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How important is pack weight to your overall experience?
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Dave Ploessel
(mailesdad) - F
How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 00:16:02 MDT Print View

A different discussion in gear got me to thinking... Basically, I wrote that I've noticed that it seems to the new (to the lightweight community) backpacker that many in the L/UL/SUL community are so obsessed with weight that they loose sight of the big picture in terms of what it takes to make a good/memorable outdoor experience that hooks someone on nature.

So, today I sat down and wrote out a list of things that determine wether or not a trip is "good" and ranked them in order of descending importance...

Here it is(the short version):

1) Who I'm with
2) Where we go
3) What we eat
4) What we do (adventure factor)
5) How comfortable I am at camp
6) Pack weight
7) Weather

My Point: if I was in an ugly area, with bad company, or bad food, or if I was uncomfortable at camp, no matter how light my pack was, the trip would still suck...

OTOH, even if it's pi***** down rain and my pack weighs 70#, if I'm somewhere neat, the food is good, something exciting happens, or I have good company, it's all smiles....

I know it probably sounds sacreligious to write this on a site devoted to backpacking light, but how much does those last 2 oz (or 2#, or 10#) really matter?

Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for all the "trickle down" changes brought about by people pushing the UL/SUL envenlope - it's taken my pack from 40# w/o food to 20#, and I 100% believe that a light(er) pack AIDS in making a good experience BETTER, but I just don't think a light pack is the defining factor in whether or not a trip is fun.

I think the BACKPACKING part of Backpacking Light is still more important that the LIGHT part.

Does anyone here agree, or am I just crazy?


What are the factors that determine if a trip is good/fun for you, and where does pack weight fit in for you?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 00:37:03 MDT Print View

Once in a while, getting the base weight absolutely minimized allows you to get the overall pack weight absolutely minimized (under 50% of your body weight), and this allows the mission to be completed at all. If the mission can't be completed at all, then there is no point to even starting.


michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
Nice on 08/31/2012 00:53:49 MDT Print View

I think what this boils down to is, why not have both? Who says you need one or the other.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 03:12:03 MDT Print View

What are the factors that determine if a trip is good/fun for you, and where does pack weight fit in for you?

At over 40lbs I don't have any fun whatsoever, therefore it is not going to happen.
Now if I had to prove a point or something, that is another matter but I don't.
BTW , I don't mean walking from the car park to 2 miles into the bush...

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 03:30:53 MDT Print View

The UL community doesn't seem to me full of gram obsessed gear fanatics who have lost sight of what backpacking is all about and like to laugh at those with heavier packs. Just as the trad community doesn't seem to me full of people who aren't interested in gear, just have one of everything, keep it for decades and are miserable whilst on the trail because their packs are too heavy.

Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Pack weight for long distance hikers on 08/31/2012 04:20:55 MDT Print View

I am only going on long distance hikes and my hikes are one to six months long. For long distance hikers most of your factors will even out. On long trips you will have both good and bad weather, boring and exciting experiences and landscapes and you will have to eat good or bad food. So one of the few constant factors that determine the enjoyment of such a long hike is your pack weight. Another one would be your hiking partner (although I find it impossible to find partners for such long trips).
In my experience pack weight is definitely the most important factor for the enjoyment of a hike and I would even call it the key to successful long distance hiking.

Leigh Baker

Locale: Northeast Texas Pineywoods
pack wt on 08/31/2012 04:39:22 MDT Print View

For me, #6 makes 1-5 possible :)
I think the whole purpose of lightening up is so that you can attain maximum enjoyment out of all those things. A heavy pack would make it impossible for some to even consider going. Personally, I would never have been able to start backpacking if it hadn't been for lightweight gear.

And I'm sure you were just trying to get a point across, but why would you go somewhere ugly, with bad company and bad food? :)

Edited by leighb on 08/31/2012 04:41:03 MDT.

