Hacks you just learned even after years of backpacking

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    AK Granola
    BPL Member


    I’ve been pitching tents (or helping) since I was 5. How did I not know this one? Probably never needed it, but now that I’m getting older and my hands are weaker with arthritis, this one just came in handy.

    Got a groundhog or similar stake so stuck in the ground it won’t come out? I had an MSR cyclone stake plunged into hard ground all the way to the pull cord. Said pull cord just snapped when I tried to pull it out. Yank, yank, kick, knock with a rock to try to loosen, asked a teenage boy to help – nothing! So a companion showed me – take two regular groundhog stakes, put one on either side of the edges of the top of the stake and pull. Easy peasy out! I’ll be using this one again.

    Anyone else learned something recently? (if you can admit not knowing everything…)

    Atif Khan
    BPL Member


    Good topic idea.

    1. Minimize water usage when needing to pour (e.g. washing hands) by puncturing a spare bottle cap (a pencil hole works better than a knife puncture) for your plastic water bottle and keep the cap in your pocket for occasional use.

    2. Yogurt or kefir hydrate better than water. Drink it when you can.

    3. Reduce the speed at which water passes through your body by sipping and swishing before swallowing.

    4. Shaving under arm hair reduces, but does not entirely eliminate, body odor.

    5. Wear minimalist shoes for casual use to strengthen your feet, and cushioned shoes on hikes.

    Ray J
    BPL Member


    Or for Number 1 from AtifK, get one of the Bidet attachments for your water bottle.  They weigh little and are then dual purpose.

    Adrian Griffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Sacramento

    This season I got a CuloClean. Works great. Better than TP. Why have I been using TP all these years?

    BPL Member


    Bidet.  Better then smearing, it actually cleans and refreshes!!

    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    I worry that calling my butt wash “delightful” might…I dunno…lead to unexpected places that I don’t want to go.


    and yes, I have hang ups.

    Paul Wagner
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wine Country

    Foldable bucket, combined with a couple extra folding platypus bottles, means a lot fewer trips to the water…One trip generally gets me enough water for the afternoon, dinner, breakfast the next morning, and water for the trail.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Puget Sound

    Dig your cat holes the night before. When you wake up in that urgent, early on moment, no need to do the poop dance.

    Instead of digging a hole, pull up a largish rock. Hole already dug. Replace said rock over your doodoo. Leave no trace :?

    John “Jay” Menna
    BPL Member


    Locale: 30.3668397,-97.7399123

    1. Washing under your armpits with surgical scrub  (Hibclense) keeps the funk away for a week.

    2. Wear you headlamp around you neck when you sleep and you will never have to fumble or it in the dark.

    3.  When she says that two people can’t sleep in a single hammock,  listen to her.  Or else you will sleep alone in the dirt.



    Dan K
    BPL Member


    My feet became uncomfortably cold at night on a trip last last year and I couldn’t sleep. I took my fleece jacket and slipped my feet into the sleeves. My feet warmed up immediately and I quickly fell asleep.


    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    A bigger puffy weighs less than a skinny lightweight down garment plus the added layer you still need to stay warm. And, the bigger puffy makes a really, really good, warm pillow.

    BPL Member


    What @jscott said.

    When the sun starts to set, put on ALL of the clothes you think you will need to be warm until you go to bed.  I.E. dress for the lowest temperature you will encounter before bed. Don’t ever get chilled in the first place…it’s easier to vent for an hour while you are too warm than it is to warm up once chilled.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    A large bowl is a handy thing.  Scooping from shallow water.  Doing dishes.  Putting out a fire.  Washing your face/hands.  Giving the dog a drink.

    If it is the bottom 3-4 inches of a 1-gallon HDPE milk jug, it only weighs 15 grams or so.

    David Gardner
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    2. Wear your headlamp around you neck when you sleep and you will never have to fumble or it in the dark.

    Thank you for this one.

