backcountry distilled wisdom  return

Knowledge Nuggets

Page 5

Trail Toothbrush:

Name: Thaddeus Yukna, 3/24/00

For my trail toothbrush I picked up the children's size. They are already short and light with a small head. The added advantage is they come with an assortment of cartoon characters on the handles for early morning entertainment.


Dental Floss and Toothpaste Tips:

Name: Leon C. Nelson, 3/17/00

For the LightWeight Backpacker: STORAGE OF DENTAL FLOSS * Use only WAXED J&J DentoTAPE * Wrap 18" around your finger * Store "coil" of floss in sandwich bag with toothbrush

For the LightWeight Backpacker: NO TOOTHPASTE OR POWDER NECESSARY Brushing for plaque removal requires NO TOOTHPASTE!!! Honest! I know this to be a FACT cuz I am a dentist, and have recommended "dry brushing" to my patients for over 30 years! When brushing, just use the brush dampened with saliva or water.


The Three Needs (Gear Tips):

Name:, 3/4/00

I have had good luck planning trips using needs assessment or the three needs.

FOOD- dried meats like salmon, beef, deer, emu, duck. the higher the fat content the better. grains like rice, Asian sweet rice is nice flavored. soup mixes in a packet for just add water type things. eggs, milk, bacon, and other perishables are not practical in backpacking scenario.

WATER- although you can opt for the new filter systems and expensive gadgets a standard army 1 qt. or extravagant 2qt. canteen with metal cup and purifier pill attachment will work more than adequately. when in doubt boil.

SHELTER- if it is warm weather, and even transition seasons in mild climates, a Vietnam era rain poncho with liner will be enough shelter and warmth for most. in rainy areas a small tarp of ripstop nylon,(walmart-5.00), or a section of 6mil poly sheet tarp from a hardware store will do great. Don't forget your stakes and cord if you are tarping.

other essentials even for the minimalist
-a compass and topo map.
-waterproof matches (dip wood strike alls in wax) and tinder material (firestarter log 2.00 grocery store)
-utility knife,leatherman,sog, buck,kershaw, all make good versions, dont forget the good old swiss army versions. a large survival knife makes one feel manly but is not good for much other than trenching and spearing.
-bug juice, deet military stuff, or sensitive kids stuff from wal mart. must have anywhere. first aid kit- the pre packaged ones are always incomplete use good research and forethought.
-flashlight, small AA model will suffice bring extra batts.
-dried foods, remember the protein.
-even the minimalist can find room for a camera, a small cheap one will do. the pics you get should keep you motivated when placed properly on your work site desk.
-if it seems important take a spare.

all of your equipment should fit in or on a med to small size pack. i use a med frame alice pack with no frame. dont visit the forest live with it while you are there. leave no trace. pack it out.


Fishing Rod Case:

Name: Tickbait, 1/09/00

I don't know how many fishermen/women there out there but, I replaced my old PVC rod case with a cardboard mailing tube covered with rip-stop nylon. This is my first sewing project!

I think I will spray it with Scotch Guard to semi-waterproof it. If the tube gets trashed, it will be very easy to replace. This system is much lighter and still offers enough protection.


Re-Use Hotel Shampoo Bottles:

Name:, 12/31/99

These bottles can be cleaned and re-used for a number of butter (my one luxury), spices, Dr. Bonners Peppermint soap, coffee creamer, etc...

They're stronger and a little easier to dispense then good old zip locks for a number of key items.


Cache Water Supply:

Name:, 12/31/99

A simple trick I learned hiking the Grand Canyon that has proved useful many times since. If you route takes you back to the same trailhead where you started, pack an extra liter or two of water with you on the way in. Then cache (i.e. hide) a bottle at a convenient distance from the trailhead (e.g. two miles in, then another four miles in).

This gives you an emergency stash in the event you cannot find water, and saves your weight on the way out (when you'e most tired). You don't need to carry water out, just retrieve your hidden water.

Leave a snickers bar, too, and you'll really have something to reward yourself with after a couple of hard days hiking!


