40 Backpacking Tips, Tricks, and Hacks

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Backpacking is quite the experience. You trek through forest and prairies, up hills and down valleys, to fall asleep in your tent while gazing up at the stars at day’s end. It is a whirlwind of an experience. It helps, though, if you know some backpacking tips, tricks, and hacks, so read on to learn all about them.

Tips for Hitting the Trail

1. Find an experienced partner. No one can know everything. It is next to impossible to do so. If you backpack with someone who is experienced, then they will help you out if you falter. They probably know somethings you do not, so you can benefit from their knowledge.

2. Get a scale. Every ounce counts. If you weigh everything you bring with you, you will be able to know what you can shed and the costs of each item that you bring with you. Once you know the weight of an item, you can pack more carefully.

3. Drink at your water source. Water is very heavy. Every gallon of water weighs over 8 lbs. To save space and your back, drink as much as you can at the water source and plan where your next source of water will come from.

4. When packing your backpack, put the heaviest items near your spine. Doing so will keep you stable. If you just throw everything into the bottom of your pack, then you risk becoming unbalanced, which can be a danger when you are on the trail.

5. Question everything. Do you really need it? Is that what I need for my trip or will it slow me down? Questions help you find out what you really need and drill down the core of the necessary.

6. Do not go on a backpacking trip with new boots. If you use new boots, then you risk getting blisters. If you get them, then it ruins your trip. You want to break boots in before going on a trip. It will save you a lot of foot pain down the road. Take short hikes to break them. It takes, at minimum, 50 miles of use before they are ready for those big trips.

7. If a beginner, start with a one night trip. Camping outside for days on end can be overwhelming if you are not prepared for it. Start small and then build up to longer and longer trips. If you start big, then you will be overwhelmed and get a negative perspective on backpacking. Backpacking should be fun, not stressful, so keep it short when you start.

8. Aim to get multi use items. Items that serve only one purpose will not work out for you. Strive to get items that can be used in multiple areas. A Swiss army knife is an excellent example. It is very versatile. Consider this before putting anything in your backpack.

Cooking Tips

In a previous article, I wrote about backpacking tips for food. it will be able to help you understand the tips laid out below and go into greater depth than what I have listed here.

9. Eat high calorie foods. If you have 10,000 calories worth of food with you, that can weigh anywhere from 2 lbs to 8 lbs depending on the food you bring with you. Each food has a different calorie to weight ratio, so take that into consideration.

10. Paint your cooking pots black. Have you ever worn dark clothing in the sun and heated up quickly? The same principle applies to cooking. Darker pots heat up quicker, which saves you time.

11. Eat what you like. Personally, I do not like asparagus, so I would not bring it with me on a backpacking trip. I would bring something like ramen instead. I enjoy it a lot more and you should bring what you like. It will make for a much more enjoyable trip.

12. Fill tic-tac boxes with spices. Tic-tac boxes are wonderful for holding spices. They self seal and can be stored easily. There is no reason why you should not have to eat in style on a backpacking expedition.

13. Opt for a spork instead of multiple utensils. When you have more items, then it can be difficult to keep track of them all. If you have a spork, then you will have less to worry about, relieving a lot of headache down the road.

14. Repackage your food. When backpacking, you need to minimize the space used by your items. Just taking off the shelf grocery items and putting them in your backpack will not cut it. You need to put your food in a zip lock bag and seal it.

15. Put food in a zip lock bag for each day. When backpacking, I get quite hungry. It drives my mind wild, so I have a tendency to over eat and run low on food if I am not careful. Take the extra time to make a meal plan for each day, so your stomach does not eat itself.

Campsite Advice

16. Survey the Campsite. When backpacking, it helps to be aware. If you do not want to be close to noisy neighbors, then move away. If you do not like the look of those rocks, then put your tent elsewhere. Be more conscientious of where you make your camp.

17. Synthetic sleeping bags save money, while down sleeping bags save weight. There is plenty of debate on which type is better than the other, but all you probably care about is which one will perform best for you in a given situation. Consider that when looking at sleeping bags.

18. Stuff your clothes into a stuff sack to make a pillow. A pillow can take up quite a lot of room. Use a zip lock bag or dry bag instead. Your clothes might even be warm for you in the morning.

