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My food and water weight conundrum...
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Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 01:14:52 MDT Print View

Every time I read through something like Mike Clelland's Ultralight Backpackin' Tips or see a particularly inspiring trip done by someone who is clearly on the extremely ultralight end of the backpacking spectrum, I get inspired to try out a frameless pack and just go as ultralight as possible.

Then, as if I haven't already done this in the past a half dozen times: I do some math...

Up to 4.2 pounds (2 liters) of water at any given time (or more in a the desert) + 2 pounds of food per day

So on a 5 or 6 day trip, I'm carrying something like 15 pounds of water and food when maxed out to capacity.

If I pair this with even, say, a very respectable 8 pound base pack weight, then that's a 23 pound pack right from the start.

Am I the only one that doesn't understand how anyone carries this kind of weight comfortably for miles on end in a frameless pack (even a virtual-framed pack)? I can't carry more than 15 pounds on my shoulders for any length of time without it getting very uncomfortable. Now I understand that you're not carrying this maximum weight for very long on the trip, but even 3 hours of this would make me miserable enough to wonder why in the world I didn't just use a more supportive pack in the first place.

Do people just grin and bear it? Or maybe lots of people have a higher maximum comfortable shoulder bearing load tolerance than I do? Or does everyone just carry less food and water than I do?

I have found that I get very hungry (and hence, unhappy) with less than 2 pounds of food per day on even moderately strenuous trips, and I personally don't feel comfortable shorting myself on water like I hear many ultra-lighters do (even with my more conservative water carrying approach I've had to go very thirsty plenty of times, so it seems a little reckless to me to not have much of a buffer when it comes to carried water).

Anyway, am I missing something here, or do you all think I'll just never be a viable candidate for an ultralight, frameless pack due to my food and water preferences?

I can see how the ultralight, frameless pack approach might work on a one or two night trip, but the math just doesn't seem to work out on longer trips. Again, am I missing something here?

My approach so far has been to reduce the weight of my pack's contents as much as possible while still carrying a fairly supportive (~3 pound) backpack that can handle heavier loads. I wonder if this is a relatively popular, if underreported (and somewhat un-sexy), approach for many of you? Or maybe it's just me...

Edited by dmusashe on 09/24/2013 01:35:21 MDT.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 05:28:37 MDT Print View

Food is differnt for different people and metabolisms. Different weather conditions call for different ammounts. Hiking peaks calls for more than hiking flatter trails. Paddling has different requirements. Age generally means less food required. And so on.

Food density is very different. A simplistic example: Fresh Apple vs Dehydrated Apple. Simply shifting to all dried foods will take a 3 pound per day requirement down by 40%. Many vitamins, sometimes minerals are lost, though. Adding back 7 vitamin pills is still a lot lighter.

Cooking as opposed to prepackaged meals. Maltose, sucrose and salt with low density carbohydrates and some protiens. They lack fats and are generally only about 100C/oz. 2 cups of cocoa/oatmeal, 2 cups of coffee, for breakfast. A couple chocolate bars or other food bar, maybe a handfull of snack chips, for lunch stops. Fried dough, a soup/stew or rice dish, a cup of cocoa at night is a typical meal for supper.

Fats are the big key: Fritoes or other snack food are good for 160C/oz. Chocolate is about 135C/oz. Nuts average about 170C/oz. Jerky is only about 80C but goes a long way. Pepperoni(120C/oz,) salami(130C/oz,) cheese(110C/oz,) dried sausage(110C/oz) are good protiens to carry and have a lot of calories. Olive oil, parafied butter are usually carried in a couple 4oz bottles(250C/oz.)

I usually plan on 3000C/day in warm weather (>40F average,) so, my food weight is about 18oz per day or around 1.1 pounds per day. Typically, for two weeks out (14 days) my food weight is about 15-16 pounds. During shoulder seasons, I plan on 4000C/day and food weight is around 1.5pounds per day or for a week out it is around 10-11 pounds.

Maximimum weight I can get into my little frameless is ~25 pounds. I use a Gossamer Gear Murmur in summer and typically carry 22-23 pounds for a maximum duration of two weeks. For the shoulder seasons (now) my maximum pack load is 30pounds using a Gossamer Gear MiniPosa (forrunner of the Gorilla.) I usually carry 27-28 pounds for a two week trip. But, I am older and retired. I don't need or want that much food when I am out.

Frameless packs were initially difficult to carry. I went back to an internal framed pack. Examinig a G4 pack, I noticed the pad keepers. So, I got a Gossamer Gear G5 and a 3/4 length NightLite pad. I cut this and taped it together into a thick "frame", it *just* fit into the older G5-spinnaker. But, it also became the best internal framed pack I had. Adding this to the Miniposa, and Murmur were no brainers.

The problem with pads inside a pack was they tended to slip up. After a few hours, I noticed the bottom 1/4 of the pack was floppy, my hip belt was loose, and my shoulders were getting sore. With the external pockets, the pad stays put very well.
With the Murmur, I chopped it down to three layers. It works fine for anything up to 25 pounds with next to no pack collapse, the primary cause of sore shoulders. I still use the old 5 layer pad in the MiniPosa...even after switching to a NeoAir a couple years later (when they first came out.) I added them to other packs as well, I am sure you can add them to most frameless packs. Though, Gossamer Gear dropped the 3/4 lenght pads. You can use multiple SitLite pads or get another from Nunatak as the Luna pad. The "bumps" lock together better than a plain pad for a 1" support for every two layers.

Anyway, I use small volume packs (Murmur-2200ci, Miniposa-3000ci) with a fairly stiff suspension. Hip belts are needed. I have neck/shoulder problems from a 30 year old construction injury and cannot puy more than 15-20 pounds on my shoulders for any length of time. I *need* the weight on my hips. Sounds like you do, too. The shoulder harness (shoulder straps and torso strap) only supplies stability and maybe 5-10 pounds of weight handling. I can usually put my hands under the straps anytime I am hiking by simply shifting my shoulders. The penalty for this is the weight of the pad used for the suspension. It weighs about 8oz. But, I often use it to level a sleeping area and to prop up my torso/head for sleeping...simply open up one leaf on the three layer pad...even using the NeoAir.

As I mentioned, pack collapse is usually the biggest cause of sore shoulders. Not using a hip belt is the next biggest one. Both are directly related pack suspension. There have been several articals written about that, here, over the years.

The other thing is lack of exercising those "carry" muscles in your shoulders. I carry a 45-50pound exercise pack around most mornings (with a wide hip belt, of course.) So, I don't notice it when I head out. If you only pick up a pack a few times a year for hiking, your shoulders will get sore, even with only 10 pounds on them.

Anyway, I hike mostly in the ADK's, so water isn't really a problem. I carry two .5L bottles(about 2 pounds.) I only treat water I will be drinking. Cooking boils everything else. Desert hiking is different. Dehydrating food doesn't even make sense. You need the water.

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
Re: My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 05:46:57 MDT Print View

Derek, without a hip belt, no way most folks will carry above 15 pounds or so. With any kind of hip belt you can then increase to 25 pounds fairly comfortably if you have a firmly packed pack and/or a folded closed cell pad as a "frame".

I have used a SMD Swift 2010 model with the sewn on belt but no padding for the last few years including many desert trips and it is comfortable with a folded 36" long ridgerest in the very good pad pocket up to 27-28 pounds. Not too bad around 30. Once had to carry (for a few miles) 6 days food and 6 liters water, about 34 or so pounds and it was miserable.

Add some aluminum stays and a padded hip belt and you can get well designed 32 oz. packs that can carry up to 35 pounds well. Look at Will Reitveld's State of the Market report on frameless packs about packing etc.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 08:01:38 MDT Print View

I have frameless MYOG pack.

I just did a 5 night trip, 10 miles first day, 14 miles other days

11 pounds base weight

1.5 pounds per day so that's 7.5 pounds initially

I only carried 1 pound of water, so that's 20 pounds total

I was pretty comfortable. Hip belt can carry pretty much all the weight.

I added 6 pounds of water for a short distance and that wasn't so good, probably could have done a mile or two, need a different pack for that

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: ... food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 09:01:11 MDT Print View

Most of these techniques assume you are not carrying massive amounts water and, with less weight, carrying less food (think I've seen 1.5 lbs per day). Some thru-hikers may temporarily carry a lot of water but it's not the norm.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 09:19:53 MDT Print View

I used to be able to haul 30 pounds on my shoulders.
Then something happened and my shoulders gave up on that. I moved to framed packs, and my trips became more enjoyable. The parts that hurt are not the carry muscles. It isn't something that gets better with practice.

Everyone is different. If you recognize a technique doesn't work for you, don't try to make it work. Enjoying your trips is a least as rewarding as enjoying a lower weight spreadsheet.

Edited by redmonk on 09/24/2013 09:22:43 MDT.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 09:25:38 MDT Print View

I often carry little or no water with me. I usually research water sources. When they are frequent, there is no reason to carry much at all. I rarely carry more than 16 oz. This, of course, will vary with your terrain.

I carry about 1.2 ppd food. I have never run out of food. I always pack at least some out. I think I could usually stretch my food out beyond that if needed too. Make sure you are packing calorie dense food. Read the label.

I do more 2-3 night trips than 7+ day trips. On the shorter trips, a frameless with minimal hip belt works really well. I can do a 7 day trip fine too as long as I don't overdo it on food and water. Eight pounds base, about 10 pounds food and fuel, and less than a pound of water keeps me below 20 pounds for a week. I feel fine with a frameless at 20 pounds.

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
RE: My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 10:36:02 MDT Print View

It sounds like you might need multiple gear set-ups -- a more SUL-type pack/gear for shorter trips in locales with easy access to water, and a "standard"-type pack/gear for longer (unsupported) trips, or trips in the desert, where you are forced to carry many pounds of water.

If you're hiking the Tonto Trail in Grand Canyon, for example, you may have 2-3 days between water sources -- and all this, while hiking in 100F+ temperatures, so obviously a SUL pack is not going to cut it.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 10:59:46 MDT Print View

"Do people just grin and bear it? Or maybe lots of people have a higher maximum comfortable shoulder bearing load tolerance than I do? Or does everyone just carry less food and water than I do?"

All the above in one way or another. Get a pack that works for you. Your personal limits on the load your shoulders can take is kind of like shoes: buy what fits and suits your physiology. Many of the gear lists we see are based on a certain season, region, or trip duration. The lightest ones mean giving up a lot of creature comforts, which some will endure and others find torturous. I see desert hiking like Winter hiking: there are things you need and can't be avoided, and those SUL gear lists have to be tweaked to suit the situation.

I gave up on frameless packs. I use a 2.5 pound framed pack that gives good weight transfer and has enough capacity for food and water, extra seasonal insulation and rain gear, photo equipment, or whatever is needed for the trip. I don't need to worry about packing to create a virtual frame and I don't have junk poking me in the back. I can get to the things I need on the trail easily and the ventilated back panel is a joy on hot days.

That doesn't mean throwing out the UL baby with the added pack weight. All the other UL principles and techniques still hold.

There is a series of 2010 SOTM articles on internal frame packs that may help you:

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 11:09:59 MDT Print View

"Or maybe lots of people have a higher maximum comfortable shoulder bearing load tolerance than I do?"

I would go with that.

My standard load is ten pounds of base weight, ten pounds of consumables, and ten pounds of camera gear. Within the base weight, my backpack weighs less than 16 ounces. In fact, I haven't used any backpack with a frame in over 15 years, even with heavier loads.


Rick Adams
(rickadams100) - M
UL pack on 09/24/2013 15:44:29 MDT Print View

Derek, I'm with you. Use whatever pack carries the load you want to put in it the most comfortably. I think the whole point of going light is to make your treks easier, faster, and more comfortable. Using an uncomfortable pack just to make a smaller sum on your spreadsheet is kind of silly. I know frameless packs work for some, and I'm jealous. Find the lightest thing that works for you and lighten up elsewhere if you can.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 16:57:13 MDT Print View

Most people who aren't sul and are hiking with a frameless pack are only going for weekends. With like a 5 lb base weight, 10lbs of food, and 1/2 liter of water you could easily do a 5-6 day trip with a frameless pack without hurting your shoulders.
There is a certain amount of conditioning that allows you to carry more weight on your shoulders.
Something with a minimal frame, like a ULA pack, is more practical as a do it all pack.

Edited by justin_baker on 09/24/2013 16:57:49 MDT.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Frameless on 09/24/2013 18:24:17 MDT Print View

23 lbs PROPERLY PACKED is no problem for a frameless pack IMHO. Over 25 lbs become a bit cumbersome but in your example you drop two lbs a day plus up to 4 lbs of water weight. Don't just look at the instantaneous worse case weight.

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
I don't see how the water issue ever goes away on 09/24/2013 20:48:03 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the helpful responses so far.

As far as food weight goes, it's pretty self-explanatory that this will diminish steadily over a trip, but water is a different story...

Even if I was willing to plan my hike around carrying less than a liter of water at any given moment on purpose (which I'm not), I still don't understand the logistics of carrying only small amounts of water unless you are using a physical filter (which I am not), or simply not treating your water.

I'd be interested to hear how you 1/2 liter water carriers out there are managing to stay hydrated while using chemical treatment like Aquamira to treat your water.

How would this work? It takes 5 + 30 minutes to treat the water with Aquamira. Are you treating 1/2 liter at a time, then hiking to the next water source, chugging the water, and filling up again?

This sounds like a nightmare to me. Not only would you never get to drink more than 1/2 liter at any given time, you'd also be treating water constantly during the day. This would just be too much of a hassle for me to deal with, with the time and effort involved simply not worth the weight savings.

My current system is to carry two separate one liter water bottles, and when I get done drinking the first bottle, I'll refill it at the next water source and drink the water from the second bottle as the water in the refilled first bottle is being treated.

Sometimes I'll drink both bottles before I get to the next water source, at which point, I'll fill them both up and start treating them immediately. 30 minutes later, the whole process starts over again.

I just can't see putting in a whole lot more effort than this to save a pound or two of water, but also limit your buffer of water.

In my experience, it's just not worth planning that far ahead with water because: 1) it takes extra time and effort, and 2) if you're honest about it, you usually don't really know how good an upcoming water source is going to be (or even if it will be running).

I'd much rather just fill up and focus on the views and the trail instead of having to constantly worry in the back of my mind if the upcoming water source is actually going to be any good. If at any point I feel like I have too much water, I can always just chug some, but the opposite is never true.

Just my system though, and to each his/her own.

Edited by dmusashe on 09/24/2013 20:50:07 MDT.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: I don't see how the water issue ever goes away on 09/24/2013 21:09:47 MDT Print View

"How would this work? It takes 5 + 30 minutes to treat the water with Aquamira..."

that's why a filter is better

Squeeze is 3 ounces, drink water immediately

if you use Aquamira you have to carry an extra liter of water (or whatever) waiting for the treatment to be effective, which is 2 pounds

of course there are complications, like it can freeze or the bag can break so I can see why aquamira makes sense for some people

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 21:22:21 MDT Print View

Personally I find frameless packs uncomfortable above about 15 lbs. And I find the minimal frame in my ULA Ohm to be more comfortable than frameless even at 10-15 lbs.

Mike's math is about right for me. 10 lb base weight plus 7 days of food at 1.6 ppppd plus 1/2 to 1 liter of water is around 23 lbs which a lightweight framed pack can handle in total comfort. Some people can carry this just fine in a frameless pack, but I'm not one of them.

2 pounds of food per day is a lot - I would look at what kind of food you are eating. Shoot for 125 calories per ounce on average and you should be able to reduce that to 1.5 pounds per day or so.

I use a Steripen and drink most of my water when I am at water sources, and don't often carry more than 1/2 a liter. But water is plentiful where I hike. I used Aqua Mira for a long time and would just carry a liter around while it treated. I usually only drink ~4 liters per day, with 1.5 liters of that or so in camp, where waiting for it to treat (or boiling dinner) is not such a hassle.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 21:55:24 MDT Print View

Treating water with AM drops is not as complicated as you're imagining it.

Here's my take from a fastpacking perspective:

Pre-mix drops the morning of or the night before, thus eliminating the 5 minute wait.

Scoop at a source and go. The drops will do their work while you're walking. This is especially appealing to me. People will argue that pumping/filtering doesn't take long, but it does require you to actually stop, and stops have a way of eating into your time If mileage is a goal, I try and do as much as I can while moving. Aqua Mira really shines here.


I've brought this up at other times as well, but I also think you're falling into the trap of thinking you have to have a large quantity of water on you at all times. I'd argue it's OK to be thirsty. In fact, I think it's a good idea to get used to the feeling of being thirsty and hiking on a little less. I think the risk of dehydration while backpacking is generally greatly overstated and has been largely foisted on us by electrolyte marketers. I'm sorry, but if an elite marathoner can drink some water and then crank out 26.2 in under 2:30 without consuming much along the way, we can certainly walk for two hours in average temps and safely catch up on hydration later.

Water seems to be a source of great anxiety for many backpackers. I cannot tell you how many people I saw carrying 2 or more full quarts at a time on my last Sierra trip...all the while passing a lake, stream, or spring every 30 minutes to hour.

As for frameless packs, it's obviously personal. I can go up to about 30 in a frameless Jam2 and be comfortable enough. I guess it depends on your expectations. I think a lot of people get lured into the frameless market because it looks good on a spreadsheet. If i's not comfortable for you, don't do it.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: leeway on 09/24/2013 21:58:24 MDT Print View

Water is just one issue. You should never have to form gear list around a 2 pound leeway and I wouldn't want to be carrying a pack that was always that close to maximum. In fact, I just returned a day pack that was okay with my essentials and one liter and uncomfortable with just one more liter on board.

You need some cushion to be flexible for trip duration, seasonal change or group issues.

I do agree that more than one pack may be a solution, with a SUL option for overnights or three days plus one that is more of a hauler for longer trips or those with special needs like desert travel or snowshoeing. It just depends on your wallet and the range of hiking you do.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: My food and water weight conundrum... on 09/24/2013 23:05:17 MDT Print View

"Scoop at a source and go." . . . "you're falling into the trap of thinking you have to have a large quantity of water on you at all times."

+1 +1, Craig.

I don't stop to chemically treat water, I let it treat as I hike. Stopping to pump wastes time IMO and exposes me to mosquitos. I often use iodine tablets, so I'll leave 2 tablespoons of water in the last water bottle so as dissolve the next tablet prior to use. An empty Avian bottle weighs very little. So I'll sometimes have two if I'm drinking a lot, one is treating while the other I'm drinking from. Also, then I have more capacity for a long, dry stretch. But usually, I'd have just one 1-liter bottle along.

I find it more comfortable to carry a liter in my stomach than in my backpack. Then I track my urine output. I often am peeing a ton before reminding myself, as Craig said, you don't really need to drink a ton. And you have a few liters of margin in your body. So I'll hydrate while approaching camp so as to pee it out BEFORE bedtime. And then again, first thing upon waking, so as not to carry water externally early in the cool morning.

For 10 or 15 miles in a day, I just drink in camp or at the car and then not again until I'd done hiking. In cool weather, I don't need to drink for 4-5 hours if I topped off beforehand.

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Hmmm... on 09/25/2013 00:22:03 MDT Print View

I guess I wasn't clear enough about my current system...

I do in fact let the water treat as I hike. It would be utter silliness to sit there by a stream and wait 30 minutes for the water to be treated by the Aquamira drops while I could get the same effect while carrying the water in my pack and making forward progress.

While I agree with those of you who have stated that we can get by on a lot less water then we usually drink out in the backcountry (and that dehydration isn't quite as much of a risk as we make it out to be), I also find that my body performs much better while it's very, very well hydrated. On a warm summer day, even with the shade of the woods, I will drink perhaps 6 liters while hiking, and another liter at night, and one in the morning. Add a few more liters to that during the day if the hiking is hot and exposed.

Yes I pee all the time, and yes, I feel great all day. I find that my muscles are just happier when I'm drinking tons of water (and eating some salty foods to keep electrolytes up too, of course).

I still don't understand how somebody who is chemically treating their water could only carry 1/2 liter of water at a time and still stay well hydrated without a lot of fuss. The comment about passing by water source after water source still doesn't answer this, because you'd always have to wait at least 30 minutes between those water sources to actually drink the water. So if on a 30 minute stretch of hiking, you pass 20 small streams, you still only effectively pass 2 water sources, because you'd have to wait 30 minutes anyway to actually drink any of that water.

Lastly, the thought of pre-mixing part A and part B of the Aquamira drops in the morning to make an activated solution to use all day is certainly alluring, but I don't think it's a very good idea (just because Mike Clelland recommends this in his popular book, Ultralight Backpackin' Tips, doesn't mean it's safe-- that guy is not a chemist).

Chlorine dioxide (the active ingredient created in the Aquamira mix) has a relatively short half life of 93 minutes per this study here:

In other words, 4 hours and 39 minutes after making your premix, you have lost a full 87.5% of your chlorine dioxide active ingredient through natural chemical decay!

Just because the solution is still yellow does not mean that everything is "still good."

The chemical facts of this are not to be taken lightly. I don't know if this Aquamira pre-mix thing got going in earnest with Mike Clelland's book, but he should most certainly take that tip out of the next edition. It's downright bad advice.

I love his drawings, and his book is otherwise a great resource, but he really needs to correct this error.

Edited by dmusashe on 09/25/2013 01:05:57 MDT.