Loc: Kitsap Peninsula, WA
There used to be a standard pack to body weight ratio that was thrown around like it was a fact. People used to say that a comfortable backpack weight was 20% or one-fifth of your body weight. At 175 that would be 35 pounds for me. All that is a little suspect because it would probably not be the same for a thin person and a heavy person; for an athlete and someone in marginal shape. Nowadays equipment is much lighter and attitudes toward the subject have also changed. So here is what I would like to do. Tell me what your body weight is and what you consider a “comfortable” pack weight. In other words, for argument sake say you were going out for several days. What would you consider a good target weight for your pack, including food, but not water? If I can get enough responses here to consider it a representative sample I’ll do a little math and tell you what the average is.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I don't think we can omit water. It makes a lot of difference if you are hiking with frequent water sources (a quart--2 lbs.--at a time is plenty) or where you have to carry at least a gallon (8 lbs.). If I were hiking in the latter situation, I'd go for only 2-3 days. In other words, total pack weight should rule in these situations.
I also think the % of body weight isn't all that great an idea. Those of us who are overweight shouldn't be carrying as big a % of body weight, because we are already overloaded. Those of us who are getting up in years with creaky, arthritic joints and other ailments need to reduce the pack weight as % of body weight. Young children, whose bones, ligaments and joints are immature, shouldn't be carrying as big a percentage.
The length of the hike and of the hiking day is also important. IMHO. If you're going only a couple miles in to set up a base camp, then you can get away with loading up. If you're planning a hike of several hundred miles or more with 20-25 mile days, then a heavier pack (as % of body weight) is far more apt to cause stress injuries even in a young, well-conditioned person.
As you can see, regarding a "rule" or even an "average" of pack weight vs. body weight, I wouldn't want to go there. YMMV, HYOH and all that!
Or maybe my real reason is that I don't really want to reveal my weight after two Christmas parties in one weekend?
Edited by OregonMouse (12/21/0903:03 PM) Edit Reason: Edit out too many "also's"!
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
Loc: The State of Jefferson
The most comfortable pack weight would be 0.0 lbs. That aside, I'm 5'11" 155 lbs. For me 20lbs in a pack with a functional hip belt is something I can just about ignore. 30 lbs I know it's there but it doesn't slow me down much. 50 lbs slows my pace and makes me want to stop a lot. Anything over 50 is just oppressive.
Loc: Portland, OR
It doesn't matter to me what my pack weight consists of. Whether there are 2 gallons of water in it or just a pint, whenever my pack weighs less than 30 lbs I figure it sits comfortably enough that I don't give the pack weight a lot of thought. I just hike and the pack comes along for the ride.
Above 30 lbs that sense of comfort starts to deteriorate somewhat. Above 35 lbs I am becoming distinctly aware of my pack's weight. Anywhere nearing 40 lbs and hiking starts to turn into trudging.
P.S. I am 5'11" and weigh approx. 160.
Edited by aimless (12/21/0906:46 PM) Edit Reason: added height and weight stats
Often when I am hiking here in Arizona, the water I carry weighs more than the gear I take. When I hike the Sierra or the Cascades, I generally carry about a pound of water. My three season gear weight is about 12 pounds. I carry about 1.5 lb per day of food. For a week out, my pack will weigh about 22-25 pounds at the trail head. I am 5' 10" and weighed 170 pounds before the holidays. I am in my early 70's and seldom do more than 12 miles per day.
For me and most people I know, everyone has a quite specific point beoyond which the pack becomes exponentially uncomfortable. A friend of same age, weight and hieght as myself has a "comfort point" of 20 pounds. Mine is 28-30 pounds. We both are skinny and weigh about 115 pounds. She has a gimpy neck; I have gimpy knees. I think it is her neck problems that cause her discomfort at a lighter weight. Of course, lighter is more comfortable, but the discomfort is not linear. On long trips I often start out with 40 pounds and although it does not slow down my rate, it is painful until I get down to my magic number. Of course, if I am going to carry 40 pounds, I use a pack that has suspension designed for the heavier weight. With the proper pack, the discomfort does not hit as soon, but nevertheless, it does hit me before the day is done. Below my limit I can carry the pack all day and it does not feel much different as the day goes on.
