backcountry distilled wisdom  return

Knowledge Nuggets

Page 4

Emergency Firestarter:

Name: Benjamin Crowley, 05/19/99

A bicycle inner tube cut into 2-inch squares works great for a firestarter. It can't soak up water no matter what, and burns great for a few minuites, enough to catch wet twigs. Only problem is that it stinks, so stay upwind. Another trick for fires is to carry a small length of tubing, very light anduse it to blow into just the right spots to keep a fire going good. It ismore efficient and works better than fanning the coals. Plus it weighs next to nothing.


Lightweight Cutting Board:

Name: Mike Pettinger, 05/28/99

On occasion I have needed a small cutting board while backpacking, generally for cutting food. Though several small (and expensive) backpacker's cutting boards are available, I found a lightweight solution for free.

I'm an architect, and a product rep brought in some samples of solid surfacing veneer (SSV), which is manufactured by Corian, Wilsonart and several other companies. I immediately found a cabinet shop in the area which assembles kitchen and bath counters using this stuff, which is highly resistant to scratches and cuts, but is easily formed with woodworking tools. I stopped in and asked them if I could have a piece of scrap SSV, about 6" square. They gladly cut a chunk off a larger piece of scrap.

It wasn't the color I would have picked, but it was free, and I took it home. Fifteen minutes in the shop allowed me to drill, saw and sand this into a great little cutting board which sits flat on the bottom of my pack cook pot.


Give Up Garbage Bags:

Name: Kam Mudd, 05/28/99

I hiked the AT in '96 with a down sleeping bag. It rained or snowed about 50 of the first 60 days. I did not use any garbage bags to line my pack because I personally think they are worthless. It may sound strange, and it is a bit heavier, but I used cadaver bags.

I work for a veterinarian and cadaver bags for pets come in 24"x30" and 30"x48" sizes. Perfect for fitting inside a pack. And they are just about indestructable and do NOT leak.


Wind Screen for Homemade Stove:

Name: sleepy, 05/29/99

The homemade stove works great! I've used mine several times and made a couple for friends.

I have a windscreen that I made for it. Take another can that is slightly larger in diameter than the stove. Cut the top out of it and cut it so that you have a section of can that is about two inches long. Punch a few holes in it so you can put two grates made of wire in the can that are about 3/8" or so apart. Make these near the center of the can section. Cut about 4 triangular notches in the top and set this on top of the stove. The notches allow you to use a pot that is bigger in diameter than the stove. I also use empty tin cans for cookware. Using different sizes allows the cans to nest in each other. For example a soup can sits inside a green bean can which sits inside a beef stew can, etc. In this way you can come up with a whole system of nested cookware and stove. Just snap a rubber band on and it holds it all together. Just make sure the cans are not galvenized. For a handle, I always carry a multitool (leatherman) and use that to move them around. Also wear gloves to hold them while eating. The cans are free and if they get funky, discard and get fresh ones.


Jewelry Pouch-First Aid Kit:

Name: Steven C Jones, 06/12/99

I purchased a clear, vinyl jewelry organizer pouch at a dollar store. It has 18 pockets of various sizes and that are transparent (front and back). Now, as soon as I open my kit, everything is organized and visible! Just don't forget to remove the hanger hook. The pouch EASILY fits into a ziplock along with my wilderness emergency paperback book (a must!) and some other emergency necessities.



Name: Reese "mr. homebody", 07/17/99

I've started carrying chopsticks left over from our last take-out Chinese meal to use instead of forks. They're versatile and made from wood, which is much lighter than a metal fork. Furthermore, if you are only staying out for one night, they can be disposed of in your campfire to lighten the return load.


Cut Cooking Weight:

Name: Eric Romberg, 8/20/99

Recently I've started making longer and longer backcountry and wilderness trips, as this has gone on, more and more things are being left home. Most recently my entire cookset! On trips where I do lots of miles in a day I've given up cooking in camp to mearly boiling water and adding it to either comercily bought freeze dried meals or to self prepared meals (usualy I use a base of instant rice, instant potatoes, or couscous). I was down to just bringing a pot and a cup and a spoon for my cook set and utensels. I found using ziplocks to cook in worked beter and left less to clean up, and I stoped bringing a propane/butaine stove and now use sterno. So I thought about why I was bringing that "heavy" pot. On my high milage trips I now just bring a 20 oz colman stanless steal cup ( the 20 oz is capasity not the wheight of the cup) and a spoon, I rarly need more than two cups of water to reconstitute my meals, and while my meal is reconstituting I'm warming water for hot chocolate.


