25 Backpacking Hacks To Make Your Next Trip Simpler
Upon returning home from a backpacking trip, I’m often asked if I had fun. Maybe you’ve been asked a similar question and found it similarly difficult to answer: is backpacking ever fun?
Satisfying? Sure. Fulfilling in a deep, soul-cleansing way? Absolutely. But fun? Nothing that causes this many blisters should ever be called fun.
My point is, backpacking is hard work, and even those of us who love it to our very core will freely admit that most of the time, it’s no picnic. That’s why, when you offer a backpacker any trick or tip to make their trek simpler, easier, or less arduous, they’ll almost certainly take it.
The backpacking hacks listed below are intended to do just that. If you have a lot of experience on the trail, then you may have heard some of these before. Others may surprise you.
In any case, I hope that some of these tricks make your hike simpler and – even just a little bit – more fun.
1. Bring Duct Tape
Good old reliable duct tape! Is there anything it can’t do? Well, yeah… actually there are a lot of things it can’t do, but let’s focus on the things it can do. For example, you can use it to quickly patch a leaky tarp, cushion your toes against blisters, or fashion a makeshift zipper pull if one breaks.
Long story short, you should bring some duct tape on every backpacking trip. You don’t need a whole roll, of course – that would be way too heavy and take up valuable pack space – but you can wrap some around your trekking poles or water bottles so it’s always within reach when you need it.
2. Get a Floating Key Chain
It’s easy to lose track of your keys while you’re wading or jumping across a stream. If they fall out of your pocket, the last thing you need is to see them sink to the bottom like a stone.
There’s a simple solution: get a floating key chain! You can buy one (they’re commonly used for boat keys) or fashion one yourself using the cork from a wine bottle. Either way, your keys will be much easier to retrieve if they fall out of your pocket and into a body of water.
3. Repackage Your Food Ahead of Time
Food contributes a lot of weight to your hiking pack and takes up a ton of space. There’s very little you can do about the former, but you can ease the latter by repackaging all your hiking food before you hit the trail.
A lot of the “space” taken up by prepackaged food is just air, so by taking food out of its original packaging and packing it in resealable plastic baggies, you can save a lot of space. If you have the ability to vacuum-seal the bags, that’s even better. Repackaging also offers an opportunity to portion out your food and avoid carrying more than you need.
4. Sleep With Your Water Bottles
When backpacking in chilly weather, the last thing you want is to start your day by taking a big drink of ice-cold water (or worse, having to thaw out water that has frozen overnight). You can avoid these issues by keeping your water bottles with you in your sleeping bag while you sleep. Just make sure they’re tightly sealed and leak-free.
If you want to score some extra hiker bonus points, fill your water bottles with hot water before you go to bed. Then, not only will you keep your water warm, but it will keep you warm as well.
5. Time the Sunset
Most of us would rather not reach camp after dark if we can avoid it. If you’re getting close to the end of a long day on the trail and aren’t quite sure how much daylight you have left, there’s a simple trick to time the sun as it sets.
Hold your hand out at arm’s length, with your palm facing you, and align the bottom edge of your pinky finger with the horizon. Each finger represents about 15 minutes of daylight, so you know that when the bottom of the sun touches the upper edge of your index finger, you have about an hour until sunset.
6. Make a Lantern
The beam from your headlamp can be a little harsh. Create a gentler ambient light by wrapping the headband around a translucent water bottle with the lamp facing inward. It’s much more pleasant when you’re reading in your tent or chatting with your hiking buddies after dark.
7. Wear Your Jacket Backwards
There are few things worse than hiking all day with a sweaty back, and we’ve all been out on the trail on a day when it’s too warm to hike in a jacket and too chilly to hike without one.
Here’s the solution: wear your full-zip jacket backward so that it’s open in the back. The “back” of the jacket will keep your front warm, and your backpack should provide enough insulation for your back that it stays warm without getting too sweaty.
8. Pack Some Floss
First of all, oral hygiene is important on the trail, so a roll of floss is always a smart thing to bring. But floss can also double as a durable thread if you accidentally rip your clothing, backpack, or tent and need to quickly sew it up.
9. Double Down on Fire Starters
Certain things are so essential that it’s always wise to have a backup. The ability to get a fire going is one of those things, so always pack multiple methods of starting a fire. If your go-to is a lighter, then throw an extra pack of waterproof matches in your backpack, just in case.
10. Use Your Clothes as a Pillow
A separate camping pillow is a luxury few backpackers allow themselves. It takes up valuable pack space and adds a small but not insignificant amount of weight. Instead, use your spare clothing as your pillow. You can simply use the stuff sack you keep your clothes in or fill a t-shirt with other t-shirts for a slightly softer option.
See more about - The 10 Best Backpacks For Long Distance Hiking
11. Waterproof Your Pack with a Trash Bag
Not all hiking packs come with a rain cover. And even if your backpack does have one, it’s not always reliable in heavy rain and wind. That’s why a lot of experienced backpackers use the old trash bag trick.
By using a trash bag to line the large inner compartment of your backpack, you can be pretty sure that everything inside will stay dry. The best bags for the job are heavy-duty trash compactor bags between 12 and 20 gallons.
