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There are fewer more well known, yet less utilized, items among 'packers than the lowly plastic freezer bag! That's "plastic FREEZER bag"! Plastic sandwich bags are not up to the task.

Probably because they are not "durable", in the strictest sense, but at pennies per bag, they don't have to be! And of course, they are ultralight and don't take up any space. Even if the skies are clear and sunny, I routinely organize my clothes and gear into these plastic bags!

To help keep things organized, one of the many mod's I made to my pack is I canabalized a shoe caddy (the kind of thing you may find of the inside of a closet door). I then sewed two sets of those pockets to the inside of my pack (one each to the left and right side). Then I just stuff the plastic bags/kits into those pockets. This is an important step, after all, while the bags can keep items together, they can still shift around and settle to the bottom! Those pockets keep that from happening.


Obviously, plastic bags help keep your things organized and waterproof, which are not small considerations, but that goes double for my food rations.

I pack, or repackage, my meals into small individual bags, then pack several day's worth of meals into a large plastic freezer bag. I can put SIX of these large bags into my Ursack.

Then I strap my Ursack to the outside/bottom of my pack (NEVER inside my pack). What about puctures or wear? True, I often sit with my pack resting on a rock/log, and this habit COULD cause wear-and-tear problems later, that's why I sewed an extra piece of fabric to the outside/bottom half of my Ursack, so any wear-and-tear will be on the fabric, NOT my Ursack. Punctures? I've never had a puncture, that I'm aware of, however, it is possible.

While there is a limit to how much food I can carry (about 3 weeks), some will note I will stay out for a month (maybe longer). How? That's where backcountry skill (and chance) comes in! I fish, trap, snare small animals, which can significantly extend my rations (and make the outing FAR more enjoyable and interesting).

To clean/prepare my wild food, I use a plastic cutting board. It's only a few millimeters thick, but is SUPER tough, light, and takes no room, so, I put that on the inside/bottom of my Ursack, where my whole pack would be resting. Punctures? Eliminated!


About once a week, or sooner, I like to wash my clothes. To do this, I use two large freezer bags (one inside the other, of course). For soap, I find 'shampoo and body wash' does just fine for ANY/ALL of my soap needs.

I start by drizzling some soap along the inside of the inner bag, then lay the bag flat and smoosh the soap around (to distribute the soap better). Then I drop in enough clothes to fill the bag about half way. Now I add about 2 liters of water, leaving just a little air inside. Then I seal both bags, and start agitating (shaking, rolling, rubbing, etc.) You'll know you've got it right when the water becomes murky/dirty almost immediately.

If I'm drenched with sweat when I get to camp, after I wash up, this is one of the first things I try to do, then I'll either finish the wash-rinse cycles that night, or I'll let the clothes soak until morning. THEN I'll see to dinner... of course, it doesn't always work out that way.

I should note here, that REI does have off-the-shelf items that are equivalent: a laundry bag that kind of looks like a dry bag (but it it's more-or-less a 'one trick poney') and liquid soap, good for everything (but it's kind of expensive).


SURE there are backpacking pillows, and I get it, it's a nice little luxury, and may help you sleep better (I normally don't use pillows on the trail). But plastic freezer bags can fill this need, too.

Using a large freezer bag, catch some air inside, zip closed most of the way, then adjust the air to your comfort, and seal. For good measure, to keep it closed and from deflating, you can double-bag, seal it closed with tape, or put it inside a stuff sack, etc.


"Freezer Bag Cooking" IS a thing (Google it). Just put your meal in a small bag, pour in hot water, and seal. DEFINITELY have a way to insulate the meal well. Use a scarf, clothing, a mylar blanket or bivy works well, but freezer bag aficionados normally make a "cozy", made from materials that insulate well.

Obviously, perhaps the biggest advantage is you may be able to eliminate your mess kit AND stove set-ups!! Even "cold-soaking" is possible (if you can assure the bag will not open). All of which means a considerable savings of weight and bulk (not to mention, NO CLEAN UP!)


