backcountry distilled wisdom  return

Knowledge Nuggets

Page 3

Lightweight Ideas:

Name: ?, 08/16/98

Here are some things that will help all...

For light weight tent stakes go to the nearest building supply store and buy a pack of ties for a chain link fence, They come 50 for about 2 bucks, they can be reused or thrown away after each trip and are very light weight..

Instead of a stuff sack for my sleeping back i use a commercial grade trash bag..It is lighter, waterproof , when you compress it your bag stays small.. and has a bout 10 other uses on the trail( hanging the food).

I also have painted all my waterbottles black.. before cooking i set them in the sun for a hour or so - this saves time and fuel


Use Only Your Tent Fly:

Name: Packlite, 08/16/98

Consider leaving your tent home and carry only the tent fly. For many tents (including free standing ones), the fly can be setup without the tent body. For those flys that don't have the necessary grommets to house the tent pole ends, grommets could possibly be sewn onto theiry webbing stake loops. The fly, along with the tent's groundsheet, will suffice in many, if not most, situations and is a heck of lot lighter.


Multi-Use Bandanna:

Name: Roger, 09/04/98

Carry a bandanna and you'll quickly discover that it has a lot of different uses. It can be used to dry pots and pans; as a neck, head, or hand kerchief; arm sling; emergency bandage; head band; wash rag; pot holder; dust mask; and, no doubt, a lot of other things. Heck, you can even blow your nose into it.


Water Bottle Multi-Use Tip:

Name: Ben, 08/16/98

When I go winter camping, I fill the water bottles with hot water just before I go to bed. Then I stuff it down my sleeping bag to keep my feet warm and toasty. As long as it's not too hot to make me sweat, it's a great pick-me-up.:)

I usually try to choose the wide mouth bottles. About an hour or so before I eat, I try to reconstitute my food in the bottle. Rice works well, pasta's out. I try not to take pasta anymore because of the long cooking time.


Suggestion for Tree-Campers:

Name: Bill Clo, 09/05/98

I have a suggestion for those who backpack in tree-filled areas.

Use a hammock and poncho, and ditch that tent, or bivy and save plenty of weight.

I use a hammock that weighs 8.5oz, bug netting and a poncho that weighs 12oz (Campmor). Total weight= 24.5 oz. Attach to two suitable trees (the hardest part is finding 2 that are the correct distance apart, yet big enough to take the weight. Attach the poncho and bug netting assembly above the hammock, and you're set.

You do need to modify the poncho with some velcro patches to accomodate the bug netting though.

With this setup, you have a more comfortable sleep, and all the gear is multi use. (poncho can be used for many things, including rain protection, collecting water in a pinch, emergency raft). Hammock is versatile; sleep in it, emergency fish net, etc.

I tend to look for gear that is useful in normal backpacking, and less than normal "survival uses" also; you never know when it'd be useful.

I also rarely use a sleeping bag, instead relying on my clothes and a heavy duty military space blanket to keep me warm. I've used this method down to 40 degrees so far, and it works ok.


Insulated Mug Modification:

Name: Mike Wilson, 09/27/98

Cut the bottom of the handle on a plastic insulated mug. Now you can slip it over any strap and let it hang outside your pack. No more tying it on with straps or string.


No Soap for Dishes:

Name: Scruggs, 09/27/98

Instead of using soap for dishwashing, try water, sand, pinecones, dirt, leaves instead. Your dishes will get as clean as they need to be and you and the fish won't be ingesting "biodegradable" soap residue.



Name: Pablo Mendoza, 12/07/98

When I lived out my backpack for five weeks in Oregon, I used my chopsticks instead of utensils for eating and cooking. Very light and useful.

It replaced my heavy spoon, fork and spatula for cooking.


CD as Signal mirror & Frisbee:

Name: Allen Nichols (HaMmErHeAd) 11/27/98

Use a CD for a mirror, it's light, free, (AOL mailings) and you can use it for an emergency or hygiene mirror. When in camp you can use it as a frisbee.


Goodwill Industries:

Name: Allen Nichols (HaMmErHeAd) 11/27/98

When you're trying to find the "perfect" solution to you weight-reducing quest you have to stop by the local Goodwill/thrift shop. I've found dozens of cool/cheap deals there: stuff sacks, water bottles, salt and pepper shakers, coffe mugs, etc. Once I found a Columbia jacket there for $5.00! (you bet I bought it!) You can also find "fleece" polyester pants and tops, wool clothes, cheap shoes for using after setting up camp, snow pants etc. I've gone there to find lids for homemade cook sets. Oh, it's a great place to get kids stuff too. Lets' face it; they grow up soooo fast most folks really can't afford to buy them the "hi-tech" gear anyway.