Take Fly - Leave Tent:

Name: Bert Nemcik, 8/30/99

Dear Light Friends,

After trying all kinds of tents, I finally settled on an 8' x 10' coated fly for my shelter. It weighs a mere 1 pound 12 ounces weighed accurately on a baby scale. I use my Komperdell poles for pitching. With 8 stakes and stiff, no tangle cord, the total fly, plastic ground cloth and pegs weighs in at a wonderfully light 2 pounds 4 ounces. It gives me a lot of space to spread out and a dozen ways to pitch it. I set the poles up in the middle and stretch the fly out at the corners and have plenty of air and still nearly 80 square feet of floor space. This is plenty for my wife, me and our two dogs. I slept in the fly pitched this way in a thunder storm with the wind whipping and didn't get the least bit wet. I found too that I could look out and watch the light show which made it all the better.

Tents are nice for winter, but the fly will work well then too. Just pitch it so that the ends are down to the ground, and place packs and a poncho at the end where the cold wind is coming from and there is plenty of shelter for sleeping snug. Of course, you'll need a winter weight bag but that is a must anyway. I've slept in the fly down to 20 degrees and it was fine. It does condense though so there is a need to dry it out every day. But what the heck, even when soaked, it weighs about 2 pounds less than my 5 pound 5 ounce two person tent. I bought my fly from Campmor for $38. Give it a try.


AT Water Tips:

Name: John Young, 9/3/99

When i backpacked the Appalachian Trail in 1995, I used a number of techniques to reduce pack weight. Since water is quite heavy, I carried less than most, usually no more than a quart, and stopped more often to drink when passing a stream or spring. I carried a Katadyn mini-filter most of the time to treat the water. However, for some stretches, I mailed the filter ahead to myself to save even more weight and used iodine or chlorine bleach to purify Nalgene bottles-full of stream water. I used chemicals for only occasional stretches, preferring the filter's weight to ingesting abnormal levels of chemicals for too long.

Since nearly all AT shelters are close to springs or streams, it was simple to boil a great deal of water in the morning and evening, and to drink my fill then. I would boil nearly two quarts of water, fill my two plastic coffee mugs and let them cool, then add my oatmeal or evening pasta meal to the remainder. Of course, I would turn off the stove promptly and let the contents cook under the pot lid to save fuel. Then, replete to bursting with water, I could hike for several hours before requiring any more. Carrying it in your stomach is better, I think, than on your back.

That was the last drought year, and I'll admit I was caught short on several occasions in the mid-Atlantic states. I had to drink from swamps several times in New Jersey and Massachusetts, and could have been in trouble in New York when most of the streams or springs marked on the maps turned out to be dry. So the technique of tanking up and carrying less is great -- as long as you're pretty certain there actually is water up ahead! That's probably less of a problem in Washington than, well, anywhere else :-)


Russ' General Tips:

Name: Russ Ray, 9/7/99

1: If you wear contacts, the small (2") squeeze bottles of daily cleaner make great dispensers for bio-soap and bug dope. Most have a wrap around label that peels off leaving a white bottle you can write on. I filled one with water and had to stomp it 3 times to cause it to burst!

2: Try leaving your heavy candle lantern and taking a Photon (white) light. Hang it using the small plastic " J " hooks that come various department store items such as socks. You can quickly save 10+ ounces!

3: Even small sharpening stones weight 2+ ounces. Try the Eze-Lap diamond rod. (Found mine in Wal-Mart) It's shaped like a very short fountain pen. The cap exposes a nice diamond "rod", flat on one side and groved on the other. About 0.7 ounces.

4: Check out the Ziplock disposable bowls. Round. When you trim the "lift tab" of the lid, you have a tough 0.5 ounce bowl with lid. Great for that last helping that needs to last a few hours till you are hungry again. (Fits great inside the Evernew Titanium pot)

5: This Nugget is not for everyone. It works for me. Consider the Platypus Big Zip 2 (3.9 ounces), (or similar) bladder and an in-line filter (2.4 ounces). For 6.3 ounces you have a great filter and water source compared to 10+ounces for a filter and 5+ for a single 32 ounce bottle. (Until you are sure you can carry an empty 16 ounce bottle for backup.) Hint! Only keep it 1/2 full until camp. 70 ounces of water is heavy!

6: If you use sugar, carry cubes. They are much easier to portion control so you carry only what you need.

7: If your load is small enought, remove the metal stays. Mine weigh 8.9 ounces. My load is down to 22.5 pounds with water, but not food. My daily food is about 1.6 pounds. (Long live "Joe's Ultralight Moose Goo!)

(I know many of you are lower, but this ain't no race! Two years ago I was hauling 52 pounds!)


