Backpack weight & hiking

Tough equation: any hike is more enjoyable when carrying less, but carrying more can make it more comfortable especially when spending the night in the outdoors…

A commonly accepted guideline is to limit the weight of your multiday hike backpack to 20% of your body weight, and to not exceed 30% of it.

“Nice! So if I gain 3 kilograms as I am enjoying French food before flying to Corsica to start my GR 20 trek, I will be able to carry a heavier backpack up the trail?” Of course not! What you can carry depends on your fitness level, training, body mass index, etc. and is very personal. Only experience can help you define the maximum weight of your backpack.

In our case as we started our 16-day GR 20 (Europe’s toughest hike), I was carrying more than 30% of my own bodyweight of 54 kilograms (about 35% with a 19-kilogram backpack) and the first few days were very tough: we had to redistribute the weight better between the two of us and make sure the backpacks were packed evenly and properly (this makes a huge difference in terms of comfort):

  • Heavy and dense gear close to your back
  • Light gear to the bottom of the backpack
  • Easy to access gear to the top of the backpack

As soon as we started carrying less water thanks to our Katadyn filters and starting digging in our food supplies that we were carrying for these 16 days, I started feeling better. Carrying less than 28% of my body weight (15 kilograms) was just fine for me. It is really a personal threshold to respect: one day after a break and drinking some water, I went from feeling like an overloaded donkey to feeling like an agile mountain goat instantly! By the end of our GR 20, it was almost only our base weight left in our backpacks (the base weight is the total weight of the entire gear, excluding consumables (food, water, fuel)) and I was carrying about 19% of my body weight (slightly more than 10 kilograms) and this felt like being able to trail run it.

Bottom line: weight is key to enjoy your hike and it is worth going on a few outings prior to define the maximum you allow yourself to carry on a multiday hike. Beyond comfort, it is also a safety concern as with more weight tiredness and injuries are bound to happen.

For other geeks out there, a much finer mathematical model than carrying about 20% of your bodyweight was developed taking into account the fact that when the size of the hiker is scaled up, strength increases slower than bodyweight (as part of that strength is used to carry that added bodyweight):

Max backpack weight for multiday hike

Example:

  • My friend weighs 60kg and is comfortable carrying a 20-kg back pack at rest. The middle curve shows she should not hike with more than 19kg.
  • She is going on a long distance hike with her strong boyfriend who weighs 100kg and can carry 25kg comfortably. He should limit his pack to 21kg (top curve).

Weight does matter and selecting your gear properly is critical to successfully and enjoyably complete a multi-day hike. This is why we are recommending some specific products in this gear tip section that come with us during most of our adventures helping us save weight and respect the environment.

Claire

9 thoughts on “Backpack weight & hiking

  1. Firstly I’m very impressed with the weights that you were both carrying. I’m sure I couldn’t have carried that much and I’m a lot heavier than you two. On our 4 day walks I manage to get the weight down to 7kg, which is nothing by comparison, but then we stay in B&Bs or Inns where we have all modern luxuries and have no need (or desire in my case) to carry a tent and all that goes with it. But, secondly, I thought you were supposed to put the light stuff at the top, not at the bottom of the sack? Either way I tend to put the stuff I might need quickly at the top, whatever the weight. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by and your comment! A packpack down to 7 kg’s sounds like a dream to hike with 😉 But it is true that not carrying a tent, all that goes with it and all the food makes a huge difference. We put the heavy stuff close to the back, to have a better balance. The light things often end up around and in a small bottom pocket and top pocket. And indeed, we also pack the things one might need quickly all the way at the top where it is accessible fast. It remains a challenge for our large and heavy canon camera though… What are your favourite hikes?

      Liked by 1 person

      • A heavy camera too – you are gluttons for punishment! 🙂 My friends and I have been doing recognised National trails in the UK for years – often in relay… That is, with 2 people setting off and the other 2 driving a car to a point on the route, maybe 10 miles ahead, then setting off. When the first 2 get to the car they drive to meet the others at another appointed place. This is repeated, with each pair doing another ‘leg’ until we get to the B&B or wherever we’re staying. It means you can travel really light (like just waterproofs and a water bottle) and have all your gear in the car. In this way we’ve done the Coast to Coast, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and Offa’s Dyke (all of which are around 180 miles in total – so 90 miles each) in 4 days – but we were younger then! 😉 In latter years we have carried our gear doing 13 to 18 miles per day – again usually over 4 days. As for the best (in the UK), it has to be the Coast to Coast from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. Though I hope you checked out my guest post about the Tour de Muverans, which I’d highly recommend: https://marmotpost.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/tour-des-muverans-valais-switzerland/
        My mate Pete, said it was as good as walking in the Himalaya. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Smart way to go keep hiking light and cover quite a distance! Impressive achievement you sound like a good team. I have never hiked in the UK but am curious to find out a bit more about it. Especially the Lake District looks very tempting! Pretty awesome you did the coast to coast. Lovely guest post, stunning pictures. Never heard about that hike before but given the distance and elevation I would be keen on trying to hike it in 3 to 4 days, seems fantastic!

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      • Looks like I can’t reply to your replies, so… The Tour de Muverans is definitely possible in 3 days. (The lady guardienne from the La Tourche hut got up at 3:30am one morning and did the whole thing before midnight, so it depends on what sort of challenge you need). The English Lake District is indeed a great place to visit (we’ll be there in a few weeks so watch out for some pics in November). There’s a few recognised trails around there, but the weather can change very quickly and summits are often shrouded in cloud. (It also rains a lot!) As for my next walk, we’ve already planned to do 4 days of the Inn Way to Northumberland next June, carrying our packs from pub to pub. 🙂 🍺🍺🍺

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow the whole Tour de Muverans in one shout sounds like a crazy challenge. A bit too crazy for me 😉 the Inn way sounds appealing. The thought of savouring a cold beer at the end of a trail is still one of those things that keep me going on the tough parts! Have a great time!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: GR 20 Etape 1: Calenzana to Ortu di u Piobbu [getting launched on the GR!] | Best regards from far,

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