18 Absolutely Brilliant Backpacking Hacks

I, among many, have read a million and one tricks, tips and hacks for outdoor living. I’ll admit it, I think they’re fun and every thirty second one is something rational enough that I may use it in my lightweight backpacking adventures. But most of them seem to be for car campers living out of the back of a mini van. No matter how hard it is to shove a roll of toilet paper into a ZipLoc bag, I will never carry around a homemade TP dispenser (via: pinterest). Zach had the great idea of sifting through all the oversized can charcoal stoves (via: diyncrafts) and 5 gallon bucket noodle toilets (via: budget101) to curate a list of hack for backpackers. These do not require carrying any large or heavy items and they are tailored to build convenience for backpackers. Enjoy!

Enhancing Your Technology

1. Toilet Paper Tube Phone Speaker

Sitting out a rainy day in the shelter? If you’ve got a toilet paper tube crushed up somewhere in your pack, you can bend it back to its shape and use it as a small speaker for your phone or iPod. Place a stick or stone behind it to keep it from rolling around.

2. Trekking pole tripod


Via: Pinterest

Find a like-sized stick and use a piece of paracord to construct a tripod out of your trekking poles. A little bit more paracord, a bit of balancing or some duct tape will secure your camera on top.

Fire Starters

3. Corn Chips

Salty foods are a must have when backpacking! They’re yummy and help replace the sodium you loose while hiking. It turns out that certain types are also great for starting fires. Corn ships such as Fritos, Doritos and  corn tortilla chips burn slow and steady and can be used to start fires.

4. Cotton Balls/Pads Dipped in Wax


Via: rusticescentials

If you’re more health conscious than your typical piece of Hiker Trash, corn chips may not be the way to go for you. If you find yourself needing to start a fire in damp conditions, wax dipped cotton can do the trick. Here is a tutorial!


5. Repackage Your Food

This is Backpacking 101! Remove all items from bulky, heavy or air filled packaging. Or simply modify the packaging to make it more packable. Cut off excess parts or use a needle or small blade to puncture packaging to let out excess air. Every bit helps!

6. Straw Spice Rack

This is a great way to get a little bit of extra flavor into your camp food with out adding much extra weight. It is the ultralight foodie set up! Here is an tutorial (it includes eating Mini M&M’s!)

7. Tic Tac Spice Boxes

Some people are down right chefs on the trail and require a bit more to work with. For those of you who fall under this group of hikers, try the Tic Tac box approach to organizing and transporting your spices.


8. Waterproof Shellac Matches

A way to make sure your matches are ready to do when you are! Wax can sometimes have a tendency to flake off or make it hard to strike the match, but shellac creates a strong coat over the head of the match and provide enough texture to easily strike the match.

9. Compactor Bag

A compactor bag as a liner in your backpack can go a long way in protecting the gear within the pack. Wether you use a pack cover or not (some opt not to with the use of a heavy duty trash bag liner), it is a great, cheap, lightweight way to take the extra step in making sure your extra clothes and sleeping bag stay dry even when you’re soaked to the bone.

10. Bees Wax Waterproofing

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Via: Brit.co

Rain is a constant and inevitable foe of backpackers. Water logged shoes and gear are a major part of along distance hikers life, but not everything has to get soaked. Here is a cheap way to waterproof the things you’d like to keep the most dry. Remember to keep in mind the lack of breathability of some waterproof items. This may be best saved for things like the top of your pack or camp shoes. Here’s how to do it.

Wonders of the Nalgene

11. Hot Nalgene


Via: JcoPro

Pour nearly boiling water into your Nalgene and cuddle up with it at night. Commonly referred to a “Nalgene Baby” on the AT, this is a great little trick for warming you up on the coldest of nights on the trail. Wrapping it in a sock or bandana saves you from a harsh wake up call if you bump into it. Just make sure you closed it really well or else you will do more damage than good!

12. Nalgene Lantern

Have a while Nalgene?! These guys are great little lanterns if you thrown a head lamp into them! You can increase the effects by having a bit of water water in the Nalgene. It can also be done with other colored Nalgene’s if water is in the bottle. The light simply needs something to diffuse it and suddenly you have a lantern!

