What I Carry In My Backpack | How Much Is Too Much?
Many of us tend to over-pack. It’s better to have too much than too little, right?
While that may be true to an extent, for efficiency you might carry only what you may need – as opposed to want.
Less weight requires less energy to carry, especially long distances! The problem is that in a long hike a heavy backpack will defeat you. You must eliminate the non-essentials to keep the weight down.
Tips to help decide how much ‘stuff’ to stuff into your backpack:
When readying for travel, a hike, a camping expedition, a bug-out-bag or emergency kit, here’s a tip to determine if you’re over-packing or being efficient.
After you have tentatively decided what to pack, take some time and perform the following task:.
1. Take ALL of your gear that you intend to haul along with you in your backpack. Spread it all out on the floor or on the ground in front of you.
2. Think about each individual item and ask yourself, is it essential?
3. If it is (essential), put it in a pile (the essentials).
4. If it is not, put it in a different pile (the non-essentials).
5. Next, take a look through the pile of non-essentials. Some of the items might make your life easier or more pleasant and enjoyable – or provide a better experience or an increased level of preparedness or safety. You will have to decide if each of the non-essential items are worth the extra weight in your backpack.
Every additional ounce will add up quickly, so the more scrutiny, the lighter your load will be. By keeping things light weight…backpacking is a pleasure.
It’s that simple! Identify the essentials, then contemplate each additional item’s value.
More Tips What To Carry In My Backpack
20% Of Body Weight
You might consider limiting the total weight to no more than 20% of your body weight. Though less is even better! If you’re a 200 pound man, that’s 40 pounds. It’s just a rule of thumb. Of course one’s state of physical fitness plays a big role too!
After you have decided what to pack, go ahead and fill it, and put it on. Wear it. Walk with it. A test hike. How does it feel?
Multiple use items
Try to find items that do multiple jobs. For example a poncho that can also be a rain fly, etc.
Light Weight Alternatives
Ultra light products for camping/backpacking. There are specialty products in this realm. And you can also find substitutes for some given tasks – items which are smaller or weigh less.
Ultralight Camping Gear on amzn
Well okay then. What about specifics?
Logically, specific item choices depends on your purpose and time afield. So, I can’t be specific. However I will suggest covering some of the survival basics within your overall choices.
There are the 5 & 10 C’s of survivability, according to Dave Canterbury. It’s a good guideline. Cutting, Combustion, Cover, Container, Cordage.
Categories of Water, Food, Fire, Shelter, Security, First-Aid, Communications, Clothing & Gear, Knife/Cutting, Flashlight/Headlamp.
What I carry in my backpack is determined by my purpose and the essentials that go along with that purpose. If there’s room leftover, I will add more – to the extent that I don’t feel overloaded.
Continue reading: Camping Gear List & Checklists
What Lewis & Clark Took With Them On The Expedition
Survival Kit Paracord | How Much Do You Need?
It’s a delicate balance, and nobody gets it perfect. You will see many people who have clearly packed too light, and could easily get into trouble. You will also see others who have clearly packed too heavy, and are struggling from the get-go with blisters, shoulder sores, and fatigue. You get better at packing with experience. It takes time to get to know your needs in different conditions. Personally, I tend to over pack on outerwear, and water. Being able to identify where you are over packing is the first step to doing better next time. It’s just as important to go through your gear after a trip, as it is when you’re packing for the trip. Going through your gear after allows you to mentally make a list of what you actually used, or wished you’d brought.
I use a “Balanced Pack” approach that is taught in the military. For example if my back pack is really heavy I wear a much lighter shoe(boot). The idea is “your legs are actually what carries the total load not just your back”. This applies to your clothing, food, weapon and ammo, etc.
Finally, you have to know your bodies capability, the distance to travel and the desired speed of travel. It is not only the weight of the back pack to consider.