Thus, I think everyone is different but the 1/4 body weight (if you use "lean" body weight -what you should weight, not what you DO weigh) is a pretty good generalization.
When I talk "pack weight" I obviously mean everything on your back, water included.
I agree - overweight and out of shape should also figure in. However, doing that, I've always found the 20% number to be fairly realistic measure of comfort, as long as you take 20% of your "ideal" weight, and subtract any excess poundage from the result.
In my own case, not too long ago, I weighed about 220 pounds, and considered 200 to be my ideal weight. 20% gave a pack weight of 40 pounds; subtract the 20 pounds of overweight meant that a comfortable pack, with a quart of water, could only weigh 20 pounds. That worked out about right, considering that when I carried 20 pounds I was OK; at 25, I was struggling. I let myself go up to 230, and every trip was a struggle - to the point that I thought I was going to have a heart attack, and had halfway decided to quit backpacking.
Then I got serious about losing weight (assisted by a Type II diabetes diagnosis.) I'm now at about 180 - which was probably my ideal weight all along. 20% of that is 45 pounds. I recently took a trip where I carried 25 pounds, including food and a quart of water, at the start. It was a repeat of that last trip, and what a difference! I experienced no discomfort at all, and hiked more strongly than I had in years.
So 20% is a good guideline - but it needs to be as a percentage of total weight, with any overweight poundage deducted from the result.
For me, the cutoff has nothing to do with body weight. I weigh about 165lbs, work out regularly, and am strong for my body weight. Lifting and carrying 50lbs around all day is no big deal for me, strengthwise.
However, any pack over 30lbs or so (rough estimate, I've never weighed my pack) starts to get uncomfortable after a while, as the skin and flesh on my shoulders and hips grow sore from the load. On an extended trip my joints grow gradually more immune to the bruising, but that first week can be gruelling.
It's easy to be a holy man on top of a mountain. -- Larry Darrell
I have never weighed my pack directly, I have got on the scale with and without my pack and a few years ago I was at about 40lbs. At the time it wasn't too much discomfort, but since lighter is always more comfortable, I have now got my pack weight down to 30 give or take depending on conditions. I am 5'10" about 190 and train regularly. The conditions your hiking in along with your own condition and age have so much to do with whats comfortable that trial and error and getting lighter whenever possible is what I try to work with.
"In the beginers mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." Shunryu Suzuki
I actually think that the % of pack weight to body weight should go down with an over weight person. As some one said, you are already over loaded and extra weight could only hurt that. If I was 20-23 lbs. over weight I might not hike until I got my weight under control or at least to an acceptable level any way. I have tried hiking while a little over weight and it just did not work for me at all. I do good to get ten miles in and most of that would be a sort of suffering because of the weight. Being over weight complicates every thing and it could to the point that it may be dangerous to the hiker....sabre11004
P.S. Hiking is a great way to start losing those extra pounds too !!!!!
The first step that you take will be one of those that get you there 1!!!!!
I agree - and from personal experience, not theory. I was around when 40 - 50 pound packs were commonplace, and know how I felt after carrying one for a day. With a 25 pound pack and about 20 extra pounds of me, I felt about the same as when I was carrying the 45 pound pack.
Thus my modification to the 20% rule, to deduct the excess body weight from the 20% of your ideal weight to get the "comfortable" pack weight.
IIRC the whole 20% thing was not about comfort, but came from a military study (Dutch or Sweden I think) that had to do with efficiency.
For me, it isn't solely about the weight of the pack, but which pack I use. If I have under 15lbs (summer weekend trips), my Thompson Peak is a dream. Over 20# (3 season weeklong trips) it is very uncomfortable. However that same 20# in my MSGhost or Osprey atmos is a dream and an additional 10# is still comfortable in my Osprey. If I push the upper 30's none of my internal frame packs are comfortable, but my external (which I call the bumblebee due to its colors) can easily carry 40-50# (short distance trips focus on food!). All are comfortable with the weights they are designed for and cease to be comfortable when the weights are exceeded. Of course less weight in any pack will be more comfortable than more. But to answer the original question, it depends on which pack I use.
btw I use total weight for my own calculations since my back/legs don't exclude anything.
