Pack Weight: Balancing Speed and Sustainability.


Culture Fuel From the Trail series

This series of posts is inspired by our recent 6-day section hike of the Appalachian Trail, which you can read more about here. Each of these posts offers an insight from our experience on the trail that applies to life and leadership. Enjoy!

“Whether you go hiking or white-water rafting, the point is to step outside your high-carb comfort zone long enough to encounter the untamed holiness of the wild.”
— Barbara Brown Taylor

We stood in the backpack section of REI talking to Elizabeth, a 20-something veteran AT through-hiker (what you call folks who hike the entire 2180 miles from Georgia to Maine!). Before we took our first of approximately 142,000 steps on our week's trip we had to make one important decision: how many pounds would we carry?

According to my research--and confirmed by Elizabeth--30 pounds was a reasonable weight to shoot for that would supply everything we needed and nothing we didn't. The lightweight packs on sale that could handle that load sealed the deal. By the time we hoisted and strapped up, carrying water for a day and food for six, I was just a smidge over 30 and Kellie was floating at a mere 21.

This reflects our personalities by the way. She's a minimalist while I like to be prepared for every possible scenario. So we're good for each other! Believe me, we saw plenty of  "RV" packers staggering down the trail at 60 pounds! Like most things, there is always a trade-off. A balance between speed and sustainability that applies to life as much as the trail. How to find that balance? Here are a few tips:

  1. Clarify values. For starters, take some time in your organization and leadership to define what it means to travel fast and light vs. slow and thorough. How prepared and excellent? How agile and responsive? Your strategy may differ for various products or projects.
  2. Buy quality. No matter which side of the "pack weight" continuum you choose, choose quality. Quality people, quality facilities, quality vendors. It's tempting to cut corners and go for bargains, but the old adage is sound: You get what you pay for.
  3. Evaluate often. How do you define success? Schedule regular review of the metrics that matter most to you so that you can make mid-course corrections. You may find that you need to pick up the pace a little...or that you need a few more resources than you first thought.

At the end of each day on the trail, Kellie and I asked each other, "What did we wish we had today? What did we bring that we didn't need?" By the end, I was delighted that we were about 90%. Just a few little extras for our next a bit more TP! Happy hiking.


Posted on April 28, 2014 .