One question I often get asked about my hike on the Appalachian Trail is, “How much did your pack weigh?” The best answer is, “That depends.”
First of all, in the cold weather, hikers carry more heavy clothing. Additionally, if it is very cold, there will also be the extra sleeping materials to stay warm at night. I was fortunate, since I started out in May, the weather was somewhat warmer; I didn’t have any snow and some of the nights were near freezing, but not too many times.
Cold weather usually means additional food in the pack. The body wants to keep warm and uses calories to keep that heat going. Although it is not necessary, hot food can add to the comfort level when the weather is cold, but that means additional fuel to heat it, or stopping more often to find fuel.
In the warmer weather the pack can get much lighter, as much as fifteen pounds or more. Extra fuel, hats, gloves, heavy clothes, extra socks and so on can be shipped home. Ultimately, in the cooler weather my pack was up around 40-42 pounds (including water and food) and in the warmer times it was usually around 35 pounds, full.
As I progressed up the trail I ended up eating cold breakfasts, even in the cold Maine weather. Whereas down south I was eating oatmeal and hot chocolate for breakfast, in the north I was into mini-bagels and cream cheese. With the cooler weather the cheese would keep well in my pack for many days and the bagels were a welcome change from energy bars and their ilk. Although bulky, the bagels did not weigh that much and oft times I would also have them at lunch with peanut butter.
Additionally, I was carrying two ham radios. One was similar to a cell phone; it operated on VHF. I didn’t use it often, but it was comforting to know I could communicate with it from almost everywhere; that was not the case with the cell phone, which I also carried.
The other radio was a short-wave affair. It used the Morse code with a key. It actually fit inside an Altoids mint tin and weighed a massive 7 ounces. With external batteries and an antenna my amateur radio (ham)gear added maybe two pounds to my overall pack weight. I didn’t carry any books to read; many do, so it was probably a trade off when compared to what other hikers were carrying.
A good rule of thumb for figuring pack weight is it should weigh, at a maximum, about 20% of your body weight. I usually met that requirement. Hiking gear is like a women’s bikini, the less of it there is, the more it costs, so everything is a trade-off.