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Lighten Up your Backpack: Weighing your Gear

Backpacking Scale
Backpacking Scale

If you’re interested in reducing the weight of your backpacking gear, the most important thing you can do is to buy a digital scale. I like the model shown here, called an Ultraship Scale because it can weigh your items in ounces or grams. This is the third one I’ve owned – they fall off my cluttered desk onto the floor too often.

Next, weigh out each piece of your gear and create a gear list. After you’ve completed your list, remove the items that are consumables, like fuel, water, food, and what you’ll be wearing. What’s left is called your base pack weight and consists of all of the gear that you’re going to carry in your backpack.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this step. Becoming attuned to gear weight, safety, and comfort tradeoffs is probably the most import step in developing a lightweight or ultralight frame of mind. You will be positively amazed at the ease in which you can lighten you pack weight once you start to understand where the weight in your pack really is and you stop trusting manufacturers who claim their gear is lightweight. With a scale, you’ll be able to test all of these claims.

Here’s an example gear list to give you a reference point for what a backpacking gear list looks like:

PackingOunces
Gossamer Gear Mariposa Backpack29.6
Trash Compactor Bag for a liner2.4
Lowe Dashpoint 20 Camera Pocket1.9
Fox Emergency Whistle (Attached to Pack)0.1
Assorted Zpacks Cuben Fiber Stuff Sacks2
Shelter and Sleeping
Yama Mountain Gear Cirrifom-DW 1 (sil)22.7
5 Inch Easton AL Stakes x 9 2.7
NEMO Nocturne 30 Sleeping Bag32
Therm-a-Rest Xtherm NeoAir Sleeping Pad15
Clothing (Not Worn)
Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket6.9
Montane Minimus Rain Pants5.8
Mountain Hardwear Fleece Beanie1.4
Rab 100 Weight Fleece9.9
Montbell Thermawrap Jacket9.6
Supernatural Wool Jersey 6.7
Patagonia Capilene 1 Long Underwear6
2 x Darn Tough Socks w/Insect Shield4.8
Buff w/Insect Shield (doubles as wash cloth)1.3
OR Versaliner Softshell Rain Gloves2.8
Kitchen/Hydration
Platypus 3L Hydration Reservoir1.1
2 X one liter plastic soda bottles2.4
Sawyer Squeeze Mini Water Filter1.4
Aqua Mira Water Purification Drops (Full)2.8
QiWiz Firefly Wood Stove w/ Flexport2.9
Evernew Pasta Pot (M)3.9
REI Plastic Spoon0.3
S29 Ursack Bear Bag7.7
OPsack to line Ursack1.6
First Aid Kit3.4
Firemaking Kit (Firesteel w/vaseline balls, matches)2
Misc Tools
Petzl eLite Headlamp x 21.8
Classic Swiss Army Knife (w/ scissors)0.7
SPOT Gen 3 Satellite GPS Messenger3.9
Suunto M3 Compass1.5
Lithium Backup Batteries (camera, coin batteries)1.5
Lens Cloth0.2
Panasonic Lumix LX5 Camera9.4
Phone4.4
Anker 6000 mAh Battery Charger5.4
Personal Effects3.5
Mora Companion Knife w/Scabbard (for wood prep)2.7
1 x pencils w/ sharpener0.5
Rite in the Rain #391 Waterproof Notebook2.2
Clothing (Worn)
Ex Officio Shirt w/Insect Shield7.4
Railriders EcoMesh Pants w/Insect Shield10
Under Armour Heatgear Boxer Jocks3.2
Darn Tough Hiking Socks w/Insect Shield2.4
Outdoor Research Sentinel Brim Hat w/Insect Shield2.4
Casio Pathfinder Altimeter Watch2.3
La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail Runners28
Pacer Pole AL23.4
Carried (oz)230.8
Worn (oz)79.1
Carried (lbs)14.5
Worn (lbs)4.9

Written 2008. Updated 2015. 

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9 comments

  1. Boots can be a big surprise when weighed. My softside boots, which I thought of as 'light', came in at almost 4 lbs/pair. Good trail shoes will weigh 2 lbs or less in exchange for giving up the higher ankle support.

    And a lighter pack means less weight for that footwear to carry. Win, win.

  2. Hi Earlylite,

    How has this scale held up for you since your review of it last year? I am finally going to get a scale and weigh all my stuff. I read some good and some bad reviews of this item on Amazon. Thanks for any info you can give me. And thanks for the review of your new cuban pack from Zpacks. I recently ordered a hexmid tarptent from Joe and am now thinking about a cuban fiber pack and tarp.

    Evan

  3. I just bought my third one – same model. I go through them in about a year…they keep sliding off my desk and dropping on the floor.

  4. Another use of the scale is to determine how much fuel you have left in those half used canisters. Weigh the new canister and write the weight on it in pen. After your trip, re-weigh it to see how much fuel you used; then you also know how much is left. This takes the guesswork out of, "should I take this used canister on my next trip?"

  5. Jarra – I've started doing this with my canisters. Great idea – really helps me keep track of how much gas is left.

  6. You mean I'm not the only one who weighs his canisters and marks them?

  7. These scales is a great way of testing all claims which belong to manufacturers.

  8. can you weight items that are bigger than the platform on this type of scale? like the bag it wont fit on the scale so does it still weigh it accurately?

    • The scale has a tare setting. You put a cardboard box on the scale and press the tare button. The scale weighs the box and sets the scale to zero. Next put your pack in the box and the scale will show its weight not including the weight of the box. This is a standard digital scale feature.

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