Something for the Shoes

13. Defrost Your Shoes

Boy, does it suck to put on wet shoes in the morning, but you know what sucks more?! Putting on frozen shoes! So don’t do it! by carrying one 2.5 gallon ZipLoc during the coldest months of the year, you will never have to know the torture of shoving you blistered foot into a shoe or boot that is frozen solid. Simply slip them in the bag, zip it closed and roll it tight and sleep with it in the foot box of your sleeping bag. In the morning they will be wet and gross, but at least they wont be frozen!

14. Newspaper in the Shoes

If you come across a good stretch of weather or are stopping into town for a while, it may be possible to have dry shoes again! Time will always do the trick of drying them out but you can speed it up a a bit by loosely balling up news paper and stuffing your shoes with it. The fibers in newspaper will help to absorb the moisture in your shoes.

Not Everything Fits Nicely into a Category, That’s Life

15. Binder Clip Drying Rack


Via: Reddit

A couple of these guys clipped on to your pack in various places and you’ve got a mobile clothes line! No hiker has time to sit and wait for their socks to dry. Clipping them and any other drying clothes items on to your pack insures that they will stay with you as you hike. It is also helpful in deterring bears! (Not guaranteed but likely to deter friends as well.)

16. Freestanding Tent Trick

Several types of freestanding tents have the ability to be pitched without the body of the tent actually present. By placing the poles in the grommets of the footprint, the trail fly can be stretched over to make for a super light weight shelter or sunshade. Also makes for a great way to take down a tent in the rain!

Related: The Top Tents and Hammocks on the Appalachian Trail

17. Pill Bottle First Aid Kit

Really, unless you are a doctor or EMT and actually know what all that crap in a store bought first aid kit is for, this is all you need. Its lighter wight and its got all you need for the most likely situations.

18. Estimating Day Light


Via: imgur

Trying to figure out if you have enough time to make it to the next shelter or not? Here is a little trick to help you estimate how much time you have left in the day. Pretty sweet!

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Comments 21

  • Gordon : Feb 29th

    Some good tips, however I wouldn’t recommend eating salty snacks, they’ll make you even more thirsty.

    I’m 62 tis summer and my experience is ex military, rock climbed 70s, backpacked, mountain biked and long distance trail walked from the 80s to present. From the 70s to late *80s, instead of snacks, I used to carry salt tablets and Dextrose glucose tablet laced water to replenish salt and fluid lost through sweating and to keep energy up. On the trail I nibble little and often, usually nuts and dried fruit, have a decent meal with lots of pasta or rice at the end of the day and porridge (oatmeal) for breakfast.

    *As I was an experienced solo outdoors chap, I joined my local Mountain Rescue Team, to put my bit back into the system. One night we had a first aid lecture by our team doctor. He insisted we carry sachets of Dioralyte as part of our personal first aid kit. He said this was because it”s extremely effective in offsetting and treatimg heat stroke/exhaustion (which can be fatal in extreme cases) and when administered to a casualty, the speed at which they recover is rapid as it’s absorbed directly into the blood stream via the upper intestine immediately after swallowing. Knowing the symptoms allows you to self medicate and spot then in others. He also said it was as good, if not superior, to heavily marketed branded energy drinks that are a lot more expensive. Being in sachet form it’s also very lightweight and easy to add to your water bottle when you need it.

    It’s superior to salt and glucose alone because it contains, not only salt, but all the electrolytes and minerals lost through sweating that the body needs to function plus glucose for energy.

    The other time I’ve been very grateful to have with me was when I got a serious case of food poisoning in Melaka, Malaysia. I was about half way through a meal when I started to feel woozy. I left and I collapsed twice inside if 100 yds on my way back to my digs. I eventually made it inside and got to the shower room/toilet. That was it, both orifices open on and off every 15 to 20 mins for the next 6 hours as my body rejected the virus. Every time I had an attack I rehydrated with pints of water laced with Dioralyte. Eventually the attacks subsided, and I collapsed into an exhausted sleep. Only for an hour or two as I awoke screaming in agony as crippling leg cramps caused by the dehydration kicked in. Lot’s more Dioralyte and then I slept another 12 hours. When I awoke I was back to normal and had avoided hospitalisation, able to eat no problem and have a beer.

    That’s my biggest tip, wherever you’re travelling.

