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Home Backpacking 12 Backpacking Gear Hacks That Scream “I’m an Ultralighter!”

12 Backpacking Gear Hacks That Scream “I’m an Ultralighter!”

by Staff

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Ultralighters like to say that lightweight hiking is a philosophical pursuit—that it’s about feeling free and giving yourself the opportunity to see more of the world. But deep down, we hiking minimalists know that it’s really only about one thing: showing off to your friends. One of the best ways to subtly declare your superiority is to flaunt your smooth packing hacks. Tiny baggies, perfectly packaged gear, and clever double-duty items never fail to impress. Next time you’re backpacking with a group, try pulling one of these ultralight power moves.

Buy cookware that nests together perfectly. 

There’s an indescribable satisfaction in watching your fuel canister slide seamlessly into your titanium pot. Having such a setup also tells bystanders that you’re a clever enough shopper to envision how your entire setup is going to puzzle together. The ooh’s and ahh’s only get louder if your tiny stove, miniature lighter, and foldable spork all fit in the pot as well. Want to go the extra mile? Consider using a doubled-over section of aluminum foil as your lid; you can unfold it and use it as a windscreen in a pinch.

Contain your cookware with a headlamp band.

Some pot lids come with clamps, stuff-sacks, or cinch straps. These are all heavy and dumb. Instead, use your headlamp band to hold the whole package together. This works whether or not your actual lamp is on the band. If you don’t plan to hike at night, keep it on and ready for low-light cooking. If you do plan to keep going after dark, take the lamp off and thread it onto your sternum strap when the sun sets.

Wrap your duct tape around your trekking pole.

Most field repairs only require a short strip of duct tape, so carrying the whole roll is basically a cardinal sin of backpacking. On the other hand, if you carry a tiny strip in your repair kit, then no one can recognize what a grizzled, experienced woodland adventurer you are. Tear off a few feet of duct tape and wrap it around your carbon-fiber trekking pole shaft where all the world can see.

Elastic bandage who? Vaseline is all you need in your first aid kit, assuming you commit to only getting injuries you can treat with Vaseline. (Photo: towfiqu ahamed / iStock via Getty)

Trim your first-aid kit to just Vaseline and ibuprofen.

How often do you actually use those latex gloves or burn gel? Would you even know what to do with them if the occasion arose? Many ultralighters ditch the first aid entirely, replacing it with a powerful delusion that nothing bad could ever happen to them. However, while we don’t endorse leaving your kit at home, it can be safe to take out many of the seldom-used items if you’re on a frontcountry trip where emergency cell service is easy to come by. Instead, carry a travel-size tube of Vaseline (which works as lip balm, wound protectant, and slow-burning firestarter), a few ibuprofen tablets in a dime bag, and maybe a gauze pad or two. Bleeding profusely from a head wound? That’s what your spare wool socks and that duct tape around your trekking pole are for.

Use tiny tampons.

If you are a person who menstruates, you may want to carry a reserve tampon in your first aid kit. Opt for o.b tampons, which come without an applicator. If you carry athletic tape in lieu of duct tape for blisters or repairs, wrap a foot or two of tape around the o.b. The tampon barrel is just the right length, and the plastic wrapper prevents the tape from sticking. Bonus points: wrap a few Tenacious Tape patches and an extra hair-tie around the whole thing for a very compact emergency kit.

Repackage all your food.

If you want to be an ultralighter, it’s important to insist that standard packaging is just not good enough for you. Be sure to repackage freeze-dried meals into zip-top baggies or make your own: measure out couscous or instant noodles, dehydrated veggies, and seasonings to taste, and pack a separate baggie for each cooked meal. If you’re a foodie, carry a tiny screw-top bottle of olive oil and a little baggie of olives, cheese, sundried tomatoes, or summer sausage slices for extra toppings. Try to avoid carrying extra condiments unless they come in single-serve sachets; fast-food restaurants can be a great source of free soy sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, and salt and pepper packets.

Also repack everything else.

The same repackaging principle applies to toiletries and other consumables. Use a zip-top bag as a wallet (gold star if you continue doing this in real life). Store matches, soap leaves, spare batteries, or earplugs in dime bags. Transfer toothpaste, ointments, and sunscreen into sample-size cosmetics containers. You can often get these for free from Sephora, though you may have to feign interest in concealer or foundation to do so. Another option is to buy an empty strip of plastic watercolor paint pots, cut them apart, and use them for storage.

Ditch the multitool. 

Multitools are heavy, and you shouldn’t need any gear to cut cord or trim your toenails in the backcountry anyway; that’s why God gave you teeth. Instead, bring an extremely tiny knife and insist that it’s perfectly adequate while you struggle to slice summer sausage. (Hell, you could even ditch the knife and pack a folding razor blade instead. Cutting yourself with this thing is basically a guarantee, but that’s not necessarily a downside. Blood is heavy, and you probably have too much of it. Think of the weight savings.)

Tent stakes
Tent stakes. Photo by Panasbordin Pimsin / iStock via Getty

Use a tent stake instead of a trowel

Bathroom breaks are one of the best occasions to show off your ultralight hiking savvy because they’re almost always preceded by an announcement to the group. If you declare your intentions and then stride off into the woods with naught but a stick and your own ingenuity, that sends quite the message. Walking off with a titanium tent stake is a close second. As a bonus, the average tent stake is about $15 cheaper than a lightweight trowel. Downside: While you may save a few grams, you may also lose precious minutes trying to scratch a cathole into hardpacked ground with a tiny metal spike. If that prospect doesn’t bother you, we recommend further downsizing your stake for a ballpoint pen, which is lighter and has the advantage of being easy to find for free. [Editor’s note: We think she’s joking, but if you try it and it works, email [email protected] and let us know.]

Carry only one stuff sack.

Everything comes in a stuff sack these days. Ditch as many as possible. Instead, stuff your sleeping bag and tent into your bag, let your stakes hang loose, and find other ways to organize your gear. Just make sure you leave one sack in the mix to stuff your dirty clothes in and use as a pillowcase.

Cut more stuff in half. 

By now, you probably know the toothbrush trick. But why stop there? You really only need half a comb and half a pack towel. What about that paperback? You’ve already read the first 100 pages; those can go. Many ultralighters also chop off the bottom quarter to bottom third of their foam sleeping pad. Keep the cut-off portion for future use as a sit-pad, a luxury that should only be carried when you know no one else is looking.

Use your backpack as part of your sleep system. 

Just because you have a shorter pad doesn’t mean your sleep quality should suffer. If you have a pack with a foam backpanel, place it under your calves and feet while you sleep; the padding will help insulate them from the cold ground. In fact, some packs—like many Gossamer Gear models—have removable backpanel foam for exactly this purpose. Additional pro tip: You can also get away with a lighter-weight sleeping bag if you sleep with your puffy jacket on and your feet in your pack. You’re welcome.

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