If you ever show your fellow hikers online what you’re packing for a trip, two things are pretty much guaranteed to happen – someone will tell you that your base weight is too high, and someone else will tell you not to carry more than 20% of your body weight
What is base weight?
Base weight is the weight of everything you’ll be carrying, minus food, water, fuel, and trekking poles – although these can be included if you think you’ll be stowing them for long periods. I quickly learned that lots of light things add up to one big heavy thing, so weigh up – literally! – how much you need an item or whether you could find a lighter alternative. Pack everything you’re planning to take into your rucksack, and pop it on the scales. That’s your base weight
What about the 20% rule?
Rules are made to be broken. I don’t base anything on my body weight, and that includes how much I’m carrying. I definitely wouldn’t recommend someone who weighs twice as much as I carries a pack that’s twice as heavy! Conversely, if you’re very petite then you’d need to go super ultralight to stay below 20% of your weight. Carry a weight you can manage comfortably day after day, and tear up the rule book
What’s my base weight?
My base weight is 8.6kg, which includes my full gas canister – I know, I’m not meant to include it but it’ll be a while before it gets noticeably lighter – but doesn’t include a map/guide, compass, sunblock, or the hoodie I usually start out wearing. This base weight is an improvement on what I took on my shakedown hike/camp, as I’ve upgraded to lighter kit and cut back on things I found I didn’t use. If you’re packing things just in case, those are the first things to look at if you’re trying to reduce your base weight, but if you’re certain everything you’re carrying is essential then it might be time to do what I did and look for lighter alternatives or see if you can find multi-use items
My base weight would be lower if I dropped my luxury items – a small insulated flask, an old mobile phone, and a larger than strictly necessary power bank. All these things add weight, especially the power bank, but they also add happiness and peace of mind and you can’t put a weight on that. The flask means I can stop for a hot drink without needing to get my cooking gear out, which will be especially handy when the weather is wet or windy; the old mobile gives me access to an e-reader and audiobooks, and the power bank will charge my phone six times, so I know I’ll always be able to navigate with GPS if needed and can keep in touch with family and friends when I have signal or access to Wi-Fi
What I learnt about base weights
- Base weight is as personal as body weight – carry a weight you can manage, and ignore other people. They aren’t the ones carrying it
- The 20% rule is there to be ignored
- Say yes to luxury items that make you happy, but be sensible
- Weigh everything individually and consider a lighter or multipurpose alternative
- Remember your base weight doesn’t include food, water, fuel, or poles
- A litre of water weighs 1kg, and even with a filter you’ll need to carry enough to get you to the next water source. While water isn’t included in your base weight, it’s essential that you bear that in mind and make sure you’re able to carry as much as – ideally a bit more than – you need
- You’re the one carrying your pack and using the contents. It needs to be right for you, not someone else