Gourmet 1st-Night Meal:

Name:, 12/31/99

I often spoil myself to a great meal the first night (on a 2-3 day camping trip) by freezing a small steak (or schrimp) and maybe some frozen vegetables at home before I start in. Many stores even sell steaks in the frozen section.

Sure it's a lot of weight. But that first night's meal is glorious! I especially use this trick when I am taking along a friend who doesn't backpack much.

And if you're feeling really gourmet, pour a bottle of wine into an old gatorade or 1 liter soda bottle. If your friend happens to be of the opposite sex, you can't create a more romantic dinner for two!



Name: Derek Chambers, 1/31/00

As a fairly newbee backpacker, I found myself looking for a container to store my first-aid kit, sewing kit, and bits and bobs, (of which have more than one function)

Taking two video cassette cases, (the clear type), I butchered one and salvaged a side. Next I hotglued the sides of the complete case, and fitted a divider. On the inside of the lid, I stuck various adhesive tape, (electrical, surgical, & duct). Keeping the plastic label cover on enabled me to make a note of the contents as follows:

Left hand side (First-aid kit) Iodine,tape,lip balm,transiderm,painkillers,gauze,tri-bandage,steri-strips,plasters,surgical wipes,beechams hot,safety pins,surgical glove,scissors,& scalpel.

Right hand side (bits & bobs) buttons,needles,thread,pencil,pen, toothpicks,nail-clips,lighter,condom,clothes pegs,candle,matches,hankies,drawing pins,blue tack superglue,chalk,flints,cord stays,rubber bands,paperclips,chewgum,velcro,stamps, fishing weights and hooks.

Contents list can be varied, but I hope it gives the general idea. the finished item fits nicely into a large zip-type freezer bag.

Derek Chambers
(Northern Ireland)


Filter Water w/Coffee Filters:

Name: Rich Goenne', 1/16/00

I dont carry a filter anymore. Instead I treat my water with iodine tabs and also use a thin coffee filter from coffee makes to filter any debree such as tiny leafs, dirt anything that is in the water.


Rain Poncho as Shelter:

Name:, 4/05/00

I have found that an Army issue rain poncho WITH liner is comfortable and warm as well as waterproof. I can usually go without the tent or tarp in the summer this way. In the spring or fall I add rain pants to p[rotect the lower areas. I will take the tarp however if rain is a factor. A word of advice though. The Vietnam era liners are much warmer than the new ones. I am looking at having a quilted liner stitched for me out of a hollofil and rayon. The rain poncho is basically a large square so making your own could be easy too. Also the 1.5 liter Aquafina bottles work great as a cheap canteen. I just make sure to pack mine in the ruck to protect the corners from impact if I fall down a slope or something..


Plastic Garbage Bags:

Name: Rich Goenne', 1/21/00

Use plastic bags to keep you 10 to 20 degrees warmer. They are good vapor barrier and a lot cheeper and lighter than GORTEX.


Keep Writing From Rubbing Off:

Name: Switchback, 12/8/99

One thing I do on bottles, pepper spray cans, etc., is put clear package wrapping tape around the item. This keeps the content writing from rubbing off on a trip. I do NOT try to put it on smoothly, so the item is easier to grip. Happy trails


Snap Light & Tree Step:

Name: Rick Joiner, 12/15/99

I carry a snap-lite that you find at Walmart for about $1.50 and hang one each night in my tent gear loft. This provides sufficient light in the tent so a headlamp or other source is not needed. If I have a fire left in the morning, The light is left behind and burns away. These lights last all night. I prefer the green. Also, your tent is a little more visible at night unless you have the rain fly on.

A favorite item I use is a tree step (Cabelas or local archery/hunting store). I buy the Ameristep strap-on for about $7. It allows me to hang my pack on any supporting tree at a level I can easily work from and also serves to keep it off the ground away from easy access to animals or away from water on the ground if raining. It straps on and does not damage the tree as a screw in would. It will support the pack weight and my own! These are small and pack easily. Not for a minimalist but sure is nice to have.



