Packing Too Much vs. Packing Too Little While Backpacking

Backpacking gearThe way that a person packs is a reflection of their personality. If you are cautious and like to plan for the unexpected, you will most likely overpack for backpacking trips. If you take a more spartan approach towards life, you will probably lean towards a minimalist packing list.

Whether you overpack or underpack for a backpacking trip is based on preference, but is one better than the other? Packing heavy and packing light both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Some hikers like to pack as much as they can so that they will be prepared for every possible situation. You can spot these hikers by their bulging backpacks and mountains of gear strapped to the outsides of their packs. Rain? Extra rain jacket. Fall in the river? Extra clothes. Get lost and add a couple of days to the trip? Extra food. While it’s nice to be ready for whatever comes your way, this requires extra space, weight, and pack organization.

Other hikers like to pack as little as possible. This means they will travel lighter, and that they don’t have to carry as much supplies. Every ounce counts when you’re on the trail, and lightweight hikers know the value of cutting down weight. They choose a bivy instead of a tent. The ground instead of a camp chair. A fire instead of a stove. Less weight means fresher legs, but this approach requires more planning, more preparation, and more know how.

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of packing too much and packing too little.

Pros of overpacking

  • Allows you to be prepared for the unexpected.
  • Carrying extra gear lets you help out forgetful or under-prepared travel companions.
  • You can carry luxury items for increased comfort.

Cons of overpacking

  • You must carry a larger pack.
  • You’re carrying extra weight, which can make hiking more difficult.
  • You might not end up using everything you bring.

Pros of minimalism

  • You don’t carry more than is necessary.
  • You can carry a smaller pack.
  • Less weight means easier hiking.

Cons of minimalism

  • You may be less prepared for emergencies.
  • It requires more preparation and planning.
  • Can require more skills.

The only real danger involved with overpacking is getting tired. However, the dangers that come with underpacking can be more serious. If the temperature drops and a thunderstorm sets in, you might end up regretting not packing extra clothes and a shell.

Minimalist hikers must know their route, terrain, and weather forecast. They must plan their trip down to the last detail, ration food, and stick to their itinerary. Minimalist hikers must also have a broader and more practiced skill set than hikers who pack for the unexpected. You’re substituting gear with skills.

There’s no law for packing. What one person views as the perfect pack weight, another could view as too much, while still another could view as too little. The perfect pack weight depends on your preferences, needs, and abilities.

The best way to find out how much stuff you need to carry is to get out often. Hit the trails and tweak your pack list until you have it dialed in.

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