Planning Group Backpacking Trips

An HVH Backpacking Group ready to Go!

Ahead of my upcoming “Intro to Backpacking” event, Katherine asks about planning group backpacking trips:

I have gone on several week-long backpacking trips before, but have not been the one to organize them; what does planning a 3-4 day backpacking trip involve?  I don’t want to be responsible for … weighing people down…  How do you distribute gear that everyone will be using?


Planning Group Backpacking Trips

For the trips I lead through meetup, everyone is responsible for packing and carrying their own food and gear. There is very little sharing except when people plan it for themselves ahead of time.  I realize that this group planning style is probably different from what you are thinking.

In the old days, when backpacking gear was heavy, planning group backpacking trips required  the careful distribution of group equipment such as stoves, cookware, and heavy multi-person tents.

Planning Group Backpacking Trips
CampingJay checks in with his HVH Backpacking Group

I advocate an ultralight, minimalist style of backpacking.  Most of the hikers on my trips have kits that weigh in between 10 and 15 lbs without food and water. Each also carries about 1.5 lbs of food per day and usually between 4 and 6 lbs of water (although water weight varies as you drink and refill.)  For myself, it is typical to start a 4 day trip with just 21 lbs on my back.

Beginners who are unsure of themselves and the environment typically pack a little heavier when it comes to food and clothing. Assuming they’re still following mostly an ultralight philosophy, that may bring them to about 25 lbs leaving the parking lot. For a 125 lb women, that comes out to 20% of her body weight and should be manageable, especially as she eat and drinks down the weight.

Assumptions I’ve Made

  • Each person carries a tent, sleeping bag, and backpack that weigh around 1.5 lbs each and a pad that weights about 0.5 lbs.  Gear in this range represents a total investment of about $800 – $1400, depending on brands.
  • My hikers wear the same clothing for the entire trip. They usually have an extra base layer for sleeping in, but always hike in the same clothing, plus or minus a layer or two as the weather changes.
  • We’re not finicky about hygiene. We carry hand sanitizer to clean our hands before eating, but no soap, deodorant, wipes, or anything of that nature. Most backpackers just embrace the stink and realize that we can get clean at the end of the trip.
  • Most backpackers only carry enough water to get from one source to the next.  In the northeast, we find that 2-3 liters is plenty. No one ever needs to start the trip off with all their water for the weekend.
  • We eat very simple food. Some go stoveless, but most carry a very light stove with a small pot for boiling water. Our cooked food typically just requires pouring hot water into a bag and weighting 10 minutes.  Our cooking pots double as mugs.  Most of my hikers carry just a small folding knife and a long-handled spoon.

Sharing equipment can cut gear weight, but in our range it doesn’t do much. For example, my girlfriend and I carry about 11 lbs of gear each, but she sleeps in her hammock while I sleep in my tent.  If we were to one day switch to a two person tent and quilt, we would be down to about 10 lbs each.  It isn’t a huge savings.