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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

@morganr6 While it is certainly true that lighter weight footwear requires less effort,  partly because they tend to be much less stiff and your feet get tired differently,  I would not put much trust in those exact numbers.  They are just another rule of thumb which actually says that per unit of weight you use 5 time more energy carrying it on your feet than you do carrying on your back.  It will only works within limits and it is only a guide.

This is an interesting article which surveys the rational and where it comes from.

What this translates to is that you will be less tired and may be able to hike faster and further if you have lighter weight footwear when carrying the same weight.  

If you are already above the 20% body weight rule of thumb it does not mean you are capable of carrying more weight because your boots a lighter.   If you carry more weight than you should then you are much more likely to injure yourself.   The more weight you carry the more likely it is that you will benefit from more structure in your footwear.   How much weight you can safely carry depends on your skeletal and muscular strength.  If you have a stocky build it is likely you can carry more than if you have a slighter build.  ymmv.

Generally you should chose footwear for fit and appropriateness for the terrain.  For most people walking reasonably well maintained trails in the summer,  trail runners work fine but for more rugged trails and off trail hiking and winter use boots may be a better choice with shoulder seasons being a toss up depending in the conditions and your personal tolerance.  

For me so far I have considered using trail runners but I find their lack of stability gives me pause...particularly the popular Altra Lone Peak.  But then I have boots that work very well for me and I don't hike huge miles so it has not been that important.

Lighter more forgiving footwear can also be less likely to give you blisters but this varies between people and footwear.  My current boots don't give me blisters where my previous pair did after about 10 miles.  Choice of sock is probably as important.  Don't overlook that. 

Whatever you choose I recommend you try them out close to home, carrying the weight you intend walking the kind of mileage you intend to do before you go off down a trail where being picked up and going home will not be an immediate option.


I second the opinion on trail runners, it seems to work for me!

REI Member Since 1979

I agree completely. As I have aged I need to be much more mindful of my weight budget. The easiest place to cut back was on the feet. I go through three pairs of lightweight hikers a year. It's pretty much the only footwear I wear unless there is snow. I walk cross country and climb Class 2 and class 3 mountains quite often. The desert can be quite rough on a pair of Trail runners off Trail. Doesn't matter. It's much better to have a lightweight shoe.

As a side note, once I started wearing only Trail runners, I stopped spraining my ankles when I carried a backpack. By wearing low top shoes my congenitively weak ankles became much stronger.

Great point 

REI Member Since 1979

The 20% thing is a good starting point, but I'd not become a slave to it. Our soldiers regularly carry nearly their entire body weight.

How good a shape are you in, especially your core and legs? Is your normal posture such that it does not put undue strain on your back? If you are in good shape and have normally good posture, I'd not worry about carrying 30% of your body weight, even more.

And one of the ways to reduce weight is a half-bag, a sleeping bag that only covers hips downward (sometimes called an elephant's foot). Not sure how expensive they are, but combine that with a good, warm coat and you have the insulation equivalent of a full-sized bag but less weight.


Hi @morganr6  - I am also a petite backpacker (I'm not far off from your stats), so you are not alone!

You've received some great advice already in the thread, but I wanted to add a few more pieces of advice that I have learned over the years.

As everyone has said, the 20% rule is a good starting point, but if you need to carry more, then you carry more. I try to keep my pack as light as possible, but there are times when I have additional gear needs that I can't do without, like if I need to pack more layers due to a cold front, I'm packing in climbing gear, etc. 

There may be things you are planning on packing that you can do without, like instead of 2 pairs of pants, just bring one. Or assess all the packaging - can you remove some packaging ahead of time to save some ounces? 

Food is a place where I can often save some weight - not by bringing less, but by packing smarter. Things like dried fruit still have lots of water weight, so choosing freeze dried fruit and veggies can save you some weight. Ramen, oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, and dehydrated peanut butter is also an easy way to lighten your food load, but still including enough calories. 

My body greatly benefits from trekking poles, and it helps me utilize my upper body for stability and speed. 

And finally, since you are petite, you may have fairly boney hips. Mole skin has been a lifesaver for my hips, as it reduces rubbing and friction. And the heavier your pack, the more weight it will (should) put on your hips. 

I hope that helped, and that your upcoming adventures are wonderful!

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

Glad to see that I am not the only petit backpacker out there! (: Thanks so much for the advice. I have moleskin for my feet but had not considered using it for my hips - it will be a huge help! Thanks for the recommendation.