You can’t go by 20% your body mass… A fat human that weighs 350lbs is not going to carry much, if anything, much less a 70lbs pack, just not going to happen…
I think anything 50lbs or lighter is the way to go. Suck it up and carry it. My pack is roughly 50lbs dry. Yes it is a lot and for the weight I feel that it isn’t many things. I practice with it. If I have to, I have a cart that I made. It can handle 350lbs and yields a 5lb tongue weight. Use your brain there is always a way.
I do agree with Dave’s 10 Cs. I also agree with the rule of 3s. Most items cross-over between the 2 “Rules”. I am “tool heavy”, as Dave says.
1 thing I always keep in the back of my mind is that “IF” I have to bug out its got to be real bad for me to leave all my preps. That being said, if I am out there, there are going to be others roaming around too. Being quiet, unseen and unsmelled (if that is a word) is a big deal.
When I cook it will be only water. A wood fire can be smelled and seen from a long way off. I will not part ways with my Kelley Kettle. It weighs 2.5 lbs and worth every oz. I plan to cook in a thermos (hot water in a thermos+food=cooked). If I have to, I could always do a Dakota fire pit.
Jabba, my suggestion was simply a general guideline – to put some sort of number on it. The purpose will be a significant factor as well (expected including time afield). One’s physical fitness is a BIG factor as well.
Yes, I agree there should be a standard. I don’t see a 100lb woman, or a 350lb man, carrying a 50lb ruck sack. Actually I don’t see many people carrying a 50lb ruck, except a person that is fit.
I have carried my 50 pounder for 8.5 miles this past summer. It was a lot. I am fit for a 45 yr old man… and it was a lot. I did it though…
the only firearm i have is a 12 gauge shotgun and the ammo for that AINT LIGHT so i am REALLY limited on that and getting a handgun permit in this state SUCKS it costs 100 bucks EVERY time you apply and they dont even have to have reason to turn you down when it comes to blades i tend to go overboard i found out the hard way about a blade breaking and i have thing about having more than one survival books i need to find ways to lighten my load any ideas?
kevin I use caches so that I can resupply and not be a total pack mule like I was in the Sandbox.
The trick is finding them after you place them. A picture of you and your dog somewhere can tell you a thousand word message of a cache. To someone else it’s an old picture of you and your dog. Just a thought.
A bicycle with a mono-wheel trailer can go everywhere (aside from a true swamp) you can, often faster and even this old man can ride with a 100 pound payload easily all day over NH’s mountainous terrain. The two wheeled trailers are easy to get hung up on brush, the single wheeled models follow your bicycles tire path.
I found the balance much more difficult to achieve when I added a 10 yr old little girl into the equation. My pack grew by 8 lbs which is about 25% of the total weight I want to carry. Thank goodness she is big enough now I can off load 2-3 lbs on her.
What to pack and how much weight will you carry? This is entirely mission-dependent. If you are going hunting, you will be carrying a gun and ammo. ( maybe even a cleaning kit as well )
I have posted much of what I used to do under the older article on this blog under: Camping gear: lists and checklists. I wrote a lot there and will try to not repeat myself. Some thoughts of an old guy that lived out of backpacks for about 8 years:
1. If you are skinny like I was, you will be better served and more comfortable using an internal frame backpack with 2 parallel stays as the internal frame. If you are more husky in build, the external frame backpack will be OK for you but will cause chaffing for the really skinny people.
2. Once you find and are fitted for your pack and it is comfortable, the 20% max weight is a good guideline and starting point. I was only 135 lbs when I was carrying backpack a lot so I exceeded the guidelines most every trip. My base weight for the 72 hr backpack was 35 lbs. I tried not to obsess over weight reduction rather I walked with the pack and got used to carrying a heavier load in increments. ( I was hiking at 6-10,000 feet elevation some 2x per week. living at 6,000 feet altitude every day )
3. Another thing people obsess about is milage covered. I do not worry about milage so much as I look at the topography. A 20 mile hike over flat land is going to be easier than a 10 mile hike that goes over 2- 1,000 foot ridges with a valley in between. In either case, it is a long hard day and you will only be able to travel as far as the weakest, slowest member. This is why I like maps over GPS device. Maps will tell you about topography.
