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):
- 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.