Tarp Shelter & Bugs:

Name: rhysdavies, 9/15/99

many people are using tarps to save weight and a simple way to keep out the bugs is;

along the middle (width ways)either glue or stitch,(remember if you stitch you need to seal the area with seam sealer).a half inch wide peice of velcro which should not go to the ends of your tarp but,about 1"from the end. next buy a length of noseeum mosquito netting long enough to tuck under your sleeping mat, allowing enough slack that you can move around in your sleeping bag. again along the middle width ways attatch the can then either marry the netting to the tarp prior to errecting your sheltr or after simply by pushing the velcro tape together.


Make a Instant Fire!

Name: Bridger Newman, 9/17/99

It's pouring and you did not make it to your intended destination on time. Wet and cold?

You would like to warm up and dry out all of that hi-tech gear you just bought. But with all this rain, how do go about accomplishing getting warm and dry FAST? Try this: remove all the leftover lent from your dryer and place it into a ziploc bag. Once you have accumulated enough for a weekend trip (half a freezer bag) add 1/8 cup of citronella fuel. The lent will soak it up like a sponge and you will most certainly have a fire when you most need it. You can also try variation with parafin wax as well! Good luck, hope this helps.


Conserving Water:

Name: Becky, 9/20/99

I don't like to carry too much extra water (weight) when backpacking. I always carry 1-3 extra cups "just in case", and gorge myself at the water sources, but the while actually hiking I use a different method: I find that if I use a Platapus and just sip water slowly but constantly while hiking, instead of waiting until I'm thirsty, I get two good results. The first is that I almost never have to stop and pee. The second is that I probably use 8-15% less water (so I don't have to carry as much). I think the trick is to get into a "sipping rythm" where you sip exactly as much water as is needed to stay hydrated, and no more.

Also, i start my day with a glass of super powerful Gatorade (dry mix and water), to help me stay hydrated. It tastes nasty but works well.


Bombproof Shoe/Boot Repair:

Name: Bridger Newman, 9/27/99

Occasionally, even the highest quality shoe or boot succumbs to trail abuse. Sometimes the heel, toe or stitching comes undone. Instead of super glue or shoe goo, I substituted with construction strength liquid nails. You would find it at Lowes or another hardware store. If it's good enough for 3/4 inch plywood or 2x12x16 board, chances are it will stand up to a shoe or boot, too. Happy trails!


Vac Liner Stuff Sack:

Name:, 9/27/99

Trash bags are a cheap and lightweight alternative to heavy-vinyl-watertight stuff sacks but here's a better one! Go to home Depot or Sears ( anyplace that sells wet/ dry vacs ) get a liner for a 16 gal. vac. they're much more resistant to tear than regular trash bags !


Toothpaste Replacement:

Name: MARK HAUGHWOUT, 9/28/99

I never carry toothpaste or powder. If i plan to brush my teeth at all, i either just use water or better yet use salt. salt is an excellent replacement for toothpaste and you need to carry salt in your pack anyway to flavor food and prevent dehydration. Also the only eating utensil i carry is a spoon, i find next to no use for a fork and i use my swiss army knife(with minimal gadgets) as my eating knife. also i don't carry a tent. i use a goretex bivy sack instead (15oz.) The only time i might carry a tent is for multi day storms. A bivy will easily add five or ten degrees of comfort to my 25 degree sleeping bag.


Toilet Paper-NOT!:

Name: MARK HAUGHWOUT, 9/28/99

i just don't carry toilet paper. I carry newspaper instead, which can also be used as fire starter. and if i remember to, i grab the crossword puzzle section thereby providing entertainment as well.


Toilet Paper-NOT!:

Name: MARK HAUGHWOUT, 9/28/99

i just don't carry toilet paper. I carry newspaper instead, which can also be used as fire starter. and if i remember to, i grab the crossword puzzle section thereby providing entertainment as well.


A Little Duct Tape:

Name: Bernie Hohman, 10/04/99

I have much experience with a heavy pack but I have been slowly reducing my gross pack weight. I consider myself well prepared on each trip-- sometimes over-prepared. But one piece of light equipment that I cannot do without is duct tape. It is very useful for repairs to pack straps, boots, tents, gaiters, etc. But an added bonus that I found is that it works very well at repelling and/or protecting blisters. I leave the medical tape out and bring the duct tape--it is more versatile.


Some Clothing Tips:

Name:, 10/16/99

Here are some ideas for reducing the weight of the clothing you bring:

You need a Waterproof jacket. You DO NOT need waterproof pants. I carry a pair of uncoated nylon windpants, and in combination with gaiters and a jacket that is cut long, they will keep out all but the worst weather. Wearing a pair of polypro long johns underneath will help too.

Also, unless there are ticks or other insects, you don't need hiking pants. Shorts will work in most weather. When you are cold, put on long johns, for weather protection, use wind pants.

Think about when you are hiking. I used to carry about the same stuff year-round, but if you fine-tune you pack to the season in which you are hiking you will be much happier. You don't need that thick pile jacket for a summer hike, do you?