4. There is some redundancy built in to my backpack. Here are some examples: Firestarting is a Bic lighter with back up being a 2nd Bic lighter or a sparking tool.
Defense from bad people/creatures: yes, I carry a small handgun with me in the backcountry and I also carry a fixed blade skinning knife in my pack but not always out on my belt.
Water filter: In addition to my filter, I carry extra stove fuel and cooking pot in order to boil water and melt snow. Remember that a water filter will be ruined if the filter element freezes so tuck it into your sleeping bag at night in snow country.
Obtaining food from the wild: Depends upon where you will be going. In my region, I carried a fishing rod, some spinners and hooks along with lightweight line ( 4 lb test ) in order to catch trout from crystal clear water. If carrying a firearm is in order, what game do you expect to find along the trail? Grouse? Squirrel? Rabbits? Ptarmigan? Generally, you will find more small game out there than you will find big game. If going into or through Canada, handguns are not allowed and you may need a permit to bring in a rifle or shotgun.
Protection from bears: Personal choice here between spray or a big gun. Both are bulky and heavy. Most of what I saw were problem bears within high-traffic zones within a busy National Park. The bears would hang out or visit those frequently used campsites where large numbers of people would be having a party and tossing out food left and right. ( leftover cooked potatoes, bones from steaks, bacon ends, corn cobs.) What I just described were, for the most part, horse packers shuttling in large numbers of clients.
Here is where you follow the advice of Kulafarmer: Stay away from large groups of people.
Lastly, the first day on the trail carrying a backpack will always be a cast iron b#%$ because odds are, you will be hiking uphill, at altitude. My advice is to not be ambitious and take it easy for day 1 and 2 if possible until you get acclimated to the local conditions. Day 1 and 2 is the Shakedown Cruise where you repack your pack and adjust your load and arrange things in your pack for both balance and comfort.
( shakedown cruise is similar to NRP’s Lights Out Weekend )
– When I was in the Army and in shape, there were a couple of occasions when I carried an Alice (medium) ruck with 100+ lbs. of gear, usually for around a week or two. Did it, did not appreciate it.
I will say that on at least one occasion, we had a guy fall on a night move of about 6 km. altogether, and broke his leg just inside his boot top. The rest of our group, including the young lady I was partnered with, took turns carrying his ruck (except for her- she only weighed 112 lbs. her ruck was already at 100% of her body weight), in addition to our own.
I will comment that at one point, I glanced over and she had 6 or 7 100-round belts of M-60 ammunition (about 10 lbs. apiece) draped around her neck. We moved about a total of 80 miles or so total, 6 just that night, which was our last before we cleared out. Everyone completed the move.
– Papa S.
– Just happened to be looking back at this, forgot to mention something I had intended to. When using a 1:62000 or 1:50000 map (sometimes called a fifteen minute map) with a 3 meter or 20 foot contour interval, we could estimate travel times by “rule of thumb”. I.E. on flat ground the width of your thumb on the trail would give you a fifteen-minute travel time.
We found that if we crossed a contour line in that distance, it didn’t really matter if you were going up or down, your estimate would be more accurate if you would add five minutes for every contour line you crossed.
That particular “rule of thumb” is not one that is found very many places, and it is well worth remembering when you are estimating travel times in the back country from a topographic map.
Good rules of thumb. Thanks for putting it out there.
Good comments all,
I have my own backpack I carry in my pick-up, about 25 lbs. I am 6’5″ and weigh approx. 250. A few other options in the vehicle, depending on situation. I don’t wear/carry it often. It would be brutal to do so all day.
I recently put together a pack for granddaughter. Thought about it far more, than my own. I’ve really tried to keep the weight down for her. She is approx. 5′ 5″ and 105 lbs. In the end, she’ll have to figure it out for herself. Her needs, not wants, may be slightly different. I don’t carry pepper spray, she will have some. She is an excellent fisherman, so a self-contained fishing rig is in her pack. She could feed herself from creeks, ponds, etc. 10 perch can make a fine meal. One small catfish could do the same.
