Backpack : Body Weight Ratio?

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Backpack : Body Weight Ratio?

by Elation » Mon Feb 27, 2017 8:35 pm


Though a long-time reader, this is my first question to ask this forum and hopefully get some advice. With that in mind, if I have placed this in the wrong section, my apologies.

Regarding my inquiry: I weigh approximately 114 lbs (51.7kg for those on the other side of the pond). As someone getting into serious mountaineering, many guide services seem to recommend training with minimum 60 lb packs for the Denali-esque climbs. Has anyone of my size done this successfully? Any tips on how not to completely destroy your knees/back when you are carrying more than 50% of your body weight?

I would hope I could cut weight in my pack through lighter clothing and gear, but I will of course need to make sure I carry my fair share on any given expeditions. To date, I generally carry no more than a 40 lb pack even for multi-day trips as most of my gear is light and compact.

Any thoughts/advice would be appreciated.



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Re: Backpack : Body Weight Ratio?

by nartreb » Mon Feb 27, 2017 9:24 pm

Practice makes perfect. Professional porters routinely carry more than half their body weight all day long. (So do golf caddies - which I did when I was around 100lbs.) Not my idea of fun, but it can be done. Build up the weight gradually, keep your loads well-balanced, and take small steps rather than put your knees/ankles at risk with big movements or awkward positions - this is especially important on descent.

If you have a specific expedition in mind, you should be able to come up with a specific gear list and figure out what it will weigh (including your share of group gear). You might still want to train with a bit more weight than you'll carry, to toughen you up against those things that are hard to train for: lack of sleep, lack of oxygen, etc., but there are others here who know more about big mountains and exercise physiology than I do.

PS this should really be in the Technique & Training forum, no? Or are you asking what gear you'll actually need?

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Re: Backpack : Body Weight Ratio?

by rgg » Mon Feb 27, 2017 10:32 pm

nartreb wrote:PS this should really be in the Technique & Training forum, no? Or are you asking what gear you'll actually need?

Actually that's exactly where Elation first posted it. I didn't think it was a bad place for it but considered Gear more suitable, so I moved it there. But I don't mind being outvoted, so I've moved it back.

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Re: Backpack : Body Weight Ratio?

by Grampahawk » Tue Sep 12, 2017 9:57 pm

Rather than fill my pack with gear during training I use a 40 bag of cement that I have let harden. I slip that into my pack as a base and add water bottles as needed as I get used to the additional weight. The 40 lbs also is useful for just going for walks with my wife who is not as fit as me. It evens the pace and provides good training also.

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Re: Backpack : Body Weight Ratio?

by reboyles » Tue Sep 12, 2017 11:18 pm

I backpacked before I started technical climbing in the days when ultra-light gear wasn't available and 40-50 lbs was pretty much the norm for an extended trip. Once I started climbing things had to change because at least half of that load was ropes and climbing gear. It didn't take long to learn how to cut out everything that wasn't essential for both climbing and day-to-day living. In winter, our loads easily went up to 75 lbs+ due to the extra gear needed for cold weather survival. I only weigh around 150 lbs so yes, I was carrying half of my body weight. Perhaps the most important thing I can think of was owning a pack that could handle those kinds of loads. Every single thing from hip belt, shoulder straps, and balance while loaded made a huge difference. Shoulder straps and hip belts that felt bad on day one could turn into a disabling feature by day five. A pack that was too long or short required constant adjustments and never felt right. Second on the list was having boots with enough support to handle the additional weight that was on my back. Most modern mountain boots overcome that problem but none the less, your feet are taking a beating too. Perhaps the most memorable part of carrying a huge load was having to learn my pack against a tree or rock and needing to sit down to strap it on because it was too heavy to pick up and swing over one shoulder. Standing up was the hardest part but once upright it seemed easier. Hiking or ski poles help quite a bit too for both balance and a bit of push from the arms and shoulders. As for training, load it up and suck it up. It's not a bit fun but that's the way you get up the big mountains unless you pay someone to do it for you.

Last edited by reboyles on Fri Sep 15, 2017 4:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Backpack : Body Weight Ratio?

by GlacierCountry » Wed Sep 13, 2017 3:24 pm

Could also consider increasing calorie intake, trying to increase muscle mass and weight while training. I put my wife on a 4000 calorie diet high in good fats, proteins and specific workout routine while she was training to take the law enforcement physical exam. She weighed 115lb at the beginning and would be competing with guys much bigger and stronger. She gained 12 pounds and ended up beating most of the men. Training/conditioning is very important.
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Re: Backpack : Body Weight Ratio?

by ExcitableBoy » Wed Sep 13, 2017 7:56 pm

I like to train by trail running ( a lot), lifting weights (mostly body weight exercises), and bouldering and rock climbing after work several days a week. On the weekends I bang out alpine climbs in an easy day that takes most competent alpinists three days to climb. This program works for my schedule, my climbs in my home range (Washington Cascades) and for my forays into big Alaskan climbs.

For Denali, I decided I needed a trainer and hired the person who wrote the training chapter in Freedom of the Hills. She had me run less and hike more with a big 60 lb pack. This trained me to walk slowly uphill. On Denali, we pulled sleds the first two days to 11k, then made double carries to 14k. I never carried more than 50 pounds on my back. I weighed about 155 at the time. I decided my previous approach worked better for me, although I was introduced to some great new exercises.

To sum up, train how you like to train and don't carry more than 50lbs on your back. With double carries and sleds there is no need. I honestly carried more like 45lbs most days.

The best tips to lighten your load is to buy a high quality sleeping bag, no need for a -40 if you go mid May or later. A high quality bag will be lighter and will pack smaller allowing you to use a smaller pack. Get a -15F to -20F from Feathered Friends or Western Mountaineering and buy the shortest size that will work for you. Then get a light pack. The only production pack I would consider would be the CRUX AK 75. Expedition tents are ungodly heavy. Get a Stephenson's Warmlite 2R. They are proven on Denali and incredibly light. I've used them, and if I were in the market for a new tent, it is what I would buy. Those items are the 'Big Three', and the pack weighs 3lbs 4oz, the bag will be ~3 lbs 2oz, the tent 2lbs 12 oz. Total, 9lbs 2oz. The weight or the tent would be shared with your partner, so even lighter.

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Re: Backpack : Body Weight Ratio?

by mtnjim » Fri Sep 15, 2017 5:17 am

For my trip to Denali, I decided to increase the weight in my workout pack thinking that that would be more like pulling a sled while carrying a pack. I got up to 90 pounds, 2/3 body weight. I probably carried that weight a dozen times, never more than 6 miles. Too damned much weight. My pack, a Jansport Alaska, handled the weight well, muscles worked well enough, but my old injuries (acl reconstruction with partial menisectomy and a badly broken ankle) complained a lot.

Looking back, it was really unnecessary. Probably the heaviest carry was coming down from 17,200. Two carries to get everything up, but then we had good weather so only spent a couple of nights high and hauled everything down in one trip. Nowhere near 90 pounds.

Part of my thinking with training with the heavy pack was that I wanted to know what it was like, that Denali would not be a good place to introduce my body to that kind of strain just in case things went sideways. On that basis, I think at least doing some carries with a lot more than normal is a good idea, for you maybe half body weight?

Also, how much of your training is on hills? All of mine is so except for some short flatter sections on mountain trails I'm always going up or down. Spend as much time as you can on hills.


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