TV math

Inspired by my recent marathoning of season 1 of Hawaii Five-O, in which the characters handed over a medium-sized backpack supposedly full of $10 million, I had to wonder if that was physically possible. Ten million dollars seemed a bit far-fetched to fit into just one backpack, even if it is in $100 bills. So I googled.

If Google’s right, a dollar bill is 6.14″ long, 2.61″ wide, and .0043″ thick. So, if a $100 bill is roughly the same dimensions (Wikipedia says that I’m right at least as far as length and width go), that would mean that a stack of $100 bills would be 35.8′ tall, or 430″. The volume of that stack would be 6890.922 in3, and weigh about 100kg, or 220 lbs.

Why does this matter?

Either he's pretty strong or he's not holding 220 lbs
Either he’s pretty strong or he’s not holding 220 lbs

Because they were handling that backpack as if it were full of a few books, not 220 lbs of money. Even the buffest Navy Seal (which, of course, Our Hero is!) probably wouldn’t be tossing around 220 lbs as if it were a sack of groceries.

And would that much money fit in a medium-sized backpack? Even a relatively thick one like the one that James Marsters is holding right here? The volume of a backpack that size, according to REI, is probably in the neighborhood of 50-80 liters. 50 liters is roughly 3051 in3. If we’re saying the pack has the high end of volume, it’s more like 4882 in3. And that’s assuming that you could fit the bills in without extra awkward space left over.

So, let’s break it down:


Capacity of pack that size Actual dimensions of $10 million
50-80 liters or 3051-4882 in3 6891 in3 (about 113 liters)
As much weight as the volume allows plus about 2.5 to 5 lbs for the weight of the pack 220 lbs plus weight of pack

You’d need another pack to fit that much money–not to mention to be able to lift that much money.

So if your characters are pulling off a heist, perhaps you might have to factor in the complication of how much that money actually weighs. Even paper can only fit so much in one pack.

3 thoughts on “TV math

  1. Well, you could always use gold or diamonds instead of bills. That’d reduce the weight a bit (but less than one would think) but the size would most definitely be considerably smaller. If I were a master criminal, I would try to get diamonds. I love the sparkling. 😉

    1. Ha, true. In this case, apparently they didn’t, but it’s definitely an option as far as thinking about how you can tell stories like this, as a writer.

      1. I think it is crucial for writers to never underestimate readers. At the same time, clarity is of utmost importance, and that sometimes leads to boring minutiae. It’s hard to find the right balance.

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