    Down pants. So warm and cozy and comfortable during cool evenings and mornings. Warmer, lighter and more compact than an extra fleece or wool layer. Easier to strip off when it’s time to start hiking than removing an extra base layer, easier to put on when hiking is done. Combined with my puffy for sleeping they do a great job of ameliorating drafts with a quilt, and make nocturnal relief excursions much easier and more comfortable.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Colorado

    Everybody else probably knows this already, but I just discovered that it’s best to use the handle side of the titanium spade to dig cat-holes.

    BPL Member


    Taking a bit of time before the trip to plan meals and snacks pays off. I ended up eating better, which means feeling better, and I bring the right amount of food, which typically weighs less.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid Atlantic

    Well, I didn’t just learn this but I use my hat as an organizer when I sleep. I use it like a bowl and put my watch, headlamp, earplugs etc in it and always put in the corner of the tent or bivy just above my head. Also my NU25 has a glow-in-the-dark bungee cord for a headband.

    David Hartley
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western NY

    ^^ @jimmyjam – yup, been doing the hat organizer for years. sits right at my head with all the stuff I don’t want to lose (cell phone, glasses, headlamp)

    Not really a hack per se – but when sustained rain is in the forecast – there is no substitute for cubic inches – cubic inches of shelter space that is, for dealing with wet clothes and keeping dry stuff dry. Little bitty front entry shelters need not apply!

    Christopher S


    Doggie bags can make great VBL socks depending on your feet size. And also temporary waterproofing bags if you tie them tightly at the top. A roll weighs next to nothing and is tiny in your pack. I almost always having them in case there is an unexpected stream crossing and you want to quickly waterproof some small items and of course they work well for packing out you know what as well if that is required.

    Other hack is for nav – clip a small suunto clipper or similar compass to the strap of your trekking pole. Important to get a tiny one that is actually reliable and has declination adjustment. You can now use it for dead reckoning super fast and super easy without having to pull out a bigger compass ( I carry one still of course) and it weighs almost nothing. If you want to get really fancy you can clip a small Casio F91 or F84 (my personal favorite – japan only – dirt cheap and extremely light) right next to it since time is such an important feature of navigation.

    Another nav tip – print UTM or GPS lines on your paper maps from Caltopo. Set whatever device you have to also display coordinates in the same system (such as an in.Reach or a phone). Now you can very quickly verify your exact location on the paper map using your electronic device and you can keep the tracking / GPS set to OFF 99% of the time to save battery. Simply just only do manual GPS pings / location pointer drops and then if you want also mark your paper map with a pencil or marker. Paper maps can be huge and much more readable than a tiny screen and you get the best of all worlds this way. This is especially useful offtrail hiking.

    Since I am on the caltopo topic now I guess might as well go through my full system – I usually print using their hybrid topo layer slightly modified – sometimes (depending on the quality) I will print the exact same view / paper size in multiple layers. This way you can switch for example to a USGS Topo or Forest Service and compare exactly the same routes and sometimes the older maps could have better info. But most of all I like printing out recent Sentinel imagery if one is worried about snow cover or the higher res satellite imagery in false IR color. The false IR makes brush and trees standout in bright red and really helps in avoiding large amounts of chaparral and other nasty thorny crap when you are offtrail.

    For mid panel tie outs making your own stretch guylines can be awesome – theraband green tubing works best and you basically just thread your regular guyline cord through a short piece of it (say 4 inches). Tie a knot at each end of the 4 inch theraband (tie a knot using your line – not the tubing) and make sure when you tie that knot that you encompass the ends of the theraband. Also when doing the second knot make sure you push extra cordeage into the theraband tubing so that it coils up a bit and then finish that second knot. What you will end up with is a guyline with some stretch due to the theraband piece that will still work even if the theraband part snaps – because the line goes THROUGH the theraband tube if it snaps then the line will just catch as normal. The extra bit of coiled line inside the tubing is key as this allows you to tension the whole setup when pitching your tent so that the theraband tube is applying elastic tension without being stretched out to its max length. Dont both using this on ground tie outs – only worth it for mid panels – it will keep your whole shelter nice and taught, reduce wind chatter and flapping, and best of all if it rains super heavy during the night and your shelter sags / or stretches at all it will help to counteract some of that. This adds very little weight and theraband tubing is very durable and UV resistant compared to other forms of tubing like medical latex. All my shelters are pretty now setup this way using high quality Lawson line (blows away everybody else – seriously – so easy to knot) + the skurka guyline method with no plastic hardware.

