A simple one-page conversions table.

Here is a conversions table pdf that I made:


There are lots of these things out there and mine isn’t necessarily better than the others. But I wanted to include a conversions table in my backpacker’s manual without using someone else’s work, so here we are.

And it was interesting to do. I had always thought of the US and English systems as horrendously backwards and poorly designed in contrast to metric. That’s correct but I was a little surprised at how much diversity and peculiarity there is out there in the world of weights and measures, even beyond the English and American units. It’s not just pints and gallons. There are also drams and slugs, bushels and cullishigays. I had never really thought about it but of course every little dukedom probably had its own units. Moreover, new units probably just spring up organically all the time: the guys loading their particular barrel need to know how many of that particular barrel is needed tomorrow. Really, we should be surprised that most of the world has replaced their own units for metric.

Even more interesting, units of measure have been a hot political topic for hundreds of years. It turns out that if you tax people based on how many bushels of grain they produce, then you will have bitter, unending, violent conflict about what a “bushel” is.

After doing this exercise, I’d say the worst things about the non-metric systems are probably:

  • There are US and an imperial systems of mass and volume which use the same words in different amounts. A ton in the US is different from a ton in England. The same for “fluid ounce”;
  • An “ounce” is a unit of mass while a “fluid ounce” is a unit of volume. No relation.
  • Sometimes US recipes give you dry ingredients like flour or nuts measured in volume, like a cup, rather than mass. So you can buy a set of measuring cups – one for flour, one for rice, one for nuts. Each of them is equal to one “cup” but they’re all different sizes.

Metric all the way.