Women: I Know Why Your Backpack is Heavy

So many ladies ask me why they can never get below the 10-15 pound mark on their base weights like their male counterparts. Over my 10 years of thru hiking and working in outdoor retail, I have definitely noticed some generalized differences in what men carry and what women carry. And it isn’t necessarily the amount of money they are spending.

For me, hiking lighter isn’t [just] a geeky fettish, it is imperative. I am a small person with bad knees, and I am no spring chicken. I simply cannot comfortably carry a 35+ pound pack and do the miles. Many ladies I know are small, but somehow waaaay tougher than me, so pack weight isn’t a problem. I am envious. But, for me, when my pack is heavier, I tend to trip more (and harder). I also have less freedom to motor to the next water source if I am running low. Sometimes, I even find myself skimping on resupply food to save weight. Not good.

Over the years, I have dialed in my base weight. It has been as low as 5.5 lbs, and is now pretty consistently below 8 and I am a pretty happy camper. My total pack weight is almost never over 25 lbs. So, if your desire is to go lighter, for whatever reason, I may be able to help you. I think I know why your backpack is heavy!

1. Let’s get the hard one out of the way: Women tend to run colder than men. Therefore, they need warmer clothes and a warmer sleeping bag. This translates to A LOT more weight. Sure, your bag may be shorter, but it has to be rated to 15F instead of 30 or 40F like the guys. (I could go on forever on this subject, so I will try and keep if brief. Message me if you want details.) Here is a quick and dirty list of considerations:

– Think of your sleeping warmth as a whole system. You may be able to save weight over all (and money) by looking into a pad with good insulation (R-value).

– Consider a vapor barrier while you sleep (on cold nights, I use my pack liner inside my sleeping bag around my feet and increase my comfort level by about 10 degrees).

– Consider your campsite choice: drainages and depressions tend to be cold at night. Stay out of the wind. Pitch on some pine needles or duff. Camp lower in elevation if you can.

– Close up your tent. Yes, you will probably get some condensation, but it will be warmer.

– Carry a lightweight hat and gloves and wear them to bed if you need to.

– Change into dry clothes before bed. Get out of that wet bra.

– Keep your sleeping bag clean (=lofty; =warm). Have a set of sleep clothes that you don’t hike in. When you are done with your trip, wash that thing (properly).

– Loft your bag up every night when you set it up. Unpack your bag every night, even when you stay in hotel rooms. Never stuff your bag when you are off trail. These will all keep your sleeping bag lofty. Equals warm.

– If you use a synthetic sleeping bag, replace it every 3 years. They lose about 2-3 degrees per year. Down bags, kept up well, will last 10+ years of heavy use.

If you follow these tips, you should be able to get away with a higher temperature bag and a lighter insulation layer! This translates to ounces if not pounds!

2. Women carry more clothing than men. I know, I just told you that women are colder and that you should have an entire outfit designated for sleeping in only (excepting emergencies). That’s not what I am talking about. Do you really need 3 changes of underwear (or any)? Do you have to have 3 shirts? A wind shirt and a rain jacket and an umbrella? 12 oz. camp shoes? This is actually one area I think women add most of their weight and bulk. There are many ways to do this one and I would be happy to advise you on options (without putting yourself in danger). But beware, I am gonna tell you that your clothes are gonna stink and get salty. And that’s okay. If you can let this go, you just might save 2 lbs in your pack like the dudes. That’s a lot!

3. Women carry more toiletries. This, again, comes down to personal preference and some sacrifice. But, deodorant, soap, nail clippers, and lotion weigh a lot! Sure, some of this is luxury, and we all are allowed some of those. I carry individually-wrapped Wet Ones and clean up at night (they weigh 6 grams each). And, you will find that deodorant doesn’t really do much for what you are doing. Nail clippers can go in a bounce bucket, or buy a cheap file in town. A menstrual cup can save you on tampon bulk.

4. Women often carry more electronics. Actually, I think everyone but me carries more electronics. I don’t listen to music much, and I don’t check apps or social media much on the trail. I basically carry my phone and use it as my camera and occasionally my music. I check my email and messages once or twice a day when I can. So, I just carry my iPhone 5 and my wall charger and charge it in town. No solar panel. No external battery. No camera. On airplane mode, with background refresh off, closing down apps after I use them, and turned off at night, I get AT LEAST 7 days out of my phone. That’s plenty of time on most long trails to get it to the next town and recharge.

That said, I do sometimes carry a GPS on the lesser traveled routes I have been doing lately. I consider it a luxury because I always carry paper maps and a compass (and know how to use them). But, on the PCT, AT, and increasingly the CDT, I don’t think a GPS is necessary at all.

The bottom line is that most people can save weight not by spending more, but by dropping stuff they don’t need. Need and want are personal. It just comes down to how important it is that you shave weight on your pack, as you will have to make compromises.

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