Showing results for 
Show  only  | Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Welcome REI Co-op Members!
We're glad you're here. If you can't access the Co-op Members section of the community,
click here for instructions on how to join the section that's just for you.

Backpacking Advice: weight verses safety

Ok, I backpackedwhen I was a kid now I’m truck camping across the country and planning on backpacking every chance I can. My issue is weight everyone counts grams yet no one “weighs” the safety factor from cutting so much weight by eliminating things that could’ve a life saver. There are two and four legged predators, twisted ankles or knees, fast bleeding wounds... I carry a tourniquet, ace bandages, suture kit a fixed blade knife, Leatherman tool, packable saw and a pistol with me to name few things. I don’t consider getting home a luxury item, why do so many people go less prepared to save weight? My full load comes about 45 -50 lbs I’m in average shape and have a granddaughter...

12 Replies

Okay, first of all, calm - down (kidding!). In the wilderness, your biggest problem is YOU. It's unlikely, in the extreme, that you will EVER be attacked (much less killed) by a bear or any other wild animal!! Animals in the wild don't want ANYTHING to do with us. If they're an issue, it's usually because people have been stupid with their food, food scraps or food garbage. Keep a clean camp, don't keep/eat food in your shelter, and NEVER - EVER feed ANY animals especially in/near your campground/campsite!!! Also, ALWAYS hang your food at least 1 yard from any part of a tree, at least 5 yards above the ground, and at least 10 yards from your shelter. If you have been hunting/trapping/fishing, etc., process your food at least 50 yards from your campsite, particularly if you are in an area heavily populated with bears, or in the deep backcountry.

In the frontcountry, you're more likely to have problems with people! Rude or ignorant behavior, typically because of a lack of common sense or common courtesy. But yes, the closer you are to town, the more likely you are to come across cooks and crooks. As to guns, you're so unlikely to be attacked by a wild animal that it makes no sense to bring one. You're more likely to shoot YOURSELF. Instead, be smart. If that's not an option, ACT smart.

Where weight effects safety is in overpacking (having a pack that puts undue strain on your ankles, knees, lower back, sense of balance, etc. (or if you fit your straps/pack incorrectly, your shoulders).

No matter which type of hiking you're interested in (day hiking, distance hiking, wilderness hiking or bushwhacking), low base weight is ALWAYS important. "What weighs an ounce in the morning, weighs a pound at night!) If your 45-50 pounds is your base weight, that's a load proper for wilderness hiking. If you want to do day or distance hiking, you need better choices or different gear.

It sounds like you may be interested in day hiking or wilderness hiking, which is it?


Knowlege and skill weigh very little and ultimately are at least just as important, if not more so, than equipment.  It is quite possible to stay safe and reduce pack weight by carrying lighter, equally effective items, probably improving capability.  Years ago, I often arried a primus white gas stove, rather on the heavy side = now replaced by a canister stove and burner - lighter, safer, and at least just as effective.

Years ago, I was an avid mountain rescue volunteer.  On once occasion, my companion weighed my pack - 41 pounds.  I was carrying considerable medical gear (BP cuff,stethoscope, various splints plus the usual) as well as technical climbing gear (rope, harness, protection pieces) as well as equipment to stray a couple of nights in the woods. On normal recreational trips, I can easily be comfortable and safe with no more than thirty pounds, at the most. It is all about evaluating the effectiveness and versatility of items and making good choices.  Safety should always be a consideration.  As mentioned before, heavy weight is itself a hazard.

I have been an owner and user of firearms longer than I have been hiking and backpacking.  At one point,I was a commissioned law enforcement officer in the NPS.  I don't think I ever carried a firearm while in the back country nor did I ever think I needed one. I can recall two occasions when I was very glad that I did have my pistol (over a period of sixty years).  Neither was in a backcountry setting.  Wild animals are a nonissue in most settings (there are some exceptions).  Keep a clean camp and ditch the gun. Work on physical fitness instead.


Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Agreed. Generally, the longer you're out, the more diverse your activities, the colder the weather, etc., the more gear and/or supplies AND weight you'll carry. Backcountry medics usually don't plan on being out any longer than it takes to reach a victim and/or get back to base. So, their gear is specialized (and yes, can be heavy)

If you are going to hike, camp AND go canyoneering, AND packrafting, etc., even if you go ultralight AND minimalist, your pack will probably STILL be heavy. Being out longer doesn't necessarily mean more gear, but ALWAYS means more food. But, your choice, your weight!


I'm like you, I want to be prepared for anything, and I hope you're around when I need stitching up. But I also don't want to carry gear that overlaps. For instance, the Leatherman has a great knife and a usable saw; do you really need a fixed blade and a bow saw too? Is your pistol one of the new lightweights—Ruger and others make guns  that weigh as little as 10 to 12 ounces. How much does your pack weigh? Manufacturers have lightened those too. 

Besides eliminating overlapping gear, the places you'll really save weight but not sacrifice safety are getting a lighter tent and sleeping bag, lighter-weight jackets, lighter clothes and smaller stoves and cooking pots. The tradeoff is that the lighter something is, the more it tends to cost.

Levis weigh 1 1/2 to 2 lbs, lightweight nylon pants weigh about half that. The good news is that used gear can be much cheaper than new, try Craigslist or whatever your favorite used site happens to be.

But to continue, there are great 2 or 3 ounce LED headlamps that are brighter than anything Maglite makes, and cooking pots that are around 8 ounces, the list goes on and on. 

Oh, and boots; take advantage of the new lighter boots that are out there. Those really help make the last 5 miles of a hike a lot easier. 

Check out Backpacker Magazine or  Andrew Skurkra's blog for a relatively sane look at backpacking today (I say "sane" because there are some ultralight backpacking enthusiasts who have clearly lost their minds.




Agreed... for the most part...

The first rule of gear shopping is, "Good gear costs good money!" This does NOT mean you can't enjoy yourself with old/used/cheaply made gear, it just means good gear costs good money! But there's still nothing wrong with last year's version/model, etc.

For a headlight, I use a Black Diamond Revolt, only because it is USB chargeable.

I would NEVER use/recommend denim (Levi's or any other brand) or any cotton (aka "death cloth"). Stick to high performance synthetic fabrics including merino wool.

On footwear, that depends more on the type of terrain/hiking you expect. With distance and day hiking and fairly flat/level trails, just about any type of sneaker is fine (trail runners are a favorite). But if you plan on wilderness hiking, bushwhacking and rough or NO trails, you NEED a boot with ankle support. Besides, modern boots are pretty darn light these days!! In any case, be SURE your footwear is PROPERLY fitted.

If you have family/friends who are into the type of outdoor activities you're interested in, they can be a GREAT mentor!!!

Also... you're NOT supposed to prepare for "ANY" emergency, you're supposed to prepare for LIKELY emergencies!


I just bought 2 of the black diamond revolts one for me and one for for my spare gear in case someone wants to go with me. I have purchased really good gear, sea to summit TK2 sleeping bags, Sea to summit pad as nd warmer bag liners a Marmot Tent and a Mystery ranch backpack. My next big thing are hiking boots as I have terrible arches so I'm looking at Soloman Quest backpacking boots.


John Muir hiked with a cast iron skillet.  Photographers take a full frame camera and a huge telephoto lens.  Some people take folding chairs. Your back packing style and distance will determine everything.

For me - I take a tiny pen knife and seldom use that, and get my pack down to 14 pounds, but I am just as well equipped as a friend who carries 40 pounds.  There is no safety compromise.  One might improve safety by the thought you put into your ultra light decisions.  And save sprained ankles from a huge pack.

But if you only go 1 mile, or less, the cast iron skillet is nice.

"The more you know, the lighter you go."

"What weighs a ounce in the morning, weighs a pound at night."

"You don't have to prepare for "ANY" emergency, only LIKELY emergencies!"

"Your choice, your weight."

On the other hand...

"Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it!"



"The more you eat the lighter your pack gets"...

...or is that a quote only I use?

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.