What is Base Weight?
Base weight is a big topic and something a lot of hikers obsess over. Let’s face it, base weight must be important if people are willing to cut their toothbrushes in half, remove the tags from their clothing, and modify gear to save grams.
So what is base weight? Base weight is the weight of all of your gear minus consumables like food, water, and fuel. Base weight affects every aspect of your hike, a high base weight can make your hike unnecessarily difficult, but a stupid low base weight can make your hike unenjoyable and even dangerous.
Now, what is a good base weight and why does it matter?
There is no golden standard you should aim for because each hike and each person is different. It is generally agreed upon that “ultralight” is a base weight 10lbs or less. A sub 10lb base weight can be difficult to achieve and potentially expensive which can be a deterrent to some backpackers. However, the benefits of investing in a low base weight can be long-lasting and immediate.
Reduction in Hiking Injuries
Hiking 10+ miles a day with everything you need on your back puts a lot of stress on your body. The less weight you carry the less stress you are putting your body through. If you are someone susceptible to back problems and knee pain, a lower base weight can help reduce stress on these parts of your body.
By removing weight from your pack each step you take will use less energy. You only have so much energy in a given day, do you want to use it hauling a heavy pack up a steep climb, or use it to put in more miles?
Enjoy the Hike More
A heavy pack tires you out faster than a lighter pack. When you get to a peak you don’t want to be unnecessarily exhausted, instead, you want to be able to enjoy the view.
If you only have a weekend to hike you want to make it count. If you are only able to hike 10 miles a day, you’re limited in the trails you can pick. With a lighter pack, you can push your daily mile limit because hiking will be easier. Carrying 10lbs of gear is a lot easier than carrying 20lbs of gear, so you will be hitting that 10th mile faster and with more energy, allowing you to see more.
Extend your hiking life. If you are older, a lighter pack will put less stress on your body, opening a door that used to be closed because of physical limitations. If you are younger a low base weight will help preserve your feet, knees, and back preventing injuries that could stop you from hiking later in life.
Simplify Your Hike
A low base weight means you are carrying less stuff. With less stuff, you don’t have to worry about setting up a 12 piece stove to cook your dinner, or using an elaborate and unnecessary hiking tool your well-meaning friends purchased for your birthday. You don’t have to dig through your pack past all of the unnecessary stuff you brought but have never used. Less stuff will make setting up camp a breeze giving you more time to sit back and enjoy what is around you.
How To Get Started
If all of this sounds great then the next step is to actually get your base weight down. This seems intimidating, but I promise getting started is easy.
Go grab your pack from your last hike and dump it out, now similar to Marie Kondo go through everything, however instead of looking for what sparks joy, look for what you actually use. With the exception of certain safety items, get rid of anything unnecessary that you didn’t use on your last hike, this will instantly reduce your base weight.
The next step is to focus on your big three, your backpack, sleeping bag, and shelter. These weigh the most in your pack, reducing these will reduce your weight significantly.
It’s typically best to leave your backpack for last because all ultralight backpacks have a weight limit. Also, most ultralight gear packs down smaller, so when you are ready to switch out your backpack you will probably need less space than your current bag.
Finally, focus on your accessories and clothing. Look for products that serve multiple purposes, bring fewer clothes, and find lighter alternatives for the things you currently use. It may seem silly to switch out a regular spoon for an ultralight titanium one or to use a smart water bottle instead of your Nalgene. Ounces add up, making many small changes can result in pounds of weight savings.
Base weight is an ever changing thing. Depending on the season, trip length, and trail your base weight will fluctuate. Always keep an eye out for where you can reduce and don’t be afraid to make changes slowly. A lower base weight will make your hike more enjoyable, so why wouldn’t you make the change?
About the Author
Olivia Magee oversees Social Media at Zpacks and helps monitor trends within the industry. Her contributions to the hiking community includes her work with the American Conservation Experience where she performed trail maintenance in the Smoky's and across the Southeast.