A Prepper’s Dilemma – Pack Weight

Heavy backpack

Water, firearms, ammo, clothing, shelter, food, tools…OH MY!  As you check off your list of bug out bag preparedness items, the needle on the scale goes higher and higher.  Not to mention there are more than a few of us who could shed a couple pounds off our own body weight.  What is the balance between gear and weight?

For reference, a US soldier that is currently on tour is carrying anywhere from 60-90 lbs of gear.  You may think that they have trained hard enough that the weight becomes manageable.  To a degree, increased physical fitness will allow an individual to carry more weight easily, however this is not without negative impacts to the soldier.  Soldiers are often plagued with chronic joint and muscle pain.  The bulk of the weight can also slow down their mobility and get them killed.

“A 2001 Army Science Board study recommended that no soldier carry more than 50 lbs for any length of time.”

So What’s the Plan?

First, you need to have a multi-tier bug out plan in order to spread out the weight.  My article on Alternate transportation will give you some ideas.
bicycle paniers
For example:

  • Tier 1 is your car which will hold the bulk of the weight.
  • If you need to ditch your car, Tier 2 is taking a bicycle off your rack (preferably with a child carrier or other bicycle-trailer) and still being able to carry a good amount of weight.
  • Tier 3 would be to ditch the bikes and pull the bicycle trailer, still maintaining most of the weight on wheels.
  • Last but not least, Tier 4 is slugging the weight on your shoulders with your Bug Out Bag.

 Second, buy an appropriate bug out bag with an external or internal frame that can help you carry the weight.


bug out bag

Third, target your bug out bag weight to be no more than 1/3 of your body weight, but ideally 1/4.  This lines up very well with the 50 lb max recommendation from the Army Science board.  This would mean an average 190lb man should be at 47.5 lbs, and an average 130lb woman should be at 32.5lbs.
prepper weight

Fourth, start to purchase your necessities.  Everyone’s list will be different, but you should consider some of the main “buckets” of survival – shelter (including clothes), water (and water procurement, storage & filtration/treatment), food (and food procurement), fire, security (firearm and ammunition), communication, hygiene, and miscellanous tools (knife, saw, hatchet, etc.)  ALWAYS keep a list of the contents inside your bag.  This helps keep an inventory of what is inside your bag.  During season changes, you may need to swap out gear for something else.
survival items

Finally, go on an overnight hike (ideally a minimum of 2 nights) and test your gear!  You may find out one of two things:

  1. Your are at your max weight, but find yourself struggling.  In that case, either you made some poor gear choices, or need to start developing hard honed skills to replace that heavy gear.  Remember, Knowledge Weighs Nothing!
  2. You were comfortably prepared, and ended up not using some of your gear.  Write down in a log what you didn’t use, and test it all out again on your next trip.  If you are consistently finding yourself not using a piece of gear, take it out of your bag for good.  Replace it with something more useful or just save the weight entirely.

Remember, if you are always going on fair weather hikes, you are not testing out your gear.  Hike when it’s hot, hike when it’s cold, hike when it’s raining, and hike when it snowing…You really need to test your gear.

  • Dave

    I’m really glad you brought up the topic of packs because I have been giving it a lot of thought lately. Many people new to the “prepper movement” or whatever you want to call it, have never had to carry a backpack and have no idea how to pack one. This can be disasterous.

    To compound the problem, there are so many companies online that sell cheap “bugout bags” that are totally unsuitable for carrying a load. Many companies sell so-called Mil-Spec backpacks that look like hay bales with a couple of skinny straps attached. If you’re serious about using a backpack, buy from a reputable company that specializes in BACKPACKING equipment – companies like North Face, Kelty, and Eastern Mountain Sports have been making real backpacks and field testing them for decades. I would take a plain looking pack from one of these companies any day before I’d get a nifty looking multicam camo Mil-Spec bag with 100 pockets and a water bladder. And beware of those ready-made bugout bags. most of them are garbage, in my opinion. Buy a good backpack and build up your own collection of stuff to carry. It’s going to vary depending on your local terrain and your personal needs, so personalize the stuff you’re going to carry to suit your needs.

    If you intend to use a backpack for anything other than throwing into the back of your pickup, you really need to chose carefully before you buy it! You also have to load it up and practice carrying it for long distances. Otherwise, you’re just building what I call a False Sense of Security bag. Get a pack with a good suspension system. A good frame makes a huge difference because it will help you distribute the weight evenly. A poorly packed, poorly balanced pack can feel like double the weight and it will cause back problems. Packing a backpack properly takes practice, so experiment.

    If you’ve never tested your bag, take it out for a few hiking trips. Fill the bag with books or clothing. Anything heavy, up to about 30 pounds. And be realistic about it. If you are 100 pounds overweight and the longest hike you’ve made in the past few years is a trip to the refrigerator, you’re not going to be able to carry anything useful. Better to find out now than when a diaster hits and you have to actually depend on that bag. As a general rule, a fit person should not be toting around more than about 1/3 of their body weight.