Navel gazing on the Colorado Trail

Tips for Picking Your Base Backpack Weight

The amount of advice available on picking your base backpack weight is overwhelming. The absolute best way to decide is to go on lots of practice hikes with a full backpack, including every single thing you plan to carry. You’d be surprised how quickly the weight adds up!

Every ounce counts. The bottom line is, going as light as possible with your pack weight:

  • Makes the backpacking trip less difficult and increases your chances of enjoying it.
  • Reduces the risk of injury.
  • Saves your shoulders, back, feet, basically your whole body, from pain and suffering.
  • Increases your speed, helping you focus on the trail and the scenery instead of constantly thinking about how heavy your pack is.
  • Increases the chances of you actually wanting to go on another backpacking trip!

Here are some things to think about.

Balancing Personal Comfort

What’s your personal balance between comfort while hiking vs. comfort while camping? It’s simple: the more you carry to make your camping experience comfortable, the heavier your pack will be while you hike and the greater the chance you’ll hate the weight (and the trip). That cute little camp chair might be great at your campsite, but is it worth the extra weight? For solo hikers, a 3-person tent might be super convenient for spreading out all of your gear, but weighs more than a 1-person backpacking tent or just a tarp shelter.

Planning Town Stops

Part of planning any backpacking trip is figuring out when (or if) you plan on spending a night in one of the towns near the trail. This will help you make decisions about what to carry, for example, for recharging electronics, and how much food and clothing to carry. If you plan on carrying electronics and need to recharge continuously along the trail, you’ll probably want to carry both a solar panel and a charge pack. But if you know you’ll be staying in a town every couple of days and can recharge there, maybe you only need to carry only one recharging option. More frequent town stops can mean carrying less food and fewer changes of clothes.

Rinsing and Repeating

There are countless gear and food options with planning a thru-hike or backpacking trip. The key is being OK with testing out different combinations and evolving your pack list over time. To be effective with the “rinse & repeat” process, pack, list out, and weigh everything in your pack each time you go on a backpacking trip. Figure out what worked and what didn’t. What you pack will organically change over time.

Ditching Stuff is OK

Many hikers, despite all of their best attempts to plan, end up ditching gear and food after starting a thru-hike. I planned the Colorado Trail for weeks, and still ended up ditching almost 10 pounds of gear and food. Over time and with experience, you learn what you absolutely need to take and what you can live without. As with anything, the more practice you get with backpacking, the easier it gets to pick your gear and figure out what to pack.

Balancing Your Budget

The cost adds up very quickly when buying backpacking gear. Price tags vary wildly for each option you pick. While it’s generally true that more sophisticated (and lighter weight) gear costs more, that doesn’t mean you have to break your budget to pick a great gear list. Figure out how much you’re willing to spend as a starting point when reviewing and picking gear options.

Remembering Grandma Gatewood

Emma Gatewood was a pioneer in ultra-light hiking but not with the intent of breaking any records or becoming world-renowned. Hiking the Appalachian Trail called to her for a lot of reasons, one of which was to process years of beatings from an abusive husband. Grandma Gatewood carried an Army blanket, plastic shower curtain, and a raincoat in a homemade denim sack and wore Ked sneakers. She ate Vienna sausages and whatever she found on the trail. And she hiked the Appalachian Trail three times, the first time when she was 67! My point is, there are innumerable gear options on the market, ever snazzy, more technologically advanced, and pricey. But don’t get so bogged down with gear paralysis that you lose sight of your own personal reason for backpacking and hiking in the first place.

Check out my Colorado Trail Backpacking Gear List and Colorado Trail Backpacking Food List posts. What’s in your pack?

See my Colorado Trail Planning Guide for complete details about planning your own trip!

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