Backpack weight is a frequent area of concern for many day hikers and backpackers, especially for beginners who tend to overpack out of caution. But there’s no right or wrong answer in terms of the ideal pack weight because it depends a great deal on where you’re backpacking, how long you plan to be out, what you’re goals are, and how much money you want to budget on gear and supplies.
While people who tell you that “successful backpacking depends on carrying the least amount of weight possible” are trying to be helpful, they never seem to take into account your needs and desires, the demands of the terrain and weather where you plan to hike, trip length, what your goals are, or how much disposable income you have to spend on gear. Ignore them. While a lower weight pack weight helps, plenty of people have been very successful backpackers when carrying heavier pack weights.
You can’t learn backpacking from a book, asking for advice on Facebook, or by watching youtube videos. It’s a trial and error process, where you learn by doing and experimenting. Sometimes you miss the mark, but that’s all part of the experience. Good backpackers learn how to cope with adversity and still have a good time. If I always had the same objectives, carried the same gear, and never varied my routine, it’d get pretty boring. Every trip is different and your pack weight and contents are bound to vary between trips as well.
If there’s one piece of sage advice I’d impart, it’d be to do some low mileage shakedown trips when you’re just getting started, either day hiking or backpacking, that are less strenuous and where you can bail if things don’t work out. While it’s human nature to bite off way more than one can chew, try to be kind to yourself. Plan a shorter route, work on your physical conditioning, practice using your gear or making camp, and smell the roses. You can build on those early experiences and establish a good foundation for moving forward. You may even save a lot of money by figuring out what you like and don’t like before you pour money down the drain.
Tweak the Variables
If you need a ballpark number to shoot for, aim for a total load of 30 pounds including all your gear, water, and food. If it’s more than that don’t sweat it. You can get stronger and carry that weight, hike slower or cover less distance, jettison things you don’t need before your trip, or buy down your gear weight if you can afford it. There are a lot of variables to tweak.
If you do manage to get your gear weight (minus water, food, and other “consumables”) down to the 10 lbs that ultralight backpackers aim for, that’s fine, but it’s certainly not a necessity. It really depends on your goals, your route and its demands, and your financial means. After a few trips, you’ll begin to establish an equilibrium between those variables that will determine the weight of your backpack for any given trip. That is unless you win the lottery. Then you can hire someone to carry your backpack for you!