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Backpacking is hard work! Ultra-light, training, safety and more

Putting even 30-40 pounds on your back and hiking in the backcountry requires effort beyond the normal.  When you consider the task, this should be fairly obvious, but many do not arrive at this conclusion.

There are many factors involved - how much weight, the packer's physical conditioning, suitability of the equipment for the enterprise, equipment that is essential, etc.

A very significant factor is the packer's physical condition, especially aerobic and cardiovascular fitness. Most of us will benefit from a training program that involves walking or running to improve fitness/  Done before hand, physical conditioning will pay dividends.  Some may start packing and begin with easy trips and low initial mileage.  This works for some.

Wearing even a well fitted pack for the first time with any significant weight rings on strange body responses.  Give the bod time to adjust and harden up.  Like most things, packing gets easier with experience.

Weight is a crucial aspect.  You want to carry as much as possible to have a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable experience.  But comfort and pleasure are decreased once the pack weight gets above a tolerable limit.  Trading off between weight, comfort, and safety is a never ending process for the backpacker.  Much depends upon what the individual deems necessary for comfort in the environment in which they will be treading, which in turn requires knowledge of the demands of that environment.

This is just a way of saying that the load out for a trip in the Sonoran desert in August is going to be a lot different from that of an excursion in the Sierras in May.  Individual judgment and experience is key.

*physical conditioning is key.  what a 200 pound overweight person can carry is vastly different from the load carried comfortably by a 200 pound person who is physically fit


ultralight backpacking is a useful trend, to an extent.  No one likes to carry an unnecessarily heavy pack.  But like anything else, there is a point of diminishing returns, especially when safety is compromised.

For me, on any trip, day hike or multiday, I want to be sure i can build a fire, if necessary (warmth and or signaling), have adequate water (probably the heaviest article routinely carried), navigate (map and compass), treat possible injuries (reasonable first aid kit) and indicate my location (signal mirror and whistle).  Then consider shelter, food, and sleeping comfortably.  Your individual priorities will probably vary somewhat from this list.

In any event, with experience and more trips, backpacking will become easier and more fun.  knowledge and skill weight nothing and are the most important of all.

I hope this will begin a fruitful and useful discussion of this critical topic

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

With technology today, each of your big three should only weight 2 lbs or less.  That target will enable you to hike and enjoy.  My base weight is 12lbs and normal carry just under 20.  Makes a 20 mile day doable if needed or desired.  Also, consider that for a through hike, its like 180 days of working out 🙂 

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

Not necessarily true.  With a base weight of 12 lbs my cold body would have hypothermia.  A person needs to take into account what their individual body needs not only to be barely safe but also comfortable.  No 2 lb sleeping bag was enough for me (spent lots of money and tried it).  Plus adding warmth with a good mattress will add more weight but essential none the less.

Not everyone wants to rush through 20 miles a day.  On the 36 mile week long (6 day) trips I've taken for over 30 years I cannot imaging doing any of them in less than 2 days....why....  The weight did not slow me down, wanting to absorb the beauty slowed me down.  A glance at 80 miles of trails is not as fulfilling as a truly deep look at 8 miles a day....try it.



"Backpacking" is a very generalized terms and there are just about as many variations as there are practitioners.  They go out for all kinds of reasons, to all kinds of places, to accomplish many different objectives. One commonality is a reasonably natural setting.  What works for one person doesn't for another.  That's life.


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

I'm in my 50s.

Although I believe that the traditional backpacking community owes a debt of gratitude to the utralight community for helping all gear manufacturers reduce the weight of their products, I am not nor will I ever be an ultralight backpacker. The days of intentional discomfort for the sake of dropping some ounces are well in my rearview mirror.

But the gear I carry today would easily have been 10 pounds heavier 20 years ago. So, for that, I thank the UL community and the push it gave to manufacturers to find ways to lighten almost everything.

  • My 3½ pound tent is not UL but it's lighter than a similar tent would have been 10 years ago.
  • My aluminum 1 L pot is lighter than its predecessor would have been 20 years ago
  • My sun hoody and trail pants are a mere fraction of the wool I wore when I hiked 30 years ago.

But my Baltaro 65 pack is 5 pounds and I have no plans on giving that up for a lighter weight UL pack without a proper frame, decent shoulder straps, and a "hip belt" that can only be called such under the most generous of circumstances.

The ability to carry and distribute weight properly is far more important and critical to my comfort than anything else. So I happily carry that pack. 

And I will carry non-essentials that add to my comfort and the overall weight. The short trip I am taking in a couple weeks will see a 1lb chair and a 1lb table in my pack instead of a 2 ounce foam pad. My food bag will weigh more because I'll bring my own ingredients instead of the lighter pre-packaged dehydrated sodium bombs (plus the bourbon and cigar for camp).

I am in my 50s. I'll reduce weight where I can but I choose comfort and safety over a lighter weight.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

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

heard this the other day: Go light, freeze at night! (I just about laughed my rear off!)

REI Member Since 1979