Does Pack Weight Matter?

Just like everyone like everyone knows that Twinkies have an infinite shelf life, it has long been the case that hiking experts (including myself) roundly advise reducing pack weight to lower the risk of sustaining a hiking injury.  However, the science on this matter casts doubt on what we’ve always thought was time-tested truth.

A 2009 study of 128 long distance hikers on the AT and PCT by Anderson, et. al., published in Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, failed to show a significant association between pack weight, footwear, and musculoskeletal injuries.

A survey conducted in 2013 by Distancehiking supports the findings in Dr. Anderson’s research.  317 long distance hikers who completed thru-hikes of the AT or PCT were asked whether they experienced “injury or more than a few days of aches and pains.”  They were also asked quantify their base pack weight into one of five categories:

  • <10 lb
  • 11-14lb
  • 15-19lb
  • 20-24lb
  • >25lb

The results of the survey can be seen below:

pack weight versus injury
Pack Weight vs. Injury in Thru-Hikers

At first glance, it would seem as though carrying a base pack weight under 15 lb is significantly associated with less chance of injury, but applying some simple statistics to the data shows that this is not the case.

The above data was analyzed using the chi-square test with a contingency table and found that pack weight and injury are not associated (chi-square = 2.794, P=.593, df = 4).

Reducing risk of injury in long distance hiking is probably a much more complicated matter than simple pack weight.  Perhaps pack weight interacts with several other variables, like footwear, speed, pace, history of injury, and age?  Which variables are more important?  We won’t know for sure until there’s some good science to lead the way.

Interested in learning more about injury risk reduction in hiking?  Check out Long Distance Hiking by Dan Feldman.

A big thank you to John H. McDonald, Ph.D. at the University of Delaware for his Handbook of Biological Statistics website and free Excel-based chi-square calculator.

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