There is no universal blueprint as to how you should backpack. We all have our own motivations, needs and levels of experience. That being said, one thing upon which everyone can agree is that hiking is substantially easier and more enjoyable, if your pack doesn’t weigh the proverbial tonne. Here are 14 telltale signs that you should consider lightening your wilderness load
(L to R) During my three decades plus of backpacking around the world, I have carried packs of all sizes and weights. The shot on the left is from the Pyrenean Haute Route in 1999. The image on the right is from the Cape to Cape walk in 2010.
1. Your pack has a capacity of 70 liters or more. Irrespective of the length of your hiking trip, you always find a way to fill it.
2. You have to sit down to put your pack on.
3. When you subsequently get up, not only do you inadvertently groan and wince, but anyone who happens to be in the vicinity also groans and winces.
4. When fully loaded, the top of your pack is above your head.
5. Boy scouts point at you and giggle whenever they see you on the trail
6. When hiking in the Himalaya, porters regularly refer to you as “brother.”
7. You have named your pack one of the following: Ennis, Bertha, Goliath, Beast or Ben (like the big bell inside Elizabeth Clock Tower). Alternatively, if you predicate any reference to your backpack with the “F” word, that’s also a pretty good indicator.
8. Irrespective of whether you are going up or downhill, people on horses always give way to you. Mountain bikers too.
9. When you empty your pack after finishing a trip, you realize that there are at least five items that you not only didn’t use, but that never actually saw the light of day during the course of your hike.
10. While out on trail, you constantly find yourself rummaging through your pack looking for items that you are sure are in there somewhere, but can’t quite remember where.
11. After breaking camp and hitting the trail, your morning coffee finally kicks in and you realize you forgot to take a shit before departure. However, your pack is so heavy that you don’t want to go through the process of taking it off and putting it back on again. Therefore you decide to suck it up, and subsequently spend the next hour in a hide-and-seek battle of wills with Terry the Turtlehead. When the point of no return inevitably happens and you realize that there is no denying Tezza (Australian for “Terry”) when he has a head of steam up, you drop your pack unceremoniously in the middle of the trail and dash for the woods. However, you don’t make it more than ten yards before you lose all sphincter control and soil yourself prior to being able to dig a cat hole and lower your shorts. Making a bad situation even worse, you were in such a rush that you left your toilet paper in the backpack. The moral of this not uncommon story is: A. Have your coffee a little earlier, and; B. Carry a lighter, less encumbered load, which is simple and easy to take on and off whenever the need arises.
12. You are constantly worrying about not being sufficiently prepared and invariably overcompensate by bringing items that are unsuitable and/or unnecessary for the environment into which you are venturing (e.g. mega multi-tools and heavy leather boots for anything but winter).
13. You regularly find yourself leaning too far forward while hiking. This is often a sign that not only is your pack too heavy, but also that it is sitting too low on your back. Given time this posture can result in rounded shoulders, neck strain from constantly tilting your head up in order to see properly, and pressure on the lumbar region.
14. And the biggest sign that you are carrying too much stuff in your backpack while out in the woods? You focus more on how uncomfortable you feel than the beauty of your surrounds.
Obviously some of the above-listed points are tongue-in-cheek. However, the premise of the article is quite serious. There are a number of reasons to carry a lighter load while out in the wilderness**, however, in my experience the big ones are simply comfort, health, and enjoyment. It is better for both your body, which is less likely to incur stress-related injuries and also your mind, which will be less distracted than it would be under the burden of a heavy load.
For tips on how to lighten your backpacking load, see the How To /Going Light and Thru-hiker Gear Guide drop-down menus in the top navigation bar.
(**Note: Always in accordance with your experience level and the dictates of the environment into which you are venturing).