The assumption that a lighter pack equals more comfort in backpacking may not necessarily be true. This is not a post to elicit documentation of how a lighter pack saved you….I know all that. There are thousands of accounts to attest that but the general statement that a lighter pack is the key to comfort needs to be questioned, especially for new backpackers.
1) Understand your individual level of comfort.
Perhaps you just expect backpacking to be an uncomfortable ordeal and you will deal with it because you are a tough gal :-).
Sure a beginner can take a 40 lb pack and be turned off of backpacking, but she can also take only a 15 lb pack the first time and be turned off by being unprepared, miserable and unsafe.
For instance I actually believe that the inside of a tent should be dry. Taking a 1 lb single walled tent that drips condensation is not comfort IMO. Carry another 2 lbs with a double walled tent and feel safe and dry. (I ruined a camera once because of condensation.)
What are you willing to compromise? Perhaps to feel really safe and warm and have an easy time, you are willing to spend 4 more pounds or even 20?
2) Know your own body.
Many on-line videos showing 7 lb base weights is not realistic for the average person. I personally would suffer from hypothermia if relying on those to make my gear decisions. 20 degree bags in actual 30 degree temps has never worked for me. In 32 years backpacking and learning all the tricks to keep warm, my 10 degree down bag has been a necessity through it all.
Experience in many different environments is the only solution but I bet you know if you are a cold sleeper or not. Learn all the ways to retain your body’s heat and make decisions about gear from that.
Where is your information coming from? A fit 20 year old from dry CA may not be the best source of knowledge for a middle aged flatlander going on a week trip to CO mountains.
Do you really want to reduce weight extremely to run 25 miles down a trail or is 8 miles a day enough in such a gorgeous place to actually spend the time to fully absorb it all?
Get to know your style and purpose for being in remote places.
Can you tolerate 15 lbs on your shoulders or is the extra weight of padded hip belt worth whatever the cost in ounces. Not all light packs shift the weight to your hips and that can be painful.
Certainly knowledge and skill can replace weight, but your decision and choices need to come from common sense about your own body.
Bottom line---is lighter better?….It is a matter of degree and compromise. Safety and comfort to me are more valuable than strictly lighter.
Currently there is too much emphasis on light backpacking. What should be emphasized is right backpacking - the optimum combination of gear that helps you achieve the objectives of your trip, which usually includes a reasonable degree of comfort. A hugely important factor is your skill and knowledge' Gear is useless, whatever its weight, if you don't know enough to use it effectively.
What is the right assortment of gear,]given the knowledge to use it effectively, and what does it weigh? It depends on a lot of factors - the climate in which you are hiking, the ruggedness of terrain, campsites that are available, your personal tolerance of discomfort, and many others.
The only way to balance these factors is to oad up your pack and hit the trail. Evaluate the experience, adjust, and try again. What works for you may not work for you - this is a very personal process. After ten or twenty trips, you will be much happier with the results, but I have been hiking and backpacking for sixty years, and I am still adjusting my load to get things just right. It is a never ending process, and that is part of the charm of coping with the outdoor environment.
Let's not forget safety. A decent first aid kit is essential, and even more important is the training and experience in dealing with problems. Know your limits. Stop and deal with issues of exhaustion, thirst, etc. before you collapse and become an even bigger problem.
The skills you acquire in dealing with the wilderness come in handy in many ways in so called "normal" existence- say when you are faced with a wildfire and must leave your home quickly. Self reliance is a good thing.
Right not light....
"Currently there is too much emphasis on light backpacking. What should be emphasized is right backpacking "
I do think that some people are a little too over zealous on the ultra light stuff. While I understand the importance, I've often seen people online state stuff like "This product is garbage because it weighs 1oz more than that product, I would NEVER use it!" in combination with stuff like "I don't know why you wouldn't be willing to pay $500 more to save 2oz!" for one item.
I know it adds up, but some people are almost religious about it. If an overall weight of 1-2lbs more is crippling to someone, I'd suggest they work on a bit of strength training. Not as an insult, but I feel everyone could benefit - especially people who go backpacking.
As an older (think 60s) hiker, my first thought is packing to avoid injury, in my case, knee injury. Too much weight is going to aggravate old injuries or create new ones. I have seen first hand what happens when someone packs too heavy and damages their knees; and this is when we were 17 years old. Evacuating my friend from Camels Hump in Vermont was not a great experience; but it is memorable😀.
So after 45+ years of hiking, here are some of the things that I focus on when it comes to weight and protecting my body.
1) My own personal health and BMI. For every pound of unnecessary weight on my body, is a pound that is not in pack. If I am planning a longer hike, shedding winter weight is my first priority.
2) Hiking with a friend/partner. This allows us to distribute the weight of stoves, cookwear, first aid kits and other common items.
3) Hike in areas with shelters. Carrying a tent is extra weight that can often be avoided. In the summer, thunderstorms require shelter that a tent cannot provide; another rational to skipping the tent.
4) if possible, check your weather window for your hike. There is no value bringing a lot of extra clothes that will not be needed. Weather forecasting is pretty good at the big picture on a 7 day time frame; they might be off on timing, but if it is forecasted to be cold and wet, it is likely to be cold and wet.
5) Know how much weight your body can take before you hit the trail with a heavy pack. Do smaller hikes and keep track of the pack weight and any resulting aches and pains. Learn your body's weak points, be they your back, knees or heart. Depending upon family history, it may be prudent to have a cardiac stress test done to understand how much pressure you can put on your heart. As weight is added to your body via a backpack, the HR increases as does blood pressure. Knowing how your body reacts to heavy exercise loads can help you make better "packing" decisions. Younger people can justify a stress test by choosing a VO2 Max test (if performed by a competent person).
6) Make sure your footwear can handle the extra weight you are carrying. A hiking shoe that does great on a day hike is not likely to handle a 45 pound pack.
7) Trekking poles can be useful to engage your arms to support some of the weight. The latest carbon models are so light, they are easily justified.
Like everything else, experience is the best teacher. The more hikes you take, the more you can learn about how your body responds to the stresses of hiking, climbing, hiking food and water.
I believe there is a healthy balance between weight and comfort, but everyone's balance is different. I'm a cold sleeper so I need a warmer bag/quilt in all weather than the typical backpacker. But I know I will stay warm and comfortable so that weight penalty is worth it to me.
I have had knee surgery and cervical spinal surgery. My body can no longer handle heavy weights anymore either though. So while others say they could never backpack without camp shoes, I forgo that extra half pound or so. And so on. I will sacrifice certain comforts for less weight while not sacrificing all comforts.
Is a tent always necessary? It does come in handy in winter conditions, but in warmer times, a bivvy sack, with or without a tarp, will do just fine, and give you a better view of your surroundings and the night sky. I generally carry an emergency bivvy anyway, just cause you never know.....
It is really an individual exercise, striking the balance between comfort and weight - doesn't happen ovrnight....