The obsession with cutting down your backpack weight

Is weight everything?

I started a thread in the John Muir Trail in Facebook:

The reasons to post that were two fold.

  1. I had embarked on an absolute “cut down weight” to my backpack this past couple of years. I was able to bring down by base weight to 19 lbs (yes, I know, it is not ultra lightweight, but I started at 26-27 lbs). Things did not work well for me (which I will explain in a bit)

  2. As explained here, I switched to an Aarn Featherlite Freedom bodypack. One of the thing the bodypack does is evoke a response. The common feedback is “You are carrying a lot of stuff”, a jump to conclusion that somehow I chose the bag because I am carrying a lot (I am not) and that it is a bad thing. I was starting to get annoyed.

As part of my absolute ultra weight journey:

  1. I got a Quilt to replace my REI Magma 10 mummy sleeping bag

  2. Replaced my wide sleeping pad with a narrow version

  3. Picked an ultralight tent with a mesh interior (to save weight)

  4. Switched to Gossamer mariposa, a sub 2lb backpack

This worked well for short trips where the pack weight was less than 30 lbs and the weather was warm. But on a 5 day hike through the High Sierra Camp loop, my pack weight was pushing 35 lbs and in a couple of places were we camped above 10,000 feet.

I was starting to feel very cold at night, due to a combination of the mesh interior and the quilt. No matter how I strapped it, I could not stop the draft of cold wind.

I definitely did not like my hands lying falling off my sleeping bag and missed my wide sleeping pads.

Lastly, Gossamer Mariposa is fantastic upto 30 lbs, but if you are close to 35 lbs (which happens for a 5 day hike), the weight transfer to the hip is rather poor. I was taking my pack off every mile or so to give my shoulders a break.

I started on undoing some of my changes, ended up with the Aarn Featherlite freedom pack, which is much heavier, but carries the weight magnificently.

Is worrying about absolute weight the wrong thing to do when you look at backpacking gear?

Conventional backpacking wisdom indicates that you need to cut down weight on everypossible thing. When you reach a magical weight point - there are silly heuristics available for that (your base weight should be 15% of your body weight or your pack’s weight should be no more than 20% of your body weight), your life would be better. Really?

20% of your body weight for one night camping? Or for a week’s camping? Or for rainy weather? What about river crossings?


I would rather carry a few more lbs on a backpack that distributes the weight more evenly and allows me to hike painlessly rather than a few lbs less on a backpack that carries the weight in a bad manner and hurts me at the end of the day.

Yes, you Hike your own hike, and maybe if that means you need to carry a bunch more weight, so be it.