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  • Writer's pictureDan Wagner

Ten Awesome Backpacking Hacks

We all pick up hacks along the way that help us enjoy backpacking a little more. From keeping you warm at night to extending battery life, there's a hack for many of the predicaments backpackers face. Below are some of the hacks that we've found most useful.

Sleeping bag heater

It's an oldie but a goodie. Boil water and put it in a Nalgene bottle near your feet in your bag. Instant heat that will last a while. Cover the bottle with a t-shirt to prevent burning your skin. Works awesome.

Stuff sack pillow

To increase pack room, pack your dry change of clothes in a stuff sack and use as a pillow. Those who use bulky foam core pillows, this will save you a ton of room without sacrificing much comfort.

The sponge

Pack a sponge in a zip-top bag. In warm weather you can wipe the condensation off the outside of your tent before packing up to keep things dry. In cold weather, wipe the inside to wring out all that hot breath accumulating at the top of your tent.

Portable washing machine

Turn your empty bear canister into a backcountry washing machine. Fill with water, biodegradable soap and your sweaty clothes, seal it back up and shake. Rinse and hang on the #5 hack.


One of the bazillion uses for paracord is making a clothesline and hanging your clothes from it when you get to camp. Even if you don't wash them, let 'em dry out before throwing them back on. Obviously not a great idea if temps are to fall below freezing overnight.

Fingering the sun

To ballpark how much time is left before the sun sets, extend your arm out all the way towards the sun and with your palm facing you count the number of fingers between the horizon and the bottom of the sun. Each finger represents roughly fifteen minutes unless you have sausage fingers.

Duct tape

It's good for everything from repairing a broken tent pole to preventing blisters from worsening, but it's so damn bulky to carry on a roll. Instead, wrap a few feet around a Nalgene bottle or hiking pole. This has come in handy more times than we care to say. Another lightweight item to consider stashing away are gear ties. Broken zipper, button, buckle...gear tie. They're the MacGyver of backpacking accessories, super lightweight and will one day save your kaboose.

Fire starter, twisted fire starter

Add a little Vaseline to cotton balls and pack away in a plastic bag. Light 'em and you have an inexpensive homemade fire starter. With all the lightweight fire starter options that are available now, we're not sure how great this one is anymore, but for those looking to feel MacGyvery here's your chance.

Nalgene lantern

Throw your headlamp in an empty Nalgene bottle to create an ambient light inside your tent. Perfect when you're settling in and don't want a super bright light. We've used an empty plastic milk container, cut the bottom off and put the headlamp in that way, but carrying the container on the outside of our packs was too annoying. Seattle Sports also makes a lightweight LED Nalgene cap called the FireLid, which is a great concept but we tested a few they all leaked. Seems to be a common issue with the product

Sleep with your electronics

It might not be a hack, but it's just a good one to remember. Placing your phone or other electronic gadgets like portable chargers in your sleeping bag with you at night will ward off the cold that drains batteries.

And there are ten hacks to help you adventure smarter. Happy backpacking!


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