Is Your Backpack Too Heavy?

Is your backpack too heavy?

The 4 types of Backpacks

If you’re asking yourself this question, your backpack is probably too heavy for the activity that you are involved in. Through my years of experience in the outdoors I have broken down my backpacks into 4 classifications.

Remember that all backpacks should be “activity-specific”, and that this exercise alone will greatly reduce the weight that you carry around all day. For instance, if you are going to be hiking in an area where there are no fishing opportunities, it is unnecessary to carry your fishing kit with you. Leave it at home or better, still in your vehicle.

This concept will quickly whittle away ounces and pounds from your pack. If you are very focused on the available activities and plan for what you will need, you can quickly reduce the weight of your pack. Be ruthless. Remember … you will be carrying it!

1) The Day Pack

This is the “bag” that you place all that you will need to get you back home for dinner. This is the foundation of the 3 other backpacks. This is the bag that you should become the most familiar with.

If you can organize this pack efficiently and keep it well stocked and neat, the other packs will be much easier to control. It includes food, clothing, emergency shelter, and equipment. When considering food,  bring food/snacks that you like to eat. Try to bring high energy foods. Plan for 6 meals per day. 3 meals – 3 snack breaks.

Whether you are hiking, paddling a canoe, or prospecting for gold, outdoor activities are more physically demanding than your regular day to day business. This daypack must have a “survival kit” and a First Aid kit. It also includes your cell-phone, wallet, water and whatever else you need to get through “your” day.

2) The 1-night bag

As the name implies, this is a bag that will carry everything you will need to “overnight” at some place of your choosing. Obviously, this carry bag requires all of the “day-pack” plus a sleeping system and 1 extra day of food.

A sleeping system is a sleeping bag and a mattress. It can also include a pillow that will inflate or one that you make from the clothes you’re carrying stashed in a stuff sac. That should be it.

In addition to the sleeping system, add 1 more day of meals.

That would mean 12 meals and snacks … total. Think of food here also as fuel. You fuel up before you leave for a trip and not at the end. If you are bringing food back, you have brought too much with you, and as a result, your are carrying too much weight. This extra weight will make you more tired and less able to enjoy your day.

3) Packing for “Multiple Days”

This backpacking system is very similar to the overnight pack except for the fact that it includes more “bag” nights. Bag nights are nights spent sleeping in a sleeping bag. In my way of thinking, this refers to 2-5 days of camping, hiking, fishing and/or whatever outdoor or wilderness activity you will be involved in.

For multiple day adventures, simply add more meals. Include 6 meals per day and you are done. Have a checklist to keep you focused. When you first control your day-pack, it becomes very easy to get yourself ready and gone!

4) The Expedition Pack

As the name implies, expeditions are much longer, more intense, and more purpose driven. They require more planning and a more intense focus on the expedition “purpose”.

An expedition refers to multiple weeks that could also turn into months. Here it becomes extremely important to have your checklist, to know how many days you will be away and all the equipment you are bringing along.

Chargers, extra batteries, and repair kits now take high priority. Your ability to maintain and repair equipment is going to ensure its usefulness as the days and weeks go by.

In Conclusion

After all, is said and done, Backpacks are simply a means of carrying the food, the clothing, the shelter, and the equipment we will require for the period of time that we are away from the comforts of home.

Always have a checklist, and bring it with you so you can make notes while you are out in the field.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions about backpacks and their purpose in any specific activity, please do not hesitate to leave them in the space below. I will attempt to answer all your replies in a timely manner.

14 thoughts on “Is Your Backpack Too Heavy?”

  1. Thanks for dropping by, Weston. 

    Happy to be of some help and to see that you appreciate the outdoors as well. 

    What type of camping or outdoor activities do you participate in? 

    How often do you revise your checklists? 

    What are the heavy pieces that you carry into the wilderness? 

    Would love to hear about your adventures sometime. 

    Happy Trails and stay safe. Paul

  2. Great information! Thanks for the tips! I totally agree with you that it’s important to take the backpack that best fits the length of time and activity you will be engaging in.

    I love checklists! It helps me stay organized and gives me a good idea for what kind of backpack I’ll need.

    Thank you!


  3. Hey great article Paul, I find that the larger the pack the more gear I carry whether it is needed or not. By starting off with the right sized pack, I think about the gear I actually need and limit the weight I am going to carry. Great tip


    • Good Day Ken,

      Happy to see you spend time in the outdoors with a pack on your back. You know very well about the weight that all this gear weighs. By varying the pack size and purpose we are better able to manage our loads. Happy Trails and do return with stories about your adventures.


  4. Hi Paul,
    This is indeed very informative article to help me learn how to keep my backpack not too heavy. Actually you have made it clear to me that not all the trips require that I keep equal amount of weight in my backpack.

    Now I know that if my journey is just a day then I only need to pack the things that will be useful for the day. Such as the 6 meals, which includes 3 meals and 3 snacks.

    And if i will spend the night then i will consider other important things such as; extra foods for the night and sleeping clothes.

    And then I now know what to do if its going to be multiple days and even the expedition pack. Thanks so much for given me this education on how to keep my backpack with a reasonably light load.

    • Thanks for stopping by Stephen.

      Happy to hear that you’ve found my post useful. It’s always nice to whittle down the pounds we carry on our backs. Makes the journey a lot more pleasant. I also want to note that these backpacks and the loads they carry are very “activity-specific”.