Exacto Knife:

Name: Allen Nichols (HaMmErHeAd) 11/27/98

I switched from using my old Buck knife and sharpener to using an Exacto type utility knife. It's the ones with the 4" blade that can be snapped off and the next tip used. These are razor sharp. You can take and extra blade or two and you'll have enough blade for just about any job. The blade will lock at any position and you can lock it in the closed position when it's stowed in your pack. Cheap and light and razor sharp. Let's face it, 99% or cutting in the backcountry is to cut cord, open packages and maybe widdle off some kindling.


Games & Other Fun Stuff:

Name: Tornado, 12/28/98

I find when looking at gear lists of others and suggested gear lists I find that people almost never include games and fun stuff, except for novels, which aren't really fun and interactive.

First of all, I carrya clear, flat plastic stuff sack which is designated to go in the tent. It contains my journal/pen, handwarmer, small towel, and toiletries. As far as fun stuff, I carry three "fun" things in this sack:

1) I carry a deck of cards, which on average weigh 3 ounces but can be lightened by cutting in half. These are worth the weight, because of the endless games that are possible, and there is only a small amount of light needed.

2) I carry a homemade game that I created from a review of The Himilayan Game by Backpacker Magazine. I made it out of cardboard so it is almost weightless. I have a small piece of cardboard for the board, a shape of a mountain. I then mark lines (about 20) for the spaces and have 4 camps along the way to the summit. I have a plastic bag full of weightless chips dicatating to move 1-9 spaces but I also have reasons for the person to go back spaces or lose a turn by pieces that say lose ice ax or catch tibetan virus. Whoever gets to the summit first, wins. I call it the Everest game. My tentmates seem to like it.

3) I just got this last fun thing for Christmas. It is a small chess board. It weighs about 3 ounces and has magnetic pieces. It's alot of fun.


Bungie for Extension of Tent Stake Loop:

Name: Peter V. 01/22/98

For those tents which need a taut pitch and for those tent sites that always seem to put a rock right in the exact spot where you need to put a stake, in order to achieve that taut pitch, Peter V. suggests tying small loops of tiny bungie cord on the tent stake-out loops. The bungie will allow for adequate tension as well as provide sufficient latitude in stake placement.


Group Toothbrush !:

Name: Jennifer 02/17/99

I have seen toothbrushes that now have replaceable heads (4 heads/1 handle) the heads snap on/off. Good for group backpackers. The only place I know of that sells them is Vitamin Cottage in Arvada, Colorado.


Comfy Pack Pillow:

Name: Michael Garrison 02/10/99

In the winter months when heavier clothing is needed, I pack 1-down jacket and 1-cotton pillowcase. There may be a lighter cloth that dries faster that you may choose to substitute for cotton, but I figure if the interior of my pack gets that wet then my jacket is also going to be wet. In short, at bedtime, stuff the down jacket into the pillow case and at the onset of slumber you can rest your trail-wearied neck on a comfortable down pillow. (ADDITIONAL HINT If you can attach a velcro closure to the mouth of the pillowcase in will be very much worth the effort as the jackets like to crawl out.) Hope this is helpful.

Happy Trails....


Multiple Tips from Mark:

Name: Mark Desprez, 02/08/99

Just found your site.......just my cup of tea.........heres some of my thoughts:

Utensils - I do not usually shop in camping stores, for my utensils I first bought what I call a "plate/bowl", a plate with a deep dish bottom (serves as both), next I combed the second hand stores for a pot on which the bowl shaped bottom of the plate/bowl could serve as a pot lid (no pot lid needed), another spin-off advantage is that I can cook one course transfer it to the plate bowl, cook a second dish with the plate/bowl acting as the lid, keeping the first dish hot.

For trips up to a week my brother takes a radicle approach and assumes that backpacking is no time to start thinking about cuisine, everything should be eaten raw or boiled and edible with a spoon (light plastic) and he eats out of his insulated cup (no plates/bowls).

Knife - what is the personal hangup with carrying your own knife, a Swiss Army knife is probably the heaviest small item we pack, I ask before I leave, if you have one mine stays in the car, I'm not so proud.

Coffee - using only a light plastic insulated mug, one cup filter holder (makes two cups/very light), paper filters with grounds are bio-degradable or burnable, and best of all none of those camp coffee grounds, also the paper filters are a great last ditch effort to remove sand/dirt/twigs/etc.


