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Household Trash/Backpackers Treasure

There is an old saying that is loaded with truth. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This couldn’t be more true in the world of backpacking except for one minor detail. “Your household trash can also be your backpacking treasure.”

This following statement is in the category of Captain Obvious, but it needs to be said. Backpacking, especially Ultralight Backpacking, is expensive. So let’s take a quick trip around the house (and maybe in the trash) and see if we can save you a few bucks, and show you how to be an innovator to your backpacking buddies.

#1 - Dryer Lint

This one is one of the more well-known fire-starting hacks and it's for good reason. It’s absolutely free, almost weightless, and it absolutely works. Dryer lint on its own is a great fire-starter, but couple it with some paper and/or Vaseline and you have taken your fire game to the next level. There are several solid recipes for dryer lint fire starters. Just Google it.

#2 - Plastic Grocery Bags

Not sure what to do with the countless plastic grocery bags accumulating in your pantry? You can stash a few of them in your backpack, clothing stuff sack, and emergency repair kit. Weighing close to nothing, these bags are great for separating your wet clothes from your dry clothes, waterproofing your boots when they are wet from the inside, used to collect leaves for your fire, and even carrying multiple water bottles from your water source back to camp.

#3 - Empty Peanut Butter Jars

When I hiked the AT I had dehydrated several pounds of ground beef that my wife would mail to me as I needed it. Captain Obvious Preface: Always field-test your great ideas before you are dependent upon them. The ground beef took 10 times longer to soften than the Ramen or instant mashed potatoes it was being eaten with. Crunchy ground beef SUCKS! Enter the empty peanut butter jar. I used the empty jar to cold soak my meat (that’s what she said) while I was hiking and my problems were solved. No stove, no problem, Too hot or tired to cook, no problem. Give your meat, ramen, or freeze-dried meals some time in the jar (with water) and you are all set.

#4 - Contact Lens Case

Need a small, durable, ultralight, waterproof container to put your Vitamin I (ibuprofen), Vitamins, sunscreen, or toothpaste in? Look no further than an old contact case. You can keep one in your toiletries bag and one in your hip-belt pocket. Both are convenient and reliable.

#5 - Brine or Oven Bags

These are an excellent substitute for stuff sacks. Their original use is to hold liquid around a heavy turkey or other roasted meat. This means they are big enough to hold several clothing items, strong enough to not tear or leak, and they too are waterproof as long as you seal them sufficiently.

#6 - Used Gatorade Bottle

This one is primarily for the boys. Do you get up 1,2 or more times a night to relieve yourself? And by the time you get finished fumbling around with your headlamp, sleeping bag, shelter closure, and the uneven terrain of the forest you are wide awake? Gatorade bottle to the rescue! It’s very light and its wide mouth comes in handy for obvious reasons. I guess you could use your peanut butter jar for this purpose, but I would not want to get the two confused. Also for obvious reasons.

#7 - Used Freeze-Dried Meal Bags

Another trick from the AT. If you empty the contents of your Mountain House or Backpacker Pantry meals into a quart-size freezer bag, you can use the envelope the meal comes in as your cooker and bowl for the rest of your meals for the weekend. I have used these bags/envelopes to cook, heat, and hold freeze-dried meals themselves; Ramen. mashed potatoes, oatmeal, rice, and couscous to name a few. All you have to do is put whatever you are heating into freezer bags (pre-hike), then when on the trail, add your hot water, put the freezer bag into the envelope, and seal it up. This eliminates the need for a bowl and takes up much less space. This may be my favorite hack.

#8 - Trash Compactor Bags

As we all know, most backpacks are not waterproof (this is baffling to me). It just so happens that a trash compactor bag is the same height and circumference as almost all backpacks. Trash compactor bags are also much stronger than regular trash bags. If you line your backpack with the T.C. bag so that all your gear is inside the bag, you now have waterproofed said gear and have not spent $$$ on a Dyneema backpack liner. I have used a single bag for several trips and it works great.

There you have it folks. Field-tested and SOA-approved backpacking hacks that save you money, space, and weight. These little tricks will make you look like the MacGyver of the hiking world. I would love to hear about your tricks and hacks as well. Until next time…

Hike Your Own Hike,


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