How Your Backpack Weight Changes Everything About Your Hike

How Your Backpack Weight Changes Everything About Your Hike

Every aspect of how you prepare for your next hike matters. When it comes to single-day excursions, you can afford to over or under-pack, barring emergencies. For longer ventures, your backpack weight is an essential component to consider.

Nobody wants to be left in an emergency situation while missing an essential piece of gear. At the same time, backpacks are more than just their list of contents: How you load your backpack affects everything about your hike. 

The difference between an ultra-lightweight hiker and a traditional hiker is far greater than one to two dozen pounds. Olivers is going to showcase exactly how that deviation can affect a hike.

Join us as we discuss the primary backpack weight categories and how they could impact your upcoming adventure. 

The Four Backpack Weight Categories

When it comes to backpacking, there are four main weight categories:

1. Ultralight Backpacks

Ultralight backpacks are the weight category for true minimalists. At under 10 lbs, ultralight backpacks contain absolutely nothing but the essentials. Many even pay a premium to ensure their packs are constructed from only the lightest, most carefully-engineered materials.

Ultralight hikers, for the most part, are experienced and knowledgeable. They are able to use everything they bring and find perfectly. 

2. Lightweight Backpacks

Between 10 and 20 pounds, we have the lightweight category. Again, this is likely the purview of serious hikers. This weight range allows you to bring all the essentials, plus a few extras. It allows for some comfort without the strict rigors of ultralight packing.

3. Traditional Hiking Weights

Between 20 and 30 pounds, we have traditional hiking weights. These will include many things you need and many things you don’t. It may also be the case if some of the items you are bringing are a little bit heavier,

4. Heavyweight Backpacks

When your weight exceeds 30lbs, you are entering heavyweight territory for hiking. Unless you have a specific reason you need this much — say, for mountaineering or climbing equipment — you should attempt to reduce weight. Lugging around a heavyweight for long periods puts strain on your shoulders and your backpack shoulder-straps

How Heavy Backpacks Can Affect Long-Term Health

Backpacking weight can have negative health implications. Studies on school-aged students have suggested that carrying too heavy a load can cause long-term musculoskeletal harm.

General guidelines recommend hikers carry no more than 10-15% of their body weight. If your backpack is heavier, consider reducing the weight or shortening the distance hiked while carrying your pack.

We’re next going to highlight the biggest factors influencing the weight of your pack. From there, we will look at ways to reduce your weight, and things that you should never sacrifice. 

3 Factors That Impact Backpack Weight

A few key details impact the overall weight of your backpack. In some cases, these factors may be tricky to work around and can only be changed by planning or by time.

1. Length of Trip

The first of these is the length of your trip. A longer trip demands more supplies, including food and water, which can collectively add a surprising amount of weight. If you are attempting a thru-hike or even a partial one, taking stock of resupply points can keep weight down

2. Location-Specific Supplies

Your actual location is the next factor at hand. Each location calls for its specialized equipment. If you’re going climbing or mountaineering, you’ll need gear for that. For example, the National Park Service recommends bringing along bear spray when passing through bear country.

3. Time of Year

The time of year also has an immediate impact on your packing plans. Colder weather demands thermal gear and layering, which adds up to extra weight. Spare clothes certainly add extra weight, and other heat-conserving details make winter-hiking packs heavier.

Next, we’ll highlight how you can lower your backpack weight and how you shouldn’t.

How To Reduce Backpack Weight

There are plenty of tools you can take on a hike, but many of these may be superfluous.

General Packing Guidelines: What To Avoid

  • Instead of bringing multiple spare battery packs, hikers might want to just pack one extra battery with an extremely long battery life.
  • If you have anything you don’t see a concrete need for, but want to have “just in case,” ditch it.
  • Specialized equipment can be helpful, but there’s a caveat. If it’s not likely to be needed and has little benefit, it will weigh you down. The only emergency supplies you should never be without are additional rations and first aid tools. 
  • Be intentional about what food you bring and how you pack it. There’s a reason why many of the best trail snacks are easily stored in plastic bags. Trail mix, dried fruits, jerky, granola bars, and more are delicious but may come with bulky packages. Take the time to organize your food, to save on weight and space.
  • Clothing is another place where weight can be lost. It can be tempting to store a variety of clothes to keep versatile. Hikers know that materials matter more than variety. Look for technical fabrics and moisture-wicking or odor-repellent materials to pack smarter.
  • A general way you can cut weight is by examining closely the material which makes up all your pieces. No two items weigh the same, and a lightweight option is preferable over a heavier version. 

Things Backpackers Need

Intentional Food Choices

The food you eat is essential in powering you through. In this case, too much is better than too little. You can reduce the weight and size of the food you bring by avoiding bulky packaging. This is also one of the few ways that your backpack weight can be reduced in the middle of hiking.

Keep careful attention that you are eating enough food. An adult man needs between 2500-3000 calories a day at the level of exertion a multi-day hike entails. Depending on calorie density, this may mean a few pounds of food per day.

Stay Hydrated: a 22 Oz Water Bottle

Running out of food can be hazardous, but people can survive for weeks without it. Running out of water can become deadly, and a steady supply is good for both yourself and any hikers-in-need. Ditch the clunky, oversized water bottle. A 22oz water bottle should be enough to sustain you, with a few refills throughout the day. 

Bring a First-Aid Kit

The last place you should never cut corners is in your emergency supply kit. You should never go without emergency supplies when out hiking. A simple first aid kit, luminescence tools to help you see at night, and a way to navigate are all essential. 

Make the Most of Any Hike

Choosing the right weight for your hike has a broad-spanning impact on its scope. What you pack affects how you eat, drink, use tools, and how much time you have to sort through it. 

One thing the pack doesn’t affect is the beautiful sights and vast acreage that awaits you. Hikers have completed nearly every journey imaginable across the globe with ultralight and heavyweight loads. With the above tips, you now have a picture of what every stage of hiking looks like.

Olivers is dedicated to providing information on every topic covering the active world. With apparel to match, we aim to be the pinnacle of information and execution. 


The Impact of Backpack Loads on School Children: A Critical Narrative Review I PMC

Staying Safe in Bear Country: Bear Spray & Firearms I US National Park Service

Food: Calories, How Much to Eat, and Calorie Restriction I Medical News Today

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