Your pack weighs around 6 pounds. You have everything inside. Your tarp, your quilt, your clothes, your food, everything to the most minimal degree that you could find. Your miles are pushed harder, your comfort is found within walking, continuously walking, only to stop when you sleep. A beautiful way to hike, but not necessarily the only way. Your pack can be 10 pounds, 20 pounds, 30 pounds, 40 pounds. Yes the burden upon your body will be heavier to be sure, but it may be outweighed by the lightness of your soul. To hike, is to find where you find your own personal joy. To not be mimicked, copied, compared to a certain spreadsheet of numbers. The reason you hike is to be free of burden, not just physically, but mentally as well, and that sometimes means a larger pack.
Bigger the pack, bigger the smile?
Smaller the pack, bigger the smile?
Average pack, bigger smile?
Does it matter, if it is what works for you and you are finding your smile?
Let us begin by clarifying, ultralight is a fantastic way to hike. If that is where you truly find your joy, in the grams, the scales, the gear that shaves off an extra ounce, then that is the best way for you. Yet, it is not the only way to hike, or to hike far, hike long, hike hard, hike peacefully, it is not the only way to hike.
At this point, we have been hiking for over 6 years. Accumulating somewhere above 20,000+ miles along the way. Experiencing all different types of terrain, sweltering deserts, frigid ice capped mountains, lush valleys, rainforests, exposed prairie plains, we have experienced much of what nature can provide. In ALL of these miles, we have never, ever been what would be classified as ultralight. Why? Well, we found a system that we were comfortable with and continued to hike without expectation to go lighter. We were happy, why would we need to switch out a piece of gear for one that is a few ounces lighter? In fact there are many times we chose a piece of gear solely because it is "heavier" comparatively. We will carry an extra pound, an extra two pounds, if we find comfort within the gear and know it will be durable for our entire journey.
Our first two years into hiking, our pack fluctuated between 30-50 pounds many many times. Yes, this partly comes from our own stubbornness, but also our focus was on the journey, not on our pack. One can argue that focusing on your pack is also focusing on the journey, but for where we were in our hiking progression, this statement would have proved false. Yes, our shoulders hurt, our pack was akin to a turtle shell many times, but we could not have been happier. For the entirety of the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, our gear gave us the ability to experience the trail, and for that we are eternally grateful.
As we grew as a hiker, we did begin to take stock of what we carried. A t-shirt for every day of the week we decided was excessive. The pack we carried itself was way too large for what we desired. Our miscellaneous bag was constantly overflowing with odds and ends we found along the way. As the next trail was on the horizon, we felt we had reached a threshold naturally as a hiker that would allow us to comfortably forgo the "extra" that we had continued to carry.
Should you carry a 7-8ft tall raccoon?
Probably not... but hey if its what makes you happy...
From 2018 to now, the beginning of 2022, our pack has changed very little. We are comfortable to carry a heavier tent. We enjoy carrying extra battery capacity knowing there will be many times we do not see a town for 7-10 days. We still carry multiple thermal layers, due to our own weakness to the extreme cold. We fluctuate carrying anywhere from 3 pairs - 5 pairs of socks for whatever the trail demands. We still carry "extra" but the "extra" we now carry feels comfortable to us. Our fully loaded pack now fluctuates between 20-25 pounds, maybe sometimes less, but that is the weight we consciously chose and are happy to carry, to go lighter would now not only take away from our pack weight but also take away from our enjoyment on trail.
Some ultralight-er somewhere is reading this shaking their head and itching to give us a pack shakedown and tell us the error of our ways. We always welcome the feedback and suggestions, but let us tell you if we are going into the Florida Swamps and you find 5 pairs of socks in our bag, and try to bring that down to 2-3, we will just lovingly and laughingly thank you for the suggestion. Then for the next 5 days wake up each morning and start our day with a smile wiggling into warm and dry socks. We cherish having a dry pair of socks for the next day, due to many miles of frozen, wet, soggy, feet, and find it only adds to our hike, and does not take away due to the weight.
There is so much moral weight put into the physical weight of someone's pack nowadays. You can't start hiking until you have a sub-20 pound pack or you will not be doing it right. You cannot hike well or hike hard unless your pack has only one pair of socks. You absolutely cannot hike with Nalgene's. You cannot, you cannot, you cannot...
If we would have focused on weight savings when we began hiking, we would have been crippled with indecision. We would have used gear that was far too technical for a saunter through the woods. We would have not had the privilege and opportunity of learning from experience what we needed and when we needed it. Simply, put we would not have been happy and free within an activity that we sought freedom and happiness. We would have been far more burdened with the responsibility and decisions of our pack weight, than we were burdened with the physical weight itself.
What we are trying to say with this post, is pack weight is important, yes, but it is not the the beginning. It is the evolution. To begin a new skill, new activity, new journey, mistakes will be part of it. Mistakes that let you learn, grow, and find what works for you. You may even realize the "mistakes" were necessary for you to find your joy. You may even find the "mistakes" were never mistakes at all, but just your natural progression and growth as a hiker.
If you use water to buoy your pack, weight doesn't even matter, right?
We believe, ultralight hikers are correct, mid-weight hikers are correct, "heavy" pack hikers are correct. It all comes down to where you are in your own personal journey. If you want to carry a 6 pound pack to aggressively crush miles, because that is your goal, beautiful. If you wish to saunter down the trail with a pack that has been tuned over years with the gear that you desire, beautiful. If your pack is 50+ pounds, as you carry everything you wish, wonderful. The weight is but secondary, if you are enjoying your own hike.
Weight should be a consideration, not a rule. Not a threshold to reach before hiking, but a consideration to have within your hike. This especially rings true for people that are beginning to hike and hike long distances. There is balance in everything, and finding your ideal pack weight is part of this balance.
Should you go ultralight? Should you go super-ultralight? Should you be the person with the turtle shell? Should you have an "average" pack weight? Yes. Yes to every one, because if you use your pack weight as a tool and a choice for what you are looking for in your adventures, it is the correct choice for you. Is there more comfort in ultralight? Certainly. Is there more comfort in getting to camp and having all warm layers and a wonderful camp set-up? Absolutely. Comfort can come in all shapes and forms along your hike, it all depends on what you chose to put "weight" into.
Put weight into your pack, take weight out, put "weight" into enjoying camp, put "weight" into crushing miles, put "weight" into enjoying each footstep. No matter what weight you carry if it is right for you, right now, carry on!