Walking with a backpack: a few tips

Backpacks can be heavy. Don't make them too heavy!

Recently I read the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. Or actually not read, but listened via Storytel in the car. Cheryl walks the Pacific Crest Trail, a long-haul route from the Mexican border to the Canadian border through the western states of the US: California, Oregon and Washington. A protagonist in her book is “Monster”: a large backpack, weight unknown, with an outer frame.

This reminded me of my own experiences and I sat in the car sometimes shaking my head, and sometimes with a look of recognition. I am a fairly large guy (1.86) myself and have gained the necessary backpacking experience in many hikes and in my time in the army – although that was more than 15 years ago. But I also usually travel way too heavy.

What is “too heavy” for a backpack?

The weight of your backpack is largely determined by the purpose of your trip, the length and the expected conditions. If I’m running a multi-day trail and I’m camping on the way, I need different things than when I’m hiking a hut or one-day hike.

For a multi-day trip I have in any case (not an exhaustive list):

  • First aid kit
  • Rain gear
  • Whistle
  • Dry clothes
  • Food & drinks
  • Power bank with solar cell
  • Sheet cover

This in itself is a load that fits in a 35 liter backpack and does not have to weigh 8 kg (of which 1.5 kg for the backpack). This is sufficient for a multi-day hut tour: you can get food in every hut, blankets are available (hence the sheet cover) and fill the water bottles.

If you chose to go camping along the way and the route takes you along more pristine trails, the set quickly expands:
– air mattress/mattress (500 grams)
– tent (minimum 1 kg)
– sleeping bag (600 grams, depending on climate zone)
– burner (my Coleman burner weighs 1kg)
– fuel (1 liter, weighs about 1 kg including bottle)
– Extra food & drinks (3kg)
– Extra set of dry clothes (after all, you do not know whether you will get something dried on the way) (800 grams)

As you can see, you quickly add 8kg to your backpack. It itself (because you need more space) is also half a kilo heavier. All in all, don’t be surprised if you’re carrying a backpack weighing just over 16kg.

During my trek on the Annapurna circuit, my backpack weighed about 25kg. Bizarrely heavy (but I managed), especially since we didn’t go wild camping.
However, the Annapurna trail starts in subtropical Besi Sahar, where only a t-shirt, pants and shoes are enough. At the highest point, at 5400m, you wear winter clothes, jacket and gaiters (it was the end of winter) and always extra water.

Because we started at Point A and ended at Point B and therefore never got to the same place twice, we had to carry everything with us, including all our clothes that we would wear in Kathmandu and Pokhara, sandals, a booklet, an SLR camera and the All Star shoes of my wife… Small tip: think about these things in advance. These shoes weigh almost 2 kilograms and you do not want to carry them with you.

We also carried thick sleeping bags. You can get blankets in every guesthouse on the trail, but it is recommended to bring your own sleeping bag. In the high season it may happen that there are not enough blankets and that the porters and guides no longer have blankets. We didn’t want to do that to these people.

Backpacking: What to take into account when hiking?

If you are walking with a (large) backpack for the first time, the first day is usually not that bad. The second day is the hardest and from the third day you notice that the body adapts. Muscles grow amazingly fast, but your head and nervous system also seem to adapt slightly. But keep in mind that:

  • You walk less far in a day than without a backpack
  • You walk less stable – the center of gravity is different
  • Wearing is different for everyone. Some people want more pressure on the hips, others more on the shoulders.
  • Sit quietly with your backpack and then take it off, especially if the backpack is heavy.
  • Pack the backpack in such a way that you can easily grab the things that you need the most. Pack the rest as you expect to need at your destination.
  • Practice beforehand. It may feel a bit crazy to stroll across the local woods with a 65L backpack, but you will thank yourself later.
  • Use trekking poles. This allows you to walk more upright and the pressure is better distributed.

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