I’ve learned a bunch from putting her pack together. Never gave it the amount of thought, for my pack. Lesson learned.
2 days late on this subject but maybe I can help the average person think out side of the box.
Being on foot is a worst case scenario for me. Do not think you will get far.
I train with a 40lbs pack unsupported no internal or external structure just the raw weight bearing down on my shoulders and back – 3 times a week I cover 2.2 miles within 30 minutes. . I am 6ft 215lbs and under 45 years of age
This helps one realize what needs to be packed for the long haul.
My recommendation is to keep your pack to around 20lbs. 10 lbs for gear your choice to include medical, fishing supplies, the 5 C’s, Bourbon etc.
The the other 10lbs needs to be calorie dense dehydrated and freeze dry foods. If you are haulin A… You will probably consume 2 lbs of food per day so the good news is that your pack will be much lighter by the end of the week. Plan to forage, fish and small game hunt along the way to help supplement for calories and extend your packed foods.
What I carry for 10lbs of food:
Powdered whey protein supplement, equal parts minute rice & dehydrated refried beans. Mountain house freeze dry meals. bag of jolly ranchers ( stave off hunger between meals and moral booster.)
All the above foods can be soaked in cold water for an hour and then consumed. No fire needed.
After the 20 lbs. Backpack you will need to figure in for drinking water at least 2 liters (4.4 lbs) 3 liters (6.6 lbs) is better.
Plus your weapon system of choice and ammo. My complete system weighs out at 10lbs.
If you look at total weight it is right around 37 lbs. For actual bug out weight. This is a lot to carry for eight strait hours.
The good thing about the Bourbon is that it gets lighter too…
When using an internal frame hiking pack… 25lbs for a over 125lb person and 20lbs for under 125lb person. Few people can carry a 35lb pack on their back if they are not training for it.
Most everyone can carry 20lbs on their back.
The problem is that 20lbs comes quick. Especially if you have to carry water.
Then you add weight like firearms. Pretty easy to get another 10lbs with a small center-fire rifle and a few magazines. Might as well carry a pistol and a few magazines… That’s another 5lbs. Might as well wear a plate carrier and armor… That’s another 17-30lbs.
As a long distance backpacker (I spend 3-6 weeks out during the summer season here in the Colorado Backcountry) and having a light pack is essential (especially if you are 60+ like me). My baseweight is 15 pounds (includes things like pack, shelter, sleeping system, cook system, water purification system, first aid kit, repair kit, electronics, extra clothes…). Then there are the consumables on top of that base weight which include things like food (1.5 – 2 lbs. a day), fuel (weight will varry and water (~2 pounds per quart).
For say a 100 mile or so segment (following a maintained trail) over a period of 7 days I average about 15+ miles a day with a 3,000+ elevation gain/loss. My total pack weight on day 1 runs about 35 pounds. You loose about 2 pounds a day as you eat your food so you are back to just your base weight at the end of the segment. For me this is what I can comfortably carry all day (I’m about 170 pounds so this is about 20% of my body weight).
This pack weight is for a temperature range down to about 25 degrees (it gets cold above 10,000 feet in the summer out here). For winter you need to increase the base weight at least 10 pounds (extra fuel, snow shoes, micro spikes or crampons, heavier sleeping system and shelter, etc).
For a BoB there would obviously bee more gear to add in so I’m guessing say at minimum 60 pounds total pack weight. That extra 25 – 30 pounds would drop my mileage on a good trail by almost half (and in the snow even further).
So for folks thinking they can just bug out to the Backcountry if the shtf, they are kidding themselves.
I pack light on camping Trails Better well traveled. Usually just water a medpac and some food. I pack a medium pack for my bug out bag that keep in my house in case I have to abandon the house quickly. Just enough to get me through a couple days out in the woods. The pack I keep in my vehicle is packed very heavy knowing that if I’m away from home and I need supplies I can go through it and take out what I do not deem mission-critical for that specific situation.