12. Save Your Batteries
First and foremost, always bring extra batteries. You never know when you might need them. That being said, it’s always a good idea to remove the batteries from headlamps (and any other gear that requires batteries) when not in use. That way, you eliminate the possibility of accidentally turning it on in your pack and running out the batteries.
13. Bring Camp Sandals
Once your day of hiking is done, chances are the first thing you’ll want to do is take off the shoes and socks you’ve been wearing all day. But walking around the woods barefoot is not a good idea, so it’s best to bring a pair of lightweight sandals or flip-flops you can change into at the end of the day. They’re also great for midnight bathroom runs!
14. Don’t Forget the Paracord
There are endless ways a length of paracord can be useful on the trail. You can use it to secure tents and tarps, make a clothesline, hang a bear bag, strap things to your backpack… the list goes on. Paracord can even be pulled apart to make tinder for starting fires.
The point is, paracord is something every backp[acker should carry with them into the backcountry. How much you should bring is the real question. Some hikers like to wrap a small amount around their trekking poles, but there may be times when you’ll be grateful for the full spool.
15. Make a Spice Kit
Hiker food starts to get pretty bland after a few days on the trail. Honestly, how much ramen and instant mashed potatoes can a person eat?
Spice things up by bringing a selection of your favorite seasonings. Store each spice or seasoning blend in a mini zip bag (those little ones that extra buttons come in) and then roll up the bags and store them all in a pill bottle or similar plastic container.
16. Bring Printed Maps
GPS is great, and online maps are all well and good, but it’s always best to bring printed trail maps. Even if you only use them as a backup, it’s important to know you have something you can rely on if your batteries die. Also, if you use your phone as your primary navigation tool, download offline maps so you can use them even when you don’t have service.
17. Choose a Spork
Some hikers are more obsessive about the weight of their packs than others. But you don’t have to be a total nut about pack weight to appreciate the convenience of bringing one eating utensil instead of two. Pack a spork instead of a fork and spoon, and choose a long-handled one that’s good for stirring and reaching deep into food pouches.
18. Keep Electronics in Your Sleeping Bag
You know the toll that cold can take on the batteries in all your electronic devices. Few things are more frustrating than waking up on a chilly morning and finding your phone battery dead, but you can avoid that by keeping your devices in your sleeping bag with you at night.
19. Pack Baby Wipes
Maintaining your traditional hygiene routine is next to impossible when you’re on a backpacking trip. That being said, it’s best to at least try to maintain at least some semblance of cleanliness, and baby wipes are a great option.
Giving yourself a quick wipe-down at the end of the day will make you feel much cleaner, and hopefully a little less smelly. Baby wipes add some weight to your pack, but they’re worth every ounce. Just remember you also have to pack out your used wipes
20. Use Your Pockets
Ever wonder why hiking clothes and gear have so many pockets? It’s so you can carry more stuff, of course. Seriously though, you’re not packing at your full potential until you learn to use your pockets to your advantage.
Keep snacks in your hip belt pockets so you can chomp without breaking your gait. Keep your phone in your pack’s shoulder strap pocket for easy reach. Choose an inner zippered pocket for keys, wallets, and other valuables. A fanny pack is also great for essentials like your lighter, headlamp, and first aid kit.
21. Make Your Own Waterproof Matches
Just about any match becomes a waterproof match if you dip the tip in candle wax and let it dry. You can also coat it with clear nail polish. Besides, it’s a fun pre-hike project. Choose solid wooden matches with sturdy stems that give you a long burn time.
22. Pre-Filter Murky Water
Every backpacker should have some way of purifying water (the LifeStraw bottle and Sawyer water filtration system are two great options). We often imagine ourselves drinking from pristine mountain streams, but sometimes you may be forced to collect water so sludgy that it might clog your filter. That’s no good.
It’s always wise to carry a pre-filter of sorts; something you can run water through to remove the big particles so your regular filter can do its job. A coffee filter or bandana is great for this purpose, and any piece of cloth will work in a pinch.
23. Beat Mosquitoes
Plenty of hiking trips have been ruined by relentless mosquitoes. Any time you plan on spending time in the woods, it’s best to devise some way of warding off these little bloodsuckers.
A good repellent that contains plenty of DEET usually does the trick, but if you’re not into putting chemicals on your skin, there are a few natural remedies worth trying. Burning sage leaves has been shown to be effective, and numerous plants including basil, rosemary, citronella, and lemon balm can help deter mosquitoes.
24. Mark Your Bottle To Stay Hydrated
It’s easy to forget to drink enough water out on the trail. It helps to add markings to your water bottle so you can stay on top of your water intake.
Nalgene bottles are great because they already have markings on them that measure how much water is inside. But you can add your own time-of-day markings using marker or tape to keep tabs on how many liters of water you want to drink by the hour.
25. Bring Car Clothes
No matter the length of your backpacking trip, you’ll be endlessly grateful for some clean clothes to change into at the end. If you’re leaving your car parked at the trailhead, keep a fresh set of clothes in the vehicle for just that purpose. If you’re having someone pick you up after your trek is done, ask them to bring some with them.