Hello! I am a newbie to backpacking. Planning to section hike the AT, starting with a few overnight trips this year to test gear, and then hopefully longer section hikes in 2020. I am female, 5'0" and 110 pounds.
I recently went to REI to be fitted for backpacks. I loved the Osprey Eja 58 and the Osprey Aura 50 ag. I ended up with the Aura because I didn't want to have to worry too much about having to spend extra money on my other gear to ensure lightweight (minimal budget to start out). However, I also read that there is a recommended weight limit of 20% of body weight per hiker. Since I am small and the Eja is a 2lb pack vs a 4 lb Aura pack, should I just have gone with that one? Being that I shouldn't be carrying more than 22 lbs anyway and in theory the Eja would allow me 20 lbs of gear, food and water...whereas the Aura would only allow 18 lbs of gear, food and water.
If it matters, I will be hiking with my 15 year old son who is also on the smaller side and he is definitely happy with his new Aura. So we will be splitting some gear between us (tent/small cook stove) at least.
I hope that makes sense, but in all my research before going to REI, I never thought about the whole % of body weight rule.
Loc: Portland, OR
Instead of thinking of this as a "rule", it is more helpful to think of it as a "guideline". In order to complete long sections of the AT, it may be necessary to break this "rule", simply because what you will need in the way of gear, fuel, food and water will exceed 20% of your body weight.
If it makes you feel any better, just realize that bodies vary widely in height, weight, metabolism, lung capacity, fitness, and so on. Hikes vary widely in length, elevation gain, weather, and trail conditions. Positing a strict rule based only on a single variable, a hiker's weight, cannot possibly account for all the important factors that go into a successful backpack.
So, consider it a suggestion and a starting place. Actual hiking will teach you just how far you can bend that "rule" and still meet your goals, whether those goals are making big miles, or just having a great time. Once you've begun your test hikes, things will come into much sharper focus.
It’s partly about weight, but it’s also about the pack’s suspension (hipbelt, frame, and shoulder straps.) The heavier the load, the sturdier the suspension you’ll need.
I’m familiar with the male versions: Atmos 50 (Aura) and Exos 58 (Eja.) Both are good packs. However, for a new-to-backpacking person who isn’t really sold on ultralight (the cost or the compromises), the Aura is probably the better choice. It has a sturdier suspension, which may mean that, if you’re carrying closer to a 30 pound load (not unusual for a long weekend or week), you’ll be much more comfortable in it. The hipbelt and shoulder straps are more padded, and the frame is more robust, which usually means better load transfer to your hips.
Now, about that weight rule. I’ve always heard that you shouldn’t carry more than a third of your body weight, and that 25% is better. So, at 110, you should be able to handle 35 pounds max, with 25 pounds being better. That’s right in the 30-pound load that I’ve seen most non-ultralight hikers carry for a long weekend.
However, for the best comfort, I’ve always modified that rule a bit: 25-33% of your ideal weight. Anything over your ideal weight has to be added to your pack weight. (Think about it: if you weighed 20 more pounds, would you really be able to carry an extra 5 pounds of pack as comfortably? Doesn’t make sense, does it?) Also, what kind of hiking shape are you in? Do you hike often?
On the other hand, if you’re a little out of shape, or a little overweight, hiking with a pack will take some of the weight off, and condition you to carrying a pack, which means you will find it more comfortable to carry that pack over time.
You’ll also learn what you need and, more importantly, don’t need over time. You mention practice hikes. When you come home from those hikes, unpack into two piles. In the first pile, put your essentials (first aid kit, toilet kit, rain gear, etc.) and the things you actually used. In the second pile, put your uneaten food and the things you didn’t use. Next time, don’t take the second pile.
From my experience leading groups of people like you describe yourself (newbies, maybe a little overweight, and not wanting to commit to ultralight), a 30-pound load for 5 days is easily attainable (especially when sharing gear with someone) and not too burdensome. Probably half to two-thirds of those folks end up with an Atmos 50 or Aura 50 - some after trying the Exos or Eja first.
I agree with the advice above that you are putting too much precision in the 10% rule. If, as a newbie, without unlimited budget, you get yourself down to about 20 lbs of gear (excluding your pack) then you are doing pretty well. What pack should you get? The one that is most comfortable to you. Losing two pounds makes hiking more comfortable but a poor fitting pack is much worse than an extra two pounds.
For the record, I am in awesome shape...not overweight by any means. Although I am new to backpacking I am not new to hiking or trails. I am foremost a trail ultrarunner, averaging 30-70 miles per week of running depending on what I am training for, and have finished two 100 mile trail races in the past year. My longest training runs can be up to 6.5 hours and cover 30 miles of trail. After my last 100 in October, my son and I started hiking anywhere from 2-6 hours at at time. I also do 3 days per week of lifting and core work.
I am definitely a backpacking newbie though and not ready to commit to ultralight methods.
All good points you have made regarding the packs. I had 17 lbs in both packs when I tried them at REI and both felt good although I could see if I had added another 13 lbs that the suspension on the Aura would probably make a noticeable difference in my favor. Can't wait to fill it up and take it out on the trails for a day.
I like the idea of separating things into two piles after our practice hikes and will definitely do that!
Loc: Portland, OR
Two 100 mile trail races in the past year? You are indeed in awesome shape!
You'll find that walking with a loaded pack entails some different body mechanics and a different approach to pace, but unless you drastically overload yourself and put yourself at risk of stress injuries, the switch over to hiking ought to be fairly smooth. Most of what you'll be learning will be adapting to performing all of life's little chores while staying on the trail multiple days (obtaining water, eating, sleeping, washing, setting up and breaking camp, etc.)
Sounds like 30 pounds should be no problem. With some judicious gear choices, you can carry fairly “traditional” (as opposed to ultralight) gear and still be under 25 pounds for a weekend; that leaves you 5 pounds for an extra 3 days of food and a change of clothes, and you’re easily under 30 pounds for five days or a week.
You may feel a bit of soreness as muscles re-acclimate to a slightly different center of gravity, the extra weight, and a snug hipbelt, but it will be more an oh-by-the-way feeling than a what-do-you-mean-do-this-again-tomorrow rebellion.
Relax, don’t worry about the physical challenge, and have a great time! (And one additional warning - just because everyone says “fast and light” like you must do both, “slow and light” is also acceptable.)