Paul Mountford
(Sparticus) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic Canada
Re: How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 04:48:37 MDT Print View

Dave - you are certifiable! - just kidding.
"L/UL/SUL community are so obsessed with weight that they lose sight ..." I would tend disagree with this statement. I can't speak for the community, but the awareness of base weight for me is a means to an end not the end itself. The overall idea that a low pack weight and simplicity go hand in hand and is what attracts me. It makes getting out the door for a trip quicker, it makes setting up and striking camp quicker, and (is is the big one for me) it makes it more attractive to introduce my kids to backpacking.

My pack weight hovers between UL and L - UL when by myself and L when with my kids. When with my son or daughter, I keep their packs UL. As I said UL for my kids is not goal in itself, the goal is a fantastic experience in the woods. Last year I did the Great Glen Way with my son (then 12), and I planned to do in 5 days so as not to push him to hard. With the pack weight we had, he was a walking machine. He set the pace and wanted to keep going even when I was ready to camp. We ended up doing the ~125 km in 3.5 days. That was the end I wanted.

As we were heading up to Scotland for our spring trip this year, we saw a bunch of campers at the train stations (midterm break), and my son noticed how most were straining under massive loads. His comments to me (that would have made him sound like one of those gram counters obsessed with UL that you refer to) expressed the fundamental idea of "why anyone would carry more weight that they needed." When we transferred trains in Inverness, he gave me a 'knowing' smile while lifting his pack easily with one arm while watching other struggle with their loads - almost brought a tear to my eye!

Edited by Sparticus on 08/31/2012 05:16:22 MDT.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 04:52:59 MDT Print View

I don't want to backpack if I can't backpack light.

Here There
(cowexnihilo) - MLife
Re: How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 05:47:56 MDT Print View

I've had pack weights ranging from traditional heavy weights down to SUL, and for me different pack weights work for different trips, but once you put in the time to reduce the weight of items in your gear closet, you don't have to think about it that much.

I still carry a heavy pack when I want to do long unsupported trips and need to carry a lot of food weight.

I love the simplicity and freedom of SUL weekend and overnight trips; I can keep my SUL bag packed and just add food and my quilt before heading out the door.

I like that when I'm backpacking with someone new or less fit, I can give them a light load and carry a little more myself (while still being pretty lightweight) to help ensure we see what we want to see, and don't arrive in camp worn out.

To me the point of light simple gear is increased freedom, freedom to travel further with less effort, freedom from managing a bunch of 'stuff' around camp, and freedom to carry more weight when I want to backpack with someone who is unable to carry heavy loads, or carry extra food on long trips.

I've had great trips at all pack weights, but some of my trips wouldn't have been possible without UL gear.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
re: How important is weight on 08/31/2012 06:08:39 MDT Print View

Recognize that this is an UL backpacking site and discussions will therefore have a lightweight focus. This doesn't mean that when members are planning trips in the privacy of their homes, pack weight is their sole motivator.

For me personally, I first think about what I want to accomplish, then choose the tools most appropriate for the job. Because what I mostly like to accomplish these days are higher mileage trips, I do take care to manage my packweight. It doesn't involve much conscious thought these days though, as I own lightweight stuff and just bring what I need.

In contrast, when planning a trip with my kids, weight doesn't enter into the equation at all. I only think about providing the kind of experience that will make them want to come with me again.

As an aside though, SUL backpacking is a very natural fit for me. I prefer a stark, minimalist aesthetic and having the fewest, simplest items in my pack adds a level of clarity to my trips that is hard to describe. I spend very little time fiddling with or even noticing gear and this works for me. I've noticed over the years that this has translated into a similar spending plan for day to day life. I think very carefully about what I need, and avoid buying if I can get by without it. If I do decide I need something, then I buy the most suitable functional (and often lightest) of that thing I can find.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Depends on 08/31/2012 07:23:54 MDT Print View