Keep it simple. There are way too many bell and whistles on today's clothing. Sure, pockets are nice, but really think about how many you actually use. No more than one or two, am I right? Look for a jacket that is made for hikers, not climbers or (especially) skiers. Also, don't be afraid to alter the clothing after you've bought it. Slice off unnecessary pockets and straps and flaps, make those drawcords one-hand operable, seam-seal a cheap jacket, and so forth. All I'm trying to say is tailor the clothing to your needs. Don't assume that the manufacturer knows what is best for you.


Water Supply:

Name: Doug Rodrigues, 10/17/99

I occasionally hike into a deep canyon (3,500 ft. in 4 miles) area where there isn't any water except for the river at the bottom. I "plant" a half gallon water bottle just off the trail at approximately the halfway point. On the way back up, that planted water supply is a welcome sight. Where ever I hike, I also leave one of those 2 1/2 gallon store bought drinking water containers on the hood of my car with a note: "Anyone needing a drink is welcome to help themselves."


Sleeping Bag Weight:

Name: Jim Yurchenco, 10/27/99

If you travel with a spouse, (or a close friend) you can save significant weight in your sleeping bag. We modified a single bag that unzips all the way by adding a thin cloth zip in bottom. The single bag forms a quilt over the two of us and the thin bottom keeps it from slipping off of us and prevents drafts. Thus two people carry the weight of barely more than a single bag. If you use a lightweight sleeping pad, in most weather you don't need the insulation on the underside of the bag (which gets flattened and rendered almost useless by your body weight anyway). We have used this system successfully on multi-week backpacking trips with nightime temperatures that have dropped below freezing.


Spoon Substitute:

Name:, 10/29/99

Eliminate even your spoon as an eating utensil, during woodland treks. I pick up dry sticks, thicker than a pencil and straight, about 10" long. A few flicks with my knife and the bark is off the bottom 5" and the last 2" are square. Presto: Chop sticks. As I boil supper, I boil the ends of the sticks. Anything that is liquid (soup, etc) I drink the solids and use the chopsticks for the rest. Yes, with a little practice you can eat oatmeal with them! Smaller bites make the meal last longer, and more filling, too. In the morning, after breakfast, I clean them and either carry them on (still lighter than a spoon) or usually throw them out and get another set at dinner. Weight savings: 1 oz. plus.


Duct taped zip-lock bag:

Name: Ken Shinzato, 10/30/99

Zip lock bags are very handy for a backpacker, but even the heavy duty ones are susceptible to tears or holes which then render them somewhat useless. By applying strips of duct tape to your plastic bags you can get air tight waterproofing with added durability and strength. The best way I've found, is to layer your strips vertically so that the entire bag is covered, and then to fold strips along the edges which are the most vulnerable spots.


Tony's Tips:

Name: Tony Rockwell, 11/1/99

Although you mention obtaining a lightweight backpack - I found that the size of the backpack made a big difference. By getting a smaller capacity pack, for short trips, I couldn't fit as much and was forced to re-think more gear. I cut about 10 lbs. off of my "normal" 3-day pack just by getting a smaller backpack.

Another thing I did was to stop taking a cookpot altogether. I bought a cheap, lightweight aluminum coffee pot (4-cup percolator) - toss the percolator insides and use it to boil water. I only take food that can be cooked by pouring the boiling water in its packaging...then I eat directly out of the package. Now my "kitchen" consists of lexan spoon & fork, a termal mug with the handle cut off, and the coffee pot. Believe me this pot works well, sometimes I even take my stove and coffee pot on snowshoeing day hikes - just to have hot tea on the trail. [OK I admit I do have a lexan bowl also, but I only take it when I want a particular food that requires a separate bowl, like cereal - although I usually just buy the small individual servings and eat them out of the packaging also.]


Insect Repellent:

Name: Dj van den Oever, 11/5/99

I read your page about the "Fourteen Essentials". Insects do seem to be getting accustomed to repellents. But I've always found using a repellent with lemonscent quite helpful. In the Netherlands, where I live, such a repellent is available at the chemist or drugstore under various names.


Waterproofing Tip:

Name: Brad, 11/12/99

I take a large tube of silacon and mix it into about one litre of paint thinner (varsol). It takes some time to desolve but with some patience you end up with a brush on silacon that is cheep and works well on nylon as well as cotton. Hope this helps some one out. Oh, it smells for a couple days but once its finished drying its fine.



Name:, 9/28/99

We have problems with vandals at The Red River Gorge area of Kentucky. These good old boys bust out car windows even if you leave the car unlocked(in one case a vandal came across a car with the windows down, he actually rolled the windows up and broke them out!!!). We suggest putting all of your valuables in the engine compartment. (After it cools down) It's amazing what you can fit into that tiny space.


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