Treking Pole Camera Monopod:

Name: Greg, 02/19/99

Make one of your treking poles into a monopod using a bolt,hacksaw,drill, and glue. Drill a hole straight into the top of one of the handgrips slightly smaller than the bolt thread size for your camera, (make sure it is in a spot where you can go down about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch). Screw the bolt down into the hole after covering the threads with glue. Cleanly cut off the head of the bolt with a hacksaw to the desired height and cap it off with a rounded locking nut. It has worked for me on three different sets of poles.

One more thing. By screwing your camera onto the pole and reaching out with the pole fully extended you can get some interesting overhead angles on people and wildlife. Note: This requires and camera with a timer or a remote because you sure as heck can't reach the button.


Multiple-Use Anti-Bacterial Gels:

Name: Nigal, 02/16/99

One of the most useful items I have found in a long time is the anti-bacterial hand sanitizer gels. You can buy them in small trial bottles at the grocery store. It has many uses.

I use it all over instead of having to do the whole bath thing -- leaves me feeling cleaner than soap and water.

I use it to prime my stove also. it doesn't burn quite as hot but it will burn longer and cleaner (no black stuff!). It also makes a fairly good fire starter in non windy conditions. Being mostly alcohol, it evaporates fast.

I also use it to sanitize my pot after dinner and then rinse with treated water after that.


Lightweight Sleeping Bag Pad:

Name: Bill Clo, 11/25/98

I've discovered a very lightweight sleeping bag pad that I just had to tell you folks about.

Go to Lowe's or a similar store (Large Home Improvements store), and get some mylar insulation in a roll. The kind I found is double-sided, and has bubbles in between; just like bubble wrap.

A 6' pad weighs 11oz, and a 4.5ft pad weighs 7.25 oz, and it's pretty warm. Not as comfy as other pads, but lighter and warmer.


Lightweight Salt Shaker:

Name: Tom K, 11/02/98

Why use a shaker? I just use the little paper packets of salt and pepper you see at fast food places. I keep them in a zip lock bag.



Name: Mark Burton, 3/06/99

I hike with two of my friends. We try to maintain uniformity with our gear. For example, we use a propane stove and a propane mini-lantern. We only take one extra propane cannister. Also, all power items are "AA" batteries. The GPS, flashlights, weather scanner , and anything else are all "AA" battery-powered. We only bring 4 extra "AA" batteries. We all have an Eveready area/spot flashlight. It works well along the trail or "pulled down" in the tent. We only bring one extra bulb for the group. All of our ponchos are military. We have snapped all three together many times to create a shelter.

Uniformity in gear helps !


Cotton balls and Vaseline--Great Fire Starter:

Name: Ty MacWalters, 3/14/99

    1.) get a bag of cotton balls
    2.) get vaseline
    3.) get an empty film can
    4.) grab a few cotton balls and cover them in vaseline
    5.) stuff the cotton balls in the film can (the more the merrier)
The result is a great fire starter that burns for a long time.


Vinyl Tape and Mini-Mag Lite:

Name: Christopher Michael Baugher, 3/16/99

Instead of buying a bite-cap for your AA model Mini-Mag or if you, like me, can't find one for your AAA Mini-Mag, use some vinyl electrician's tape. I rolled a good measure onto the end of the Mini-Mag, to a thickness of two or more millimeters. Now I can hold the light in my teeth without crunching metal. It also serves as a source of repair tape.


Seam Grip on Sleep Pad:

Name: Greg Lang, 3/18/99

I have a thermarest ultralight 3/4 that is a few years old (pre anti-slip fabric). In order to keep myself on the pad at night I utilized one of my favorite products (SEAMGRIP) Just run a few lines of seamgrip horizontally across your pad (especially at waist level) and let dry completely. Seamgrip remains grippy even when dry and this has kept me on my pad ever since.


Little Things:

Name: Mary Simpson, 3/28/99

For warm weather, a down vest in a tiny (about 6x12) pillowcase I made is perfect. I made the case by putting the opening in the center of the back so nothing falls out. The pillowcase also serves as the stuffsack for socks etc. When I am out for a short trip, up to three days, I use 1 mil plastic sheet for a groundcloth and blow off the tent if there is to be no rain. Nylon pants with zip off legs are worthwhile. I take Always brand panty liners with no side tabs in lieu of extra undies. I've never had to do it but they should make a fine no stick bandage for a large wound. One would need to use that duct tape. I have used those 99 cent thin plastic ponchos and they are just fine.


Newspaper Rubber Bands:

Name: Switchback, 4/05/99

The rubber bands that come with your newspaper are excellent for outdoor use. They seem to be the type of rubber that does not dry out when exposed to the outdoors. Save them each day and you will always have a great supply.


