The Little (Dirty) Dozen
They say that the most important gear for your backpacking trip is your big 3: pack. sleeping bag. shelter. No doubt the big 3 is critical – these items are relatively big and heavy and they establish the foundation for your gear kit. But what else – what comes after the big 3? Lets talk little 12 – or the dirty little dozen. I present to you 12 small pieces of gear that don’t weigh much but have a huge ounce for ounce payoff. Here are some of my favorite (often dirty) underrated gear items!
The Little (Dirty) Dozen
1. PEE RAG
(For the ladies): When we pee in the woods, we have a few options. We can drip dry, use toilet paper, or use a pee rag. I am a strong advocate for the pee rag.
Drip drying is fine in a pinch or for a day hike, but after long days on trail (with limited pairs of underwear nonetheless), keeping it a little cleaner has it’s advantages. Using TP is great because it’s super absorbent, but the downside is having to pack in and out that TP. Packing out your TP takes up space and weight in your pack. Solution: Keep it minimal with a pee rag. Hang said pee rag from your pack and it will dry in the wind and sun whilst you hike.
There is an art and science to choosing the right pee rag. In my day I’ve tried both bandanas and small packtowels. Bandanas are decent but not great because they’re not very absorbent. I like to carry a small piece of a packtowel – it’s absorbent and dries fast! When you stop in town, simply wash in the sink, hikertrash style, or throw in the laundry with your other hiking duds.
2. SNOT RAG
Another critical rag of sorts is the all important snot rag. In order to keep that weight down, avoid TP and use a bandana if you need to blow your nose! I like to use a half bandana and shave off that surplus 0.5 ounces. Wash in town between stretches of trail!
3. POOP KIT
You want to leave no trace, but how do you do it? It’s easy! Simply get yourself a bag (stuff sack or zip lock bag works fine) to contain your “poop kit”. Contents include: trowel (titanium if you’re ultralight – I am a fan of the Lawson Titanium Deuce Scoop Trowl and the Deuce of Spades), TP (of course), hand sani (the smaller the bottle, the better), baby wipes (I keep a few in a separate ziplock bag), and a few ziplocks for packing out that used TP. And for ladies – consider carrying the Mask-It – pouches for discarding feminine hygene items (have not used but they sound very practical). Enjoy!
4. MINI MED KIT
Carrying a big, heavy med kit is a classic rookie mistake. Some of the most hardcore don’t carry any med kit supplies at all. Personally, I carry the pared down essentials in a slim and trim small mesh bag. Contents include: a few bandaids (which I don’t think I’ve ever used…), a bit of duct tape (wrapped around a trekking pole or water bottle is handy), KT tape, 2 or 3 alcohol wipes, sunscreen (a tiny travel sized bottle will do), bug spray (I like the uber tiny bottles of Repel Lemon Eucalyptus), needle and thread (good for popping blisters and repairing gear), chamois butter, a few pills (ibuprofen, benadryl, immodium), hair ties, moleskin, and a small emergency blanket.
I love the Loksak Opsak odor proof bags. I carry a large one for food and a small one for other non-food smelly things (cook pot, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc). Very effective. Really keeps the smells at bay and animals out of your food. They are a bit pricey compared to ziplock bags, but they’re really worth the extra few bucks. Highly recommend!
6. MYOG POT COZY
I carry a small pouch – the size of a quart sized ziplock bag – that is perfect for insulating food as it rehydrates in a bag. The pouch is made from reflectix and I’ve found that the best way to tape the sides together is with packing tape (it holds up better than other tapes). Simply boil water, pour on your dinner to rehydrate, stash in the cozy, let sit for a few minutes, and voila – dinner!
7. LEATHERMAN MICRA MULTITOOL
The Micra is small, it’s light compared with other multitools, and it features scizzors. I find I use the scizzors more than any other tool and I love that they’re the prominent tool. Totally worth it.
8. PATAGONIA HOUDINI WIND PANTS
I don’t carry rain pants, but instead carry the impossibly light Patagonia Houdini wind pants. They’re great to wear on a chilly morning, on a chilly evening, when it’s windy, and when it’s rainy. Multi purpose. And they pack down super small. If it’s really rainy, I can always use my ground cloth as a rain kilt. Downside: they’re “unisex” (aka, they only make them for men. but they’ll probably fit most women, too). Enjoy!
9. POLYCRO GROUND SHEET
Keep your sleeping pad clean and hole free! This is the lightest ground sheet around. Downside: super fragile and prone to tearing and it might not protect that NeoAir from anything sharp whatsoever… But it is great if you have a more durable sleeping pad or use a closed cell foam pad. Bonus: doubles as rain skirt in a pinch.
10. TRASH COMPACTOR BAG
The ol’ trash compactor bag is the best, cheapest pack liner out there. Line your pack and your duds will stay dry. Amazing. Pro tip: you might be able to find a free bag at the airport (the kind they use to wrap car seats and other checked luggage – I use an Alaskan Airlines bag sometimes and it’s swell).
11. ECASE WATERPROOF PHONE CASE
While it’s a safe and smart bet to use an Otter Box or other case that will protect your phone from damage on the trail, I err toward the minimal when it comes to phone protection. Live on the edge, if you will. I toss my iPhone 5 in the eCase and it’s shielded from the elements. The screen is still useable and it has a headphone jack so you can listen to music or an ebook if you’re needing it. Bonus: you can totally use your phone in this case while you soak in your epsom salt bath after a long day of hiking.
12. HOMEMADE CAMP SHOES
…are the jam! They’re insanely light yet provide that essential protection for your socks and feet from the ground when you have to step out of your tent for a midnight pee break. They can be made from scraps of foam pad you might find in a hiker box plus strips of bandana (especially if you already cut your bandana in half to use as a snot rag). Use the scizzors on your multitool to cut the outsole and bandana.
Are you a fan of the toe wedgie/thong style sandal but hate when that messes with your socks? Pro tip: make toe socks your sleep socks and you can rock those flops!
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GREAT LIST!!!!!! ……..and here I thought that I was the only person on earth who labeled my bandana a “snot rag”. I’ve used that term for 40 years!!! Glad to have found a sister in crime!
What tent do you use?
Number 1 could also be a help for us old guys. Some of us have similar needs for attention.