bag blanket
  • Sleeping Bag Liner
  • Sleeping Mat
  • Water Bladder
  • Whistle
  • Plastic Trowel

Day Clothes

  • Hiking Boots
  • Boot Collars
  • Socks Wool
  • Sock Liners
  • Underwear
  • Hiking Pants/Shorts
  • Hiking Shirt
  • Hat/Bandana
  • Sunglasses

Easy Access Equipment

  • Compass
  • Money/Cash Card
  • Maps, Itinerary
  • Duct Tape
  • Toilet Paper
  • Alcohol Based Hand Wash
  • Insect Repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • Head Torch
  • Pen and Paper
  • First Aid Kit including Survival Blanket
  • Pocket Knife
  • Pack Cover
  • Waterproof Jacket
  • Empty Plastic Bottle
  • GPS/Emergency Beacon
  • Night Clothes
  • Wool Socks
  • Underwear
  • Thermal Shirt
  • Thermal Pants
  • Fleece Jacket
  • Beanie
  • Flip-Flops
  • Gloves
  • Hiking Towel
  • Waterproof Pants
  • At Camp Equipment
  • Cooking Stove
  • Cooking Pot
  • Plastic Mug
  • Pocket Knife
  • Gas Cylinder
  • Deodorant
  • Cutlery
  • Water Treatment Tablets/Device
  • Lighter
  • Matches (Waterproof)
  • Scourer
  • Sewing Kit
  • Lightweight Durable Cord
  • Spare Batteries
  • A Book
  • Toothbrush/Paste
  • Wet Wipes
  • Small Lightweight Garbage Bags

Wet Weather Treks

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While hiking in wet weather is not usually to most enjoyable experience, sometimes it’s simply impossible to avoid. But it does not have to be a bad experience as rain can make the wilderness beautiful in its own special way, whether the woods or on a mountainous plains. You won’t forget the experience, and not just because it rained.

Base Equipment

  • Hiking Pack
  • Walking Poles
  • Camera and Carry Case
  • Tent
  • Ground Sheet
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Mat
  • Water Bladder
  • Whistle
  • Plastic Trowel

Day Clothes

  • Hiking Boots
  • Boot Collars
  • Socks Wool
  • Sock Liners
  • Underwear
  • Hiking Pants/Shorts
  • Hiking Shirt
  • Waterproof Hat
  • Waterproof Pants
  • Lightweight Waterproof Jacket/ Poncho

Easy Access Equipment

  • Compass
  • Money/Cash Card
  • Maps, Itinerary
  • Duct Tape
  • Toilet Paper
  • Alcohol Based Hand Wash
  • Insect Repellant
  • Sunscreen (always carry)
  • Head Torch
  • Pen and Paper
  • First Aid Kit including Survival Blanket
  • Pocket Knife
  • Pack Cover
  • Waterproof Jacket
  • Empty Plastic Bottle
  • GPS/Emergency Beacon
  • Night Clothes
  • Wool Socks
  • Underwear
  • Thermal Shirt
  • Thermal Pants
  • Fleece Jacket
  • Beanie
  • Flip-Flops
  • Gloves
  • Hiking Towel
  • At Camp Equipment
  • Cooking Stove
  • Cooking Pot
  • Plastic Mug
  • Pocket Knife
  • Gas Cylinder
  • Deodorant
  • Cutlery
  • Water Treatment Tablets/Device
  • Lighter
  • Matches (Waterproof)
  • Scourer
  • Sewing Kit
  • Lightweight Durable Cord
  • Spare Batteries
  • A Book
  • Toothbrush/Paste
  • Wet Wipes
  • Plentiful Lightweight Garbage Bags

Information is the key to good experiences.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

A Hike Packing List

So, you’ve decided where you want to walk on your first hike, but what do you take?

Knowing what equipment to take is a very important part of a hike’s preparation. Start with a basic list and adapt it over time to the hikes you do and your own needs. Take into account factors such as:

  • where you’re planning to hike
  • types of accommodation available
  • how many people you’re hiking with
  • and how much you’re prepared to carry.

As examples:

  • if you’re planning to hike in a warm dry place, wet weather clothing is unnecessary and just extra weight to carry
  • if there are huts to sleep in at the camp sites you may not need a tent
  • and other factors similar to these.

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The basic packing list below is a guide only and doesn’t take into account item weights, which is discussed in a later post. It’s important to get a feel for the types of items you should take and work from there.

If you’re unsure what the items on the list are for or why you should take them, check the notes at the bottom, or the more detailed descriptions in future posts.

The list is grouped into sections for convenience based upon when they are required.

Base Equipment

  • Hiking Pack
  • Walking Poles
  • Camera and Carry Case
  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Mat
  • Water Bladder
  • Whistle
  • Plastic Trowel*

Day Clothes

  • Hiking Boots
  • Boot Collars*
  • Socks Wool
  • Sock Liners*
  • Underwear
  • Hiking Pants/Shorts
  • Hiking Shirt
  • Hat/Bandana
  • Sunglasses

Easy Access Equipment

  • Compass
  • Money/Cash Card
  • Maps, Itinerary
  • Duct Tape
  • Toilet Paper
  • Alcohol Based Hand Wash
  • Insect Repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • Head Torch
  • Pen and Paper
  • First Aid Kit including Survival Blanket
  • Pocket Knife
  • Pack Cover
  • Waterproof Jacket
  • Empty Plastic Bottle
  • GPS/Emergency Beacon

Night Clothes

  • Wool Socks
  • Underwear
  • Thermal Shirt
  • Thermal Pants
  • Fleece Jacket
  • Beanie
  • Flip-Flops
  • Gloves
  • Hiking Towel

At Camp Equipment

  • Cooking Stove
  • Cooking Pot, Lid & Handle
  • Plastic Mug
  • Pocket Knife
  • Gas Cylinder
  • Deodorant
  • Cutlery
  • Water Treatment Tablets/Device*
  • Lighter
  • Matches (Waterproof)
  • Scourer
  • Sewing Kit
  • Lightweight Durable Cord*
  • Spare Batteries
  • A Book
  • Toothbrush/Paste
  • Wet Wipes
  • Small Lightweight Garbage Bags*

Notes:

*Plastic trowels are for digging latrine holes if no toilets are available or for water channels if it’s likely to rain heavily at a camp site.
*Boot collars prevent small stones and sand from getting into your boots.
*Sock liners are a small lightweight pair of socks worn under hiking socks to help prevent blisters.
*Water treatment tablets/device should be used if you’re in any way unsure of water quality.
*Durable cord is useful in a number of ways: hanging food bags, extra tent support in windy weather, back up shoe laces, washing lines etc.
*Garbage bags are best used for keeping other bags dry within your pack and for carrying garbage.

Food is also an important, but as there are several options, details are provided in a future post.

Always check your equipment against you list at least twice before leaving home to ensure nothing is forgotten.

The Lone Trail Wanderer