If you're a beginner hiker, there are some things you need to know, such as how much weight you should carry while hiking, depending on the trail.
Not being used to hiking can make it extremely challenging to carry a heavy burden on your back, which is especially difficult if you’re planning long hikes that involve climbing mountains, hills, and uneven surfaces.
Ideally, you should not carry more than 30-35 pounds of materials and equipment in your backpack, but there are exceptions if you are particularly strong or weigh more than the average person. It also depends on the difficulty of the hike, the trip duration, and the weather conditions.
You might have different reasons for hiking, such as doing it for fun and mild exercise or wanting to challenge yourself by lifting the heaviest weight possible and traversing long and arduous plains. This is why it helps to know your route beforehand so you can plan and decide what you want to do, whether you don't mind carrying heavy loads or want to replace your old gear with new and lighter options that are more sustainable to carry long distances. This article covers more than what you need to carry, as it includes useful tips and tricks that can make your hike more enjoyable and a chance to connect with nature. Stay tuned for exciting tidbits that can motivate you to feel excited about your upcoming hike.
We have done a lot of research to find the best opinions from hiking experts, so you do not have to go through the trial and error process to find the right path to follow, especially when carrying unnecessary equipment on your back. Let's explore what your upcoming trip offers you and what you can do to make it the best experience possible.
Backpack Weight to Carry on a Hiking Trip
If you wish to know how much weight you should carry on your hiking trip, there are some general guidelines to consider that can give you an idea of what to expect.
Many experts believe that you should not carry more than 20% of your body weight, which is 30 pounds if you weigh 150 pounds.
Others claim that 10% of your body weight is sufficient, and you should choose lighter equipment to make the most out of your hike without getting tired too soon.
This is where some experimentation comes into play, which is made easier if you know your goals.
If you wish to challenge yourself and involve more muscles, so your hiking trip is more than just a cardiovascular exercise, you may choose to carry 30 pounds or more.
This changes if you weigh 200 or 250 pounds, as it means you can carry much heavier loads, but maybe you just want the cardiovascular element out of your hike, meaning you can still carry 10-20 pounds if that aligns with your goal.
It also depends on how intense your hike is, whether you need to carry camping equipment with you or if you’re just planning a day hike where you return to your starting point.
If you do not weigh much and are very petite, you might have to carry more than 20% of your body weight, which might be a challenge, but it is certainly doable.
These are the general guidelines for body weight and personal goals, but other factors also determine how much weight you should carry in your backpack.
Let’s explore them in some detail.
If you're planning a two-day-long hike, you will need to carry more food, water, and equipment, adding a lot of weight to your backpack.
Multiple-day hikes are also fairly common for experienced hikers, which means that more thought needs to be put into the items you carry and bring with you on the trip.
It is still recommended to pack closer to 20% of your body weight, meaning you should be more mindful about your clothing, equipment, and supplies to make the hike easier for yourself.
This applies even if you're an experienced hiker since multiple day trips are taxing for anyone.
Hiking in summer or winter requires a different approach. Where colder climates require warm clothing to be worn, summer temperatures allow lighter clothing options.
Climbing snowy mountains and traversing through thick piles of snow means that you need the right gear, requiring you to be more mindful about what you carry.
This depends on how much you value hygiene and comfort, which means that you might be willing to bear the burden of heavier weights if it leads to a more comfortable and peaceful sleep.
If you're a hardcore hiker, you may not mind wearing the same clothes for days on end and therefore carry the least amount of weight possible since your requirements are pretty low.
If you’re a fitness nut and want to push yourself beyond your limits, you may carry more than 20% of your body weight to challenge your muscles and push past mental barriers, which is more rewarding than comfort for some people.
How to Minimize The Weight That You Carry
Being a serious hiker, you may want to make your trip as comfortable as possible, which means you probably want to carry the least amount of weight possible to cover the greatest distance.
You must make sure that you do not sacrifice important items you need to carry in order to carry less weight, such as a first-aid kit or other essentials.
