The Best Base Weight for Backpacking – Exploring Backpack Weights


backpacks

Ask anyone who’s ever backpacked or even considered backpacking and they probably have an opinion on base weight.  Some think it needs to be ultralight, others think they need to carry everything they possibly can, and others choose a weight somewhere in between.

Talk to any of these people and they’ll tell you that their base weight is the best.

So what really is the best base weight for backpacking?  Most experts would say that you shouldn’t have a backpack that weighs more than 15% to 20% of your body weight.  Carry more than this for extended periods of time and you could end up injuring yourself.

The real answer though is that the best base weight is a weight that allows you to bring all of the gear you need to be prepared and to have fun on your trip without hurting yourself.  For some people, this might be 20 pounds and for others, it could be 50 pounds.

In the world of ultralight backpacking, you might even find base weights coming in at less than 10 pounds.

Let’s take a deeper look at backpacking base weights, what they entail, and what your base weight might look like.

What Is A Backpacking Base Weight Anyway

Your base weight consists of your backpack and anything in it that is not considered a consumable.

This means you’d include your tent, your flashlight, your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and any extra clothes you bring with you.  If you bring luxury items like a backpacking chair, a fan, or anything like that, it would be included in your base weight as well.

Some items you wouldn’t include would be things like food, water, and fuel.  The weight of these items will vary on your trip and they’ll go up and down depending on whether or not you’ve recently restocked.

Personal hygiene items like floss, toothpaste, soap, and deodorant should also be considered base weight as well.  Yes, you will consume them, but you’ll still be left with their containers so that weight will remain.

Some Examples of Base Weights

Below, I’ll give you the rundown on what average base weights, lightweight base weights, and ultralight base weights are and how to achieve them.  While what’s considered light and what’s considered heavy is pretty subjective, I think these numbers and examples are pretty typical of what one might expect to find out on the trail.

Conventional Base Weight

A typical base weight for backpackers is around the 20 to 30-pound range.  This gives the backpacker the opportunity to bring luxury items and to pack older or less expensive gear.

Go over the 30-pound range and you’re starting to get pretty heavy.  You’re either going on a long trip through a wide variety of climates or you’ve overpacked.

Here is an example of a typical base weight.

Backpack Kelty Yukon 5 pounds 4 ounces
Backpack Liner Compactor Bag 2 ounces
Sleeping Bag Marmot Trestles 0 Degree Bag 4 pounds 10 ounces
Sleeping Pad Klymit Sleeping Pad 2 pounds 14 ounces
Pillow Thermorest Compressed Pillow 7 ounces
Tent MSR Remote 2 Person 4-Season Tent 6 pounds 8 ounces
Clothes Cold Weather Clothing 3 pounds
Head Lamp Black Diamond Icon Headlamp 500 Lumens 10 ounces
Water Bottles Camelback Stainless Steel Water Bottle x 2 1 pound 14 ounces
Knife Victorinox Swiss Army Field Master 3 ounces
Water Filter MSR Guardian Water Purifier 1 pound 1 ounce
Camp Stove Jet Boil MicroMo Cooking System 12 ounces
Cookware Woodi 2 Piece Camping Cookware 8 ounces
Utensils Large Light My Fire Spork 1 ounce
Lighter Standard Size Lighter 1 ounce
Personal Hygiene Personal Hygiene Items 1 pound
Sprays Bug Sprays and Suntan Lotions 8 ounces
Total Weight This all adds up to: 29.4 pounds

Packs weighing less than 20 pounds are usually considered lightweight.  When backpacking in milder weather, this weight range should easily be obtainable without having to make sacrifices.

Lightweight Base Weight

The lighter gear may be a bit more expensive than what you’d find at a military surplus store, but it’ll still be inexpensive enough for most people to consider buying.

Here is an example of a lightweight base weight.

Backpack Kelty Redwing 50L 3 pounds 11 ounces
Backpack Liner Compactor Bag 2 ounces
Sleeping Bag REI Co-op Trailbreak 30 2 pounds 8 ounces
Sleeping Pad REI Co-op Flash 1 pound
Pillow Cocoon Sleeping Bag Hood Pillow 3.8 ounces
Tent REI Co-op Passage 1 Tent 3 pounds 11 ounces
Clothes Moderate Weather Clothing 2 pounds 8 ounces
Head Lamp Black Diamond Spot 325 3 ounces
Water Bottles Nalgene 48-ounce bottles x 2 13.8 ounces
Knife Victorinox Swiss Army Field Master 3 ounces
Water Filter MSR Guardian Water Purifier 1 pound 1 ounce
Camp Stove MSR PocketRocket 2.6 ounces
Cookware Woodi 2 Piece Camping Cookware 8 ounces
Utensils Large Light My Fire Spork 1 ounce
Lighter Mini Lighter .5 ounce
Personal Hygiene Personal Hygiene Items 1 pound
Sprays Bug Sprays and Suntan Lotions 8 ounces
Total Weight This all adds up to: 18.3 pounds

Get your base weight below 10 pounds and you’ll be an ultralight backpacker.  This can be done by going minimalist, buying ultralight gear, or by doing both.