For your analysis : My high body weight is usually 150lbs. At 20 miles/day in the summer, I feel very comfortable for a 5 day weight w/o water at <15 lbs. Water will vary 1-5lbs addition. Age: 46; 5’8”
A while back I wrote a post about finding your "lean body" weight and then finding how much fat you carry. Take a percentage of the lean body weight as your maximum comfortable load and then subtract your body fat from it and you have a realistic number. The 1/4 "LORE" refers to "fit" people. Obviously my fat 240 pound friend who has lots of muscles, cannot carry the same % of his body weight that I can.
So I am 175 pounds and 10% body fat, or 17.5 pounds of fat, and I take 1/4 of my lean body mass ( .25 x (175 - 17.5)) we arrive at 157.5 pounds lean body mass. .25 x 157.5 lbs = 39.4 pounds (max theoretical load). If I then subtract 17.5 (my body fat) from 39.4 -17.5 = 21.9. I think that's a tad low, however lets face it, today's hikers are wimps and the low numbers are in line with everybody complaining about carrying the packs that we considered normal in the good old days.
When I was younger and maybe still 10% body fat and weighed 145, the calculation would say that should carry an 18.5 pound pack, yet I was very comfortable with a 32 pound pack.
Unless you are very fit you probably have 18% to 33 % body fat. If you weigh 200 pounds and have 25 % body fat, then you are carrying 50 pounds of fat. 25 % of your lean body mass would be 150 x .25 = 37 pounds. If you subtract 50 pounds from 37 pounds you get a negative number, which means you will not be comfortable going up that trail with anything on your back.
I think the equation should be done by actual body muscle mass but that is very difficult to measure, however hese numbers do indicate WHY modern bpers need UL packs, they're not physically fit by old standards. Jim
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.
Hey, Jim - I wasn't trying to steal your idea in my earlier post; I missed your post about the same thing. I'd come up with the idea myself a couple of years ago, when trying to help a couple of newcomer adults figure out how much weight they could carry. (Step Two was teaching them how much they SHOULD carry - they were quite reluctant to leave out the essentials like the 2nd down jacket, the 2-gallon collapsible bucket, and the 4 changes of clothes for the weekend.)
But I do wholly agree with your concept: max weight should be based on ideal weight, and excess body weight becomes part of that max weight.
I'm fairly overweight (215 lbs, at 5'8", age 35). I was very comfortable with 45 lbs in a really nice internal frame backpack for 46 miles of the art loeb trail last year.
I think the pack can make or break you.
I got a cheap pack recently (which boasted all the same features of the more expensive pack), and hiked out to the market in a snow storm, to get a 18 pack of Mich Ultra, and a bottle of wine for my wife.
The 2 miles back home felt like I had eighty tons on my back. I think the waist belt and suspension system of the cheap pack had alot to do with it.
Do I prefer 30-ish pounds... sure. But 45-ish isn't uncomfortable.
Glenn I don't own these ideas - I give them freely - its just the engineer in me. and if you like them enough to call your own, well plagiarism is the highest form of flattery.
bigb When ever yer ready pal. I'm 61 and I can probably kick yer tail.
broadway big people have big muscles and you may have less body fat than you think, however I was trying to say that bones and guts are genetic factors and the ratio of muscle to lean body weight is not fixed, but it would take a dip in a tank and lots of measurements to determine those factors so as a rule of thumb, lean bady mass times some percentage less body fat is probably a better estimating method than just 1/4 of total body weight.
Jim YMMV and modern bpers are not in the shape that us hippy street people were. If I may be so callous, sport climbing was invented for moderns who didn't have what it takes to be trad climbers...
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.
