Backpacking can be a great eye-opener to different environments, cultures and in some instances, even double up as some act of self-discovery.

Before you grab your bags and lace your shoes, you need to know a few things about backpacking. One, it will wear you out. That’s why you should give some thought to how much your backpack weighs before heading out.

Assuming you have figured out the terrain and you won’t be tackling any steep climbs, the total weight of your pack should remain under 20% of your total body weight.

Weight requirements

The concept of backpacking might sound random and exciting but its execution and success need plenty of pre-planning. And while you would want to cram all the cool gear in a pack and set off, the weight you carry can make or break your trip – or back.

The 20% rule has exceptions determined by body size. A bodybuilder, for example, might be comfortable lagging more than 20 percent of their body weight. What happens if you’re petite and you want to backpack for a few weeks? You toughen up and make sure you’ve been doing your core exercise because 20% of your body weight might leave you without some essentials.

We bet you didn’t see yourself doing math just to know how much you’d have to bring on your trip. Relax, it’s not as complicated as it seems. Knowing the right things to pack for your backpacking experience will save you time, money, and back pain.

What should influence your packing weight?


Having the best gear is great. Having the right maps is better. Sure, you might have common knowledge of your intended destination. Figure out the approximate distances between places. Know the layout of the locations. If your estimations are correct, you will know the right number of consumables and gear to pack.  

Duration of travel

You never know what to expect while you’re backpacking. That doesn’t mean you can skimp out on time limits during pre-planning. If you plan to be on the road for a month, your backpacking requirements need to match a month of traveling. If your trip is going to be a week-long or a year-long, your weight requirements might vary.

Sleeping gear

Daily travel will take a toll on you and you will need to plan for proper rest arrangements. You can sleep in motels or you can go full-on Bear Grylls and rough it out in the outdoors. Your sleeping gear is one of the most essential items to have right at the start of your trip. If the weather patterns at the time favor outdoor sleeping, a light sleeper bag or tarp tent should do. However, you might need thicker heavier sleeping equipment during cold or wet conditions.

Personal weight

If you weigh 200 pounds, an 80-pound load might not seem like a huge load for a few hours on a straight road in cool weather. A few days in and not even the most heavily padded and steel frame pack will save you from the foot and back strain you will be feeling at that point. Manage the total load weight to 40 pounds if you are about 200 pounds. However, this rule is subject to personal preference.

How can you reduce your packing weight?

When you first start packing – especially for your first time experience – you might want to bring all the cool gear and a mountain of food. Before you start loading up the mega pack, consider that one pound on your feet exerts five times more on your back.

With that information in mind, cutting down on your load is essential. How do you walk the tight rope that is getting the best out of your experience and making sure you have enough for the whole trip?

Packing essentials

Start with the necessities before you pack the latest gear and all the extra goodies that you think might look cool. Make a checklist of all the things you will need for survival. This includes any clothing, medi-packs, and gear that you will need.

Plan your backpacking experience and location around the warm months. That way, you can cut your load weight by packing light clothes. Light material can also be less absorbent so you can cover more distance without needing constant showers.

The best way to know what you need is to arrange everything you have by order of priority. If it does not serve an immediate purpose, it can wait until your next adventure that doesn’t require intense body commitment. Pack your essentials as you weigh them. This strategy might help you know the heaviest components of your load and plan for a replacement with a lighter version of the same item.  

Packing nutrition-dense food

Avoid loading up on heavy cooking equipment. You can maintain high energy levels on your journey if you pack the right foods. High-calorie snicker bars, salty high-energy foods and dried foods are solid bets if you want to control your weight load while staying energized. You also need to plan your finances by having a pre-planned meal plan. You can limit your intake to 3 pounds of food or under 4000 calories per day. Your load will decrease as you keep using your food supply. The meal plan will help you refill on the basics.

Walking in hot weather lugging around a heavy pack will have you parched faster than you can say Gatorade. Instead of adding a huge flask of water to your item list, get water purifiers in case you have to do water refills at some point during your trip. Your budget should have an amount set aside for energy-boosting drinks.

Choose your bag wisely

Saving the best for last, choose your backpack wisely. Keep it light but comfortable. Your back and shoulders will thank you if you get a bag with padded shoulder straps and core support. Pro tip: You’d rather have a large bag to fit all your stuff than a crammed bag that will have you straining. Make sure the bag you choose is accommodating enough for extra stuff too.

The take-home

Whether you are a first-timer or you are more seasoned in the ways of the road, knowing what to bring on your backpacking adventure can make you restless. Don’t stress it. You can organize your trip to accommodate more people so that you can distribute the load. There is strength in numbers.

Kelvin Mwathi