The Ultralight Equation
There has been a contested rule of thumb in the hiking and backpacking communnity for some time now, “A pound on your foot equals five pounds in your pack”, or was it six pounds, maybe seven. Anyhow there have been quite a few numbers thrown around based on “studies”, but where does it all come from speculation or investigation. I recently read an article that gave some history of this axiom called, “Weight on your Feet” by Jorgen Johansson who pursued this equation back through time with some discussions on the subject with Professor Stephen Legg who was involved in multiple studies regarding footwear weight, energy consumption, and travel efficiency if your an enthusiast who needs to know read the article it is very interesting. In the end here is their conclusion in a ball park kind of way being there are many variables to account for.
As I researched this area a couple of years ago I was in e-mail contact with Professor Stephen Legg, the author of one of the above articles and a man who did many other studies on the subject of footwear and transportation a couple of decades ago.I asked him:
Jörgen: My own conclusion is that the old adage, reputedly from the 1953 Everest expedition, about 5 times is still a nice round number which adheres to available scientific findings and communicates that you pay a severe penalty for carrying weight in your feet. Exactly how heavy can vary and depends on a lot of factors. Does this seem reasonable ?
Stephen Legg: I agree for practical purposes 5 times is a fair adage.
So we do have some studies and background on this issue that support the “pound on your foot equals five in your pack” equation, but beyond the studies I have experiential evidence that I can hike farther, faster, and more comfortably in lightweight hikers which I have been doing for the last three years on and off trail day hiking, backpacking, and scrambling on virtually every type of terrain imaginable and I am so glad to have happy feet after decades of heavy boots, packs, and frequent blisters. The only reservations I have with lightweight and ultralight footwear which makes me go to my heavier boots (which are still light) are deep snow where I will be using snowshoes or hard snow where I need to wear crampons, edge, or kick in steps. My UL shoes work fine the majority of the time with some good planning. I can use them as an approach shoe and carry heavier boots until I need them then switch back again when I don’t. I once said I thought in hiking and backpacking footwear should be added to the “Big Three” to make a “Big Four” your footwear selection is that important and additionally footwear will have a bigger impact on comfort, distance, and efficiency than any of the “Big Three”.