Now that have some nice gear and experience, my pack weight for a three day trip varies between 14 to 25 lbs, depending on whether it's a summer or snow trip. I take many comforts with me, as I am not interested in roughing it ( I rough it enough in my daily life). Compared to some traditional backpackers I am definitely on the light side, but I don't come close to UL standards. The day that I can't keep up, that I am miserable, that I am not enjoying myself due to my pack....I will probably want to go lower and make that a priority again. At this point I have a great time if I am somewhere beautiful, if the company is nice, if I get to catch up on my sleep, if I am warm, if we share some good food and laughter.
On my last trip I carried my pack and for the last two miles I also carried my friend's pack and while I was getting tired ( and thirsty) I had a wonderful trip and would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Pretty Important on 08/31/2012 07:47:26 MDT Print View

I think, all other things being equal, the weight of my pack plays an important part in my experience. The lighter, the better.

Now, I'm the first guy to "violate" the weight by adding something I'm willing to carry in order to reap a benefit or meet a need. My folding bucket, stool and group-ready first aid kit come to mind, but even those are as light as I can get them, so that it's more fun to have them with me.

I measure some aspects of fun in having something that serves me well, and is light/multiuse.

John Almond
(FLRider) - F

Locale: The Southeast
Priorities on 08/31/2012 08:09:34 MDT Print View

That's what it really comes down to: what are your priorities?

For me (and only for me; I don't claim to speak for anyone else), my priority tree is as follows (from most to least important):

1.) Enjoyment of the trip.
2.) Beautiful scenery.
3a.) Attempting new or little-practiced skills.
3b.) Having my gear work as expected.
3c.) Good company.
4.) Good food.
5a.) Comfort on the trail (i.e.: packweight versus mileage/terrain).
5b.) Comfort in camp (i.e.: creature comforts versus time in camp).
6.) Maintaining the original schedule (unless on a solo; then it rises to #2 due to safety concerns).

10,000.) Impressing anyone else with my manly ability to carry heavy stuff/my savvy in choosing the lightest gear possible/my exquisite fashion sense on the trail.

Anything with a letter up there is a tie with the other number/letter combos that have the same number.

Now, that's not to say that it's not fun to play with different combinations of gear at home in order to try and find the lightest gear that will meet my priorities above. However, it's not my primary purpose in getting out there in the woods. If I don't enjoy the trip (and, literally, everything else on that list is supporting that first priority), the rest of it can go hang.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 08:44:59 MDT Print View

Pack weight is not of the utmost importance in my trip preparation, only when additional emphasis on shedding pack weight has the potential to significantly maximize the quality of experience. Not owning a bathroom scale or any means of weighing small items of gear and overall pack weight is liberating- try it sometime if you ever feel like a slave to the scale. I deliberate more on what gear in my possession functions across a broader range of use/conditions, a byproduct of this process is a lighter pack for me. This also makes it that much easier to just load my pack and go when a trip opportunity arrives without having to play the gram counting/gear list game.

Hobbes W
(Hobbesatronic) - F

Locale: SoCal
How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 09:37:22 MDT Print View

"I think the BACKPACKING part of Backpacking Light is still more important than the LIGHT part."

The 'backpacking' part is defined by associated objectives, in that something is actually carried on one's back to achieve the desired end(s).

This end goal(s) can include a wide number of activities, ranging from day hiking, trail running, thru/section hiking, hunting, fishing, peak bagging, camping, etc. It simply depends on where those interests lie, either in general or for a particular day(s).

I would guess the vast majority of people who read/post @ BPL are interested in thru & section **hiking**. That's not to say they also are not interested in peak bagging, hunting, fishing, camping, etc. If they are, there are plenty of other suitable forums to discuss those interests.

Since the emphasis of this particular forum is on **hiking**, most discussions revolve about how to lighten one's load in order to maximize distance, speed, walking comfort or a combination of those factors.

The reason there isn't much discussion on camping is because camping is a beginning topic. That is, practically everyone starts out as a camper, and many still retain their original camping gear. (For example, a double walled tent, MSR gas stove, comfortable pad, etc, etc.) I know I do, and I periodically use these items when taking my kid/wife. But do I have any interest in discussing these elementary subjects? No.

