Choosing Your First Backpack – Let Weight Guide You

I’m a member of and frequent shopper at REI. They have a good selection of goods and for the most part knowledgeable folks working there. I can walk around for hours touching, poking, feeling, examining and exploring. It’s actually a treat to spend two hours there even if I don’t buy something since I live in a rural area 100 miles to the closest REI store.

Many of their sales people, men and women, are experienced backpackers. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a store when someone comes into to ask for basic advice, such as choosing a backpack, and their expertise seems to disappear.

Personally, I have never heard any discussion — and I’m always eavesdropping — about going lightweight, despite the fact that REI has plenty of light and ultralight backpacking gear.

I’ve posted on this subject before, but let me offer some advice:

Keeping the basics light will help you start light and stay light. The basics are backpack, tent, pad and sleeping bag. Limit this to 10 pounds. Less is better.

Two Days or Treks
I don’t care what kind of trips you plan to take — two days out-and-back or a trek on Appalachian Trail — you can get by just fine with a pack weighing no more than 3 pounds, preferable 2 pounds or less. These lightweight backpacks have plenty of bells, whistles and pockets. They also are comfortable.

My light pack is an Osprey Aether, 1 pound 9 ounces, and my heavy pack is an Osprey Atmos 35, size medium, which weighs 2 pounds, 9 ounces. Rated as a “light and fast backcountry adventure pack,” it is optimized for up to 30 pounds. I have come to prefer it because it has more pockets into which I can jam (ultralight backpacking) gear.

If you want to be an ultralight backpacker, you can also find molecule-light packs at less than 8 ounces, such as those made by Gossamer Gear.

By picking the lightest, most comfortable pack, you’ll narrow your choices and quickly be on your way to being a lightweight backpacker.

My basics – with light pack: 6.5 pounds; with heavy pack: 7.5 pounds. My first backpack alone weighed 7.5 pounds.

Don’t be afraid to tell someone in the story you want to go ultralight. Say: “I want my basics to be under 10 pounds.”

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

3 thoughts on “Choosing Your First Backpack – Let Weight Guide You

  1. Hi,
    My name is Laura, and I work with MyOutdoorTv.com. If you haven’t heard, MyOutdoorTV is the #1 website for outdoor TV shows. We recently added a blog section to our site. We love your blog, and we added it as a link. Thanks for providing such great content, and let us know if there’s any content we can provide you with. Thanks again and keep blogging!
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  2. I found your site while looking for backpack alternatives. I’ve been shrinking my hiking gear down over the years and got it down to a science with a lumbar pack that has a foldout top for extra items. But now I want to carry gear without the weight of a pack. I remember a strap system from several years back and am trying to figure out the best way to do it myself. I’ve been carrying lightweight waterproof stuff sacks with my “zones” strapped on top and under the lumbar pack. The hygiene/health zone, the kitchen zone, the water zone, and the shelter zone. I did that to make it easier to get into a zone, do what needs doing, then pack it right up again.

    The kitchen doesn’t have a kitchen sink, but it does have basic foodstuffs, eating utensils, metal cup/pot, Esbit wing stove, firestarter, and snacks. The water zone is a pound by itself and has the water filter, sweetwater drops, collapsible “bucket”, and plastic bags. A head scarf would double as a coarse filter.

    The things I seem to need all the time are in a tummy pack, like hygiene/health. The kitchen zone is inside the lumbar pack. But I think there has to be a way to attach these items to my person without having a 14 oz or larger backpack apparatus to do it. Just some random musings here. Maybe someone else has figured this out.

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