Lighten the Load: 20 Essential Backpacking Hacks

Sometimes there’s nothing better than strapping on a backpack, walking into the woods, and getting lost for a few days. However, that doesn’t that backpacking is a walk in the park. In fact, backpackers encounter many problems while on their travels. 

This is why they must think strategically. Not only must they find creative ways to pack everything that they need, but they must also manage to do so without overloading their bags. 

Looking for a little advice for your next backpacking trip? Then don’t stop reading now! Here are 20 essential backpacking hacks that you should utilize. 

1. Make Use of DIY Firestarters

Somewhere along the way, you’re probably going to have to start a fire. While you could start that fire with some firestarter that you buy at a store, the better option would be to make firestarter yourself. Not only will DIY firestarter be more affordable, but it will take up less room in your bag as well. 

There are all sorts of options for DIY firestarters. One of the cheapest, smallest, and most simple options is cotton balls dipped in wax.

An option that might surprise you is greasy, high-fat chips (think Doritos). Just bring along a small bag and, when you’re hungry, you can eat them. On the other hand, when fire calls, you can burn them. 

2. Bring a Bear Canister 

Depending on where you’re backpacking, you could come into contact with bears. If there’s a chance of a bear encounter on your trip, you’ll want to make sure that you’re carrying a bear canister.

Bear canisters are sealable food containers which contain chemicals that are offensive to bears. Instead of being attracted to your food, bears will be repelled by your cannister. 

3. Use Your Water Bottle for Ambient Light 

In most cases, lanterns are too big to take on backpacking trips. Instead, you’re left with just a headlamp and maybe a flashlight. The only problem is, these light devices don’t provide ambient light . . . on their own. 

However, if you have a transparent or translucent water bottle, you can use it to provide you with ambient light by turning it upside down, placing a headlamp or flashlight at its base, and setting it in the middle of your tent.  The light will bounce off the insides of the bottle, reflecting over the entirety of your sleeping area.  

4. Switch to Small Storage Entities 

There are a number of small items that you’ll need to have packed when you set out on your trip. These items include bug spray, sunscreen, first aid items, and other such entities. 

While you could pack these things into your bag in their inherent packaging, the better bet would be to take them out of their packaging and place them into smaller packaging. This will allow you to save as much room in your bag as possible. 

Often times, backpackers will store their small items in old medication bottles. These bottles are small, lightweight, and sealable, and will help to ensure that your items are fully secured in a discreet manner. 

5. Bring Baby Wipes 

Every once in a while, in the midst of a backpacking trip, it feels great to take a bath with soap and water. However, if your trip is a particularly long one, soap-and-water baths probably can’t be a regularity. 

This is why it’s wise to bring some baby wipes with you as well. While they won’t get you as clean as soap and water, baby wipes will help keep you refreshed throughout your trip. 

6. Think Lightweight 

Packing all of your hiking and camping supplies into a single backpack is sure to put some weight on you. Over the course of your trip, you’re bound to feel the strain on your back, knees, feet, and shoulders. 

For this reason, you should be doing everything in your power to reduce the weight of your backpack. The less your backpack weighs, the less strain you’ll put on your body, and the longer you’ll be able to travel without feeling discomfort. 

How do you minimize the weight of your backpack? By packing the lightest items you can find and only packing what you need. 

7. Keep a Bandana Handy 

One of the key items needed by every backpacker is a bandana. Bandanas are small and simple pieces of clothing that can serve a number of different functions. For instance, not only can they be used to keep sweat out of one’s eyes, but they can also be used to create makeshift lamps. 

When backpacking, you never know what you’re going to come across. Because of this, you’re always going to want to keep your bandana handy. 

Don’t stuff it down inside of your bag. Instead, either clip it to your shirt or to the exterior of your bag. That way, you can easily grab it whenever it’s needed. 

8. Use Your Bear Canister to Wash Dirty Clothes 

While they’re most typically used to hold food, bear canisters could conceivably be used for a range of different purposes.  For instance, they can also be used to wash dirty clothes. 

All you have to do is fill half of your bear canister with soap and water, fill the other half with the dirty clothes, seal both halves together, and give the canister a good shake. While this won’t produce the same effect as a washing machine, it will reduce any foul odors which might exist. 

9. Wrap Duct Tape Around Your Water Bottle 

When you’re out in the wilderness, duct tape can be hugely useful. Not only can it be used in the setting up of a tent, but it can also be used to temporarily fix broken items. This is why you should always have some on you. 

However, an entire roll of duct tape will only take up space. For this reason, instead of bringing an entire roll of duct tape, you should wrap some around your water bottle. 

Wrapping your water bottle with duct tape will allow you to access said tape without any major digging. Plus, it will save you substantial amounts of space in your bag. 