    Another neat tieout trick is to color code the different ground level tie outs of your shelter. Get the same line in multiple colors ( I usually go for bright orange and bright blue Lawson Glowwire in 2.5mm or 3mm). Use the brightest color for the main required ground tie outs (the ones you need to do first in order for the shelter to stand properly). Use the second color for the other tie outs. When your super tired at the end of the day and light might be fading this makes it a lot easier to not accidently using the wrong tie out or setup things in the wrong order. If you really want to get fancy you could use a third color for the mid panels or even mix and match different diameters (generally I find 2.5mm the smallest that I can easily knot with gloves – I do not find going down to 2mm worth the weight savings)

    For winter shelters (or even others) you can rig them mountaineering style if you are using super sturdy anchors (such as a ski stuck in the snow or a buried ice axe or snowshoe or even tieing to a tree or something). Instead of using one buried anchor per guyline / tieout you can cow hitch multiple tie outs on the same side to a metal ring. Then have a single line go from the metal ring to your anchor. Properly balanced this is still extremely sturdy and makes setting up your winter shelter in a snowstorm much faster. I usually like to always have 4 corners of ground tie outs on the shelter on their own dedicated anchors and then will pair 2-3 mid panel tie outs (depending on the size of your shelter) to one ring and if there is more than 4 ground tie outs then I might add one of those in as well. Make sure to keep everything symmetrical when you do this – you want the ring centered among multiple tie outs and the anchor also centered between the tie outs.

    And finally never hammer your stakes in unless absolutely necessary – always just grab a rock or something and push your stakes in with your weight behind it. If they will not go in this way move the stake to a slightly different spot. No more bent stakes.

    Paul Wagner
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wine Country

    Just noticed another one on our last trip. We put all stuff sacks into the tent stuff sack: tent stake bag, sleeping bag sack, sleeping mat sack, etc. And, of course, we call it the bag of bags.  Saves digging around for what always seems to be under a pad, in a pocket, etc.  We’ve done this one since we were car camping with two kids, 40 years ago…

    Diane “Piper” Soini
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Barbara

    I learned that to set up any trekking pole tarp or tent, put stakes in the two rear corners, then pull the front center tieout tight so that it forms a triangle. Stake down the front. Now do the front corners, rear center and any others. Perfect pitch with only minor adjustments needed.

    Paul Wagner
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wine Country

    Nobody has mentioned the really good ones:

    1.  It is always easier to lift up your pack when you are not standing on the hip belt.

    2. It’s easier to cook on your gas stove when you remember to bring the fuel.

    3. In a pinch, your last year’s campfire permit can make up for the fact that you forgot to bring TP.

    4. Bug repellent in your pack is worth two bug repellents left in your car at the trailhead.

    5. Waterproof boots are only waterproof if you keep the tops above the water.

    6. The cairns you are following may have been left by a hiker who was never found again.

    I’m sure others can offer more, similar tips.

    Atif Khan
    BPL Member


    7. Tea and coffee taste better with sugar rather than salt. Check before leaving. Learned the hard way.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    the guy who left footprints in the snow was more lost than you are. So, follow with skepticism.

    Twice I’ve followed coyote tracks in the snow for over a mile that really did follow the buried trail that I couldn’t see and that wasn’t at all obvious. I have no idea if this is a general rule.

    DWR D
    BPL Member


    Above tree line in the Sierra, those gravel/decomposed granite relatively flat spots between granite slabs that look so great for your tent… are often there because that is where the rain washes the fine materials to… and can become small lakes during a heavy downpour …. :(((

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