Finding the Right Fit for You
If you are lucky enough to live near areas of natural beauty, hiking is by far one of the best ways to get a little exercise amid your day-to-day routine. By hiking around in the great outdoors, you not only get to experience nature—something we should all try to do as much as possible if only to better appreciate our world—but you will typically get a better workout.
It is much easier to put the effort into exercise when you are not thinking about the fact that you are exercising, and few things can take your mind off of exercise like the great outdoors.
Of course, if you’re going to go hiking, you need a backpack. That is unless you are going on a very short hike, but then you may as well just call it a walk. And, if you are hiking with a backpack, it’s natural to wonder how much weight you can safely carry on your back without doing damage to your body. So, is there a correct backpack weight for your body? The answer is yes, there is a correct backpack weight for your body size, but it might not work out the way you expect. Let’s dive a little deeper.
What do we mean by “Body Size”?
It is important to ensure we are all on the same page when we talk about body size. What we are really referring to here is body mass, since size can be a misleading metric. For example, you can have a tall, thin person or a short, portly person. Both body types could be considered “big,” but they would have very different attributes as it pertains to backpack weight. Mass, on the other hand, is an unambiguous measurement.
It’s also important to note that we are talking about average body types here. Obviously, someone with an absurdly low body fat percentage and a lot of muscle will be able to handle a lot of backpack weight compared to someone who weighs the same but has a high body fat percentage. In short, there will always be outliers, but we are dealing with the average.
What is the Correct Backpack Weight for my Body Size?
Here’s the rub; this question isn’t as straightforward to answer as you might think, and it runs counterintuitively to how you might expect. It turns out that, for an average body type, the increase of body mass outpaces the increase in muscle mass. What this means in practical terms is that a more significant body will not necessarily be able to carry more weight. This is because the muscles in your body are already having to deal with the additional weight of the increased body mass.
It should be noted that we are dealing with relative percentages here. A “small” person—roughly 110 lbs—can carry around half their own body weight. In contrast, a large person—closer to 240 lbs—can only carry approximately 15% of their body weight.
In the example above, the smaller person can actually carry more weight than their larger friend, but with some tweaking of the numbers, you can reach a comparison where the larger person can carry more weight, even though the relative percentage of their body weight is still lower than the smaller person.
Of course, as interesting as this is, it doesn’t necessarily tell you what the correct backpack weight for your body is—unless you happen to weigh exactly 110 or 240 lbs, that is. Unfortunately, there is no simple formula for this, but that is fine since you should not rely on a formula for this kind of thing anyway.
As we mentioned above, there are always outliers, but even people who fall into the “average body” category will rarely all have the same proportion of body fat and muscle. The answer to this question is best found through experience and experimentation. Start small—try a backpack on in your home and see how the weight feels just standing there. If it feels uncomfortable just walking around your home, it will definitely feel too heavy on a real hike. When you’re happy with the weight, try a short hike and, if that goes well, increase the length until you are comfortable you have a weight that suits your body size.