10 Devilishly Simple Backpacking Hacks to Help You Win at Hiking

Hiking is hard. From damaged equipment and funky water sources to less-than-perfect weather, thru-hikers face a constant struggle to survive and thrive on the trail. Thru-hiking will never be a walk in the park, but you can still take steps to make the endeavor more pleasant. Use these handy backpacking hacks to make your life easier and win at hiking.

1. Use floss to darn clothing and shoes.

A little floss handiwork gave new life to this torn Arc’teryx hiking fleece.

Besides promoting good oral hygiene, floss makes a robust and durable thread for all your backcountry field repair needs. With just a needle and floss, you can seal up holes to prolong your clothing and shoes’ life. And we all know how valuable that can be on a thru-hike. Use a plastic thimble or MacGyver one using rocks from the trail (two backpacking hacks for the price of one!) to protect your fingers when sewing tough materials like hiking shoe uppers.

2. Sleep with your water bottles.

Hydration is important. You must start the process first thing in the morning before you even start hiking. The problem is that it’s often cold in the backcountry in the early morning, and the last thing anyone wants to do when it’s cold is to start chugging ice water. You could heat the water, but that takes time and burns precious fuel.

To solve this problem, sleep with your water bottles inside your bag. Ensure they’re tightly sealed and shake them around a bit before bringing them in to ensure they won’t leak. This simplest of backpacking hacks solves two problems at once. First, it heats your water and keeps it warm so you can start drinking first thing in the morning. Second, the bottles will siphon off your excess body heat, so you don’t overheat at night.

On cold nights you should also sleep with your water filter, fuel, and phone as well. All these things can be damaged or suffer reduced performance in cold temperatures.

3. Wrap tape around your trekking poles to store it.

Duct tape, Tenacious Tape, and Leukotape are true staples of the hiking community. How would we repair ripped tents and battered feet without them? Some people carry a massive roll of tape or give themselves premature arthritis by wrapping some around a tiny golf pencil. Why not just wrap it around your trekking pole instead? It’s easy to get on and off, you can carry only as much as you need, and it’s always instantly accessible. That means no more digging through your pack every time you get a blister.

4. Drape your sleeping bag over your tent to block the sun.

What could be more glorious than an afternoon nap inside the tent? Whether you ended your day early or you’re taking an on-trail zero, there are plenty of occasions when you might like to spend daylight hours inside your shelter. But the intensity of the afternoon sun can quickly turn your tent into a solar oven. Even if you do set up in a shady patch, you’ll have to move periodically to stay in the shade. On warm and sunny days, a better solution is to unzip your sleeping bag and drape it over top of your tent. The sleeping bag will block the heat of the sun and work wonders to lower the temperature inside your tent.

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5. Puffy + removable brain = ultimate comfy camp pillow.

backpacking hacks

Because no list of backpacking hacks is complete without an improvised pillow trick.

Does your backpack have a removable brain? You might want to leave it behind to shed a few ounces of base weight. But besides giving your pack a clean, sleek aesthetic, your brain could also be the makings of the ultimate camp pillow. Unzip, insert your puffy or spare clothes, zip up, and enjoy.

6. Dry mouth? Suck a hard candy to make your mouth water.

It’s a hot, dry day in the desert. After hours of climbing in the sun, your tongue and throat feel like sandpaper and flypaper had a dry, sticky baby together. The simple solution? Pop a hard candy in your mouth while you’re climbing. The sweet will stimulate your salivary glands and make your mouth water, providing instant relief to dry mouth. This hack even works if you tuck the candy in the back of your cheek, where it won’t interfere with heavy breathing on the uphill. The candy’s sweetness also gives you something to focus on other than the hot sun and your aching quads.

Large lozenges like Jolly Ranchers or root beer barrels last longer than smaller candies like Lifesavers, but any hard candy will do. In a pinch, you can even suck on a pebble picked up from the trail to get (sort of) the same result. Note that this is a temporary fix for discomfort from a dry mouth. It’s not a substitute for proper hydration.

7. Use Sawyer’s cleaning coupling to create a leak-free gravity filtration system.

backpacking hacks

This cult classic gravity filtration system is one of the best backpacking hacks there is.

Sawyer makes a double female cleaning coupling that mates with the Sawyer Squeeze for easy backflushing. It works well for backflushing, but it’s more useful as an ultralight, leak-free gravity filtration attachment. With the coupler attached, you’ll be able to screw a clean water container on one end of the Sawyer and a dirty water container on the other.

This system works with plastic water bottles such as the ubiquitous Smartwater. Just note that you’ll need to screw the bottles loosely to allow air exchange, or the system won’t work well. Flexible water containers like the Evernew or Cnoc Vecto bags work better since they don’t need air exchange.

 

8. Murky water source? Use a bandana/buff/coffee filter as a sediment pre-filter.

We all aspire to collect water only from crystal clear, pristine mountain springs. But sometimes the trail has other plans. Sometimes water is scarce, and you have no choice but to filter from that murky, chocolate milk sludge puddle. Sometimes you just plain miscalculated, you’re miles from the next good water, and you need a drink now, so you make do with what you have. Whatever the reason, turbid water can clog your filter in a heartbeat. So what do you do? Whip out your handy list of backpacking hacks, of course!

A spare sock, bandana, coffee filter, or buff works surprisingly well as a sediment pre-filter in a pinch. Place the cloth or coffee filter over the mouth of your dirty water container before collection and let it strain out larger sediment particles as the water enters the receptacle. You can also place your makeshift pre-filter between the dirty water container and your backpacking water filter.

This method is useful for large sediment particles and objects like twigs, gravel, and bugs. However, it won’t filter out ultra fine clay particles.

9. BUTTER.

From oatmeal to instant mashed potatoes, butter makes everything better. And at 200 calories per ounce, it’s one of the most energy-dense foods there is. It IS possible to pack butter out to the backcountry, but you’ll need to take extra care to ensure that it doesn’t end up a squashy, greasy mess inside your pack. When packing out butter, it’s essential to keep the sticks inside the cardboard box you bought them in. The package gives a little extra structure and protection for the butter. It also provides secondary containment in case a mess does occur. Pack the butter deep in your backpack, with plenty of other gear and food on all sides for insulation. Doing this will keep your butter intact even after hours of exposed hiking on blistering summer days.

10. Wear your full-zip backward.

I tuck in the hood on my OR Refuge Hybrid Jacket so it doesn’t flop around annoyingly.

It’s a classic backpacker’s dilemma: the mountains are too cold to hike in your shirt alone, but wearing a jacket will lead to inevitable back sweat. What to do? If you carry a full-zip fleece, you can put it on backward with the zipper undone. The jacket will protect your arms and chest from the chilly air. Meanwhile, your back will be left uncovered except for your shirt and backpack (which is probably more than enough already, hence the back sweat).

Even More Backpacking Hacks

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Comments 5

  • Avatar
    Todd : Oct 1st

    HydroBlue filters can be connected for gravity filtering and backflushing with no adapter. Better solution.

    Could also point out the bag over tent hack helps to dry residual moisture your down absorbed overnight.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Mike : Oct 1st

    Excellent

    Reply
  • Avatar
    BN : Oct 1st

    find it easiest to let water settle in a cookpot after being dipped. then find a comfortable place to sit and filter. vital when you are actively pumping – you will never drop any clean gear into the water.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    William Kapes : Oct 2nd

    Regarding butter, try ghee. Its more stable than regular butter. And you can find single serve squeeze packs of ghee that are fantastic for shorter trips.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    TBR : Oct 6th

    Jacket on backwards … what a great hack!

    Thanks for sharing that tip.

    Reply

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