Going lightweight is an excellent option for most hikers, but not at the expense of leaving out things that can save you a lot of trouble.
Make sure that you do not go so light that you have to mooch off your hiking buddies, whether it’s food or a warm layer, which can be annoying.
Let’s consider some tips for reducing the weight that you carry.
Be Mindful About Your Base Weight
Your base weight is essentially the weight of your backpack minus the weight of consumables like food and water, which will decrease as your trip progresses.
If your total weight is 25 pounds, you may be carrying 5 pounds of food and water, which will eventually decrease as you consume it throughout your journey.
This means you are left with 20 pounds of compulsory stuff on your travel, including any equipment, tent, sleeping bags, gas stoves, and clothing.
If you're looking to reduce your base weight, you need to choose a lighter alternative or not carry something you don't need.
Many hardcore hikers can make makeshift sleeping areas from their surroundings and do not need to carry sleeping bags or tents, which are a luxury in their eyes.
For that reason, they may only carry absolute essentials like a knife and splint, making their trip ultra-light and challenging in a different way.
Weigh Your Stuff
It makes sense to have a mental note of the weight of individual pieces of equipment and gear you will be carrying so you know what is contributing the most to your burden.
You may want to make a list that covers the weight of every item you carry if that makes it easier to remember.
Use a kitchen scale to measure your stuff before heading out on your hike so you can plan your next trips according to the desired base weight.
Find Lighter Alternatives
Spending some time browsing through hiking shops makes sense to find a lighter alternative to carry if your goal is to go ultra-lightweight.
The main items you will be carrying that contribute the most towards the base weight include your backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent.
You can easily find items that weigh less than 3 pounds if you are willing to look, making your hike much easier to complete.
Get Rid of Things You Don’t Need
After completing a hike, you should empty your backpack and consider things you used, didn't use and used occasionally.
By separating them into three piles, you will quickly realize that you may be carrying more food than you need or carrying extra pieces of clothing that are quite unnecessary for your travel.
Many hikers make the mistake of overestimating their requirements, which means you do not have to pack for luxury or comfort because it could be contributing to an unnecessary load.
Be careful not to get rid of your first-aid kit because you didn't use it on this trip since it could save you from a potential injury.
Carry Specific Foods
If you spend little to no time thinking about the foods you will carry, chances are you're going to carry whatever you impulsively pick up from the store before heading out for your hike.
Spend some time planning your meals the day before and consider what ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and protein you wish to carry.
Carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy, but you should probably limit yourself to complex carbohydrates and not choose sugary options, which can make you lethargic and slow.
You may want to get beef jerky as your main source of protein because it is easy to carry, doesn't take up much space, and is delicious.
Dry fruits are an excellent source of good quality fats and have a lot of calories that could sustain you for even the longest of hikes.
Find out how long your trip will be and how hard you will be pushing yourself, which will help you estimate the number of calories you need to carry.
A good number is 2500-4000 calories, easily sustaining you for a full day's trip or more.
If you are determined to carry the least amount of weight possible, you may want to carry more fats from sources like nuts because 1 gram of fat contains nine calories, compared to 4 calories per gram from protein and carbs.
Don't forget to share the load between your hiking buddies, especially if you're carrying items that everyone will use, including the gas stove or water filter.
Disadvantages of Carrying a Heavy Backpack
Carrying a heavy backpack certainly has health implications, especially if you're traveling long distances and not in the best shape of your life.
Many hikers are known to suffer injuries on their trips if they carry a heavy load for too long, and it is something worth considering if you’re planning your first hike or a multiple-day trek through challenging landscapes.
It is pretty obvious that carrying a heavier load makes it difficult to travel long distances, and you may slow down to the point where you cannot keep up with your fellow hikers.
A researcher called Anthony Thomas explored this very concept of gauging hikers’ endurance when carrying heavy loads.
The results showed that carrying a heavy load reduces the total distance you can cover and can also cause inconveniences and injuries along the way.
These injuries include blisters, back and joint pain, rucksack palsy, and paresthesia.