19. Cuddle up with a hot water filled bottle at night. There will be cold nights when you are camping. It helps if you have a make shift heater. Start by boiling water and then pour that water into a bottle and seal. You now have your own personal heater to place in your sleeping bag.

Tent Tips

20. Use rocks instead of stakes. Stakes take up quite a bit of room in your backpack. When you make camp, there will probably be plenty of rocks nearby that you can make use of. With rocks in hand though, you will be able to use them just like you would stakes, but with some minor adjustments.

21. Be aware of the wind direction. If you put your tent entrance facing into the wind, then it will prevent mosquitoes from congregating near the entrance, but you also risk the cold. Take the wind into account when placing your tent.

22. Watch out for dead branches. When pitching your tent, sometimes the branch above your head could open a new door to your tent. Take branches into consideration when you are setting up camp. It will save you a lot of hassle down the road to do so.

23. Use Tyvek instead of a tent footprint. Tent footprints, while they do protect the base of your tent, can be quite expensive. If you opt for some tyvek, then you save yourself money. It can be found at Lowes, Home Depot, and Ace Hardware.

24. Get a high quality sleeping pad. The ground can be hard on your back, so save your back the pain of that when you wake up in the morning. It is a long term investment in your well-being. Your future self will appreciate it.

General Backpacking Tips

25. Bring a whistle with you. Your friend can get lost or you can. If you keep a whistle, then you can find someone and use it to keep animals away from you.

26. Cut off excess straps and buckles to save weight and hassle. Manufacturers always seem to put on a lot of straps and attachments onto a backpack. They do it because it improves their bottom line. That will not be the case for you when you are out in the wilderness. Take off the excess to save on weight and increase maneuverability.

27. Ditch the cotton. It is ubiquitous and very good at holding water, not ideal for backpacking. Cotton will keep you soaking wet during a rain. You want synthetic materials like nylon instead. It will keep you dry. Wool is another option that fights odor and stays warm even when wet.

28. Count the time until sun down with your hands. When you extend your hand towards the sun. Each finger between the base of the sun and the horizon corresponds to 15 minutes of daylight. You are going to want at least 2 hours to set up camp at the end of the day.

Trail Tricks

29. Wrap duct tape around your trekking poles or water bottle. When you do this, you save space in your backpack and can make quick fixes. You do not have to search through your backpack to find any repair gear. If on your trekking poles, it is a great barrier to blisters.

30. In bear country, put bells on your backpack. You do not want to run into a bear. It could end badly. Bells on your backpack will alert them to your presence, so they will know to avoid you.

31. Put alligator clips or binder clips on the top of your backpack to dry clothes. While backpacking, you do not have a dryer, so you have to air dry your clothes. If you use an alligator clip or something similar, then you can dry your clothes while hiking.

32. Do not put all your weight on technology. While it is very nice to use a GPS, it can run out of battery. Your smart phone can fall into the water. It happens, so be prepared to make it on your own if it does. Know map and compass skills to manage yourself just in case.

33. Bring a bandanna. Bandannas are an excellent item that has multiple uses. You can wipe your mouth with it after a meal. It will catch your neck sweat. You can protect yourself from the sun. It is an improvised glove for holding hot objects. You can hang items off your pack. A bandanna is all of this and much more.

34. Bring Vaseline. You can use Vaseline on blisters. If you have a small wound, it can keep out any infections. If you need help starting a fire, then this is an excellent fire starter. Just dip a cotton ball in it and light it.

Backpacking Hacks

35. De-tick with duct tape. Using duct tape will remove a tick before they bite. It is best done as soon as you notice one attached to you or your clothing.

36. Shave off the tooth brush. There is only one part of a tooth brush you need and that is the handle. Cut off the excess and you can sharpen the remainder into a tooth pick.

37. Pack an old prescription bottle as a small first aid kit. If you have any empty prescription bottles, then you can fill them will band aids, tweezers, gauze, and anything else you might need. These containers do not open easily, so they will stay closed unless you specifically open them.