Ultralight Base Weight

An ultralight base weight is still achievable without going bankrupt but you definitely won’t have luxury items like pillows and backpacking stools.  You also probably won’t be traveling through areas with freezing cold temperatures either.

Cold weather demands additional gear and this gear is simply going to weigh too much for you to bring your weight down to sub-10-pound levels.

Here is an example of an ultralight base weight.

Backpack Gregory 48 Liter Pack 2 pounds 8 ounces
Backpack Liner Compactor Bag 2 ounces
Sleeping Bag Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32 1 pound

 

Sleeping Pad Them-a-Rest Neo Air 8 ounces
Pillow None. Roll your clothes up. 0
Tent REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent 1 pound 15 ounces
Clothes Moderate Weather Clothing 1 pound 8 ounces
Head Lamp Biolite 330 2. 4 ounces
Water Bottles Nalgene Ultralite 48 ounce bottles x 2 11 ounces
Knife Gerber STL 2.0 1 ounce
Water Filter Aquamira Water Treatment 3 ounces
Camp Stove MSR PocketRocket 2.6 ounces
Cookware Toaks Titanium Pot 2.3 ounces
Utensils Toaks Titanium Spork .4 ounces
Lighter Mini Lighter .5 ounce
Personal Hygiene Personal Hygiene Items 6 ounces
Sprays Bug Sprays and Suntan Lotions 6 ounces
Total Weight This all adds up to about: 9.8 pounds

More Details on the Above Examples

If you see an item on here that makes sense for you, it might be a good idea to pick it up.  This being said, don’t copy and paste any of these examples and think that you’ll be good to go.

Every trip will be different and you’ll have different needs based on the locations you’ll be backpacking through.  For example, I didn’t put sand protection on any of these lists but if you’re backpacking through areas with sandstorms, you’ll need to add goggles to the list.

In other areas where water is plentiful, you might not need two 48 ounce water bottles.  Instead, you could save even more weight by going with 32 ounce bottles or even a lightweight bladder system.

Don’t choose gear as if you’re getting married.  By this I mean, you shouldn’t go into a gear purchase thinking that you need to buy something you’ll be able to use until you die.

The more you backpack, the more you’ll get to know what works and what doesn’t work.  If a piece of gear isn’t working for you, get rid of it and get something new.

How to Reduce Base Weight

Depending on your situation, the easiest way to reduce your base weight is to camp in nice weather.  Backpackers hiking in temperate areas aren’t going to need heavy mountaineering tents, thick sleeping bags, or thick clothing changes.

Of course, this isn’t always possible and some of the best hikes might require you to backpack through high-altitude areas that will be cold even in the summer.

Focus on the 3 Heaviest Pieces of Backpacking Gear

The best way to reduce your base weight is to lower the weight of your three heaviest items.  By this, I mean that you should get a lighter backpack, tent, and sleeping bag.  You may even want to ditch the tent altogether and go with a backpacking hammock or a bivy shelter.

Either one of these items will weigh a lot less than a traditional tent and the reduced space that’s needed for them could reduce the size of the pack you’ll need to use.  All-things-equal, the smaller the backpack, the less it will weigh.

Another item that can easily be reduced in both size and weight is the sleeping pad.  Switch from a foam sleeping pad to an inflatable sleeping pad and you’ll quickly shed a pound or two and you’ll gain a lot of extra space in your backpack.

You don’t want to go lighter on your sleeping bag if it is going to leave you cold at night.  However, on longer backpacking trips, you might want to consider mailing your heavy sleeping bag back home and picking a lighter one up or vice versa.  This way, you’re not carrying items when you don’t need them.

Modernize Your Backpacking Kitchen

Another area where you can really shed some weight is in your backpacking kitchen.  Collapsible cups instead of insulated ones, plastic bottles instead of stainless steel, and cookware made from plastic or titanium will all weigh a lot less.

Get Multipurpose Items

Any item that can take the place of two or three items is bound to reduce your base weight.  Some examples of this might be trekking poles that can act as tent poles, tent stakes that can be used for digging cat holes, and the almighty spork that can be used as a spoon and a fork.

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Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf loves camping, hiking, canoeing, and basically anything that gets him outdoors.

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