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10 Backpacking Hacks to Make You Look Like a Pro

Make those overnight adventures a little easier.

By: Kevin Abernethy + Save to a List

Everything in the wilderness is trial by error, but impress your friends by embracing your inner Jeremiah Johnson with these backpacking hacks:

Backpack to Golden Jasper Lakes in the Beartooths | Photo: Hunter Day

1. Estimate Remaining Daylight

If you're scrambling to find out how much daylight is left you can extend your arm and count how many fingers are between the sun and the horizon. Each finger is about 15 minutes of daylight left, so one hand width is about an hour. This is just an estimate, but it gives you a good idea on how much time you have left before you're stumbling around in the dark. 

2. Start a Fire

I enjoy a camp fire just as much as anyone else, but I never look forward to starting the fire. I can't find dry tinder, the flame doesn't stay lit, or mosquitoes are devouring me while I wait for the flame to erupt. Avoid all of this by dipping some cotton pads in wax and throwing them in your first-aid kit. The pads will light easily and help get you to a healthy camp fire. Bonus: airlines won't allow traditional fire starter sticks or fire disks so avoid the awkwardness of airline security by using the cotton pads instead. 

3. Natural Repellent

No one likes mosquitoes, and I know sometimes it seems like we are reapplying repellent every 5 minutes during the warm months. Repel these annoying bugs by throwing some bundles of sage in your campfire. It won't get rid of them all, but it will help you enjoy that camp fire you just started with the cotton pads. 

Photo: Kevin Abernethy

4. More Help With Mosquitoes

Treat your clothes with Permethrin to help ward off these annoying bugs. Be aware that Permethrin is toxic to animals so be careful if you are applying this around your pets. The spray should last 4-6 wash cycles so no need to reapply each time. Speaking of repellent, I have tried almost every type of skin application and nothing works better than Sawyers Jungle Juice. This isn't necessarily a hack, but give this stuff a try next time you are deep in mosquito territory.  

5. Duct Tape

This stuff can be worth it's weight in gold when you are deep in the backcountry. Wrap it around water bottles or lighters to save on space. You can use it for countless things; applying to blisters, using it as a band-aid, removing ticks, temporary repair for boots/shoes, or braid pieces together to make a lightweight rope. You can even purchase glow in the dark duct tape to help prevent you from tripping over camping gear in the dark. 

Photo: Kevin Abernethy

6. (K)not Again

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I am terrible at remembering how to tie knots. I can get by with the basic techniques, but there are several companies that make credit card sized knot guides you can tie on to your packs to help remind you how to tie a better knot. 

7. Repackage Food

Normal food packaging is bulky and takes up too much space in our packs. Repackage the food in Ziploc baggies and write instructions or what meal the food is designated for with a magic marker. Go the extra mile and use a vacuum sealer to shrink everything down even more.

8. Say No To Cotton Clothing

Cotton is a terrible choice when camping or hiking, it traps sweat and moisture and can make you very uncomfortable if temperatures drop. Look for synthetic material that is soft, moisture-wicking, and lightweight. The same rule applies to sock selection, I recommend merino-wool. for socks and a polyester blend for your shirts.  

Backpack to Dragon’s Back via Horsethief Trail | Photo: Jonathan Reed

9. Create Offline Maps

No cell service? Good! Unplugging is recommended, but you still may need that digital map to help you out. Use Google Maps to create offline maps for reference. Launch the app and search the area you want to save, tap the menu button and choose "offline areas." Tap the plus button on the lower right corner and then zoom in on the area you want to save, tap download to save it to your phone. 

10. Follow The Light

Throw your headlamp in a Nalgene bottle for a temporary lantern. This is perfect when you are settling in your tent or you need some ambient light around your campsite. This works well if there is water in the bottle, just strap the headlamp around the outside of the bottle.

Photo: Kevin Abernethy

We all pick up hacks along the way and each one better prepares us the next time around. I love the community aspect of the outdoor enthusiasts so add your hacks or tips in the comments below and let us know what has worked well for you.

Cover photo: Grant Whitty

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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