Backpackers are always trying to lower their pack weight. After all, when you are carrying everything you need to live on your back, every ounce should be examined. One simple way to reduce pack weight is to make sure you are toting gadgets that are multipurpose and attempt to eliminate ones that aren’t. Also, finding new ways to use your gear can be fun and helpful. With this in mind, I created a list of 10 items in which I (or one of my fellow thru-hikers) found more than one use.
1. Wool Socks
Instead of carrying gloves, I used an extra pair of Darn Tough wool socks (my favorite) as gloves/mittens. I was still able to use my trekking poles with them on and it was worth saving the little bit of weight since gloves weren’t a necessity. I’ve also heard of people using their extra socks to keep their water filter warm on a cold night.
2. Cook Pot
Some water sources are just too shallow to collect water easily, so using your cook pot to scoop it up can be helpful. I don’t know why this never occurred to me until someone else suggested it, but what a great idea! You don’t have to worry about dirty water contaminating your food unless you aren’t planning on heating your food.
3. Duct Tape
Everyone knows the saying, “If you can’t duck it…$%&# it!” In other words, duct tape is typically useful when repairing gear. I used it to patch my pack cover and pot cozy. In addition to fixing gear, some even use it to repair their feet! In a pinch, duct tape can be used to cover painful hot spots or blisters to alleviate friction. Just clean the area as well as you can with soap and water (or hand sanitizer), allow it to dry and apply a square of duct tape larger than the painful area.
4. Clothes Bag/Extra Clothing
Extra layers are nice to have when you need them, but they are really comfy when used in your clothes bag as a hiker pillow at night. When the weather warmed up during my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I kept my puffy coat anyway to use as a pillow (and just in case I got a little chilly at camp). So, ditch the extra weight of your camp pillow and try to utilize some other items as your nightly cushion.
5. Trekking Poles
When I first started the AT, I had never used trekking poles. In fact, I remember asking someone to show me how to use them while I was on the approach trail. Now, I wouldn’t know how to hike long distances without them. Not only do they help you while hiking, but they can also be used to support tents. Some tents are designed to be set up using trekking poles, so you can forego the weight of separate tent poles. Also, they make special gadgets in which you can you set up your trekking poles as a tripod for your camera.
This one is a no brainer as everyone knows a phone can be used as a calculator, flashlight, ipod, etc. in addition to phone calls and messaging. I also used mine as my main source of blogging and vlogging while on trail. To send my footage home, I used the Dropbox app and uploaded footage while in town and connected to wifi. A friend back home collected the footage from www.dropbox.com. If you don’t go over 2GB it’s free. You can upgrade to a monthly fee for more storage, though. Another way backpackers utilize their phones is by downloading the guthooks app which basically turns your phone into a trail guide/map. Guthooks has guides for many trails across the US; you check them out here: www.guthookhikes.com
I honestly can’t think of a more versatile piece of gear than the bandana. Some of the ways to utilize a bandana that immediately come to mind are: snot rag, pot holder/hot pad, to cover greasy hair, sediment filter for water, to cover sun burned areas, to dry up rain water off the floor of your tent, bathing rag, dish rag, and pee rag. I’m sure you’re already thinking of uses I didn’t list. So, you should definitely carry at LEAST one with you while hiking if not more. Plus, you can get a unique one that separates you from the crowd!
8. Dental Floss
You only have to floss the teeth you want to keep, so I hope everyone is bringing a travel size floss! If you’re looking for a way to justify the weight (less than an ounce), then throw it in as part of your repair kit. Regular thread isn’t near as durable as floss and will dry rot. I had to repair a set of my Frogg Toggs with floss. I saw people repair pack straps with floss, too. You never know when you might need to perform quick surgery on a piece of gear just to limp to town with it, so it doesn’t hurt to have it.
9. Smart Water Bottle
The water in Smart Water bottles isn’t near as special as the bottle itself, though. Having bottles to mix drinks in (propel, gatorade, carnation instant breakfasts, etc.) is a great idea. Water bladders are difficult to clean out, so using a disposable and extremely lightweight water bottle is a nice option. Also, if you are carrying a water filter to treat water (like the Sawyer Squeeze, Sawyer Mini or Platypus Gravity Works) then the squirt end of a Smart Water bottle can be used to back flush your filter instead of having to tote the back flushing syringe that comes with those filters. You simply hold the squirt tip up to the end of the filter (against the typical flow, of course) and squeeze clean water into it.
10. Paper Books
In this technology filled world, many people have ditched the idea of paper books. Although, to conserve battery life on their phones, some hikers actually opt for tangible books. In fact, sometimes at night by a fire my hiker “tramily” and I would take turns reading out loud to one another. As far as multi-purposing goes, one of my hiker friends said that books aren’t only for entertainment, but also for “inspiration, kindling and TP.”
I’m sure there are many more gear items that can be used for multiple purposes. I’d love to hear some of the ones you’ve used–please share your ideas below in the comments!