Name: Robert Collins, 12/27/99

The best lightweight end-of-the-day campshoes I've found are Wal-mart's Teva-knockoff sandals. They weigh just a few ounces per pair. Their soles are of some rather stiff foam rubber that weighs next to nothing. Their straps are lightweight nylon with Velcro closures. The soles are infinitely better at cushioning your feet from rocky soil than houseslippers. In winter, I've put them on over my wool socks and they provided comfortable insulation for my feet around camp even on snow! At the end of the season, many Wal-marts close these sandals out for five dollars or less; you just have to scrounge a bit.


Summer Gloves:

Name: David Olsen, 4/18/00

For inexpensive summer gloves, try the white polyester knit work glove liners available at most hardware stores. They don't chill when wet like cotton, dry very fast, work great at keeping out sun as well as cold and usually cost about $1.50.


Gluestick (for emergencies):

Name: Rammer, 4/19/00

When you're thinking of things to add to your backpack that are great in emergency situations.I found throwing a glue stick in your sewing kit or your jacket pocket. This can be used to refasten that shoe sole that came loose or that tear in the tent until you get home.Just warm it up over a candle or over the fire and smear it on (its waterproof too).I haven't tried it yet in the wilderness but on a long weekend with all the Dentists out of town, I made a temporary filling with this stuff after loosing a filling. I heated it up until it was pliable,rolled in my fingers then forced it into the cavity. No worked. The old Scout....


Table Cloth:

Name: Claudia Nowlan, 5/21/00

I've only been backpacking for a few years now, but something I have learned... I used to carry a sit upon I made out of an old foam sleeping pad, but I have given it up for one of those plastic table cloths...not the flannel backed, but the disposable ones for parties...they come in assorted colors...& they are very light can sit on them...use them for a shelter...use them as a blanket...use them to cover your pack in the rain...& they are very durable!!! My neighbor has one they used for his daughter's graduation party two years ago & it is still in good shape after a few trips out into the wilderness!!!


Cook with Sterno:

Name: Jansen Voss, 6/11/00

I have found that sterno, even though it is not as "cool" or high tech as a titanium liquid fuel stove, suits my needs. I backpack in the southern U.S. up to Virginia and cold weather as never been a factor in the failure of Sterno for me. I do not use the sterno stove part, I use just the sterno fuel. I have made a stand for my 20 oz. stainless steel cup. I took a Star-Kist tuna can, which is about 1.5 in. tall and cut the center out of the lid of the can. Leave about .5" around the outside of the can. Do the same for the bottom of the can. This process is dangerous and should be done with caution. I used a pair of heavy duty scissors to cut the center parts out. Next one should cut at least four squares out of the sides of the can. This lets air get to the flame. The tuna can fits perfectly on top of the sterno can and my 20 oz cup fits perfectly on top of the can. I have gotten great results out of this. I also use an old Whisperlight windscreen in foul weather. boiling time for 18 oz. of water is about 16 minutes with no lid on the cup.


Forget the tent!:

Name: Alan Hopper, 6/15/00

During summer months in areas where cold is not a problem, I bring a light weight camping hammok and a thin tarp. The advantages of the hammok are:

(1) You get to sleep outside
(2) You do not have to look for level ground
(3) There is no need to bring a therma-rest or other padding
(4) If someone in your party gets hurt you can use it as a stretcher
(5) Avoid having to deal with wet ground!


(1) Less wind and bug protection
(2) You need to find things to hang it from
(3) No convenient way to store items
The tarp that I bring is long enough that I can use parachute cord and four small stakes to make a cover over the hammock. If it gets windy lowering the tarp can cut out a lot of the wind and if you have to, then it is possible to get the hammock very close to the ground and make the tarp cover all the way to the ground.