Rucksack palsy is a condition that causes compression of the nerves in your cervical spine, leading to great discomfort and dull pains.
Many backpackers also report experiencing neck and shoulder pain, which can significantly impact the quality of your hike.
Other ailments include general back pain, sore feet, legs, and hips, which are major deterrents that can cause you to abandon your trip and give up hiking as a whole.
This is why it is so important to carry the least amount of weight possible because it makes the hike more sustainable.
Exercise Regimen to Train For Your Hike
The best way to prepare for long and arduous hikes is to take your fitness to the next level.
Since hikes require a lot of cardiovascular capacity, it helps to do some running or jogging to prepare.
It also helps to join the gym and have a training program to follow because it allows you to have a strong upper and lower body, making it easier to carry heavy loads on a hike.
If you're a complete beginner and decide to go on a long hike, you will notice that your legs are extremely sore the next day, which you can avoid if you train them consistently by performing cardio and weight training.
I remember planning for a hike in the mountains by doing several cardio sessions leading up to the trip.
This turned out to be very beneficial because the hike was a steep 12-15 hour climb on the first day, and I barely got enough sleep that night but woke up without my legs feeling sore at all.
My hiking buddies found it difficult to walk the next day because they were not prepared for the new stimulus, which shocked their nervous system, and they felt the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in their legs.
Similarly, if you want to make your hike comfortable and carry more weight in your backpack, you need a strong body with great stamina.
If hiking is a pastime for you, you may not need to do much since most people can walk long distances at a slow pace.
However, if you’re passionate about hiking, you may want to do everything in your power to make more grueling treks possible so you can challenge yourself to be the best version of yourself.
Consider working out 2-3 times a week at least to maintain your fitness and prevent injuries from carrying heavy loads.
Advantages And Disadvantages of Ultra-Light Backpacking
We have covered why people might want to choose lighter or heavier backpacks, depending on their personal goals.
Now let’s look at some of the advantages of choosing to go ultralight on your hike:
- You will have higher energy levels for the trip. It is no surprise that carrying a heavier load means burning more calories. Since there is a greater demand placed on the body, your energy levels will suffer, and you may be unable to match your fellow hikers' pace and burnout more quickly.
- You will be able to take more challenging trails. If you're carrying heavy backpacks, you will not be able to take difficult routes and limit yourself to simpler hikes. Many people discover new and exciting locations when they are not afraid to stray off the path and take the road less traveled. This is only possible if you have the confidence and stamina to take longer trails, which is made easier with a lighter backpack.
- It is safer to choose the lighter option. There is a lower risk of injury if you travel light and many people report that their joints do not ache at all when their backpack is ultra-light and easier to carry.
- You can bring more luxury items. If you do not carry unnecessary items with you, you have more space for warm layers and luxury tents.
Now that we've covered the major advantages of choosing to go ultralight, let's look at some of the disadvantages that are worth mentioning:
- It can be difficult. If you're a hardcore hiker, you may not even bring your tent or sleeping bag with you, so you'll have to spend time looking for safe camping sites and dry materials to start a fire. Some of the most adventurous hikers even catch their own food, resulting in a lot of effort, high risk, and possible failure. Even if you are able to find a cave or create a makeshift tent, there is still the possibility of heavy downpours and mosquitoes that are difficult to deal with.
- There is less durability. By choosing lighter equipment, there is a greater chance of tears and equipment failure, leading to many difficulties along the way.
- There are greater expenses. Ultra-light equipment is usually more expensive because it is newer on the market and uses lightweight technologies.
Hiking is an excellent way to connect with nature, have fun, and reap the benefits of physical exercise that lead to longevity.
It is also a great way to socialize with people and form deep and meaningful bonds that bring you closer with friends and strangers.
Using heavier backpacks on hikes may be a good option for people with strength and fitness-related goals but may not be the best option for those looking to travel the most distance possible.
Since there are many elements to consider, there is no absolute rule regarding how much weight you should carry, but 20% or less of your body weight is a good general guideline.
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks