Spending time outdoors tends to spark creative thinking — from big things, like starting a business, to small things, like an idea to improve the immediate situation. This article is about those small backpacking “hacks.” These are the often overlooked tips and tricks I’ve stumbled across that have ended up being tremendously useful. Number one on the list is an Amy original (so far as I know) and the rest were picked up from friends and books.
Make Your Own Ultralight Mug with a Coozie and Talenti Jar
While I backpack often enough to warrant the investment in a titanium mug, I found myself stumped last summer as I prepared gear for a family backpacking trip: What mug should I bring for my husband and daughter? That’s when a flash of creativity struck.
A coozie around a Talenti jar is not only extremely functional, but it’s also extremely lightweight and cheap!!! (Who doesn’t have 13 extra coozies from that one friend’s wedding?)
While I might give a second thought to putting hot liquids in plastic for weeks on end, for the occasional backcountry trip, this is a pretty magical solution!
Bump Up the Warmth of Your Quilt or Sleeping Bag with a SOL Bivvy
I’m a cold person, and by extension a cold sleeper. When I got my first backpacking quilt, I quickly discovered that unless it was July, I’d get cold at night. Rather than buying a brand new piece of gear, I got my hands on a SOL Escape Lite Bivy, which I now put over my quilt or sleeping bag.
For $40 and with the addition of 5.5 ounces, I sleep toasty!
Note: it’s extremely important to use the breathable Escape Lite Bivvy and NOT the emergency bivvy, which builds up considerable condensation during the course of a night! Dare I admit that I learned the hard way!
Use Your Emptied Pack Around Your Feet at Night
Legendary thru-hiker and GGG contributor Jeff Garmire gets credit for coming up with this trick, which he figured out while hiking the AT in winter! If you find your feet are getting cold at night, empty your backpack and put it around the toe box of your sleeping bag or quilt. Much like the SOL Emergency Bivvy hack described above, it’s amazing how the extra liner created by your backpack can make all the difference.
Ditch the Camp Shoes for Bread Bags
I hike in running shoes (versus boots), meaning that my kicks are still pretty comfortable by the end of the day. But however comfortable, they’re also typically wet! (Chalk it up to living in Alaska, I’m the person who often walks right into a stream, shoes still on.)
Both for comfort and to avoid trench foot, when the sun starts setting, I want my feet to be dry! So here’s the hack: carry an extra pair of dry socks, plus two sturdy bread bags. Then, when you pull into camp at night, put on the dry socks, followed by the bread bags, followed by the wet running shoes.
Your feet will be comfy and the Crocs stay home!
(Author’s note: while taking the pictures to illustrate this hack, our dogs ran out of our yard to greet our neighbor. The upshot? I definitely walked up to our 80-year-old neighbor wearing bags on my feet ... and she wanted to take a picture!)
Keep Everything You Need Routinely Within Arm’s Reach
I’m a big fan of pockets, in all of their varied and beautiful forms. I’m talking hip belt pockets, shoulder strap pockets, mesh pockets on packs, fanny packs, and of course those absolutely scrumptious pockets found on both sides of Purple Rain Adventure Skirts.
Don’t get me wrong, like anything, pockets can be taken to an unnecessary extreme, but when used intentionally and judiciously, they can absolutely make everything just a little bit easier and more efficient.
Here are examples of how I build pockets into my systems:
During the day while hiking, I keep my food in hip belt pockets, or the mesh back and side pockets on my pack, so that I can easily reach it when I get hungry. With a background in ultrarunning, I have a particular knack for eating while in motion; but even when stopping to snack, it’s nice not to have to rifle through my pack to get to calories.
I keep my camera/ phone in a shoulder strap pocket. I get a particular thrill and satisfaction out of documenting adventures and finding artistic ways to capture an experience through imagery. Or, as my husband would say, I take a TON of photos! By keeping my camera within super easy reach, I’m often able to capture these images with a simple pause, mid-stride.
- I keep all my in-camp essentials in a fanny pack, which I wear around at night. This includes my headlamp, lighter, spork, tooth brush, tooth paste powder, a warm hat, etc. It saves me from, say, scrambling to find my headlamp when it gets dark, or losing track of a spork when I’m ravenously hungry.
Pack Towel for Condensation
Condensation in ones tent is always annoying. Especially in single wall tents, condensation can simply be one of the most frustrating things on trail. At least when It rains outside, typically you’ve got a raincoat on. When it happens inside your tent, all of your most precious stuff runs the risk of getting soaked!
While there are a bunch of different tips and tricks for reducing condensation, nothing will eliminate it entirely. A personal favorite for reducing the effects of condensation is to bring a small pack towel. When you wake up (or when condensation is starting to build), quickly wipe down the inside of your tent.
Does it solve the problem of condensation? No, but it provides a workable fix when condensation is particularly bad. Wipe it down, wring it out in your vestibule, and then put it on your pack to dry while you hike!
Use a Boat to Make Your Route More Interesting
I’m just gonna own it … I included this “hack” so I could include this pic, because it totally cracks me up and brings back great memories at the same time. But really, there’s something epically wonderful about multi-sport adventures — I highly recommend mixing foot travel with boats, bikes and/ or skis!
Pack Mini Playing Cards!
Because (cat’s out of the bag) backpacking and most especially ultralight backpacking is fun! And sometimes mini playing cards offer serious adventure enhancement!
What are your favorite backpacking hacks? Leave a comment below!
Amy Hatch is the co-founder of Garage Grown Gear. When not tapping away at the keyboard, she can be found playing Connect Four with her daughter, watching James Bond movies with her husband, and drinking really good coffee.