Loc: Kitsap Peninsula, WA
I have had a surprisingly large response to my question, thank you. I found the comments were the most interesting part of it. The general consensus is that you can't come up with a number or ratio that applies to everyone. So I guess the best you can do is have a range of your own and depending on distance and elevation gain try to estimate how comfortable, or uncomfortable you will be. Having said that I did find the stats somewhat interesting. I threw out the guy who is so strong he has no problem carrying 50 pounds. It seemed too much like an anomaly. The range was 20 to 40 pounds. The average was 26.55 lbs and the average ratio was 16.9% of body weight. That would put me at 29.5 lbs. I wouldn't mind starting a trip with that, including food and water, but I'd be happy when some of the food was gone. That figure also seems not to far off from some "experts" on line that suggested 25 lbs, 30 lbs (boy scouts) 27 (for 7 days) and someone who said 31 pounds was lighter than the majority of people they see backpacking out of Yosemite (a ranger?). So thanks for the info from all who answered. My conclusion? For me, between 14.9 and 16.9 percent of my body weight is a good range for my pack and food and fuel (not water) for a week. And, as a matter of fact, I usually start a week trip with 26 lbs, (includes fuel and food, not water).
Jim, I am not sure we were in better shape, but we did define "comfort" differently. Maybe we were a bit more stoic. Not so much used to the comforts of modern life. Hey, and we were a hell of a lot younger! When you are 20 you just ignore the pain and wipe out any memory of pain. I would put age up there with weight criteria. When I was 20 I was too stupid to think that I ever was uncomfortable. I carried 60-70 pounds regularly. Old joints and bones now dictate differently. Yes, I can still carry a 60 pound pack, but I hurt, big time. You have me by a couple of months, but I am close behind you. But we certainly can give the young'us a run for their money.
What pack ? I think that some confuse what can be and what should be done. In Nepal I noted how the porters,(all much smaller than me and I am only 5'7" ,150 lbs...) could carry all day loads that are twice or more than what I do. For example this "external pack" was around 60-70 lbs, I walked with it on flat ground for about 200 yards, and that was enough for me. The porter in charge of that came down slippery slopes the day before, he was about 5'3" and provably 125 pounds. However at 35 he looked as old as me at 53... Note that when you read about folk that can only hike with the use of painkillers you typically find that they used to carry heavy loads and/or put in huge mileage. Franco
150 lbs, 5"7", 5-7 days with food around 25 lbs. Note also that some packs can carry 30 lbs the way others carry 20...
As usual, I'm going to muddy the waters a bit. I'm 54, 5' 10", 165 lbs (danged Holiday weight already creeping in).
2 yrs ago I did my longest duration self-supported trip to date, 26 days (with food packed for 28 days) and 17 of them were xc over this terrain
My TH weight was 86 lbs, 9 lbs of which were my DSLR, 2 lenses, and extra batteries. 77 lbs TH weight for 26 days sans camera. Oh and 2.5 lbs of fly fishing gear and the extra pan to fry fish in, so ~74 lbs with no extra gear.
Before that, it was 17-21 days over terrain like this
Add in an ice axe as mandatory, sometimes crampons and a 9 mm rope as well.
As you can see, I normally BP with my wife, 5'0", 110 lbs. So all weights above are for a trip for two, carrying the tent, all of the cooking gear and fuel and ~ 75% of the food.
74 lbs for 2 people (sans my luxury items) for 26 days carrying all of the gear except her sleeping bag, mat, clothes, and 25% of the food is pretty lightweight I think, since this is what this forum concentrates on.
But that's beside the point. I'm not a trail hiker let alone a thru hiker. I have no goals about trying for a 20-25 mi day. My mother taught me not to run in church. I could throw in some derogatory sexual innuendos about how quick you arrive vs staying longer but won't.
Most of my pack days ave 7-15 mi over the off trail terrain I travel. Sometimes they're less, sometimes more. Some days I'll basecamp and dayhike 15 mi.
In the end, 0 lbs is the ideal comfort weight. Is 70-80 lbs comfortable ? While not as comfortable as 20 lbs, it is easilytolerable the first couple of days knowing the fact that I'll be out for almost a month and it will be getting lighter every day.
I'm one of those old throw backs that prefers staying power vs speed.
FWIW We also tolerate 100-120lb loads to hump my climbing gear as well as all of the rest of the BP'g stuff to climb in the the Cirque or the Deep Lk Basin for 14-17 days. Check out my wife's pack size.
I do what it it takes to do the things I love. There is no ideal pack weight anymore than there is the perfect body size. This isn't a contest to prove who can do with less.
Perfection is in the mind of the obsessive beholder.