For me the advantages of the hammock outway any disadvantage, as long as I am hiking in a known place in the summer! I do not recommend this type of travelling if you are going anywhere unfamiliar! (I have found it hard to find trees)


Paint Pole Walking Stick:

Name: Randy Cone, 6/19/00

If you'd like to use a light weight, adjustable and in-expensive walking stick just drive over to your local Home Depot or Lowe's paint department. for years now, I have used an aluminum expandable paint pole for a walking stick; it has a lanyard hole, is lightwieght and strong (it can hold my 295 Lbs. frame)and can be expanded out to almost ten feet for use as a bear bag reteiver, ridge pole, or snake stick. It's also just the right size to add a bicycle grip for comfort, I've even screwed on a frog gig for snagging some brook trout. They have fiberglass poles now that are even lighter than my old one. Total cost: around $15.


Backpack Stay Splint:

Name: Matt Chambers, 6/26/00

If your hiking partner breaks a bone, chances are he won't be able to carry his pack. If the pack is an internal frame, use the metal stays as a splint. No need for a Sam Splint. Saves weight and money.


Ultralight Toothbrush:

Name: Roy Anglin, 8/04/00

Want a truly ultra-light toothbrush? I came upon these disposable fingertipped toothbrushes called DentalDots. On inspection, they were no more than the "hook" side of round velcro patches. They had dehydrated toothpaste pressed into the patch. One applies the adhesive patch to the end of a finger, and the toothpaste is reconstituted with either saliva or a little water. Easy and cheap enough to make your own. If you do not want to stick your finger inside your mouth, cut your velcro patches to match the handle of your spoon. You can use the toothpaste of choice and a weeks worth can weigh as little as .3oz. They are single use, so one need not worry about drying and sterilizing a brush.


Photon Microlight Screws:

Name: Roy Anglin, 8/04/00

Lose a screw in your Photon Microlight II, or wondering how to change the battery in the bush? I replace the tiny phillip-head screws with those little flat head silver screws found in eye-glass repair kits. Get a kit with several different sizes- one will fit. The silver color is easier to find if dropped, and the flat slot is workable with most multi-tools. By the way, that funky shaped little blade in the Mini-Buck tool is actually made to fit small phillips-head screws- and fits the original Photon screws nicely.


Camp Shoes:

Name: Reed Jones, 9/01/00

Lighter than aqua socks (which you advocate and I USED to use) are cheap chinese-made flip flops which cost less than $10 at a discount store. I found some that have very durable nylon cloth straps, inch thick soles and decent tread and since they are made from air-blown recycled rubber, they weigh MUCH less than a pound. I have found them to be very durable, comfortable and a lot lighter than any water shoes I have found. Just go to a K-Mart or Target and weight test everything you find, until you find this type. They are remarkably light.


Multiple Tips:

Name: Charles Minton, 10/01/00

Use more oils and oily foods (low or no cholesterol or saturated fat). Carbohydrates have about 110 cal/oz. Oils have 240 cal/oz. and give more sustained energy.

A cheap mylar space blanket makes a good ground cloth at 2oz. it doesn't puncture easily but you have to watch for the edges tearing.

I've found Patagonia capilene expedition weight fleece quite warm and light at 7oz for the bottom and 10oz. for the top.

A pint plastic yogurt or salza container makes a good cup at 1oz.

I have to question the weight savings of iodine pills since they take a half hour to work. I was finding myself carrying 3+ pounds of water for that time (plus some extra time for ascorbic acid pill to neutralize the iodine) before I could drink it. I'm thinking now that a nine oz water filter may average out to as good or better. Plus there are less stops ie. getting the water, shaking it after a few minutes, adding and shaking with the neutralizer and finally drinking it.

I've saved a couple of oz. by leaving behind my pot's lid and using heavy foil such found in one time use pie tins and baking sheets. The foil can also be fashioned into light weight wind screens.

I carry an emergency plastic poncho at 2oz. I found at a hardware store and an emergency mylar sleeping bag, 2.5oz as a cover for my bag to supplement a tarp and stakes shelter. Rain, hwever, is unusual where I hike and I haven't had to use those.


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