Monday, March 23, 2009

Shouldering a burden

This weekend we did a hiking trip that required us to carry our clothes and any non-standard toiletries (i.e., bring your own deodorant), but no camping gear. The lodge we stayed at had a pack scale, and my pack weighed in at 24 pounds. Yikes, I thought: This is heavy enough without everything I'd need to do, say, the Appalachian Trail. One book I have recommends that on a two-week solo summer trip a pack might weigh 31.5 pounds. Pack weights are listed without water or food (which add to the final total by as much as 16 pounds), so after subtracting my 64 oz of water, my pack weighed 20 pounds. That still seems like a lot. So what would I do differently for a real hardcore long trip?

My pack itself weighs 6 pounds, 14 ounces. I like it, but it's not exactly a lightweight pack. I could spend more and shave a pound off that. I carried several things I wouldn't on a long trip - my wallet, my phone, a hardback, some toiletries. I wasn't sashaying around the lodge in mascara, mind you, but I wore deodorant, something most distance hikers dispose with: you stink anyway. My clothing might be slightly lighter, although it's hard to guesstimate because the mix of items would be slightly different. All that, if I'm generous, would take my pack down to 15 pounds. Then I'd have to put back in my tent, sleeping bag, etc.

Backpackers seem obsessed with pack weight and it sounds goofy to anyone who hasn't tried it - "Oooh, I shaved 3 ounces off, I'm so special." But when you actually put the big thing on your back and carry it for a few days, every pound matters and suddenly the obsession makes sense. Even backpackers who aren't ultralight freaks probably give at least passing thought to cutting off unnecessary tags.


Dave Daniels said...

I think it also depends on how big you are. I outweigh you by a good 100 lbs but my bag was about the same weight. It felt light to me. I could easily have done 10-15 miles, and probably with more weight, too. You may not have been sashaying with mascara on, but admit it, you were frolicking :-)

turducken said...

I can neither confirm nor deny any rumors that I was frolicking.

Interestingly, in everything I've read, all anyone ever says about size is that carrying extra poundage on your person naturally makes hiking more challenging. Size ought to matter in lots of ways; Mike takes longer strides than Emily, an XL fleece shirt weighs more than an XS one, and a larger body ought to be able to carry more (all else equal).