The Top 10 Backpacking Tips and Tricks

I've been backpacking since I was a kid. In that time, I've learned a few small things that have made a huge difference when I'm out in the backcountry. Very small things that make a very large impact on your experience. Here are my favorite 10 tips for making your life out there safer and more comfortable, whether you're hiking, backpacking, or even backcountry camping.
  • Parachute Cord

    Parachute Cord

    This stuff RULES. You can use it as rope, as cord to tie off guy lines on your tent. You can peel away skinnier threads for snares, fishing line and sewing and repair thread. This stuff is a MUST for any packer.
  • Ziploc Baggies

    Ziploc Baggies

    Do I even need to explain this one? You use it for trash, for sorting gear, for storing food, for collecting emergency water. You can put cold water in it and use it to ease a sprained ankle. You can keep your weeeed in it. Seriously, never go backpacking without at least 5 empty extras. Use the rest for your food, your camera, you bathroom bag, your... just, everything, ok?
  • Freeze-Dry Your Own Food

    Freeze-Dry Your Own Food

    Waah, you say. That's hard.

    Boiling pasta is hard? Heating up some refried beans and mixing in some cheese is hard? Ok, sure, its a bit more labor to slice up a flank steak, mix it in some chili powder and worchestershire sauce to dry it... but if you care about how much #@$%$ money it costs to buy freeze-dried food that costs a fortune for a mouthful, you will be singing the song of awesome once you start drying your own food. Buy a dehydrator. Cook some simple s**t that only needs to be reheated in boiling water (pastas, beans, soups, stews, etc), spread it on a tray, turn on the machine and 6 hours later, put it in a ziploc. Not only will you have SO. MUCH. MORE. food than you would have if you bought it from REI... but it will taste so much better. Plus, you can dry your own fruit and your own jerky (hence the skirt steak). And have a metric ton of it for a fraction of the price if you bought any of it.
  • Heavy Duty Trash Bag

    Heavy Duty Trash Bag

    Sure, you can always use this to store wet clothes... but did you know you could use it as a pack cover in the rain, or a makeshift poncho? In emergency situations, you can even dig a shallow trench, line it with this and collect rainwater.

    Oh, you can also use it for trash, I guess.
  • Everyone loves ole' reliable duct tape. Just ask MacGyver. Wind a couple lengths of it around your water bottle. Then, when you need a quick fix for something, like plugging a leaky air mattress or holding together a bad joint on your pack... tear off a little piece as needed. The stuff is great for temporary problem solving.
  • Small Tarp

    Small Tarp

    This should be small for weight and space reasons, unless you plan on using in the place of a tent -- which you can do, but which I've only done a few times. It tends to be a little chilly unless you are in the right clime. However, it works great when you need to wrap something up or cover something that's not in the tent with you. It can become a makeshift bear-bag of sorts, for hauling gear up into the trees away from bears and other wildlife. And you can use it as an emergency shell blanket if it's extra cold or wet out. Beware high humidity in these cases, however, as they are not breathable and can create a shell of dripping water inside that will soak your sleeping bags.
  • Flexible Plastic Placemat

    Flexible Plastic Placemat

    This thing is so lightweight and easy to stuff into your pack... and you will find a zillion uses for it out in the backcountry. Use it to put your muddy boots on in the tent. Use it for a food prep surface on the ground. Use it to play frigging cards on. It weighs nothing, takes almost no space... and I guarantee you will find a use for it.
  • Telescoping Hiking Pole

    Telescoping Hiking Pole

    You might think you are hiking somewhere you won't need this thing. And, true, there might be trips you won't ever pull it out of your pack. But those times you DO need it? What if the spring runoff is really high? What if there are no handy, nearby sturdy sticks to use? What if you are crossing a rocky avalanche field and could really use that third leg? Don't think of this thing as a cane, thats idiotic. This stick is a third leg... this thing helps you through tricky spots like you won't believe. I've hiked with it in my pack and without it, and trust me... its better with.
  • Lightweight Backpacking Stool

    Lightweight Backpacking Stool

    When I was younger, I would have scoffed at the added weight this stool puts on your back. But I'm here to tell you, as a former pack-weight-snob, that having something to sit on at the end of a long day of hiking is akin to heaven. I can't even tell you the difference it makes to sit and not squat on a rock or the cold ground. HUGE DIFFERENCE.
  • Blacken Your Pot

    Blacken Your Pot

    Simple stuff. Blackened cooking gear heats faster. You're welcome.