I've been lurking on various Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail web communities for the past few months, watching the annual ritual of this year's hikers trying to plan ahead as much as they can for the unknown. The questions never end– which sleeping bag to bring, how to resupply, what shoes to wear, are bear hangs necessary, are permits necessary, what food to eat, what's the hardest hiking, the list goes on. But the questions that always baffle my mind are the variations of this: "Is my pack weight acceptable?"

Usually, the question takes the form "is it okay to take this pack?" I've seen several questions like "is it okay to take this extraneous item?" One hiker even approached me specifically to ask if bringing an extra pound of travel games was okay, since others in the web community had so vigorously argued against bringing them. I was astounded.

Ultralight Mini Uno

Ultralight Mini-Uno

For the past six years, my base pack weight has hovered between 8 and 11 pounds, depending on conditions. But even for me, weight is only the second most important factor in choosing gear to bring on a hike. There's one factor that trumps all others, and that is "does it make me happy."

Not everybody needs a light pack for happy hiking. Sometimes a book is part of the equation. Sometimes it's your elaborate, but heavy, kitchen set. Sometimes it's an SLR camera. Sometimes it's a deck of cards. The final decision on what to bring on your hike has very little to do with a quantifiable number from a scale. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just plain wrong.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't think about the weight of your pack. Knowing the weight of your pack, and everything in it, is the smart thing to do. The reason we weigh our gear is to help make informed decisions about what to carry, but those informed decisions need to weigh all the factors. So the next time you begin to ask if packing something for your hike is acceptable, remember that you're the only one who really knows the answer to your question. Don't listen to anyone who would tell you otherwise– just remember to make informed decisions based on multiple criteria.

This post was written by former Trail Ambassador "Guthook" Ryan Linn.

March 31, 2014 — Brian Fryer