14 Signs You are Carrying too Much Stuff in your Backpack

There is no universal blueprint as to how you should backpack. We all have our own motivations, needs and levels of experience. That being said, one thing upon which everyone can agree is that hiking is substantially easier and more enjoyable, if your pack doesn’t weigh the proverbial tonne. Here are 14 telltale signs that you should consider lightening your wilderness load:

(L to R) During my three decades plus of backpacking around the world, I have carried packs of all sizes and weights. The shot on the left is from the Pyrenean Haute Route in 1999. The image on the right is from the Cape to Cape walk in 2010.

1.  Your pack has a capacity of 70 liters or more. Irrespective of the length of your hiking trip, you always find a way to fill it.

2.  You have to sit down to put your pack on.

3.  When you subsequently get up, not only do you inadvertently groan and wince, but anyone who happens to be in the vicinity also groans and winces.

4.  When fully loaded, the top of your pack is above your head.

5.  Boy scouts point at you and giggle whenever they see you on the trail

6.  When hiking in the Himalaya, porters regularly refer to you as “brother.”

7.  You have named your pack one of the following: Ennis, Bertha, Goliath, Beast or Ben (like the clock). Alternatively, if you predicate any reference to your backpack with the “F” word, that’s also a pretty good indicator.

8.  Irrespective of whether you are going up or down hill, people on horses always give way to you. Mountain bikers too.

9.  When you empty your pack after finishing a trip, you realize that there are at least five items that you not only didn’t use, but that never actually saw the light of day during the course of your hike.

10.  While out on trail, you constantly find yourself rummaging through your pack looking for items which you are sure are in there somewhere, but can’t quite remember where.

11.   After breaking camp and hitting the trail, your morning coffee finally kicks in and you realize you forgot to take a shit before departure. However, your pack is so heavy that you don’t want to go through the process of taking it off and putting it back on again. Therefore you decide to suck it up, and subsequently spend the next hour in a hide-and-seek battle of wills with Terry the Turtlehead. When the point of no return inevitably happens and you realize that there is no denying Tezza (Australian for “Terry”) when he has a head of steam up, you drop your pack unceremoniously in the middle of the trail and dash for the woods. However, you don’t make it more than ten yards before you lose all sphincter control and soil yourself prior to being able to dig a cat hole and lower your shorts. Making a bad situation even worse, you were in such a rush that you left your toilet paper in the backpack. The moral of this not uncommon story is: A. Have your coffee a little earlier, and; B. Carry a lighter, less encumbered load, which is simple and easy to take on and off whenever the need arises.

12.  You are constantly worrying about not being sufficiently prepared, and invariably overcompensate by bringing items that are unsuitable and/or unnecessary for the environment into which you are venturing (e.g. mega multi-tools and heavy leather boots for anything but winter).

13.  You regularly find yourself leaning too far forward while hiking. This is often a sign that not only is your pack too heavy, but also that it is sitting too low on your back. Given time this posture can result in rounded shoulders, neck strain from constantly tilting your head up in order to see properly, and pressure on the lumbar region.

14.  And the biggest sign that you are carrying too much stuff in your backpack while out in the woods? You focus more on how uncomfortable you feel than the beauty of your surrounds.


Obviously some of the above listed points are tongue-in-cheek. However, the premise of the article is quite serious. There are a number of reasons to carry a lighter load while out in the wilderness**, however, in my experience the big ones are simply comfort, health and enjoyment. It is better for both your body, which is less likely to incur stress related injuries, and also your mind, which will be less distracted than it would be under the burden of a heavy load.

For tips on how to lighten your backpacking load, see the How To /Going Light and Thru-hiker Gear Guide drop down menus in the top navigation bar.

(**Note: Always in accordance with your experience level and the dictates of the environment into which you are venturing).




14 Signs You are Carrying too Much Stuff in your Backpack — 31 Comments

  1. They are all funny, and I’ve done them all! Nowadays #3 is the one I relate to. I’m light now and moan when I see really huge packs.

  2. I am definitely relating to number 10. Have got rid of about 2kg over the last 12 months. Still sitting base weight of about 10kg would love to be lower but I like my creature comforts. My sleeping system is by far my heaviest items but I like my 😴

  3. I remember backpacking 25+ years ago, and we helped each other put on our packs, because they were so heavy! Or we’d set the pack on a boulder so we could slide it on. No one should need help putting the pack on due to weight.

    Those were the days of big leather boots (and big nasty blisters), blue jeans, and flannel shirts! But we still had a great time! I have great memories despite the loads. And back then, no problems with joints or back pain, even with a 45 pound load. I couldn’t do that now.

    But I don’t recall any problems with number 11 on your list; cmon already! It is much nicer now though, to have much lighter gear, and know what I can do without. The toughest thing for me is always the bear canister. Have to have it some places, and it’s definitely peace of mind, but that thing is just plain heavy and bulky.

    • I go back over 50 years. We used a heavy cotton Blacks mountain tent, a huge brass Primus, heavy beach air mats, massive feather sleeping bags, bomber neoprene nylon cagoules, waxed cotton anoraks, woolen jumpers, tweed breeks, steel shanked leather boots and heavy canvas Whillans packs with the ergonomics of a potato sack. And often full alpine climbing gear as well.

