How much should your backpack weigh?

If you are dealing with the military, the question of how much should your backpack weigh, has been answered by years of experience.  But remember they are dealing primarily with young healthy males.  In the Army and Marines training often consists of hiking at a fast pace over rough terrain with a backpack weighting at least 45 lbs.  In addition, they will also carry a weapon, wear boots, BDU (Battle Dress Uniform) , LBE (Load Bearing Equipment, ammunition, canteens of water, and a helmet.  Depending on your job, your total load for combat can be 95 pounds or more.

Now we have a very different problem, most of us are not in great shape, have young children or are getting long in the tooth.  So what should our backpack weigh?  There are several factors that affect the weight we can carry. These include the pack weight itself, the physical and mental condition of the packer, as well as the terrain and conditions in which one is traveling.

Physical variables, include fitness, build type, bone and muscle density, the health of your joints (knees in particular), and age, these will change the answer for each person.

Guidelines used by recreational backpackers are that an individual in good health should be able to carry about 20% of their body weight, a 40 lb pack for a 200-pound person. More experienced backpackers should be able to carry 25% of their body weight, a 50 lb pack for a 200-pound person.  Very experienced and well-conditioned backpackers can carry 35% of their body weight – a 70 lb pack for a 200-pound person.

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Age and sex can affect the above suggested weights, a doctor told me that most men in their 70’s should not carry over 20 lbs for any long distance.  Children are another problem and you as parents will have to make the decision on how much weight they can carry.  Women often lack the upper body strength of men and cannot carry as much weight.

Backpacks can damage your health, if they are more than your personal limit.  So start with lighter loads and short trips, and gradually increase your backpack weight and the length of your trips.  Remember that with very heavy backpack you need to be careful to put it on right, otherwise you can damage your back before you even start to walk.

The bottom line is that each person is unique and you should spend time discovering for yourself how much should your backpack weigh?

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9 thoughts on “How much should your backpack weigh?”

  1. The 20-lb. figure for a fit male in his 70s is in almost exact agreement with the ten kilos , carried for ten “clicks” per day in average terrain, cited by my cardiologist, who is a West Pointer, former Special Forces medic, and retired COL. U.S. Army Medical Corps. After age 60 anyone beginning an exercise program should first undergo a cardio-pulmonary evaluation, to include a dual-isotope stress test. Then begin your exercise program based upon guidelines recommended by your health care provider. Doing so is absolutely necessary and will ensure positive results with minimal risk of unpleasant surprises.

    1. It’s funny how everyone used to be SF (or attached to SF) and if they were a Marine they were a Recon Sniper.

      Anyways, if you are a male and can’t hump 75 lbs for 15 miles look in the mirror and accept your weakness.

      1. That’s dumb. That’s like saying, “If you are a male and can’t write 50 lines of flawless code in 5 minutes, look in the mirror and accept your stupidity.”
        “If you’re a male and you can’t walk into a bar and walk out within the first hour with your chosen female on your arm, look in the mirror and accept that you’re ugly.”
        At any rate – I know some marines that lug 200lb packs around for shits n’ giggles … if <75lb backpacks make you weak, what've you got to say for the soldier's that lug 50lb backpacks all day? And what do you have to show the monsters cast from hell's iron forges that lug 200lb packs all day? You gonna tell them how you're strong too because you can handle 75lb packs?

  2. For anonymous, I hope that in your 70s you will be fit as Lt. Hiroo Onoda of the Imperial Japanese Army was at that age. But for mere mortals living in our civilized world, maintaining fitness after age 60 is hard work and age is the great life leveler. Howard understands this very well, as do those of us who remember being fit warriors many years ago, back when we were in our twenties, and never thought we would live this long…..

    “Vashe zrodovye, “Za sbychu mecht!”

  3. FYI the Russian toast translates approximately, “to your health,” and follows with a humorous poke at Soviet-era government morale posters which means, “may all your dreams come true!”

  4. You should be able to carry 2/3s your body weight. For extended periods.
    It won’t be comfortable and you will be sore muscle tension and spasms. You got to remember your also carrying your own weight also.
    In human physiology 150lb male should be fine carrying 50lbs for a extremely long distance like say 2000 miles.
    Also gravity plays a roll. Body builder’s and forced muscle mass which is normally unnatural will hinder your ability also. Ever see body builders just sweat all the time… Standing still basically. Cause there organs are stressed and overloaded from a unnatural expectation. This is one of the major reasons soliders retire early also. Heart problems develope later. Remember the old saying fat and muscle are practically the same thing. Except in physical ability duration. Fat = less endurance. Both have long term effects equally on your health. Lots of body builders have heart attacks. If you’re in a environment where you need excessive food and water to maintain your stature you won’t live long in a survival sense. Like say 300lb brick shit house in the desert. Without aid death comes very quickly dehydration lot faster black outs first sign next malnutrition due to lack of protein. It’s like septic shock only in nutrition it will bring you down very quickly. Body will eat your muscles rapidly. Muscle weakness light headed within 2 days brain functions drop drastically stupid decisions happen immediately hand eye coordinating becomes hindered.
    If your not naturally built by genetic code beware of these factors first. Any environment.
    Not all people are created equal. Light medium heavy.
    Know your capabilities & limitations. If possible push your limitations.

  5. There seems to be a natural assumption that women would carry less weight and their backpack. I’m talking about normal weights between 20 and 30% of body weight. Butt it seems to me that if most good backpacks put your weight on your hips, and women carry babies that put on an extra average 25 to 40 lbs. Then it shouldn’t be hard for a woman in halfway decent shape in her forties to be able to carry 20 to 25% of her weight. That’s my take. But I notice no one has bought that aspect up. So I thought I’d throw it in the mix.

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