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How to Calculate Your Base Weight

Reducing your pack weight is very important for thru-hikers and long-distance backpackers. To help reduce the total pack weight it's important to focus on the pack's base weight. Base weight is generally considered everything you pack in your backpack except for consumables like food, water, and fuel.

Paul Bodnar      Educational       08/03/2021
Paul Bodnar
Educational
08/03/2021

What type of backpacker are you?

Your pack weight will drastically impact your hike. If your pack is heavy, you will hike slower and it will take longer for you to hike to your destination. A lighter pack makes it a lot easier and more comfortable to hike long distances.

A lot of thru-hikers obsess over pack weight because they want to be as comfortable as possible while hiking long distances. These hikers focus on their pack base weight. Base weight is generally considered all of your hiking gear minus consumables such as food, water, and fuel.

There are three general categories of hikers. They are the conventional, lightweight, and ultralight backpackers and their classification corresponds to the base weight of their pack.

Conventional Backpacker (Greater than 20 pound base weight)

The conventional backpacker typically carries a base weight of twenty pounds or more without food or water. This is perfectly fine for weekend trips or a few miles of hiking to a nearby campsite. However, base weights that exceed twenty or thirty pounds does not work well for long distance hiking. The typical conventional backpacker has a base weight around 25 to 30 pounds. Conventional backpacker’s total pack weight with food and water can easily exceed thirty to forty pounds. It is rare to see conventional backpackers successfully finish a long-distance trail.

Lightweight Backpacker (Greater than 10 but less than 20 pound base weight)

The majority of long-distance backpackers fall in the category of the lightweight backpacker. Their base weight exceeds 10 pounds, but is under 20 pounds. Most lightweight backpacks today are specifically created for the lightweight backpacker. These packs are designed to carry a base weight of around 20 pounds without food or water. The average lightweight backpacker has a base weight around 15 pounds and will likely never exceed a total pack weight of 30 pounds with food and water.

Ultralight Backpacker (Less than 10 pound base weight)

A minority of hikers fall under the category of the ultralight backpacker. Ultralight backpackers have a base weight under ten pounds without food or water. In order to have a base weight under ten pounds you will have to eliminate a lot of extra conveniences and likely spend a lot of money in highly specialized gear. The average ultralight backpacker has a base weight around 9 pounds. These hikers typically carry a total pack weight less than 20 pounds with food and water.

A lake reflects a nearby wildflower meadow and trees.
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Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association
A lake reflects a nearby wildflower meadow and trees.
Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Download our popular hiking and biking guides!
About the Author
A man wearing an Arizona Trail baseball cap stands in a field in front of a mountain.

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the PCT again in 2010 to do research for his guide book, Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the PCT.