Now, when it comes to faster, long(er) distance hiking performed in relatively easy comfort, the issues become significantly more complicated. It's a real challenge to reach SUL/UL without compromising safety. But it can be done, it just requires a heck of a lot of research, study & skill development (including sewing and learning MYOG).

BPL is a forum focused primarily on these aspects listed above. If you search for older posts, you can garner a treasure trove of science based analyses covering a wide range of topics on practically every single aspect of gear, clothing, food, etc as it relates to hiking.

To an outsider looking in, it may appear that some might possess a slight degree of condensation towards trads. On the other hand, I think most here are simply interested in HYOH to the best of their abilities. Looking upon learners & those who are less experienced really doesn't factor into the equation when you're facing an initial 3-5k climb out, 10 miles of trail, and 3-5 of x-c before you reach your 1st day's goal.

Edited by Hobbesatronic on 08/31/2012 09:41:12 MDT.

Mike V
(deadbox) - F - M

Locale: Midwest
RE:"How important is pack weight to your overall experience?" on 08/31/2012 09:37:47 MDT Print View

There are already some great points that have been made, I would just like to add that I find that I am a lot more likely to enjoy my surroundings and my company if I am not uncomfortable and exhausted due to being burdened with a heavy pack. With a heavy pack my eyes focus on the ground instead of my surroundings and my mind focuses on when the hiking will be over so I can ditch the pack and when I get to camp I have less energy for camp chores or socializing. Don't get me wrong, pack weight isn't the end all be all, however it impacts your experience in more ways than just simple comfort.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
2c on 08/31/2012 10:39:48 MDT Print View

I don't personally understand why some people find it fulfilling to shoot for an arbitrary weight goal, e.g. why a trip with 5 lbs counts as SUL but one with 6 lbs is only UL. I think making these sorts of fine-graded distinctions drives a lot of the numbers-talk around here, but that in real life most people don't fuss with pack weight unless it is approaching or crosses the threshold where it negatively affects their experience. Cutting weight, weighing everything, and trying new gear and techniques is how a person finds that limit for themselves. After that, playing with gear is just gravy.

So to answer your question: once a person knows their limits, pack weight is unimportant, until it is.

Tyler Johnson
(riemannia) - F

Locale: Northeast Georgia
Re: How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 11:28:52 MDT Print View

I think there are two factors contributing to my overall backpacking experience

Primary: physical challenge, i.e. how far I can go in the limited time I've given.

Secondary: the "where;" geographic considerations in terms of (a) challenge, see above and (b) beauty.

Pack weight is only a corollary of the primary goal. I suppose one could incorporate a higher pack weight to add an additional dimension to the physical challenge, however, I've always enjoyed running more than weight lifting, so it makes sense that I would focus more on the distance than strength associated with carrying a heavy pack. I understand that this isn't the case with everyone though - there was a Japanese family on vacation that I ran into in the Smokies were much more impressed with how much the traditional hiker ahead of me was carrying than how far I'd hiked over the past five days (much more than the heavyweight-er).

I don't think ultralight is the only answer. It's one of many solutions to the great backpacking problem.

Andrew Skurka's bit about "stupid light" is probably somewhat relevant to this conversation

David Miles
(davidmiles) - F

Locale: Eastern Sierra
Re: How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 12:05:37 MDT Print View

I often carry a very heavy pack on technical rescues with a litter strapped onto it. Last May I spent most of the night rappelling with a 75+ lb pack to reach a injured climber. I still apply lightweight principles for my personal gear and that allows me to carry more rescue gear. I'm 6' 2" and 250 lbs of all muscle. LOL, LOL However, the reality for me is that if my pack is anything under 25 lbs that I can't tell the difference. I arrive at camp with energy and usually go for a swim in an alpine lake. I carry a nice comfortable pad to ensure that I sleep well and con wake up recharged for the next day.