10. Chop Up Your Soap 

Depending on the length of your trip, you might need to shower while you’re gone. If so, you’re highly advised to bring some type of soap with you. 

While you have the option to store liquid soap in tiny bottles, you could take up even less space by using barred soap and chopping it into thin slices. These slices can be tucked away in outer pockets, taking up only negligible amounts of space and remaining exceedingly easy to access. 

11. Throw in a Pair of Sandals 

Hiking boots are a hugely important part of every backpacker’s arsenal. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re going to want to wear them at all times. 

For lounging purposes, in particular, it’s nice to wear lightweight, breathable footwear. Obviously, hiking boots don’t fit this bill. 

But won’t a pair of shoes take up too much space in your bag? Yes! That’s why you should pack a pair of sandals instead. 

12. Install Batteries Incorrectly 

One of the problems you might encounter while backpacking is the problem of electronic items accidentally turning on while in your bag. The longer an electronic item is unknowingly powered on, the more it’s going to drain the batteries contained within it. 

So, how do you get around this problem? By putting the batteries in incorrectly.

Simply turn one of the batteries in the item upside down so that it can’t form a full electrical circuit. Then, when you need to use the item, turn it the correct way. 

13. Repair Bag Tears With Super Glue 

While hiking backpacks are designed to withstand some wear and tear, they’re far from indestructible. Odds are, at some point, your bag will meet a rock or tree branch that it doesn’t like, and will be presented with a tear. 

Fortunately, you can repair most minor bag tears with the use of super glue. For this reason, you should make sure that you always have some packed. Make the repair quickly, and you’ll prevent it from getting worse. 

14. Wear Oven Bags During Winter Treks 

Wintertime backpacking trips present a whole new set of challenges. The cold, ice, and snow work in harmony to make such treks quite burdensome. 

One of the ways you can combat these elements is by wearing oven bags under your socks. Oven bags will prevent foot and leg sweat from coming into contact with your socks, keeping them dry and ensuring that they don’t freeze while you’re sleeping. 

If you wish, you could also place oven bags over your socks. This will help prevent snow and slush from getting your socks wet. 

15. Keep Your Footwear in Your Sleeping Bag During Winter Trips

Another way to keep your socks from freezing at night during winter and snowboarding trips is by placing them in your sleeping bag. If your boots or boot liners are wet, you could place them in your sleeping bag as well.  

By keeping these items in your sleeping bag at night, you effectively warm them with your body heat. This way, when morning presents itself, you can simply slip them back on and get back on the trail. In other words, you won’t have to wait for them to thaw out. 

16. Use the Snow to Keep You Hydrated 

Snow can certainly be a nuisance during backpacking trips. However, that doesn’t mean it’s without its benefits. 

The great thing about snow is that it’s essentially water. What this means is that you can use it to keep yourself hydrated. 

Want to take your consumption of snow to the next level? Bring along some powdered sports drink mix. Then when the mood strikes you, scoop up some snow, add the mix, and enjoy some much-needed electrolytes. 

17. Warm Your Feet With Boiled Water 

During brutally cold treks, it can be tough staying warm at night, even when wrapped in a high-quality sleeping bag. One way to provide yourself with just a little more warmth is to boil some water over the fire and pour it into your water bottle. 

Then, once the bottle is filled with water, wrap it in a sock and place it at the foot of your sleeping bag. It will act as a foot warmer throughout the night and can also be used to keep your socks and shoes warm.   

18. Study Up Before You Leave 

One of the most important aspects of any hike is studying up on the trail before you leave. This way, you can plan for any problems that might present themselves. 

It’s also wise to get a good grip on the weather forecast. Surprise rain, sun, wind, and snow can work to make a backpacking trip a burdensome endeavor. 

19. Wear a Front Bag 

Often times, backpackers will bring just one bag, one which they strap to their shoulders and wear on their back. However, while it will increase the weight of your load, there are advantages to wearing two bags instead: one on your back and one on your front. 

A front bag can be used to store items that you’ll need frequently during your trek. Having them within easy reach of your arms will allow you to grab them in a quick and efficient manner. Items to put in a front bag include snacks, water, and flashlights, to name just a few. 

20. Throw Sage in Your Fire 

During summer trips, mosquitoes are a near inevitability. While you could keep them away with the use of bug spray, you could also consider using sage, the aromatic spice which is often used to provide additional taste to meats. 

By simply throwing some sage into your fire, you will repel mosquitoes from the entirety of your campsite. Not to mention, you’ll provide your campsite with a pleasant fragrance.  

In Need of More Backpacking Hacks?

These are only 20 of the countless backpacking hacks at your disposal. While they’re undoubtedly useful, they’re only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. 

Looking for more backpacking tips? Perhaps you’re looking for tips on kayaking or rock climbing? If so, you can find them right here at Backcountry Gear.

Check out our backpacking checklist now! 

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