The classic advice given to backpackers trying to limit the weight they have to carry is “Pay attention to the ounces, and the pounds take care of themselves.”

Brooks Landon M.A. Ph.D.. Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read (Great Courses) (2013).

How's the quoted sentence true in reference to backpacking specifically?

The pounds cause most of the mass and physical burden.

  • 2
    Let's reopen this, its not about whether a sentence makes sense but rather whether or not this would be true for backpacking. See the comments here english.stackexchange.com/questions/473640/… and here outdoors.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1338/… – Charlie Brumbaugh Nov 20 '18 at 14:20
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    No exactly answering the question, but I have noticed that while going light weight with one or other piece of gear might not save a lot in total weight, but that one or two saved kilograms might make a huge difference. At least for me there seems to be a tipping point in the bearability of the weight I carry on my shoulders, especially on long hikes. – april rain Nov 21 '18 at 8:42
  • The expression is a tautology. Applied to this question, it's equivalent to asking "Does reducing carried weight make sense when planning backpacking gear?". Well, of course it does. – Gabriel C. Nov 21 '18 at 14:02

It does make sense to watch the weight of your gear and go for lighter gear when possible. A few ounces here and there will add up to pounds.

On the other hand, it is also possible to be penny wise and pound foolish and in my experience at least, this is far more common, you will see overweight hikers and climbers buying titanium gear for example.

I once had another backpacker with his gut hanging over his belt inform me that his water shoes were 4 ounces lighter than mine.

Realistically, this is just a saying and not an ironclad rule.


There are several expressions akin to

Pay attention to the ounces, and the pounds take care of themselves.

The most famous saying is

Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.

ascribed to Lord Chesterfield in 1747 by Phrase Finder. (There were 240 pence (pennies) to the pound sterling.) The statement means "to be thrifty and not to squander money", and was memorably updated by Sen. Everett Dirksen, commenting on how federal spending tended to get out of control:

a billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.

Ounces or pennies or a mere billion dollars, the principle is the same: look at the cost or weight of every item you buy or take with you on a backpacking trip and try to pare down the weight or cost and your wallet will be fatter and your pack lighter.

Some backpackers (and racing sailors) cut the handle of their toothbrush in half to save weight, but you don't have to be that extreme. Some mountaineers make one of their water bottles do double duty as their pee bottle when they are tentbound, but IMO, that is going much too far. Carry extra clothes so you can change into dry clothes, but don't worry about dirty clothes. Repackage food to eliminate glass and cardboard. Take a tiny travel sized tube of toothpaste (preferably already partially used) -- or no toothpaste at all, just floss -- your teeth won't drop out in a couple of weeks.

Everything you take should be essential, according to your standards, and everything should be scrutinized: (1) do I really need X? (2) do I really need this much of X? (3) Can I repackage X to eliminate weight?


Little things add up.

  • Do you need a set of batteries a day for your GPS or is 3 sets enough for a week.
  • Take food out of boxes. A plastic bag is 6 grams. A box is 40 grams. -- about an ounce. Repeat for 21 meals, that's a pound and a half.
  • What's in your repair kit? I found last full check I did I had ladderlock buckles incompatible with my present gear. How many safety pins do you really need?

There's lots of lists of this sort of stuff. Some people are fanatic about it. I heard of one guy who took the extra 4" off his boot laces. Another to cut out the liner of his running shorts.

It can go too far. Another guy used a cheap $2 use once special rain jacket. And it rained the whole week. Fortunately for him, I had a small roll of duct tape.

You find that 'expedition grade' stuff is a lot less fragile, and often somewhat heavier that the super light stuff.

The less you carry, the lighter your load, but also you are less capable of dealing with the unexpected.

"Take care of the pennies then the pounds (british money) will take care of themselves."

but also

"Some are penny-wise but pound-foolish"

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