Today I wanted to take a look at how best to weight a backpack for training for a bigger trek or hiking trip. As I have alluded to several times over the last month or two on here, I am planning to undertake my biggest hiking challenge, to date, this year in June. That challenge is to climb Mont Blanc in the Alps, the highest mountain in Western Europe.
One of the key pieces of kit I will need for that trip is of course a good backpack and my search for a suitable backpack is ongoing. (I've pretty much picked the backpack I will use and will likely purchase it this week).
Anyway, once I have my backpack, it occurred to me that I can't just show up to the Alps with my new backpack filled up with gear and head for the summit! I will not be used to carrying gear for multiple days on my back while ascending a very large mountain like Mont Blanc. Therefore, I will need to ‘pack' my pack, so to speak, in advance and get used to carrying a similar weight of gear on my back.
This was fine and I figured that once I got my backpack of choice, I would weight it up to take on my normal weekly hikes. That should get me up to some reasonable level of being used to hiking with the heavier weight of gear on my back when doing the real thing.
However, the next thing that occurred to me was, what should I pack it with to add weight!?
Weights and Bricks?
Now, you may be thinking, don't be silly, just get some heavy bricks or a dumbbell or two and fire them in. Well, when you think about it, they probably wouldn't be very good things to put in a backpack. They are heavy but over quite a small surface area. If anything, this could very well damage a backpack as it would have too much pressure on one smaller part of it. It could very easily rip a hole open or warp the backpack in some way!
After some consideration, I thought I would consult one or two of my hiking friends who have been on many backpacking expeditions before to get some tips. Here's what they recommended to use when trying to weight your backpack for training purposes.
What to Use to ‘Weight' Your Pack
This was top of the list. A few big bottles of water can easily fit into pack and laid across the bottom. This should spread the weight relatively evenly across the pack. Another great advantage of water is that it's easy to offload if things get too hard to carry. Just open the bottles up and pour the water out!
Another easy and convenient thing to use is to put a few big books into your backpack. This will add some significant weight to the pack but you probably need to add a fair few of them in.
Be sure to use books you don't care for too much as they will likely get a bit rustled up in your backpack while out on the trail with you!
Similar to books, although they do have the extra advantage of being more disposable. That is, you're probably less concerned with what happens to some old magazines of yours than part of your book collection 😉
OK, I was happy that I had several easy options for weighting my pack but then another question formed in my head!?
How Much Weight Should I Add to the Backpack?
The approach I have taken to this is very logical 🙂 and I hope sensible ! In short, I am going to pack the backpack up when I get it with all the gear I think I will need to have in it for my trip. Now, unfortunately some of the gear I don't actually own and I will have to hire it when I get to the Alps. For those pieces, I will need to do some research and make approximations. The company I am going with have provided a gear checklist so this should be relatively easy to do with a bit of research.
When I have all of that, I should be in a position to give a pretty good estimate of the weight of the backpack I will need to carry for the 6 days on my trip. Then I can weight up accordingly for my normal weekly hikes in preparation!
I was in two minds about whether this should be a post or not as, like most people, when you first think about weighting a pack for training purposes, you assume it's very straightforward i.e. just put heavy stuff in your backpack.
However, after consideration there were a few things I wasn't sure about and so thought it best to ask around to see what may be the best approach. I'm happy that I have found the best approach for this which is to use bottled water, large bottles, to an approximate weight of the actual gear I will carry in the backpack for the trip. A few of my regular hiking outings with that before June should get me in good shape for the real thing 😉
As an aside, It's worth noting that there is a whole method and science to how you ‘pack a backpack' too. That is, what items you should put to the bottom first and so on. This makes a lot of sense and is something important to learn for any trip you will be undertaking with a backpack.
I'll probably add a separate guide on that, that goes into the details, but in short summary, pack what you will need soonest, say rain gear, at the top of your backpack and what you won't need soon, say a sleeping bag, at the bottom.
I think everyone needs to develop their own optimum solution or system to this but these basic guidelines help simplify the process. I'll be sure to add up a post on that at some point and link to it from here, it may be helpful to folks new to backpacking / wild camping.
Finally, if you're looking for a backpack or a day pack, you can start your search right here. Check out some nice day packs here, these are perfect for a day hike on the trail. If you need something more substantial and in the vein of this post, a backpack to carry kit for several days, the review of the Gregory internal frame backpack is worth a look.
Have you ever weighted a pack for training purposes? Any other suggestions on how best to do it? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!