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Practical impact on comfort when going from SUL to UL (and adding 1LB of optional gear).
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Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
Practical impact on comfort when going from SUL to UL (and adding 1LB of optional gear). on 08/24/2012 12:31:10 MDT Print View

It seems to me that 10 lbs is a magical barrier.

Any more than 10 lbs and you can feel the impact on your body. Anything LESS than 10 lbs and the pack is somewhat non-existant.

So once you're past the 10 lb mark it seems that adding 1 or losing 1 lb of gear isn't really worth stressing about.

One issue though is that if you're in SUL territory then you can add 5 lbs of food and are still in UL territory for your pack.

The reason I bring this up is that if I can stop obsessing about weight and add say 200g more , then I can get in a solar charger and use my cell phone way more often.

200g is about 1/2 a lb so I still don't want to add it but it could be worth the additional weight, especially since I'm still in the UL range.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
Re Practical impact on comfort when going from SUL to UL on 08/24/2012 13:23:53 MDT Print View

I think it's all about what you yourself are comfortable with. Some people don't take electronic devices of any type, and wouldn't understand why you would. Like you, I enjoy the functions my smartphone has and use it as my camera, to read on, to play games on, etc. and it even functions as a compass or flashlight, and the weight is negligible (to me). The main concern I would have on taking a solar charger is whether it would even work. Solar is such an unreliable technology except in areas that get a LOT of sun.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Practical impact on comfort when going from SUL to UL (and adding 1LB of optional gear). on 08/24/2012 15:10:13 MDT Print View

If it makes your trip more fun it's worth carrying.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Practical impact on comfort when going from SUL to UL (and adding 1LB of optional gear). on 08/24/2012 18:20:31 MDT Print View

It's certainly true that there seems to be a magic pack weight, below which the pack doesn't seem to impact endurance / performance, and above which we find ourselves tiring more quickly. It's great if you can get below this point. For some, going SUL enables gear + food to be below this weight and gram counting makes good sense. But as you observed, add a few days of food and adequate water and most of us are out of the range even using SUL gear. At this point, 1-2lbs additional weight, which improves quality of sleep (e.g. more comfortable pad) or otherwise enrich the journey is well worth carrying because it's not going to slow you down, and may make it easier for you to do more.

I expect different people have different set points. I would guess this is based not on an absolute weight be tired to % of lean body mass, and/or connected to a person's core strength. The following was posted by Steve Sergeant to the backpackinglight mailing lists which is very similar to a study I remember seeing (but can't find anymore)

A Swiss military report suggests that everyone has a backpack weight threshold at which they become significantly more encumbered. They determined this weight by measuring how much it takes for a person's balance-time to degrade by 20%. You can determine your balance-time degradation by measuring the time that you can stand on one foot without your pack, and then compare that to the time you can do so with your pack on. Apparently the Swiss military sought to optimize the performance of 'light fast' special-forces types. They found that for their typical soldier, balance degraded by 20% when wearing a pack weight between 8% and 10% of their lean body weight. The degree to which the pack carrier's balance degrades directly relates to the rate at which they'll become fatigued. This study suggests ways to improve your backpacking experience. The traditional guideline of 25% to 40% given by some how-to books on backpacking would seem quite high by these standards, so you should try to go lighter. Experiment with loading your pack to minimize the degradation of your balance time.


Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
magic weight on 08/24/2012 19:47:41 MDT Print View

For me 25lbs is the magic number for not feeling encumbered while hiking. Somewhere between 15 and 20 i notice it being significantly lighter but Im not sure how much faster I go. While running i think above 8lbs and i can no longer run efficiently. I start noticing the weight ant about 3lbs.

My experience matches well with the swiss study. At 200lbs lean that would correlate with 20lbs pack weight. I think the 10 lb barrier is magical because you can go for a week at 25lbs starting pack weight

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: magic weight on 08/24/2012 21:11:54 MDT Print View

No magic. It will be wholly based on the following combinations: fitness, strength, geographic area, expected climate, altitude, length of trip, and pack design, among other things.

Any number chosen is specific to the individual. Any other number is completely irrelevant.

William Segraves
(sbill9000) - F - M
is there a magic point on 08/25/2012 09:55:40 MDT Print View

I'm intrigued by the contention that there's a "magic" point, which suggests that a graph of energy expenditure (or other measure of load impact) vs load would show a big change in slope at that point, or even a discontinuity. (For me, at least, the impact of added weight seems much more incremental, through quite a wide range.) Anyone have the reference for the Swiss study? Know whether they have enough data points to address this?



Bill S.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: magic weight on 08/25/2012 10:08:25 MDT Print View

I'm 215
A hiking partner is 108
20 pounds mean two totally different things to us.

So I agree with David, again. "Any number chosen is specific to the individual. Any other number is completely irrelevant."

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Practical impact on comfort when going from SUL to UL (and adding 1LB of optional gear). on 08/25/2012 10:50:14 MDT Print View

The Swiss study sounds reasonable. Interesting compared to the old "don't carry more than 25% of your body weight," which I think was responsible for all kinds of trail misery.

I don't think adding a pound has much impact unless your SUL pack is being stressed or distorted to your discomfort. The dilemma is to avoid using that idea loosely and having one pound multiply to several. I think any UL gear list can bear ONE heavier item within reason.

It is easier to feel 5 pound increments. I seem to feel it more just about the time I'm taking my pack out of the trunk at the trailhead and do a little on the spot gear list trimming. It feels a lot different at the bottom of 2500' of switchbacks than it did on the spreadsheet :)

As far as taking electronics or other non-essentials, the UL canon says to take only those items that will be used, and multiple use items should be sought out. That should give you all the excuses to take your Smartphone :)

Hiking is supposed to be recreation. I see little nobility in suffering. I can stay home and do yard work if I want to get fresh air and misery! So take your toys and enjoy the trip. Do keep your head on.