Wet Boots and Pack Covers:

Name: Rick Walker, 4/07/99

Wet Boots:
Ever crawled into your tent and realized that you have a choice of either bringing your wet or dirty boots into the tent with you and spreading dirt or mud over everything else in the tent, or leaving them out in the rain and having wet boots in the morning ? Although I'm new to backpacking, I've already encountered this scenario. I have a solution.

I carry the cheap plastic shopping bags that you get at every store nowadays, and I use them as stuff sacks and garbage bags, etc. You either stand in one of them while you remove your feet from your boots, or sit in your tent with your feet sticking out, take off your boots and put the dirty boots in the bag. You can leave the top of the bag open inside your tent to let the boots air out without getting the tent dirty or tie the bag shut and leave them out in the rain without them getting soaked. This works for clothing also. If your camp shoes have gotten dirty, you can put them in a bag, tie it shut and put them in your pack without getting everything else dirty. But wet shoes inside a plastic bag won't dry out, so you probably don't want to pack wet camp shoes away like that, for very long.

Pack cover:
If you're not in a shelter and don't have a vestibule on your tent to cover your pack over-night, you can pull a large garbage bag over your pack to keep it dry in a rain shower. One of the large leaf and garden bags works well. Just clip the pack's waist belt together, pull the bag over the pack and tuck it underneath. You can even twist-tie it shut if you need to. The bag weighs very little and will keep your shoulder harness and hip belt from soaking up water overnight, which can make putting the pack on the next morning rather uncomfortable. It'll also help keep small rodents and insects from rummaging through your gear. You can also lay it under the pack as a ground cloth when you open it up to access your gear; as an emergency rain coat or shelter; or cut the sides open and spread it out for a ground cloth under your tent.

But make sure that you don't leave the garbage-bag-covered pack near a trash can over-night or you may end up buying all new gear.


"Cheap" Mosquito Netting:

Name: Shane Graber, 4/15/99

Instead of buying mosquito netting from someone like REI or Campmor, simply go to your local fabric store and purchase "bridal veil" fabric. From everything I've seen, the two products are *identical*. I purchased a 54 inch x 12 foot section for $2.50 (it was on sale at the time). If I had bought it retail, I would have paid $4.75. Still, that's dirt cheap compared to any of the catalog prices I've seen... To soften it up, wash it on warm in your washing machine. Do not wash it with anything else because the veil material will pick up lint from the other clothing in the wash. The material will come out of the washing machine very supple and ready to use.


Misc. Nigal Nuggets:

Name: Nigal, 4/17/99

Try using a shaker bottle used for making salad dressing, for a water bottle. Most are 16 oz. (don't need to have a whole quart do you?), have measurements on the side, are water tight, have a huge-mouth opening for easy cleaning, cost less than half as much as a Nalgene bottle. It's a great choice for people who drink a lot of mixes -- like Carnation Instant breakfasts -- because they have a mixing insert that mixes the dressing or whatever is in it. They aren't Lexan so they would absorb flavors if not rinsed out after use. They are lighter too.

After giving up on my candle lantern, I started taking a small can candle. They weigh about 3 oz. and come in great flavors like mulberry and vanilla. You can find them at your local supermarket for around a buck or two. They will last up to a week of use in the evenings. I'm trying to find small citrinella candles for Summer.

I found great use of trash bags this winter. I used a lawn and leaf bag cut along the length of the side seams and unfolded for a ground cloth. I also used produce bags from the grocery for feet vapor barriers. They work unbelievably good while not on the move. I have also used tall kitchen bags for a vapor barrier vest worn against the skin. A trash bag over the foot of your bag will keep it from getting wet when rubbing against the tent walls or against your tarp.


Sense of Humor:

Name: Robert Adams, 5/14/99

Bring your sense of humor. Because sure as you don't, you're going to need it -- besides it tends to lighten even the heaviest load.


Reading Material/Fire Starter:

Name: Jolan ?, 5/1/99

For reading material, shop the used book stores for paperbacks. Burn them as you go. This also obviates the need to take any fire-starter material.


Zero-ounce Camp Shoes:

Name: David Gregory, 4/27/99

I usually carry two pair of socks and sock liners, so I can wash one pair and let them dry on the back of my pack while I hike. (Clean socks also double as mittens and pot mitts.) When I hit camp, I take off my boots and hang up the inserts to let them dry. Then I change into my clean socks and put my boots back on. Loosely laced and without the inserts, they make very comfortable -- if somewhat heavy -- camp shoes. They also protect your feet much better than Tevas from camp debris and hazards. And the heat of your now-dry feet will help dry your boots quicker than just hanging them up. This trick works really great unless the boots have become really soggy. Caveat Emptor.


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