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Gear hacks for the occasional backpacker

I've been backpacking several times and have a small pile of gear I've picked up over the years, but I certainly haven't gone enough to consider myself anything beyond an enthusiast / novice, and frankly I rarely have the time for anything more than a one night trip.  As such, it can sometimes be hard to justify spending a bunch on some of the awesome gear out there when I will likely only use it a few times, and even when I use it, I'm not going to need it to be the highest performing gear out there.

So, I'm curious what hacks others know of for MacGyvering great backpacking gear for the occassional backpacker?

For example, the most awesome hack I've come across and actually implemented and loved is the catfood can denatured alcohol stove!  It cost me $0.50 and half an hour to make it, and it weighs next to nothing. Obviously, it has a lot of limitations, but for my wife and I's very limited one night trips, it's great.  Anything else like that others have come across?

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17 Replies

One common one I love is smart water bottles instead of any other container. It's light and tough. It'll cost you $1 for a couple.

Ziploc bags for your electronics.

Cheap Amazon chinese gear, for anything that you're not sure about spending money on but think could be useful.

+1 on super-cheap tough bottles; I've used smartwater and similar bottles for decades for that. Silicone water bottles are also great if you want an upgrade. In above-freezing conditions, I love to freeze my water bottles the night before heading out so I can have ice water.

Similarly, they make silicone and tough-plastic reusable ziploc-analog bags now if you're trying to reduce fewer-uses plastic in your life.

I always prefered Gatorade bottles for the wide-mouth. If you ever come across a really shallow stream on a ridgeline they can save a lot of frustraition scooping up the water if you don't have a pump filter.


a trash bag inside my pack instead of numerous water proof stuff sacks, bonus...stuff my quilt into the bottom of the trash bag/pack, fills up all the little "corners" at the pack bottom, much less wasted space.

+1 on the smart water bottles and @$10 chinese stoves from amazon. (don't judge! lol, already own umpteen stoves from REI!  And they are all wonderful!!!)

REI Member Since 1979

Have you tried a trash compactor bag? A little more rugged...

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I bought a box of super thick bags at lowes and cut the length down.

REI Member Since 1979

Trash compactor bags are what I have used although I hear Nylofume bags are supposed to be the best of the disposable solutions except they are a bit crinkly which some find annoying and they are a little harder to find.  They are made for insect fumigation cleanup and are very odor proof so they are great for lining food bags, bear cans and backpacks as a extra defense against hungry critters.

A problem with alcohol and esbit stoves out west is that they are often banned at times of high fire danger. Generally canister stoves are still allowed unless there is a complete no burn lock down. Just something to be aware of if your occasional backpacking leads you to areas where wildfires can be a problem.

Carrying a length of spare cordage (eg paracode or similar)  is always a good idea.  You  can used it as a washing line,  a food bag hanging line, for hoisting a pack if you want to do some rock scrambling, fixing or extending guy lines,  tying up enemies... this list goes on....but having some already tied as ~2 yard prussic loop using two Triple Fishermen's Bends is useful in many ways...I have used it for such things as a sling/bandolier for a SMART water bottle for a day hike (I tied a clove hitch around the neck), suspending a CNOC Vectro when filtering water, extending a guyline when camping on rock and an improvised belt when I forgot to bring one for my hiking pants. The prussic loop's size can be adjusted for light duty things by pulling knots away from each other.

The Clove Hitch is useful to know for temporarily attaching a line to a branch (method 1) or attaching the middle of the line over a post or bottle top (method 2).

The Alpine Butterfly is another very useful knot. It allows you to create a non slip loop in the middle of a piece of cord that can be fairly easily removed. You can quickly fashion a bandolier from the prussic loop by adding a few alpine butterflies to hang some gear in addition to the clove hitch for the water bottle.

The Bowline is another useful knot for putting a removable fixed loop on the end of a piece of cord but often its the middle of the length where you need the loop.