Life Hacks for the Trail Life

Life on the trail, there’s nothing like it. Sleeping under the stars. Worrying about nothing more than where you’ll eat lunch. Meandering through the woods with a pack on your back and a song in your heart. The trail life is the life for me, and I’m sure you agree!

Life on the trail is pure bliss.

Life on the trail is pure bliss.

But, sometimes the trail life can be less than perfect. Like those days that never seem to end and you finally drag into camp feeling lower than dirt, dig out your stove with your back to the wind only to find you forgot your windscreen at the last campsite.

Or, you roll into the shelter after dark, find one last spot left and start unpacking your sleep system as quietly as possible. Then you wake everyone up as your Tyvek crunches its way out of your bag.

Or, maybe you, too, have found yourself trudging along in the absurd desert heat only to look up and wonder when (oh, when?!) will you get to the next creek crossing?! You’re determined not to stop for a break until that next crossing where you’ll blissfully dunk your head in the cool water, but the heat’s just too much and if you don’t find out now you’ll just never make it another step ever! So, you dump your pack, dig out your map and- low and behold- that creek should be just around the bend up there, but now you have to re-shoulder your unbearably heavy pack and your whole momentum is completely thrown off.

Moments like those are the pits, but never fear, fellow hiker, we have just the life hacks for you! Iceman Dan and I have been trekking around together for 6 years now and separately for even longer. Over that time, we’ve created some fantastically helpful tricks to make the tough days a little more bearable.

Life Hack #1: Improvised Wind Screen

Forget your windscreen? Didn’t even bother to pack one? No need anyhow! Just find a sturdy rock, take off that smelly shoe and plop it on top. Poof: windscreened.



Life Hack #2: Voss Water Bottles

This LH is for hikers with dogs. Our Aussie, Jake, often needs water before we get to the next creek crossing. He has never conquered drinking from a Camelbak like other (more talented, but don’t tell him I said that) dogs, and I don’t want to take a Packs Off Break every time he needs a drink to pull out his water bowl and fill it up. Voss water bottles are the perfect solution. They have over sized lids that double perfectly as water bowls you can access without taking your pack off.

Life Hack #3: Washing Tyvek

Tyvek makes for a perfect ground sheet (this could be a Life Hack of its own), and it’s great for shelters, too (helps keep splinters and dirt away from your precious sleep system). But, it is notoriously loud and no one wants to be that guy in the shelter waking everyone else up all night rolling over on his Tyvek. Problem solved by Wendy, a friend of Betsy and Bill (two trail angels who opened their house to us during our 2014 southbound hike): just toss your Tyvek in the washing machine, and it’ll come out soft and crinkle-free! (Make sure you don’t machine dry it- it’ll melt.)

Life Hack #4: Butt Pads

Remember those old foam sleeping pads that were more cumbersome than useful? Cut about three folding sections off the end and you’ve got yourself a comfy, light butt pad! They’re great for resting your bum on a wet rock during those drizzly New England days or for making logs more comfortable.
Our butt pads resulted in a second surprising benefit. My hips ache through the night when I sleep on hard ground despite a thick sleeping pad. I slide our butt pads under my sleeping pad where my hips will rest, and the pain is gone! Butt pads have been one of Dan’s best ideas to date.


A good butt pad can make or break a difficult day!

Life Hack #5: Drying Clothes on a Shelter Floor

This hack is for shelter sleepers. Before going to bed, lay your socks flat on the shelter floor, place your Tyvek ground sheet (hopefully washed and noiseless) over them then your sleep system on top of that. The wooden floor will soak up the sweat (and rain; if your hike is anything like ours, it’s raining almost every day) while you sleep, and you’ll have dry, if smelly, socks in the morning! This has also worked well for shirts and shorts on particularly wet days.

Life Hack #6: Bandanna on your Shoulder Strap

Do you suffer from a constantly runny nose and leaky eyes like me? Are people always telling you to “just take some allergy meds” like that’s ever worked for you? There is help! Hang a bandanna on the stretchy strap running across your shoulder strap (I have no idea what it’s called or originally for; maybe it’s for this very thing!) and you’ve got yourself a snot rag! You might also become well practiced at shooting snot rockets, but no one’s beaten my distance record yet.

Life Hack #7: Dinner in a Bag

Never do dishes again! Lipton Sides (now called Knorr) are the answer to dirty trail dishes you’ve been waiting for. Open the bag and carefully pour your boiling water inside, just covering the top of the rice or pasta inside. Fold the top of the bag over twice and use the belt clip on your knife to hold it closed for 7 minutes. Voila, dinner in a bag and no dishes!
– Pasta Sides take longer to cook than Rice Sides
– figuring out just the right amount of water to add takes a couple tries
– it’s good to stir your water in before closing the bag, especially digging into the corners or you’ll end up with crunchies at the end of your meal


This tip also works well with cookie dough, muffin and brownie mix packages! #perfectdessert

Life Hack #8: Folding your Map

Never again will you be stopped in the middle of the trail with a map in front of your face. At the start of each day, refold your map along its normal lines with your current section facing outward. Eventually the edges will fray, but after hundreds of miles of refolding, none of our maps have given up yet. I also find sliding the map beside one of my water bottles makes it easy to access without having to stop walking (though, as much of my trail family can attest, this was a skill I had to learn; multitasking while walking is not my forte.)

Life Hack #9: Caffeinated Drink Mix

Drinking water is easily my favorite mundane activity, but some days you just need an extra boost. Small packets of caffeinated drink mix stuffed into your hip belt pockets with the day’s snacks can be life savers! My favorite flavor is pomegranate while Dan prefers iced tea. We found them in just about every resupply town on the AT.

Life Hack #10: Dry Bag Purse

This one is mostly for the women, but men might find it useful, too. I keep a green dry bag (known by friends and family as “Ashley’s Green Bag”) filled with my essentials (wallet, Diva Cup, paper tape, Neosporin, vitamin I, headlamp, spork and pocket knife). My Green Bag goes with me everywhere; it’s on my wrist for trips to the store and in my purse when I’m out on the town. And, of course, it goes in my backpack for every camping trip. Now I am environmentally friendly (never needing plastic spoons anymore) and always prepared!

Two generations of Green Bag

Two generations of Green Bag

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Comments 2

  • Leo Yermo Adan : Apr 30th

    Hey, not only well written but I learned much. I really like the “Green Bag” idea. I tend to carry too much junk in my pockets. Geeze, as old as I am and I never ever considered that. Seems hacking is a art for thee.
    Trek on . . .

    • High Five : May 3rd

      YERMO, thanks for the kind words! Life hacks are my bread and butter on trail, and my Green Bag has been traveling quite literally everywhere with me since 2011. It was the best addition to my everyday and trail life I’ve made yet! How’d you get your trail name, by the way?


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