Why Is Base Weight A Superior Metric to Total Pack Weight?

I’ve noticed some discussions online about pack weight were comparing pack weight with consumables, which are food, fuel and water. This can be misleading for a handful of reasons. When comparing or trying to understand pack weight, Base Weight is generally the most useful metric we want to work with. Base weight = pack weight – consumables (food fuel water). Total pack weight is base weight plus consumables, of food, fuel and water or the full weight of your pack when you step on the trail. So why would we not want to compare total pack weight  or the full weight of our pack when we hit the trail?

1) Food Needs Are Dictated By Caloric Requirements and Resupply Points

The first reason we don’t want to focus on total pack weight is that our daily food requirement of say 2 pounds per day or whatever it might be, is what it is, not a whole lot we can do to change it. We can’t buy a lower appetite so we have less weight to carry, so comparing our food requirements to others’ doesn’t accomplish much apart from possibly giving us unrealistic expectations when we compare our pack weight to others that carry less food because they are smaller or need less calories. Those requirements will also be changing and evolving with more time on the trail.

Another component of longer hikes or thru-hikes is that resupply points are largely out of our control, so if you have to carry 6 days of food because that’s how long it takes to get to the next resupply, there’s not much you can do but carry the amount of food dictated by resupply distance. So comparing your pack weight with 6 days of food to someone that is only carrying 2 days, doesn’t make much sense. 

2) Water Weight Carried is Dictated by Distance Between Water Sources

The second reason we don’t want to focus on total pack weight is that how much water we carry is determined by distance between water sources. If we are hiking along a stream all day, most aren’t carrying more than a liter or so. So again, the water weight we carry, is out of our control and largely determined by distance between water sources unless you just want to carry extra.

3) Fuel Weight Is Typically Minimal

Finally, fuel could be around 8 ounces for canister or nothing for someone going no cook, so not really an issue in the bigger picture of pack weight.

Why Base Weight is the Most Useful Metric When Discussing Pack Weight

Finally, if we just say “how much does your pack weigh?” … and start comparing, we might have people comparing a 2 day pack weight vs a 9 day pack weight, which is obviously apples to oranges! So pack weight is a function of experience and comfort level, not simply writing a big check! Comparing BASE WEIGHTS can be a very useful tool to see how others might be approaching specific gear items and systems and helping our own systems evolve!

It’s not a competition and constructive criticism is critical in understanding how we might improve with the outside perspective. We’re all constantly improving and changing together!

REMEMBER: Self reported base weights are like self reported body weights, age and personalities on a dating website, take them with a grain of salt! Hope this helps! Cheers!