Pack Shakedown 101: The Difference Between Base Weight and Total Weight

Performing a pack shakedown is one of the most valuable things a hiker can do either on or off the trail. Dumping everything in your pack on the ground and going through every item is a time honoured humbling tradition that hopefully ends up with your pack a few pounds lighter.

Having an experienced hiker look through your pack is usually the best way to do a pack shakedown but that’s not always possible. You can do your own pack shakedowns too.

Before a shakedown it’s always good to know the terminolgy and what the terms mean exactly. Knowing the defintions enables you to correctly compare your own pack setup with other people’s gear lists.

A lot of people are confused around what exactly counts towards their packs base weight. This table lays out all the different types of weight terminology used by backpackers and hikers when doing a pack shakedown.

Weight TypeDefinition
Worn WeightThe minimum clothes you wear whilst hiking (including trekking poles)
Consumable WeightWater, Food and Fuel (but not the gear used to carry these e.g. Bottles, Fuel Canister)
Base WeightEverything in your pack but not including Worn Weight or Consumable Weight
Skin-Out WeightYour Base Weight and your Worn Weight and your Consumable Weight
Total WeightYour Skin-Out Weight and Your Own Body Weight
All the different weight types needed to do a full backpack shakedown

Worn Weight

Worn Weight is the weight of the clothes you wear whilst hiking in optimum conditions.

These are things you will ALWAYS be wearing when hiking. So you don’t include your rain gear, or your warm puffy jacket or fleece or the gloves you pop on every now and then.

For most people their Worn Weight will comprise of the following:

  • Hiking shirt/t-shirt
  • Shorts/trousers
  • Underwear
  • Socks/linersocks
  • Trail runners/boots
  • Trekking Pole(s)

Your trekking poles ARE included in your Worn Weight but only under the assumption you actually use them when hiking. If you bring a pole to pitch your tent or only use your poles occassionaly then you should include them in your Base Weight.

Consumable Weight

Consumable Weight is the weight of your water, food and fuel.

The empty bottles or bladders used to carry the water aren’t consumable, so they will count towards your Base Weight. Likewise with the weight of the empty fuel canister you bring ( FYI a small empty canister usually weights around 3.5oz/100grams).

The contents on things like sunscreen, insect repelant, body glide, toothpaste could in theory all be marked as consumable but their rate of consumption per day whilst hiking will be so small most people just include it in their Base Weight.

Base Weight

Base Weight is the weight of everything you are carrying excluding your Consumable Weight and your Worn Weight.

If you’re carrying a fanny pack or have things in your pockets, these all count towards your Base Weight too. There is no point trying to fool yourself for a lighter pack on paper, you’ll still have to carry it.

And don’t forget to include everything you are carrying, not just your hiking gear. Your phone, your ID, cash or cards, the empty ziplock bags in your food bag, all count towards your Base Weight.

Skin-Out Weight

Skin-Out Weight is the weight of everything you carry. It’s your Base Weight + your Worn Weight + your Consumable Weight.

Total Weight

Total Weight is your Skin-Out Weight and your own Body Weight.

What Can Each Of These Weights Tell Us?

When To Use Base Weight?

The Base Weight metric essentially just tells us the minimum our pack will ever weigh. If we are completely out of water and food and fuel our pack will be at it’s Base Weight.

Obviously having a lighter Base Weight can lead to more comfortable hiking but the main benefit in trying to reduce our Base Weight is that it enables us to comfortably carry more water or food or fuel, more consumables.

Being able to carry more consumables enables us to hike longer distances without the need to resupply.

So a lower Base Weight doesn’t automatically mean we hike with a lighter pack but rather it enables the option to hike further between resupplies if needs be.

When To Use Skin-Out Weight?

Let’s say you have a Base Weight of 15lbs. You’re planning a hike where you’ll need 5 days of food and will have to carry 4 liters of water at a time. So your Consumable Weight will be around 20lbs. This means your Skin-Out Weight would be 35lbs.

Now check that weight against what your packs load capacity is. If you’re hiking with a frameless UL pack and the manufactuer says the upper load capacity of your pack is only 30lbs. Uh-oh! Your Skin-out weight is 5lbs more than your packs rated load capacity.

So, by having an idea of what your Skin-Out Weight would be it’ll help you choose which pack you need to bring to carry all your stuff.

Alternatively, if you’re deadset on using that pack then it tells you need to reduce your Skin-Out Weight by 5lbs. So, you either reduce your Base Weight or bring less food/water or a combination of both.

Maybe you can’t change your pack, and can’t find a way to safely reduce your Base Weight or Consumable Weight? Then you’ve just identified that to safely do this hike you’ll need to resupply somewhere along that 5 day hike instead of doing it all in one go.

Using Skin-Out Weight properly can help you identify potential problems with either your pack or your route. How you adapt to that information is up to you.

When To Use Total Weight?

You can be lightest of the ultralight in terms of Base Weight, carry the bare minimum of Consumables but if your Body Weight is too high, it won’t matter.

This is something we’re all guilty of. We spend too much time researching gear and trails when in reality the best thing we could do to prepare for a hike is just hit the gym or watch our diet. It’s often overlooked but one of the best things you can do before a big hike is simple lose some body weight!

Being remined of this fact is the best use of Total Weight.

Master The Pack Shakedown

The Hiker Times also gives free pack shakedowns. Simply fill out the form here with your gear list and we’ll get back to you with our suggestions ASAP!