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!
Nice list! One item I always take backpacking is a large safety pin. I keep it on the back of my pack and hang wet socks, etc. to it as I hike — a great way to dry and air out gear after a wet day. And it’s useful for popping a blister, digging out a splinter, or any other number of little chores.
Hi Dixie Love all your videos never missed any of them, what am I backpacking hacks I stole from the other Sport where way is always an issue the cycling world. I always carry a pair of wool arm warmer with me. I can turn short short sleeve shirt and a long sleeve shirt and as the day warms up I just pull the sleeves off while on the go and sliding back on at night when it cools off again. I can comfortably hike with the synthetic T-shirt and my arm warmers two down mid to low 40s (while hiking). I still carry a long sleeve wool shirt in my puffy vest for versatility and when the temperatures get really low.
Cool! Thank you for sharing 🙂 I also appreciate your support!
Bear canisters apparently make great seats tables and washing machines!!!
I stole that from Landmarkadventures on you tube 🙁 check her out, her images from the JMT are mind blowing,
Your dry bag for Clothes/pillow can also be a great washing machine bag, water, a bit of smelly stuff.. And some fun squishing it, and she’s apples mate 🙂
Your vids are great mate, have them playing as I tune in my gear and pack set up 🙂
Purchased all my gear from the USA as Australia has very little in the light weight gear category.
Hi Dixie!…You often mention “contractor bags” in your videos. Would you mind delving into that a bit? Never thought I would have so many questions about a contractor bag, but: How big is it?…what exactly is it used for?…How much does it weigh?…Where do i get one?…Did you modify it in any way?
Thanks for bein’ you!
Hey Rich! I got mine at Walmart. I think they sell them as a pack of 10? Not sure the size, to be honest. I used the same one for the AT and PCT. They are tough. Let me see if I can find an example…
Here is a 2 mil example…
Here’s a 3 mil…
Dude, you da best! Thanks so much…safe travels Jess!
Thanks so much for the advice! I went on an 18 day backpacking trip through the Himalayas this past fall and used a few of these ideas that were super helpful! I love your videos and have helped to continue fuel my hiker itch while I am home waiting for the next adventure.
just starting figured i try and learn what ever i can ive taken up walking just for something to do started at a mile ive made 20 in 7 hrs but that was a good day but i pulled a calf muscle then tried to force it the next and stressed my shin muscle that took me out a few days im at 16 miles now my first goal is to walk 20 miles comfortably now then when i get a pack 20 miles i found a old road to walk tomorrow its thru the ozark country side ive watched some of your vids i digg em i got the opertunity to make my first video this morning its gonna be fun