38. Cut up a straw to fill with ointment, toothpaste, or anything else and then seal the ends will a lighter. If you want to pack ultralight, then this will help. Just pop them open when you want to use them.

39. Dry your shoes with balled up newspaper. At the end of a long day of hiking, scrunch up any newspaper or regular paper and put them into your hiking boots. The fibers of the paper will soak up the moisture, so you can have dry shoes the next day.

40. Use the lint from your dryer as kindling. It can be difficult to start a fire if you do not have the proper kindling. Lint helps with that problem. It is very dry and catches fire easily.

Final Thoughts

Like anything in life, when you know something, that something becomes a lot easier. It is no different when it comes to backpacking. The different bits of information will be sure to make your trip a lot more enjoyable. It is always helpful to learn something new.

If you have any questions, think I missed anything, or a thought, please do not hesitate to comment below and share this article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!

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12 Comments on “40 Backpacking Tips, Tricks, and Hacks”

  1. This is such a great informative article! Thank you! It brings me back memories of when I went backpacking with my dad in the Grand Canyon.

    One tip I would add is to never cut the trail, even if you think you see where it continues later on and you want to take a shortcut. This is an issue for many hikers, especially on switchbacks. Besides for eroding the trail and confusing future hikers, you could also potentially miss a fork in the trail and end up going the wrong way.

    1. It is wonderful to hear that you found this article helpful David. Camping in the Grand Canyon must have been a blast.

      You are very right that you should never cut the trail. I have done that on occasion. It ruins the landscape and makes it difficult for future hikers.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  2. I love your tips here. I am a country boy from Arkansas so I have done my share of backpacking. I spent many years in the military as well and I can tell you that backpacking or walking anywhere on a relatively long trip requires broken in boots.

    I made the mistake of walking in new boots once and I will never forget the pain of those blisters.

    Great tips here that and a few that I had not thought of. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hello Nate,

      It is wonderful to hear that you enjoyed the article. Arkansas must be a wonderful place to go backpacking. When hiking a lot, you definitely do not want to have new boots. It could grind your trip to a halt.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  3. Do you have any more thoughts on how to drink water at the source? I know I’ve read a lot recently about the whole ‘raw water’ trend of just drinking straight out of rivers and ponds, but this sounds a little dangerous, especially if you don’t know the area. What are your recommendations from a water purification standpoint? Do you like iodine tablets or something like the life straw?

    1. Hey Craig,

      I appreciate your question. It can be dangerous to drink water from the source. There are all sorts of bugs and diseases you could catch if you are not careful. When it comes to “drinking from the source”, your options are filtration, boiling, or iodine tablets.

      With the first one, you can drink water from the source with it. You see that with the life straws and similar products. Filtration can take up a bit of room in your pack, but you do not risk sickness like if you were to swallow an iodine tablet. There are good options to choose from.

      When it comes to boiling, you have to wait a bit, so I do not recommend it. You will be slowed down by it, so stick to either filtration or iodine tablets. Boiling is really only best if you are in area where snow or ice is your only source of water.

      Thirdly, iodine tablets are another wonderful option. For these, you need two water bottles. One where you can put the tablets in and are waiting. Another is for drinking out of immediately. Make sure that you do not mix up your bottles or else you risk getting sick. Label them with different colored tape. Compared to the other options, this one is the most light weight.

      I hope this answers your questions. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  4. Very very good information. Usually when I read this type of article I find something to object about. Not with yours, you have included very sage wisdom in your words. I will remember to come back to this site when I have questions about hiking and overnight camping.
    Thank you so much.

    1. That is quite the compliment Jay! I appreciate it. It is wonderful to know that I am being thorough. It is good to know that you plan on returning to the site. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  5. My wife and I plan on taking a hiking trip as soon as it warms up a little outside. I will be sure to use this information. Great work on the post and keep up the good work.

    1. It is nice to hear about you are your wife William. When the weather warms up, I am sure you will both have a blast hiking. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  6. Vaseline for a fire starter! That’s a new one! We camp at least once a year, and every time we end up with wet wood so I will definitely try it.

    Thanks for the great tips!

    1. Hey Mandie, Vaseline as a fire starter was a new one for me too. It should help you when you confront wet wood. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

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