The Multi-use bind

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    Edward Jursek
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    I am wondering how many multi-use backpackers have been caught in a bind when one aspect of a multi-use piece of kit comprimises another aspect. I have seen threads about this happening with poncho-tarps and poncho-ground sheets, and have had some small inconvience when camping in the rain with my poncho/groundsheet in groundsheet mode when I needed to go out in the rain. I use a Zpacks cloud kilt as part of my rain gear and just use it as a shawl when I have to step out in the rain. I am interested in other issues that arise with other multi-use gear and how you solved them.

    For example, I use a Zpacks dry bag/pillow. I pack my sleep cloths (merino long johns, wool socks, down balaclava) in dry bag mode and my hiking cloths (socks, pants, merino shirt, wind shirt) in pillow mode. On a recent trip that involved several days of steady rain, I was confronted with the choice of trying to dry my cloths out overnight or stuff my wet cloths into the dry bag/pillow for a comfortable night sleep. I don't know why, but this problem had never occurred to me, as I was blinded by the multi-use efficiency and weight savings. The best fix I can come up with is take my 3oz Exped pillow along when the forecast calls for rain, but that seems like an unsatisfying answer. Anyone else had similar unpleasant surprises? How did you solve them?

    Billy Ray


    Locale: the mountains

    Yea. Like I want to use my hiking poles for a day hike in the rain but they are holding up the tarp.

    Or similar to your example, when it's cold and I have to wear all my cloths in the bag at night, there are no cloths to fill my pillow bag.

    It seems to me that when we whittle the gear down to the minimum, there is a point of diminishing returns… or even negative returns. It seems you, like me, have approached that point.

    Bill D.

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Yes. That stuff causes all sorts of problems. These are not, in database design lingo, independent. For example, there are no dependencies on using a pad as both a sleeping pad and for a frame in your pack. When you are hiking, I have never envisioned needing one for sleeping. (I never use a sit pad, usually just stopping on my feet to rest a bit, maybe 5 minutes to eat a snack and drink some water, then move on.) Conversly, while sleeping, I have no use for one for stiffening the pack. They are different activities. You can therefore use a pad as a frame in a pack with no loss of functionality for either activity. They are activity independent.

    Not so if you use a spoon as a stake. In a rain storm, I cook under my tarp and NEED my spoon for coffee/cocoa and for eating. If I pull the stake, the tarp falls down. These are DEPENDENT. You cannot cook & eat while your tarp is up and staked out. Using a spoon as a stake DEPENDS on whether you need it for cooking.

    It is possible to plot out your items and your possible activities in a Ven diagram. wherever you have multiple connections to the same piece of gear, you cannot use that piece of gear for the conflicting activities. Follow?

    This is straight out of logic design/data base normalization and, is 100% applicable to backpacking this way. In logic design, you would have long sets of "and"/"not" equations. A Ven diagram is a proof for logic, because it can be converted to the logical formula, directly, ie a logical proof. Depending on what you are doing, just choose the appropriate methode. This will let you avoid all of these multiple use binds as you call them. Worth the effort? Well, depends on wether you can sleep cold or with a pillow, when you cannot do both (as an example.) You should know to carry the lightest item, resolving the conflict, before you need to resolve both.

    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    1. Look for multi-use conflicts in your gear.
    2. Decide if you can live with them.
    3. If not, decide if you can work around them some or all of the time.
    (e.g. inflate Ziplocs and put in your pillow sack)
    4. If not, change your gear.

    — Rex

    Michael Ray


    I went with a snow stake as my potty trowel. In fair weather, I use that stake for my trailstar's door corner, which allows me to pull it out without the whole tarp collapsing. In crappy weather the stake is used on the windward corner for stability, and so it boils down to whether or not I can hold it out until the storm ends or if a flappy corner and potential breach in my shelter's weather worthiness is acceptable.

    I'm admittedly only working towards being a lightweight backpacker and not UL or SUL, so I tend to have fewer gear conflicts.

    Jon Holthaus
    BPL Member


    Rex gave a great outline for problem solving, I do pretty much the same. Although you didn't ask for a solution to your problem, I've been in your position, I've used the following to solve same problem:
    1. Tied shoes together and used Tarp Stuff Sack on top of shoes to keep head dry
    2. Rolling a pack in such a way makes a great pillow
    3.(Location Based) Used both Rock & Sticks and used under sleeping pad by head (protected with stuff sack 'barrier' layer)…. and use a neoair. Suprisingly very comfortable.
    4.(Season Based) Snow under pad is the ultimate, it's like a tempurpedic pillow!
    5. Ziplocks both quart & gallon

    Point is, when enjoying the backcountry, there is always "something" to fix a problem you may encounter out there, you may just have to be willing to find it outside of your pack.

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