Yep! I've actually never tried this myself, but some of my survivalist friends SWEAR by it.

Provided it's sunny, put water into a bag, and twist it closed so the water forms a round, clear bubble. Then using it like a magnifying glass, focus the sun into a point onto your tinder. For best results, use a brand new bag, medium or large would be better still.


Minor cuts and scrapes are not unusual in the out-back, but the backcountry is a dirty place. Even mosquito bites can become ulcerated if not cleaned. So one item included in many kits is an irrigation syringe, used to squirt water into the wound to help clean it. The problem is it's a one trick pony and it takes considerable space in what should be a fairly small kit. So what I did, is I cut away all but the most essential part of the syringe, the tip/point.

If I should need wound irrigation, I get a small bag and push the syringe point into one corner, fill and seal. VOILA, an irrigation syringe.

These are just some of the lesser known uses, I'm sure others may add their own.

12 Replies

For getting gear (clothing) to fit better inside the pack, use a large Ziplock (gin, the freezer kind) and pack your clothes in it. 

then seal it *almost* all the way. Start to roll the bag TIGHTLY from the bottom, squeezing as much air as you can. The finally finish the seal. Voila, a vacuum seal bag for your clothes. 

I used to do this when I carried a much smaller pack for day hikes. I’d take a puffy or other airy layer and was able to save substantial space 

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.


That's basically what I do, but I find if you "roll" to get the air out, you get a curly bag of clothes.

Instead, I leave a small open opening in the ziplock, then SIT on it to force the air out. It's easier, more complete and FLAT!

If it's rainy, or there will be water crossings, I double bag and sit on it again.


I basically do the same thing. But I find if you "roll" it, you'll get a bag of clothes that is curly, so you still have to flatten it (not a big deal, but still). 

Instead, what I do is, I leave a small opening in the ziplock, then SIT on the bag. The bag of clothes is flat and it's easier and more efficient.  For good measure, I double bag and repeat the process. Works every time!



You can use a large plastic bag as a rain hat, but be sure to roll the edges toward the INSIDE. Otherwise, you'll have a rain catch that will empty down your back every time you look up!  

If you already have a hat, you can add the bag to the outside. If the brim is too big, you can still use it on the inside of your hat, but there will likely be some condensation (still, you're already in the rain, so what's the diff'?)



While you CAN use them as "ditty bags", I'm talking about DOODY, poo, cr**... you get my meaning.  

If you like to bring Fido along, PLEASE don't let it do its business ON the trail, a few feet off trail is good, a layer of dirt on it is better. But if Fido can't wait, use a small bag to pick up the poo. And guess what, it works with people poo, too!  

Or, if you just can't use the scary, stinky pit toilet in most campgrounds, use a large plastic bag. Roll down the edges a few inches, hold it... back THERE...  then do YOUR business.


you can also buy a 2 gallon size zip lock at places like the Dollar Store, great for larger items you need to protect, like sleeping bag or camera bag.

REI Member Since 1979


For reference, and to be clear, when I say small, medium or large bags, I mean 1-quart, 1-gallon and 2-gallon bags, respectively (these are the only sizes I've seen).  

Ya, it's possible you can find these bags in a dollar store, though I wouldn't count on the quality. And ya, a large bag might handle a camera/bag, depending on how big it is, but a SLEEPING BAG? SERIOUSLY??

I use these consistently and often, so I KNOW what and how much they can hold and handle! I also have a down quilt and even THAT wouldn't fit into a large bag! Let alone a CLOSED large bag!!  

So, just exactly how SMALL is your sleeping bag? Now, really. Just between you and I... you're just guessing about that... RIGHT?


@SurvivalGal oops, good catch, thanks, I meant “clothing “ bag. 

Although my summer quilt, old army poncho liner I use in hot weather, just might squeeze in.

And you’re right, the 2 gallon bags  from the dollar store are indeed flimsy 

REI Member Since 1979

@SurvivalGal And let’s not forget that they make a great map pouch. Instead of spending $$$ on laminated maps, you can print your own and seal it inside a Ziplock. 

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.