“How Much Does My Backpack Weigh???!!!”

My friend Dave brought a portable scale to our Grand Canyon backpacking trip (he left it in the car and didn’t carry it on the trail). Right before we headed down from the trailhead, we weighed our backpacks. Mine started at 46 lbs. If you had asked me before we used the scale, I would have guessed that I was carrying about 35 lbs, so I was more than a little startled.

The generally accepted ratio of pack weight to body weight is around 25%. So for 215 lb Bill, 46 lbs is well within that guideline. But there is a lot of difference from the perception of 35 lbs and 46 lbs. I determined that I was going to find out where the weight was.

None of this includes the stuff I carry on my person, like boots and clothes, the multitool on my belt, and the like.

When we got off the trail, I basically put my pack and everything (including trash I packed out) I was carrying directly into my travel duffel bag that I use to check the pack on the airline. First, I weighed the pack using Daves scale. It clocked in at 37 lbs, so I had lost 9 lbs of pack weight during the trip. I also noted the weight of the duffel when I checked in at PHX. It was 37.8 lbs, which accounts for the weight of the duffel. I also noted everything I had taken out, namely, the amount of leftover water at the top of the South Rim, and a couple things like my phone, which I carried on the trip in my backpack, and my trusty Kelty daypack.

Back at home, I checked the duffel weight again using our backroom scale: 37.5. Close enough. I got our food scale out (it’s a 5 lb scale), and checked it against a couple cans of food to make sure that if the can was 18 oz, so was the scale. Finally, I proceeded to take everything out of the pack and duffel one at a time and weighed it.

Here is what I came up with. I divided up the stuff I carried into several groups.

Must-Carry Stuff

This list of stuff was 26 lbs. The biggest items were:

Pack, 5.25 lbs
0F Sleeping Bad, 4.8 lbs
Tent, 5 lbs

I carry a Cabela’s Shasta 98 pack; it’s a big pack, 6000 cu in (and I just noticed that the Cabelas website claims the pack has a convertible hydration pocket/day pack; I did a quick look and don’t see how that it possible, but I will look again later). It may be that I could shave a couple pounds with a smaller pack.

I realized while putting my tent up that I had way too many tent stakes. It turns out I brought twice as many as needed (!), and on top of that, I had several tent stakes in there which were much thinner than the others. I carried 1 lb of tent stakes. If I had carried just the 12 I needed, that would have been about 0.65 lb, and if I just carried 12 of the thinner version, it would have been about 0.56 lb. So that’s a good savings right there.

I probably could have just used my tent fly for cover on this trip. That fly is just 24 oz and only requires eight stakes. That would have reduced the tent weight to 3 lbs. You don’t want to do this if there are bugs about, but it was certainly feasible on this trip.

Given the weather conditions, I probably should have brought my 20F bag (only 2.5 lbs). I don’t think we got much under 40F.

The next heaviest stuff was personal electronics at 1.8 lbs. I carried my GPS, phone, a wallet, my SPOT, and a charger. The phone was the heaviest thing, but it also serves as a backup GPS and camera. I don’t know that I would lose any of this.

I carried a cooking pot and stove, didn’t use either. We had three guys with stoves, and I shared with Chuck. I should have left the 1.5 lbs behind. Lesson: coordinate better next time.

My closed-cell pad weighs 1.1 lbs (which I find surprising, it seems lighter). I have heard that some people cut the lower third of their pad off so that it ends below the hips. If I did that, I would save 0.3 lb. Maybe.

The rest of the things are not conducive to being reduced (a 0.5 lb t-shirt can’t be reduced; maybe changed to another kind of fabric?), or they are inherently very light (a travel toothpaste). The total weight of those items is 6.6 lbs. One thing: a Sudoku book, with about 200 puzzles, is 0.43 lb; I probably could just bring 10 pages.

Food and Consumables

I started with 8.98 lbs of food, and ate about 2/3rds of it. I didn’t eat 10 of the snack bars I brought (0.5 lbs) and never opened up a 0.5 lb bag of M&Ms (not the first time I’ve done that, argh). The biggest mistake here was bringing along too much PB&J; that stuff is dense and heavy.

Winter/Cold-Related Stuff

I carried 3.0 lbs of winter-weight stuff, to include some heavy gloves If it’s going to be cold, you really need that stuff, but in this case, I didn’t wear the gloves once, so I probably could have left them behind (I used some very light fleece gloves a lot).

Special Items

3.0 lbs

These were my Kelty daypack and a fleece blanket. I carried the Kelty as we were going to be dayhiking on the third day, and I needed something to put my water bottle and other dayhiking stuff in. The Kelty weighed in at 40 oz, which is a lot of weight for a single-use item. The other item, the blanket, was a mistake on my part. I had brought the blanket off my flight from OKC-DFW, put it in the middle pocket of the Kelty, and never removed it, so I carried it uselessly on the entire backpacking trip. It was only 8 oz, but the 48 oz total is 3 lbs, or 6.5% of my total weight.


I need to find a less weighty daypack, or some alternative. 2.5 lbs is a lot of weight for a single-use item. I need to be able to carry a water bottle or two, a water filter if needed, lunch/snacks, and my GPS and SPOT. I don’t think a WalMart sack tied to my belt is the answer, I need something a little more substantial.

I carried a total of 5.72 lbs of completely useless stuff. This is the fleece blanket (0.5 lb), twice as many tent stakes as I needed (0.5 lb), uneaten food (2.6 lb), and the pot and stove (1.5 lb). So the action here is to calibrate the food a bit better, to specifically include the heavy stuff like peanut butter and jam. I think it would make sense to make a couple PB&J tortillas at home, then mix the required amount of PB&J into a bottle that holds just enough for the trip.

The trash was a little heavier than expected at 20 oz. The heaviest part was the remains of the applesauce squeeze pouches, and surprisingly enough, the used teabags. So I need to squeeze those out better, and maybe hang them up overnight after use to let them dry out.

I switched to the squeeze bottles of applesauce after having a cup split a top open in my pack. It was inside a WalMart sack, so there wasn’t a huge mess, but I don’t want rouge applesauce roaming around.

So getting rid of the useless stuff would have immediately brought my pack weight down to 40.2 lbs. A couple of the smarter packing ideas (lighter sleeping bag, less winter weight stuff) would drop the weight down to the 33 lb range, which is pretty reasonable.

My next backpacking trip is in Arkansas in March. I expect to put these to use for that trip.

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