    P.S. I noticed a couple of spelling errors you may want to edit. Lightening means to lose weight; when it’s weather related, it’s spelled without the e. Note also lose is when you can’t find something, loose means when you slacken or set something free.

    • Bee : Jun 30th

      Wow, seriously, Gordon? Being a know-it-all doesn’t make you appear knowledgeable. Give the girl a break.

      • Kitty : Jul 6th

        Good information about the Dioralyte. And if you ever see a typo in a post of mine, please DO tell me. I would want it corrected.

    • Faith : Aug 28th

      Sodium is an electrolyte. You absolutely need more of it when you’re sweating all day. Sure it will make you more thirsty, but you should be drinking lots of water anyway while backpacking.

  • Karo : Jul 7th

    Some interesting tips. I personally use cotton pads as a fire starter. Not dipped in wax though but smeared with Vaseline, they work great!

    • Angie Russell : Jun 17th

      wood chips with diesel fuel is great. It doesnt flare and burns a while Or cotton balls with vaseline all over them. you can use for lip treatment and for skin dryness too.

  • Barbara : Jul 20th

    Trick Birthday candles that you can’t blow out.
    Vehicle flair when I expect extreme cold frozen wet.
    These are taken for backup.

  • Jennifer Hofmann : Aug 28th

    I’ve used newspaper to dry out my shoes and was amazed at how well it worked. It’s a great hack!

  • Eva Briggs : Aug 29th

    A hack I used recently: can coozies to pad my backpack shoulder straps when wearing a tank top.
    Slit open, wrap around strap, duct tape closed.
    Also turkey roasting bags made of Mylar to keep stuff dry. They lasted over 1000 miles and I bought a generic brand two pack for 98 cents.

  • Womencanthike : Apr 17th

    These aren’t hacks, they’re common knowledge.

    • Pando : May 11th

      Everything is common knowledge if you already know it. And hacks, by definition, don’t have to be secretive tricks that nobody has ever heard of. They’re simply tips to make an experience easier…little tidbits of knowledge offered as help. Or, apparently, on this site, tips offered so that others have something to complain about to make themselves feel superior.

      How about just appreciate the info. Use the tips or don’t. But, as they say:

      Hack your own hack.

      • Angie Russell : Jun 17th

        that was for “women can hike” I appreciate your comment Pando.

      • ozedude : Sep 13th

        …actually a hack is any improvisation used to achieve a purpose without conventional tools, regardless of application or common knowledge. 🙂

        • David Reichard : Oct 2nd

          A lightweight aluminum folding stroller. Leave it folded with the two wheels close together and tie if necessary. Leaves 2 handles at top. Use it for a narrow-profile pull-behind load carrier in trees or brushy obstacle areas. Lash on the load in a waterproof bag. Will pretty much float in mud or water.

      • Gail Ledford : Mar 20th

        Absolutely! I love hacks.

      • David Reichard : Oct 2nd

        My own hack- clothing stores throw away half-size hangers that have a clip at each end to hold smaller garments on a rack. These plastic clips with spring inserts can be cut off the plastic support and used as low-weight clips to close bags or suspend light items. Carry one whole hanger for hanging over a branch and supporting items to dry or keep handy. Best feature- free with a little work. Drill a hole in the clip to put cord through for fastening.

    • Angie Russell : Jun 17th

      Common knowledge now is that you don’t have to comment anymore.

      • Touma Sakawaki : Jun 15th

        It has been helpful for me to reuse, reduce, and recyle any materials to make origami pouches and everyday gadgets. I use contruction paper treated with vaseline or shoe oil to make a origami pouch. I also use waterproof contruction paper to containers at pinch. But I also reuse plastic and metal tins (altoids tin/craft tin/candy tin) to put my condiments and mints. I also got crafty with your hack in making toilet paper roll in speaker to a party cup speaker. I also use a dollar store plastic container for lunch to store my snacks and hospitality kits, but I can use that to make my contents visible when Im traveling abroad.

  • Jules : May 27th

    That pill bottle first aid kit is cute, but unfortunately, that’s about as useful as it gets. There is a lot of knowledge to soak in when it comes to backpacking, why not squeeze a bit more brain power and learn how to pack/use a real first aid kit. You really don’t need to be a doctor or an EMT. Really.

    • Smokey : Sep 30th

      Jules, I don’t know how you self identify but, I think you’re a dick!


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