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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

@OldGuyotGood stuff! really enjoy your posts.  where do you normally camp/hike when not traveling?

REI Member Since 1979

@Philreedshikes  Thanks and likewise.  Northern California coastal region around SF and the Sierras mostly. And you?


@OldGuyotVirginia coastal. The Blue Ridge/AT & 2 national forests, about 3.5hr drive minimum.  All tree tunnels. I'm fortunate to have been able to do a little backpacking in the Sierras, I should move to Reno.  Next fav is the Bridger Wilderness, it's like a mini-Sierra, but closer.

Once you have hiked out west, it's hard walking in tree tunnels.

REI Member Since 1979

Oh I hear you on that!
Moving over from Australia, the Mid-Atlantic takes a while to get used to and appreciate. Still some amazing places to get excited about, but there's a lot of woooooooooooods inbetween 😉

Cam straps. Cam straps everywhere is my favorite hack for everything.

I started using them rafting and working on the Salmon and Payette Rivers in Idaho. They're webbing straps, super tough, and not nearly as clunky as ratchet straps. I prefer NRS brand because they use two springs in the buckle (less likely to break).

When I go backpacking I daisy chain 2-4 15ft straps and caribener them to the outside of my pack. I use them for hanging stuff, better rigging of gear, suspension of hammocks, extra tie down for tent, and more. If I've got a bursting pack, I'll actually wrap the pack in the straps and sinch it tighter. The strap and buckle are tough, so you generally put more of your weight into it than the pack straps. Heck, I've even run a strap between two trees and sat on it! Honestly, I wear a four foot, two inch wide one as a belt!

Cam Straps. You can use them for everything. Super utilitarian and versatile. They can fill a lot of needs for not a lot of money and they will last you until someone borrows one and never returns it. They just don't break.


Currently North by South


I 100% feel this post! Although, for me, it's not cam straps but Revelate Designs Washboard Straps. They're a variation of the Voile Ski Strap and have a little bit of stretch, but not too much, and come in varying lengths. Typically I am trying to figure out how to make 'home life' function out on the trail but these straps have gone the other way and integrated 'trail life' at home: I have some in my car, kitchen drawer, closet, holding wires together on the computer, etc.

Thanks for sharing!

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

I've recently picked up a couple of the voile straps and they are great! I use them to strap stuff to my bike all the time.

Currently North by South

I have 2 (so far)

First, my fire starter.  I carry the obligatory Bic lighter with me but I also have a magnesium rod thing that I bought at Wal-Mart years (or decades, by now) ago that I love to use.  I save my dryer lint and pack it in sandwich bags and use that for firestarter with my magnesium rod.   It works incredibly well and is super lightweight.

Second, and this one I'm still working on, is a tree cover for my pack.  I'm dipping my toes in the hammock camping waters (and loving it) but can't find a good way to stow my pack.  So, I've got a piece of Tyvek and I'm tinkering with that to go over my pack.  Basically, I've cut a hole in the Tyvek for the carry loop for my pack and have enough to go down the length of the pack and they lie over it.  I've also got enough on either side of the back part to go around the pack like a hug.   I use a tree strap with a carabiner and poke the carry strap of my pack through the hole in the Tyvek.  Then, just wrap it up in the Tyvek and, if it rains or if the tree is nasty, the pack is *relatively* save.  It's super durable and lightweight.

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