How Much Should Big 3 Weigh Backpacking?

By Alice Nichols

The amount of weight one should carry when backpacking can vary greatly depending on a number of factors, such as the type of terrain, the length of the trip, and the personal preferences of the hiker. This is why it’s important to know what kind of gear you’ll need for your specific style and type of hiking before you set out.

The “Big 3” items that usually make up a backpacking load are a backpack, shelter, and sleeping system. So how much should these 3 items weigh?

A good starting point when determining what kind of load to carry is to figure out what your base weight should be. Base weight includes all your essential items minus food, water, and fuel.

To determine this, take all your gear, weigh it on a scale, and subtract any consumables you plan to carry. If you find that your total base weight is over 25% of your bodyweight (e.g., if you weigh 150lbs then your base weight should not exceed 38lbs), then it’s time to start lightening the load.

When it comes to the Big 3 specifically, there are ways to reduce their weight significantly. For instance, if reducing overall pack weight is your goal then you may want to look into investing in ultralight gear such as Dyneema fabric backpacks and lightweight shelters like tarps or bivy sacks. Similarly, down quilts or sleeping bags with high fill powers will provide warmth without adding too much bulk or extra ounces.

Another way to reduce overall pack weight is by taking multi-purpose items such as a hiking pole that doubles as a tent pole or an inflatable sleeping pad that can be used as an emergency shelter. By utilizing these types of items in combination with lightweight options for the Big 3 items mentioned above you can easily shave off several pounds from your total pack weight.


The amount of weight one should carry when backpacking depends on personal preferences and factors such as terrain and length of trip; however, it’s important to know what kind of gear is necessary for any given style or type of hiking before setting out. The Big 3—backpack, shelter