      Some sports and/or wilderness activities require equipment that varies in weight from sport to sport. By carefully planning and organizing your gear you will end up with the best weight to activity ratio.

      Good Luck in the outdoors Stephen.

      If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please do not hesitate to drop by again.

      Hope to hear from you in the near future.


  5. I love to hear stories like this Jim.

    As you already know, being prepared, organized and efficient makes for comfortable and enjoyable trips. Our systems are quite similar and with time we find ways of “packing” that make sense to us, given the gear we have, the lifestyles we lead, and the activities we participate in.

    I was pleased to hear about your use of external frames because I use them as well for extended trips. Your outdoor experience shows what we can achieve with time and effort. I would love to hear more about your trips.

    How do you deal with the cold and the wet on extended adventures?

    What types of food do you carry on your extended trips?

    Happy trails Jim.

    Hope to hear from you again real soon!

    • On excursions, my food is always freeze-dried…much lighter and the taste is the same as the original food.

      I carry several space blankets for the cold. They are very lightweight and affordable.

      I also carry a lot of large trash bags. Not only are they good for trash, they can be quickly made into rain ponchos.

    • These are great weight-reduction ideas, Jim. You seem to have the “hard-core” gene … lol…
      Travel light – Freeze at night! lol … great stuff Jim, let’s stay in touch.

  6. Good article, Paul.

    Actually, I try to set up add-on packs. Here is how I do it.

    I keep a day pack large enough to accommodate additional “overnighter” necessities.

    For up to a week in the field, I add another pack large enough to add the additional gear. I combine both packs on my lightweight aluminum pack frame, which adds less than 5 pounds to the total weight.

    Two years ago, I spent three weeks in the Allegheny National Forest. Adding one more “excursion” pack that included repair kits, batteries, plant identification guides (Just in case I needed to utilize the food resources of the forest.), and a few other convenience items, I plodded happily along a few hundred miles of trails with a couple of hiking buddies.

    What a great trip that was!


  7. Wow, I did not know there was so much to consider when buying a backpack for hiking. I do not participate in much hiking but I am going camping in a couple weeks! I might consider bringing one of these backpacks to make my trip a little easier! I am an extreme beginner when it comes to hiking so i need all the help i can get!

    • Good day Kam, and thanks for stopping by. I suggest that you go to a sports store and have your backpack fitted there. Try a few different types and if possible with some weight in them. Check out the adjustments and the pockets on these packs.

      Size is usually measured in liters and this volume number increases as you add days to your trip. Another consideration is top loading or front loading. Properly fitted Backpacks are like boots, they must be comfortable to wear or you will be spending miserable days on the trail.

      I have many blogs on this site about hiking and camping. Give them a read for more information about what you will need to bring along on your camping trip. Prepare yourself well so you can enjoy the great outdoors.

      If you have any other concerns about your trip do not hesitate to drop by again.


  8. Hi Lindsey, and thanks for reading my blog. Based on the limited information I have about you and (your team) !?, I can only offer general suggestions at this time. First of all, if you have a multiple day backpack, that you are comfortable and familiar with, you have enough pack. Your only difference from a 2 or 3 day outing is food weight. You can have a small pack on your chest for food. This bag will greatly reduce in size as the days go by.

    The bigger your pack, the more junk you will try to stuff in it. Allow 2 pounds of food per day. Now you have 20 pounds in your pack and you haven’t left the kitchen. Perhaps you will not be going alone. Consider sharing a tent, your stove and cooking utensils and a water filter. Since I am unfamiliar with your diet, I can only offer some of the food types that I would bring on a 10 day outing.

    I would bring heavy, high-energy foods such as meat jerky, sardines, cheese, peanut or other nut butter, jams or jellies, bread, and similar foods for the first 3 to 4 days. Each day removes 2 pounds from your pack and keeps you energized and strong physically.

    The remainder should be mostly dry-type (just add water) foods that are light in weight. Dried fruit, oatmeal and some high carbohydrate noodles also will serve you well. Coffee, cocoa powder, milk powder, butter, olive oil and honey and chocolate would be others that I certainly consider and bring along. Allow for 3 meals and 3 snacks per day. Make these day bags at home and then you can judge for yourself if you have the right amount of food to get you through the day, on the trail. Add herbal teas and spices to make your meals tasty and not boring. Remember night time meals by the campfire.

    In addition to food you will need your 10 essentials, a sleeping system and clothing. Don’t forget your rain gear. My first suggestion is that you make 1 of these 1-day meal bags … then make 10 … put all this in your bag and then put this bag on your back !!! … as you can see, this is a trip that requires a lot of planning to whittle down WEIGHT … Hope this helps a bit. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to ask them. Go through my blog roll and you will find lots of other suggestions to lighten your load.

    Packs can quickly get up to 40 – 50 pounds and very soon your trip becomes more of a burden than a vacation in the great outdoors!


  9. Hi Paul,
    I have 3 out of the 4 of these backpacks. The one that I am missing is a trip that I have been planning for quite some time on the Pacific Coast Trail. The trail can be done in 5 days; however we are planning on staying out there for 7 to 10.
    Do you have any suggestions on how to pack lightly for this trip? Our biggest concern is food weighing our packs down and we’ve been debating on freeze drying food for this reason.
    Also do you have any suggestions on the back pack? I need to purchase it soon!


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