Posted on January 21 2019
We’re getting set to commit suicide by backpack. Thanks to a 2013 study, we now know that those who carry more weight—even when they stick to US Army backback standards—are setting themselves up to die strapped to their Bug Out Bags.
It doesn’t matter how tough you are. It doesn’t matter how mean you are. If your pack weighs more than 30 pounds or 20% of your body weight, whichever is LESS, soft tissue injuries and slow overland movement are probably going to end your bug out attempt with defeat.
Tough Guy, meet Reality.
In a comprehensive study for the Ambry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Anthony T. Thomas surveyed hikers of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,100 mile trek that extends from Maine to Georgia. The annual challenge tests every backpack-weight and body-type imaginable, with over 1,300 hikers attempting the overland movement each year. The Appalachian Trail, or “AT,” presents the perfect laboratory to test the question “what size bug out bag leads to failure?”
Like all real-world studies, Thomas’ study presents complex findings, with lots of gray area between packing too light and packing too heavy, but several findings should pull preppers up short when considering Bug Out Bag weight.
Even among the ultra-fit backpackers who attempt the 2,100 mile trek, their maximum backpack weight for any real chance of success is 30 pounds or 20% of body weight, WHICHEVER IS LESS.
When backpackers attempt to go over that limit, they risk a 46% chance of injury to soft tissues. Even going up five pounds over the limit causes the injury rate to jump by 27%. “The mean differences between injured and non-injured reveal that the injured carried an average of 5 lbs. more than the uninjured.”
“Hikers with more experience tended to have less pack weight and hike more miles per day.” Expert hikers finished with an average pack weight of just 15 pounds and 10.76% of their body weight. In other words, the true experts hike ultra-light.
However, hikers who carried too little weight compared to their experience level also failed to complete the hike, since they didn’t have the actual experience to use ultra-light gear and their suffering ended their attempt. Like everything else in survival, actual experience opens up opportunities to survive. Backpacking ultra light leads to bugging out ultra light which leads to a much greater chance of making it.
How To Get Under Fifteen Pounds Pack Weight
At first, it seems impossible; getting your pack under fifteen pounds. But, with a change of perspective, you can easily do it. Begin by reading Light Up! A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking. It’ll cause your head to spin, as you realize a few key points:
- "Base Pack Weight” means the weight of your back BEFORE water, food and fuel. The target Base Pack Weight is FIFTEEN POUNDS, which is totally do-able. But, you will also find yourself cutting consumables too, bringing your weight down even more.
- Aside from all your chunky survivalist widgets (such as romantic fire starters), the items that are weighing you down the most are your actual pack, your sleeping bag and your tent. There are far lighter options than what you’re currently using. (Pro tip: you don’t need gear that is military-tough. You need gear that’s light.)
- Much of the gear you’re currently getting ready to carry in your Bug Out Bag is for comfort, not for survival: sleeping pads, tents, stoves, water filters, flashlights, most of your first aid, water bottles, shovels, axes, saws, multitools, etc., etc.. When you think about it, most of this stuff is for comfort (or cool factor), not survival.
If your purpose is to reach your Bug Out Location (“BOL”), then comfort—or long-term bushcraft—might sound cool, but comforts and cool factor will erode your ability to cover miles—another finding of the Thomas study.
If you really intend to survive the trek to your BOL—like those who complete the Appalachian Trail—then you need to make unromantic sacrifices in terms of bug out gear. Here are some trade-offs you should consider:
Water Purification Tablets instead of a a Water Filter.
20 Aquatabs (.10 oz.) instead of a Water Filter (11 oz.)
Water tablets taste crappy, they do the job and they weigh one-one hundredth as much as a water filter.
Bug Out Med Kit instead of Backpacker First Aid Kit
ReadyMan Bug Out Med Kit (1 oz.) instead of Backpacker FAK (16 oz.)
Most first aid kit is for comfort (band aids, gloves, bite ointment, etc..) All you really need is blister care, pain relief tablets, a couple feet of duct tape, and maybe a couple squares of gauze. If you backpack enough, you’ll notice that’s all you ever really use.
Gatewood Cape instead of a Backpacking Tent
Gatewood Cape (10 oz.) instead of REI Passage One Tent (59 oz.)
The Six Moons Cape might be a bit rugged, but even if you bump up a notch in weight to another Six Moons light weight tent, you’ll still be miles ahead (literally) from a standard backpacking tent. Plus, the Six Moons Gatewood Cape doubles as your rain poncho, dropping another half a pound.
ZPacks Arc Blast Backpack instead of a Heavy Duty Backpack
ZPacks Blast (21 oz.) instead of REI Traverse 70 Backpack (78 oz.)
Regular backpacks come packed with features and gadgets, and those buckles, belts and zippers all come with added weight. LOTS of added weight. You don’t need those clips and pockets to make it to your BOL. You can forgo the convenience of six pockets.
Mountain House (minus foil bag) instead of MREs
Mountain House meal (1.5 oz.) instead of MRE (24 oz.)
If you ditch the foil pouch, and carry your Mountain House meal in a light baggy, your food will weight next-to-nothing. At this rate, you can carry six days worth of bug out food under a pound and a half.
One Pouch (Liter) of Water instead of Three Bottles of Water
Platypus 2L Pouch (1.3 oz.) plus 1L water (35.2 oz.) instead of 3 full Nalgene bottles (125 oz.)
If you know your route, and you have paid attention to where to find water, you can refill your water supply along the way, treat it with tablets, and carry MUCH less water weight. Most backpackers carry a lot more water than they need. Know your route and carry only the water you absolutely need for the next leg of your journey.
Without even discussing the weight we carry in knives, fire starters, fishing equipment and weapons, we’re already cutting critical pounds off your bug out bag just with your tent, backpack, first aid kit, food and water. It’s not that hard to shave off ounces, which quickly become pounds. Getting honest about comfort and cool factor, you’ll see that cutting 10% off comfort can cut fifteen pounds off your pack weight. It’s not that much less comfortable to sleep under a Gatewood Cape than a full backpacking tent. Every category of backpacking gear comes with these easy trade-offs: lose a little comfort, gain a ton of weight savings.
ReadyMan offers a FREE ultra-light bug out bag internet application that helps you drop pounds off your bug out bag without breaking your budget. Signup for free below.
Remember: your bug out bag is only as good as your bug out location. If you’re planning on becoming a mountain man in the woods with your family, then the weight of your bug out bag is only the beginning of your troubles. But that’s a subject for another blog.
Start today by taking a tip from expert Appalachian Trail hikers—the guys who “bug out” by the hundreds every summer: cut your pack weight WAY down, practice with light gear on the trail and increase your odds of arriving at your BOL alive.