Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Weight Problem

I've know for a while that I have a big weight problem, but not until yesterday, when I quantified everything did I realize just how big.  My body mass index turns out to be over 30, or borderline obese!

How is that possible, you ask?  How can a man who ran a half marathon just months ago, and who hikes a lot, be obese?  Well, I do have an explanation - just me, standing naked on a scale, am not obese or close to it.  But once I hoist my pack on my back, loaded for even the most basic one night trip, I go from a decent BMI to an obese one.  And once I start slogging up a steep trail, as far as my knees, ankles, and back are concerned, I am grossly overweight.

I've known for each backpacking trip that I have taken that I am carrying too much weight, so I decided that I needed to analyze exactly how that happens.  Thus, I have weighed each thing that goes into my pack, every item no matter how small - even down to my one and 1/8 ounce bandanna - and put it all in a spreadsheet.  What I could not weigh on a kitchen scale, I weighed on a normal bathroom scale and then subtracted my base weight, or I got the specifications from the manufacturer.  And my base pack weight ends up being 25.1 pounds - without any clothing except a rain jacket and pants, hat, lightweight gloves, and puffy jacket, and without any food or water!  And that is with my lighter weight sleeping bag, not the heavy one that I took unnecessarily to my hike to Laurel Forks last weekend.

Everything comes down to weight vs. comfort and safety.  I could save a lot of weight by just taking a tarp and a blanket instead of a tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag, right?  But if you have ever slept in the woods without a tent - I have - you know it is not a lot of fun. Every flying, biting thing and creepy-crawly comes looking for you.  No thank you!

So here are some specifics: my pack, air mattress, sleeping bag liner, my lighter sleeping bag, and tent alone weigh 12.25 pounds.  My kitchen gear and my hydration system (water filter, empty one liter bottle, and empty three liter Camelbak weigh 3.6 pounds.  Electronics - InReach, GPS, camera, and spare batteries - weigh nearly 2 pounds.  I could eliminate them and not take any photos.  And wouldn't I feel foolish if I broke an ankle and could not send a message for help, all to save a pound of weight?  My first aid kit and basic emergency and survival gear weighs about 3.5 pounds.  My essential clothing mentioned previously weighs 2.5 pounds.  My basic overnight hygiene kit weighs 1.3 pounds, if I include a small towel - nice on any trip longer than one overnight but not essential.

Not in the equation is a field guide or binoculars, extra socks or underwear, a spare shirt, any water - at 2.2 pounds per kilogram - or food.  For example, on my mystery trip later this spring, I am likely to take my Teva's (lots of streams to wade across and no bridges), two pairs of extra socks, long bottom underwear to sleep in, at least two pairs of underwear (who wants to wear the same underwear for four days?), and one extra shirt.  That would make my total clothing packed to be 5.6 pounds vs. the 2.5 mentioned above.  If I bring an extra pair of trousers in addition to the pair that I will wear, then I will be carrying 6.4 pounds of clothing.  That brings my pack weight, to a whopping 29.0 pounds!  And that does not include any clothing worn, or again, water or food.  Where we will be hiking has lots of water, so I likely won't need to carry more than a liter or so, but 3.5 days of food will probably weigh about 6-7 pounds.  So that makes my total pack weight for that three night hike in the 38 pound range.

Yeah, I have a big weight problem, and just like in real life when we have an extra piece of pie (or 20) too many, it is not so easy shaving those pounds off.  I have some time to think about and decide what I can do to lighten the load a bit, and what would be acceptable for comfort and safety.  In any event, although it sounds anal perhaps, it has been a good exercise to understand all the components that make my pack so heavy.  I guess I better bring out some of my Backpacker Magazine issues and read up on ultra-light hiking, eh?


  1. That's a lot of weight to carry along but you would hate not to have any of it if you needed it. At least you eat the food so you'll have less weight after a while. : )

  2. Yup, eat the heavier meals first!

    It is always a trade off - what do you need for safety and comfort vs. how heavy it is. A pound at the start of the trail feels like 5 pounds at the end of a long hike.