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Petite Backpacker on AT

Hi everyone,

I am a petite hiker looking to start backpacking. When I say petite... I mean very petite (4'11 and 95 lbs). I will be traveling with a much larger partner who plans to carry our tent, cook set, and a few other shareable items. I hope not to spend too much money and am working with some items I already own such as my pack. I have an Osprey aura 50 (xs) and plan to take the brain off it to reduce weight, but still it is about 3 lbs. I have a pretty light sleep pad (14 oz), and an unfortunately hefty 30degree sleeping bag that is 3.9 lbs. Given that I am not carrying the tent I had assumed I was looking pretty good in terms of base weight... and I am... 20lbs. However I failed to consider the fact that at 95 lbs, I really should not carry any more than 20 lbs (that being roughly 20% of my body weight). Add food for 4-5 days and water, I'm now upwards towards 30 lbs - yikes!! I've looked into lighter sleeping bags - but unfortunately can't shell out $200-300 for a really nice UL one right now. Any suggestions? What do other small backpackers do? Is carrying more than 20% safe? I'm relatively athletic, but I do not want to hurt myself by overdoing the pack weight. Thanks!! 

16 Replies

I am pretty sure many backpackers have carried more than 20% of their body weight with no ill effects.  I know I have many times and I have encountered no problems.  That is not to say that 20% body weight is not a reasonable guideline.

Only you can know for sure.  Give your equipment some trials.  Load your pack with your gear and do some short walks, perhaps gradually longer, and see how it goes.

I am not sure i would remove the brain.  Its benefits in organization and ready access may be worth the increase in weight.

Make a quality sleeping bag high priority.  you can use a light weight bag i situations where a heavy bag would work, but not the other way around.

Have an enjoyable trip, whatever the weight!



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This was just the type of post I was looking for! I will bring my gear out on a few day hikes/ small weekend trips before I go out on any long trips to test it out. Thanks !


@morganr6It really depends on how many miles you plan to hike.  Generally, the more weight you carry the slower you will travel.  If you are traveling with a much larger partner,  assuming they are fit,  the chances are they will move faster than you which may or may not matter but it something you need to agree on. 

Certainly 20% body weight is a rule of thumb but it is just that and ymmv.

First I would look at the rest of your gear, weigh each item and use or similar to break down your gear to get a base weight and then add and subtract things (just set the quantity to 0) to see what you can do to reduce the weight.

With everything itemized see if there are things you want but don't need. Put those aside and try to get the weight of the "essentials"  (stuff you need to survive) figured out.  Then if you have some weight room left you can add back a few of those wants.

Clothing can weigh a fair amount and you should have a layered system rather than a set of changes (except for a change of underwear and socks).  Weigh your garments and see of there you can substitute a lighter piece of gear that performs reasonably well.

For example a "FROGG TOGGS Women's Ultra-lite 2 Waterproof Rain Jacket" weighs <7oz and only cost about $13.  You can usually find them at sporting stores or at the usual online retailers if REI does not carry them.  They are not the most durable but people have had them last a whole AT thru hike and you can patch them with duct tape (or better, tenacious tape)


I had no idea sites like LighterPack seems extremely useful. Thank you so much for sharing and for your suggestions! 


Entering all my gear into was a PITA, not going to lie. 

But I am so glad I did. I found several areas where I could lighten my load and I am at a 21 lb base weight but that includes my 5 lb pack that I am not giving up!

And, last night, I used the REI virtual outfitter service to have them help me adjust my pack to make sure it was fitting right. Chris even offered to go over my list and helped me identify a few other places to save weight. 
so I would recommend setting up an appointment once you have most of your gear entered on Lighterpack and have them assist you in shaking it all out. 

“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.

Can I tell the time we were doing field work deep in the wilderness in Kings Canyon NP? Horses carried in our gear as we walked 15 miles to Roaring Fork. Next split gear among the four of us to get to our remote study site.

Two gals, two guys. One gal as skinny as one of her long blond hair strands. Other gal athletic sturdy. All talking 25-30%. We have a scale. LOTS of field gear. Me, 30ish, 165 lbs, strong. Him 150, runner.

Because we had to have the gear to do the job, I carry 95 lbs, he carries 65 lbs, the stronger gal 35% and the Wisp 30% of body weight. We had a trail-less pass to cross, uncommon XC route. I was first up, climbing down after half an hour at the pass to carry the Wisp's pack up, and still going faster than her.

In short, don't judge yourself by the standards of others. My advice: One time, eat dinner at the trailhead, walk 3 miles in with almost none of your gear, and spend a night outside. Try to bring less than you "need". This can help organize priorities. Sleeping bag, pad, water, flashlight. Breakfast when you get back to the vehicle.

I'm sure you won't forget your fears. You'll have some time together to air out some things.


REI rents high quality bags. Consider a "child" size sleeping bag. If your bag is too big for your body, you waste a lot of energy to get the bag warm.

not much more to add.

you may have to bite the bullet for a lighter sleeping bag, for the summer you can get that down to 2 +/- lbs.

like others have recommended, pack it all up and take a walk in the neighborhood or local park.

we always feel a little sore/tender at the beginning of the season, but your muscles adjust and get stronger...and your pack gets a wee bit lighter as you use up your food.

when planning your route, you can save a ton of weight by not carrying more water than you need between creeks/water sources.  we don't need to carry all of our water if we can filter in-route!

good luck!

REI Member Since 1979

Hi all, thanks so much for the comments. I was doing some more research and found that your feet carry weight differently than your back. In other words, weight on your feet will lead to more expended energy than weight on your back. For example, reducing your 3 lb hiking boots to a 1 lb pair of trail runners is equivalent to reducing your pack weight by 10 lbs. For those of you looking to go lighter, I would recommend investing money in a good pair of UL shoes before changing other gear like sleeping bags and packs that can only be reduced so much anyway. Just be sure to consider the amount of cushion and support you personally need in your shoes ... sacrificing too much support to get a better weight could lead to worse issues down the trail! Happy hiking! (: