Hiking Guides

Optimizing Backpacking Base Weight: Tips for Success


When it comes to backpacking, base weight is a crucial factor that can significantly impact your overall experience. Understanding and optimizing your backpacking base weight can make all the difference between an enjoyable adventure and a strenuous struggle.

Calculating your base weight for backpacking is essential, and this post will show you how to do so accurately while also providing tips on reducing it without compromising comfort or safety. Furthermore, we’ll provide valuable tips on reducing your pack weight without sacrificing essential gear or comfort. Lastly, we will explore the numerous benefits of maintaining a low backpacking base weight – from increased mobility to reduced physical strain during those long treks in the great outdoors.

Optimizing Backpacking Base Weight: Tips for Success

What is Backpacking Base Weight?

Backpacking base weight” is a term hikers use to describe the total weight of their packed gear, excluding consumables like food, water, and fuel. 

It’s everything you carry that doesn’t get ‘used up’ on your trip. This includes your tent, sleeping bag, clothes, cooking gear, and so on. Getting this weight as low as possible, while still carrying the essentials, is a big part of successful backpacking.

Your backpacking base weight is a good indicator to if you’re carrying too many luxury items.

Why Backpacking Base Weight Matters

Backpacking base weight matters, and here’s why. First off, a lighter pack means less strain on your body, which means you can cover more ground with less effort. It’s the difference between ending the day feeling exhilarated, or exhausted. This isn’t just about speed; it’s about the joy of the journey. The less weight you carry, the more you can enjoy the scenery around you, rather than just focusing on the trail under your feet.

Secondly, reducing your base weight helps to prevent injuries. Heavy packs can put a lot of pressure on your joints, particularly your knees and ankles, and can lead to long-term damage. By slimming down your pack, you’re also looking out for your health.

Lastly, optimizing your backpacking base weight is all about self-sufficiency. The less you have to rely on heavy gear, the more resourceful and adaptable you become. This can be a game changer in unpredictable outdoor conditions.

So, while it might take a little bit of time and effort to trim down your backpacking base weight, the pay-off in terms of comfort, safety, and enjoyment is absolutely worth it.

The Difference Between Total Pack Weight & Base Weight

When it comes to backpacking, understanding the difference between ‘total pack weight’ and ‘base weight’ can be a game changer. Your total pack weight includes everything you’re carrying on your back, period. This includes your consumables like food, water, and fuel, as well as your gear.

On the other hand, your base weight refers to the weight of your gear alone, excluding consumables. This is the stuff that’s going to be with you throughout your trip, from your tent and sleeping bag to your clothes and cooking gear.

Why is this distinction important? Because when you’re trying to lighten your load, focusing on your base weight is key. These are the items you have the most control over. You can swap out heavier gear for lighter options, and remove non-essential items. Consumables, on the other hand, are harder to cut back on without risking your safety or comfort.

So remember, while total pack weight is what you’ll physically be carrying, base weight is where you have the most potential to make your load lighter and your hike more enjoyable.

Ideal Backpacking Base Weight Ranges

When it comes to ideal backpacking base weight ranges, here’s what you need to know:

  • Standard Range: Conventional wisdom places the standard backpacking base weight between 20 and 30 lbs. Many beginners start off with backpacks around this range, often closer to the 25/30 lbs end, as they might not yet have invested in lightweight gear​1​​.
  • Wide Range: The base weight can widely range from 5 to 30+ lbs, depending on your backpacking style, body weight, and level of conditioning. For traditional backpacking, a base weight of 20 to 30 lbs is common, while ultralight hikers might manage with sub-10 lb base weights​​.
  • Lightweight Range: Backpacks that fall between 10-20 lbs are considered lightweight, offering a good balance of comfort and mobility​4​​.
  • Ultralight Range: Base weights under 10 lbs are considered ultralight. This is usually achieved by experts who have invested in expensive ultralight equipment and done significant planning and research​​​.

Remember, these are just guidelines. Your ideal base weight will depend on your specific needs and circumstances. Always make sure you’re carrying what you need to stay safe and comfortable on your trip.

How to Calculate Your Backpacking Base Weight

Organizing a successful trekking or camping journey necessitates computing your backpacking base weight, which is the overall heft of all your gear, so you can make wise decisions on what to take and how much sustenance and water you’ll require.

How to Calculate Your Backpacking Base Weight

List All Essential Gear Items

Make a list of all essential gear items, including clothing, shelter, cookware, navigation tools, and miscellaneous essentials.

  • Clothing: rain jacket, insulated jacket, pants, shirts, underwear, socks
  • Shelter: tent or hammock system (including tarp), sleeping bag or quilt, sleeping pad
  • Cookware: stove (if needed), pot/pan/mug/bowl/spoon/fork/knife combo set
  • Navigation tools: map & compass or GPS device
  • Miscellaneous essentials: headlamp/flashlight with extra batteries; first aid kit; repair kit; multi-tool

Weigh Each Item Individually

Use a digital scale to weigh each item separately for accurate measurement in ounces or grams.

Calculate the Total Weight of Your Gear

Add up the individual weights of your essential gear items to get the total weight of your gear, excluding consumable items like food, water, and cooking fuel.

Exclude Consumable Items from Base Weight Calculation

Focus on reducing the overall weight of non-consumable items that make up your core backpacking setup.


Evaluate Your Backpacking Base Weight

Consider whether your backpacking base weight is within an acceptable range for comfort and safety during hiking or camping trips.

  • A lightweight setup has a base weight below 20 pounds.
  • An ultralight setup has a base weight below 10 pounds.
  • A super-ultralight setup has a base weight below 6-8 pounds.

If your current backpacking base weight is too heavy, consider implementing some tips to reduce your base weight without sacrificing safety or comfort.

Tips For Lightening Your Backpacking Load

Reduce your backpacking base weight for a more comfortable outdoor experience with these tips.

Tips For Lightening Your Backpacking Load

1. Choose Lightweight Gear

Invest in ultralight gear made from materials like titanium or carbon fiber for durability and performance.

  • Ultralight tents
  • Lightweight sleeping bags
  • Compact cooking stoves

2. Optimize Your Clothing Choices

Choose lightweight, versatile clothing made from materials like merino wool or synthetic fabrics.

  1. Pack moisture-wicking garments to regulate body temperature.
  2. Choose compressible down jackets or vests for insulation that packs down small.
  3. Avoid packing duplicate items

3. Rethink Your Food and Water Supplies

Plan your meals carefully and opt for dehydrated meals or lightweight, calorie-dense foods like nuts, jerky, and energy bars.

  • Carry a compact water filter or purification tablets instead of bottled water.
  • Avoid carrying excessive cookware

4. Utilize Multi-Functional Gear

Incorporate multi-functional gear to reduce overall pack weight while maintaining functionality.

  1. Select a sleeping pad that doubles as a sitting pad.
  2. Pack trekking poles with built-in camera mounts for dual-use photography support
  3. Invest in quality multitools

5. Trim the Excess and Pack Smart

Eliminate non-essential items and pack smart by placing heavier items close to your back and center of gravity.

  • Remove unnecessary packaging from food or other products before packing
  • Avoid bringing luxury items that aren’t crucial for safety or comfort on the trail
  • Use a backpacking checklist to ensure you’re only carrying what’s necessary

Follow these tips to reduce your backpacking base weight and enjoy a lighter load on the trail.

Benefits of a Low Backpacking Base Weight

Benefits of a Low Backpacking Base Weight

Lightening your load while backpacking can lead to enhanced mobility, reduced strain on your body, and increased enjoyment of the hiking experience.

Enhanced Mobility and Endurance

With less weight on your back, you’ll find it easier to navigate tricky terrain, whether it’s steep inclines, rocky paths, or narrow trails. You’ll also have more freedom to explore off the beaten path and discover hidden gems on your journey.

Reduced Strain on Your Body

Less weight means less strain on your body, which directly translates to increased endurance. You’ll be able to hike for longer periods without getting as tired. This means you can cover more miles, reach more remote places, and make the most of your adventure.

Increased Enjoyment of Hiking Experience

  • Faster travel: With a lower backpacking base weight, you’re able to move at a quicker pace, which means you can cover more ground and explore more of the great outdoors.
  • Less fatigue: A lighter pack reduces physical strain, allowing you to feel less tired at the end of each day.
  • Better connection with nature: Carrying less weight allows you to focus on your surroundings and fully immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.

Increased Safety and Reduced Risk of Injury

A lighter pack can improve your balance, making it less likely for you to trip or fall, particularly on tricky terrain. This is a major safety boost, especially when traversing narrow paths, slippery slopes, or rocky trails.

Moreover, in case of an emergency, having a lighter pack can be a lifesaver. It enables you to move faster if you need to evacuate quickly or reach help. Also, the less weight you carry, the less fatigued you’ll be, and the more alert and responsive to potential hazards.

More Efficient Use of Resources

Reducing your backpacking base weight often involves adopting an ultralight mindset focused on maximizing efficiency without sacrificing comfort or safety.

A lighter backpack means you’ll burn fewer calories on your hike. This allows you to carry less food, further reducing your overall pack weight. It’s a virtuous cycle: the less you carry, the less energy you use, and the less you need to carry.

Reducing your base weight often involves choosing multi-use items. For example, a phone that doubles as a camera and GPS, or a cooking pot that can also be a mug. This not only cuts down on weight, but also makes for more efficient use of space in your backpack.

Greater Flexibility in Trip Planning

A light backpacking base load allows you the liberty to modify your itinerary on the spot and capitalize on all of nature’s offerings.

In summary, reducing your backpacking base weight offers numerous benefits that contribute to improved physical performance and enhanced enjoyment of the great outdoors.

FAQs in Relation to Backpacking Base Weight

What is the average thru-hiker base weight?

The average thru-hiker base weight ranges between 15-20 pounds (6.8-9 kg), but ultralight backpackers aim for a base weight below 10 pounds (4.5 kg) for maximum comfort and mobility on long-distance hikes.

Is a 15-pound base weight good?

The answer is a resounding yes! A 15-pound base weight falls into the ‘lightweight’ category, which ranges from 10 to 20 pounds. This is an excellent weight range to aim for, as it offers a good balance between comfort and mobility.

With a 15-pound base weight, you’re light enough to move efficiently and cover good distances, but you’ve also got enough leeway to carry necessary comfort items and equipment for a range of conditions. This can be especially beneficial for longer trips, or for hikers venturing into more challenging or unpredictable environments.

Remember, while it’s beneficial to aim for a lower base weight, it’s crucial not to compromise on safety or essential items. Always ensure you’re carrying the necessary gear to keep you safe and comfortable throughout your trip.

So, if you’re able to achieve a 15-pound base weight, give yourself a pat on the back! You’re well on your way to a more enjoyable and sustainable backpacking experience.

Does backpacking base weight include clothing?

The answer is yes and no. The term ‘backpacking base weight’ typically refers to the weight of your gear excluding the clothing you wear while hiking, but including any extra clothing packed in your backpack.

Why the distinction? This is because the clothes you’re wearing aren’t technically a ‘load’ you’re carrying in the same way as the items in your backpack. However, any extra clothing items you pack – like a rain jacket, an extra pair of socks, or a warmer layer for the evening – do count towards your base weight, as they’re part of the overall weight you’re carrying on your back.

Remember, the goal of optimizing your base weight is to ensure you’re carrying only what you need and nothing more. So, while your worn clothes may not count towards your base weight, it’s still worthwhile to consider the weight and utility of these items when planning your backpacking trip.

In summary, while the clothes you’re wearing on the trail aren’t included in your backpacking base weight, any extra clothing you pack is included. As always, the key is to find the right balance between carrying what you need for safety and comfort, and keeping your pack as light as possible.

How much should a backpacking pad weigh?

A backpacking pad, also known as a sleeping pad, is a crucial piece of gear that offers comfort and insulation during your overnight stays in the wilderness. The weight of your backpacking pad can vary, but it’s generally desirable to find a balance between comfort, insulation, and weight.

Based on a range of popular models, full-length sleeping pads can weigh anywhere from around 9 ounces to just over a pound. Lightweight options include the Klymit Inertia X Frame (9.1 oz), Gossamer Gear Airbeam (10.1 oz), and the Exped AirMat Hyperlite (10.8 oz). On the heavier end of the spectrum, you have the Exped DownMat Winterlite (1 lb 0.8 oz), Klymit Static V2 (1 lb 0.3 oz), and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite SV (1 lb)​1​.

The weight of your backpacking pad should be considered alongside other factors such as its R-value (a measure of insulation), thickness, packability, and of course, your personal comfort preferences. While it’s important to minimize weight for long treks, you should not do so at the expense of a good night’s sleep. A well-rested backpacker is a happy and efficient backpacker.


Backpacking base weight is the weight of your backpack without food, water, and fuel, and knowing it can help you pack more efficiently for your camping or hiking trip.

To calculate your backpacking base weight, add up the weights of all the items in your backpack except for food, water, and fuel, and then use my tips to reduce that number as much as possible so you can enjoy a lighter load on the trail.

Remember to not compromise safety when it comes to optimizing your backpack base weight.

Mitch Taylor
With over 20 years experience with camping and hiking, I've taken it upon myself to share my insights. From common camping and hiking questions to gear recommendations, your adventure starts here.

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