Our Guide To How Much Weight You Should Carry When Hiking

There is always the temptation to over pack when going on a hiking trip, be it a multi-day trek or a simple day-hike. You want to make sure you have all the necessary equipment, and then you pick up your pack – and it weighs a ton! So, how much weight should you carry when hiking? I set to find out.

While there are many variables that may impact how much weight you should carry when hiking, a general rule of thumb is avoid carrying loads that are more than 20 percent of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 175 pounds, your fully-loaded pack should not weigh more than 35 pounds. Carrying this amount of weight ensures that a relatively-fit hiker will not suffer physical issues that make it difficult to complete his or her hike.

Of course, there will be contributing factors that may change the amount of weight that you carry on a hike. You may well be able to carry more than 20 percent of your weight with no problem. We’ll spend some time discussing those factors and help you decide exactly how much you want to carry on your hiking adventures.

The Recommended Amount Of Weight To Carry When Hiking

Generally speaking, the 20-percent ratio of pack weight to body weight is a good rule to follow for multi-day hikes. As you will be on your trip for several days, you will need items such as a sleeping system (sleeping bag, sleeping pad), shelter (tent or hammock with tarp and straps), and you will need enough food and water to last you for the duration of your trip. You will also need clothing that will meet your needs for a range of temperatures and perhaps weather conditions.

The main reason to keep your weight below a certain limit is to minimize the chance for injury or fatigue on the trail. Hiking with more gear does correlate to greater chance of injury to joints, tendons, and soft tissue. This correlation grows stronger the longer you hike.

For day hikes, you should consider hiking with a pack that is at most 10 percent of your body weight. So, our 175-pound hiker should carry at most 17.5 pounds for his or her day hike. Presumably, the hiker can do away with sleeping gear and shelter, and some clothing that a multi-day hike would require.

Factors That Will Impact How Much Weight You Can Carry

Of course, while the 20-percent rule is a good rule of thumb, each hiker is different and each hiking trip is different. As such, one person going on a particular multi-day hiking trip may need to carry more weight than another person going on a different multi-day hiking trip. The variables that impact how much weight to carry include: general fitness, elevation gains, length of the trip, the season/weather, and the hiker’s own experience level and preferences.

General Fitness

Stronger, fitter people will be able to carry more weight when hiking. This is especially true for hikers who are experienced and whose bodies are well-conditioned to carry a heavy pack up and down mountain passes and rough terrain.

If you attempt to carry 20 percent of your body weight on a multi-day hike and are not in good shape, or have never really carried much weight on a backpack before, chances are you will struggle to carry such a load. This is something you should consider, and look for ways to keep your load lighter to avoid too much discomfort on the trail.

Elevation Gain

Let’s do some math!

Hiking uphill requires that you exert more energy that walking on a flat surface. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise was able to measure how much energy is expended while hiking uphill vs. on flat ground.

Part of this calculation is to determine how the grade of elevation gain, or effectively, the steepness of the climb.

First, you will want to calculate the gain per mile. Say you have a climb during your hike that rises 1000 feet in 2 miles. To calculate the gain per mile, take the rise and divide it by the distance.

  • 1000 ft / 2 miles = 500 feet of gain per mile

 Next, you want to calculate statutory result and rise. To do so, take the distance hiked and multiple that by 5,280-feet (5,280-feet = a statute mile). Then divide that statutory result by the elevation gain.

  • 2 x 5280 = 10,560 (statutory result)
  • 10,560 / 1000 = 10.56 (rise)

So, the trail rises 1 foot for every 10.56 feet.

Now we can calculate the grade. To determine grade, take the elevation gain and divide it by the statutory result.

  • 1000 / 10560 = .094, or a 9.4% grade

Take our 175-pound hiker, for example. If he were to hike on flat ground at 4 miles per hour, he would expend approximately 437 calories each hour. However, if he were to hike at 3 miles per hour (or 25% slower) on a 9% grade, he would burn 557 calories per hour.

You can use this calculator to do your own calculations based on your body weight, walking speed, and elevation gains you may come across.

As you can see, even with no weight on your back, you exert much more energy going uphill. The same study referenced above also found that at grades of -10, going downhill also requires more energy. Carrying weight on your back will only magnify the difference between hiking on flat ground and climbing.

Length Of Trip

If you are planning on a 4- or 5-day hiking trip, versus a 2- or 3-day trip, you will need to carry more weight. You may decide to bring only one change of clothing for a longer hike, but you will not be able to cut the amount of food or water you need to bring. It is unavoidable.

As such, a longer hike may require that you carry more than 20 percent of your body weight. Your fitness, or a relatively flat terrain, may allow for extra weight. However, if you are planning a longer, more strenuous hike, you should look for any way possible to lighten your load.


Cooler weather or rainy, snowy weather will demand warmer, heavier clothing and shelter. You may need to pack an extra wool sweater or a rain jacket. You may need to bring a heavier sleeping bag and a tarp that perhaps you would skip during the summer.

Keeping to 20 percent of your body weight during cooler, wetter weather really requires some creativity or more expensive ultralight gear.

Experience And Preferences

As you become more experienced as a hiker, you will find ways to cut weight from your pack or learn to go without some of the comforts you usually bring with you. Here are some tricks for dropping weight that you could learn or prefer as you become more experienced:

  • Cut Down On The Big 3 – Invest in lighter backpacks, sleeping bags, and shelter
  • Change How You Eat – Leave your cooking stove at home and eat cold, calorie-dense food
  • No Extra Clothes – Wear only one set of clothes, along with an extra single layer for warmth
  • Keep Your First Aid Kit Small – In most cases, you will be able to pack a few bandages, a small Swiss-Army knife, tape, and sun protection and be just fine
  • Skip The Extras – Yes, that camping chair sounds nice. So does that Jet Boil camping stove – but do you really need them?

You may just prefer to be minimalist in how you hike. If so, getting to an appropriate weight should not be an issue. In any event, find a weight you feel comfortable with during a moderately-difficult hike, and go from there. If you feel you can add a little weight to add some comfort, go for it. If you need to cut some weight, get to work.

Happy Trails!

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