I found 8-10 pounds to be a reasonable and easily attainable base weight. 12 is really easy and still no big deal to haul. Getting under 8 and closer to 5 os more expensive and things start to get less comfortable and less durable. Even 15 pounds is laughable compared to what we carried years ago.

I usually "spend" extra base weight for comfort and warmth. I guess there is a tradeoff to trail comfort vs camp comfort --- like sleeping well. Most of my trips are overnighters and I'm not a high mileage hiker, so another 5 pounds is bearable. If I were doing 25 mile days for many days, I'm sure my base weight would drop.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
not ul on 08/25/2012 12:26:15 MDT Print View

Greg F, I agree, 25 pounds seems about right.

I don't really care about the base weights, since I almost never go for less than 5 days, all I care about is having actual gear that works, even if the weather changes. Plus bug protection, poison oak stuff when needed.

That seems to come to about 12 pounds give or take a pound, but I am happy to say, I don't know for sure because I never weigh my stuff with everything totally empty, maybe I will one day just to see.

But I found very little difference between going up and down mountain sides at 22, 24 pounds, somewhere in there. 5 pound chunks would be noticeable, maybe 3, not sure, but I have to admit, I really didn't notice much difference with a trailhead weight of 24 pounds and the pack weight each subsequent day. Either I did a great job on my new myog pack or the weight really doesn't matter much at that point. But I always carry either a messenger bag or a day pack that weighs often upto 10 pounds, sometimes 20 with stuff in it, so my body is totally used to carrying stuff on my back.

Only way I can get rid of more weight in any meaningful way is to get a trekking pole supported tent, and that's just going to save about 10oz max.

The swiss thing I don't see as having a lot of significance, I'm not an elite lightning warrior who needs to be able to run and jump with my pack while engaged in combat, maybe a slightly more useful metric can be suggested or found, I'm just walking, sometimes flat, sometimes up, sometimes down. Trekking poles to me make a massively greater difference at this point than the pack weight, ie, no trekking pole, I am unhappy, trekking poles, I'm happy.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: is there a magic point on 08/25/2012 12:57:31 MDT Print View

> I'm intrigued by the contention that there's a "magic" point, which suggests that
> a graph of energy expenditure (or other measure of load impact) vs load would
> show a big change in slope at that point

several years ago I track my performance with various loads over similar (sometimes the identical) routes. I can't find my notes anymore, but for me, at that time, I think I found 9lb was my first break point. Carrying nothing through 9lbs had not apparent effect on my speed or how I felt at the end of the day. I found that between 10-20lb I was more tired at the end of the day, but it didn't force me to slow down or cut my milage. 20-35lb slowly reduced the milage I was able to take on, and above 35lb milage / pain at the end of the hike really started to accelerate.

These days I am 30lb lighter and a lot stronger, so I expect these set points have likely shifted but haven't had the inclination to re-run this set of trials.


William Segraves
(sbill9000) - F - M
step function on 08/25/2012 13:32:16 MDT Print View

Interesting, Mark. So it really did seem to you like a step function?



Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: step function on 08/26/2012 09:10:13 MDT Print View

> So it really did seem to you like a step function?

Not so much a step function, more like a sigmoid function. That is to say not an instantaneous change, but a transitionary stage where things change much more rapidly.


Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Re: step function on 08/26/2012 11:43:00 MDT Print View

I would agree with the general guidelines that Mark wrote. Additionally I would add that the only time I have recently noticed my pack weight was going into the Sierra on the PCT with 7 days food. My total pack weight was likely in the 30 lb range. I have my base weight down to about 8 ( three season ) and I no longer stress about pack weight at all anymore.

William Segraves
(sbill9000) - F - M
sigmoid function on 08/26/2012 12:32:13 MDT Print View

Mark's probably already thought of this, but if the slope varies greatly, this has some pretty profound and complex implications for the marginal cost of adding weight, which is what we really care about when sorting out various options.

When the slope is relatively constant, it's in principle straightforward to determine the incremental cost of adding a given piece of gear (or substituting a heavier piece of gear for a lighter one). But if the slope varies greatly, the marginal cost is going to be changing, perhaps dramatically, during the trip!

Assume a local maximum slope at 20 pounds, for instance, and a 7 day trip with 1.5 pounds of food/day. If I have a base weight around 9-10 pounds, the marginal cost of optional items is going to be very high on the first day, but thereafter, will be pretty low. If I'm willing to put up with the cost until I've had a chance to eat a bit, that little luxury may be nearly a freebie for the rest of the week.

Very interesting!


Bill S.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Weight and Comfort on 08/26/2012 22:02:14 MDT Print View

For me, sub 20 lbs (total backpack weight) is awesome. I believe there are advantages to going lighter still, but if I'm sub 20 lbs I can basically hold 'top gear' all day in most conditions.

By going lighter than 10 lbs baseweight, I can go for longer trips (or sneak in the packraft) while still remaining sub 20 lbs total pack weight. That's where the real advantage is. If you only do 1-2 night trips then widdling a 10 lbs baseweight down to 8 is less important.

If you really put a focus on shaving weight, you can put together a robust and comfortable 7-8 lbs baseweight without significantly compromising anything. For 8 lbs you can have a double wall shelter, inflatable pad, full rain gear, cook set, adequately warm stuff, decent headlamp etc. Of course you could do the same thing for 10 lbs for perhaps quite a bit less money.

Edited by dandydan on 08/26/2012 22:08:18 MDT.