      Even when we were young and fit this was pretty knackering, but we still had a great time.

      Then modern kit began to appear from pioneering companies like Saunders, Phoenix, Berghaus, Chouinard and Lowe. What a transformation! And the second generation of ultralight kit completed the process. Now I can be safer and more comfortable with literally 1/4 the weight.

      These youngsters have it far too easy! Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned suffering?

  4. Carrying a heavy, cumbersome pack is also a significant contributor to loss of balance, fatigue, and dehydration through excessive respiration and sweating, all of which might result in falls, with consequently serious injuries and, in some cases, fatalities.
    Back in the day the pack of choice was the “Mountain Mule”; slogan “It carries the load”. As one hunter put it – “But you have to carry the bloody Mountain Mule!” The tanker model, which had a plug for filling the frame with primes fuel, weighed 4kg…

  5. #9 is still my daemon! But I keep working on it and maybe someday, I’ll actually know exactly what I need and only bring that. Big maybe….

  6. Very timely article. Hilarious too. I denied Tezza on Wednesday, thankfully I won the game of hide and seek until I finished for the day.
    I have shaved 1030g off my pack weight in the last few days and still working on it.

  7. hi Cam

    Saw myself ‘packing a refrigerator’ articulated a few times in your post…related to anal retention and capitulation…funny

  8. You missed Item 15 – the Wife or Girlfriend – can result in you carrying more weight.

    After investing in some great light weight gear, I find the last impediment to a super lite pack is “the wife”. She is slowly getting better, but I end up taking more weight to offset her load. i.e. she loves her 1.6 kg pack, and takes a medical kit that would put a hospital to shame.

    Although I won’t travel without my Jetboil Mini (vs lighter options) for that quick hot coffee when you wake up in the morning – this also helps with item #11.

  9. Great reminders to remember and not miss the point of hiking. Do you remember the pack you used for your 2010 Cape to Cape? Looks comfy and small.

    Thanks for sharing “brother”!

  10. Yep! Levity is an excellent way of instruction.
    In 60 yrs of hiking and backpacking I have gone from a 20 lb “Bergen” pack to a “Fjellraven” expedition load of 70 lbs plus back to a 5 lb base weight with a “Macpac” Fiord 28 liter which is good for a 5 day NZ back country South Island hike.
    Lighten up! Don’t take what you don’t use and don’t stint on the food.

  11. Cam, what are your thoughts on plain old extra body fat?
    It seems like people will spend $2000 to save 2 pounds of gear, but never consider this.

    • Hey Bart,

      I try to stay in good shape all the time. In regards to hiking, I’ve found that when I’m fit from the outset of a trail, my enjoyment levels go up and the chances of injury go down.



    • I know you asked Cam and not me, but this thing manifests itself in all sports. The best way to become a faster runner or cyclist, for example, is to lose a few pounds if you have a few pounds to lose. People spend tons of money on new kit all the time when losing fat would do more to improve performance. That said, getting out there is what it’s all about, and is an important part of getting that weight off in the first place, so if buying some gear or having a setup that makes you happy encourages you to get outside, I say go for it.

  12. Hi Cam,
    Recently did the Overland Track in Tassie. my pack was 17 kg with a weeks worth of food and 500ml water, tent and 500 ml of port! My wife carried 9kg. Our friends were carrying around double those weights. 2 years ago before I upgraded my gear I would have been carrying similar weights to my friends. Lightweight is so much better and it means more enjoyable walking.

  13. A sign of macho-ness was “heavier the better.” I remember hefting my 55 lb. Kelly external frame pack at the beginning of the 100 Mile Wilderness on the AT in Maine, 40 years ago. I was happy to be able to finally stand up straight.
    Oh, and the 5-pound Limmer leather boots didn’t exactly propel me up the mountain, either.

  14. LOL, my base weight is 8 kg so not too bad, but I am at that age where I groan with every position change, backpack or not and my backpack has the trail name of ‘Fat Bastard’. As in come on Fat Bastard lets go……so I guess I’m probably carrying too much 🙂

  15. I can neither confirm nor deny that I may or maynot have a backpack that is named the Beast. I didn’t name it…it was my friend on our trip to Young Lakes (Yosemite). Oh, and my other friend 2 weeks later on our trip to Brainerd Lake (near the Palisades Glacier).

    Gotta get the new sleeping bag first before I get a new pack.

    but, I will say that the CampTrails framed backpack that was purchased by my parents when I was in BSA has held up well. It’s probably 32 years old. I did recently replace the hip belt and shoulder straps with Kelty models which hug my hips/sholders much better. When camping with my son, I had both our sleeping bags, the tent, my sleeping pad, my clothing, and our food in a Garcia bear canister. I also had the cooking gear, first aid kit, and my fly rod. Uhg. My knees are still mad at me and it’s been 7 months.

    But next year you can bet I’ll be getting a new and lighter pack.

  16. Reason #11 was my favorite. I always seem to pack something that I don’t need like clothes. I’ve lugged books that I never ready on the trail before. What are the items that you commonly see that weigh down the backpacks that are unnecessary?

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