Space, Weight, or Comfort?

Alpine backpackersThere are three main things to consider when choosing backpacking gear: space, weight, and comfort. How much space an item occupies will affect what you will be able to carry in your pack, the weight of an item will determine your pack weight, and how much comfort an item provides will affect your overall mood, which directly affects your experience on the trail. Sometimes, backpacking gear strikes the perfect balance among all three of these qualities, but more often than not, you have to end up choosing between these options.

So, which quality is the most important when it comes to backpacking? Space, weight, or comfort?

As is true for most outdoor gear, the answer will inevitably boil down to preference. Ask a room full of backpackers what they value most and you will have some standing up for compact gear, others chanting mantras about shaving ounces, and those who are willing to carry some extra weight in order to be a little more comfortable. You have to determine what you value most. Here are some things to consider when making that decision.


Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to prioritize comfort. A camping chair will be more comfortable than the ground, but that chair will add a lot of weight and take up a lot of space. Is that worth it? Most people would say no, but some people say that it is.

Attitude is key on the trail. If you have the temperament to stay positive after walking 15 miles a day for 4 days, sleeping on the ground, sitting in the dirt, and eating nothing but rice and noodles, that’s terrific. But there are plenty of folks who can’t do it. They need little luxuries to help them stay happy on the trail. If a thicker sleeping pad or a warmer sleeping pad can mean the difference between your enjoying and hating your hike, sacrifice weight and space for comfort.

Sometimes you can find comfort in other ways, however. Sure that camp chair might be comfortable, it might keep your spirits high, but a chocolate bar might accomplish the same thing in terms of keeping you in a good mood.


“Every ounce counts” is a popular phrase among backpackers. The idea is that every bit of weight really starts to add up on extended backpacking trips. Unnecessary pack weight becomes exponentially burdensome, and you shouldn’t carry anything that you don’t absolutely need. While it’s certainly true that weight adds up on the trail, it’s not the only thing that matters. Your comfort, mood, and carrying capacity are all important as well.

Typically space and weight, go hand in hand, but this isn’t always true. You might have a titanium 4-person cookset that takes up more space but weighs less than your aluminum 2-person cookset. This is an example for when space could trump weight.

Generally speaking, however, it’s good practice to eliminate as much unnecessary weight as possible.


Again, space and weight will correspond more often than not, but this isn’t always the case. Since the size of your pack limits how much gear you can carry, space is incredibly important. Ideally you will be able to fit everything you want to carry inside of your pack. Of course, many packs come readily equipped to strap extra gear on the outside, and it’s common to do so. However, attaching gear can throw off the weight distribution – making it more difficult to hike – so if you’re strapping extra gear on the outside of your pack, do so carefully.

It really is a matter of preference.

Sometimes one of these factors will have an effect on the others. A smaller pad might weigh less, which will make carrying the pack more comfortable. However, a bigger, heavier, and more luxurious pad might provide more comfort while you’re sleeping at night. Is it worth the trade off? Which do you value more?

One Comment

  1. […] you also need the right gear for backpacking. Lightweight and compact is the order of the day, but comfort is also something that you should consider when choosing your backpacking […]

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