The downside to carrying a lightweight or ultralight backpacking load (20 lbs or less) is your weakness. If you aren’t used to carrying a 40- or 50-pound backpacking load (including fuel and water), you will quickly run out of gas if you need to carry heavier loads.
This happened to me at the start of last winter, when I had to make the transition from a lightweight backpacking load of 15 pounds to a heavy winter backpacking load of 45 pounds in a matter of days. After a day of snowshoeing, I hit the wall and had to cancel a trip two days earlier. As if that weren’t enough, it took me two-thirds of the winter before I was able to get enough stamina to be able to take multi-day winter trips. It was a shocker and I resolved to never let it happen again.
While I am looking forward to backpacking light trips this spring and summer I also enjoy training hikes with a heavier backpack (30-40 pound). It’s great exercise and has helped me lose some weight.
By carrying charcoal bags, I can simulate heavier loads. The 18-pound bag is shown above alongside a ULA Catalyst Backpack. This pack is huge (4600 cubic inches) and can hold 40 pounds. It was purchased for expedition hikes where you need to carry up to 16 days’ worth of food (roughly 30 pounds). I also needed water and gear. It was my intention to go on one of these hikes this May, but my father died two months ago. (See Hiking a White Mountain Direttissima).
There are many ways to simulate a 30-pound food load. I have tried everything from carrying 30-pound bags of bird seed to hydration bladders filled with water. Bags of charcoal are the best method to simulate food weight. They take about the same amount as backpacking food. You could use real food, but it would go waste. Bags of charcoal are great because they can be bought cheaply in many sizes and weights. They won’t go bad in my car trunk, and they won’t attract mice if they’re brought into my house.
While I love my lightweight backpack and the sub-20 pound weight of my loads for weekend trips, it is not something I would recommend if you are looking to hike longer distances in remote areas without resupply.