After many years of hiking and camping around the world, I can confidently say that I’ve experienced many of the highs and lows of the outdoors. Through these experiences, I’ve acquired some pretty handy hacks and bits of advice from both other seasoned adventurers and from my own trial and error. Much of the knowledge I’m about to bestow upon you should improve your general comfort whilst in the backcountry and may even prove to be life-saving in certain unforeseen circumstances, such as a ripped tent. Plus, it’s always a nice confidence boost being the most resourceful and savvy hiker in your group.
Bring a cooking cozy
Have you ever found yourself sitting around a slowly cooking pot of food, wishing you could speed up the process and devour those much-needed calories? If so, let me introduce you to the pot cozy. This handy, lightweight and simple piece of equipment works to capture a significant amount of heat being lost from the pot’s external surface and put it to work to cook your food a lot faster and more efficiently.
For example, if you’re cooking a pasta or rice dish, simply bring your water to a boil, turn off the heat, slip your pot into the cozy and let the insulated heat finish the job! This can also be a great way to conserve precious fuel, which can add up in weight. And the best part is that using a cozy will allow you to warm your hands from the heat of your pot on those cold winter and spring evenings.
You can opt to purchase a pot cozy online or at your local camping store. However, with such a simple concept, pot cozies can actually be made at home with minimal effort and time. Darwin Onthetrail, a YouTuber that makes some pretty useful backpacking videos, shows us how to make a homemade pot cozy in the video below.
Wrap duct tape around a hiking pole
It’s common knowledge that duct tape is a hiker’s best friend. From supporting broken fingers to patching ripped tents during a storm, bringing duct tape on your next trip can be a difference-maker in so many ways. However, chances are you’re not going to need a full roll, and every bit of pack space matters when planning for an extended hike.
To solve this issue, try wrapping your duct tape around your hiking pole instead! All you’ll probably need is a few feet of tape, which is almost unnoticeable once wrapped around the base of the pole. However, when the need arises, you’ll be thanking yourself for adding it to the list. Once it’s properly secured, you won’t have to worry about packing it again, unless you use it on your trip.
Sleep with your hiking clothes
In my opinion, one of the few miserable parts of backcountry hiking is waking up to a frigid morning and putting on ice-cold hiking clothes. Throw in the fact that many brands of hiking clothing use synthetic materials that feel even colder to the touch and you’ve got a recipe for a late start to a day of hiking.
To avoid this, I started to sleep with my hiking clothes inside my sleeping bag. Not only will this provide you with extra insulation during the night, but it will also ensure that your clothes will be warmed from your body heat. If your feet tend to get cold at night, push them to the bottom of your bag. Side sleeping got your hips feeling sore? Use your clothes for extra padding! You can even stuff a shirt with the rest of your clothes for a comfy pillow if the nighttime temperature isn’t a problem.
Eat oatmeal out of the bag
Let’s be honest, who actually enjoys washing dishes with ice-cold water in the middle of nowhere? Definitely not me! Which is why I’ve started eating my morning oatmeal breakfast out of their single-serving bag. Many instant oatmeal brands come with wax-lined interior packaging, which means you can pour hot water right into the packet, wait a few minutes and enjoy without having to worry about any clean up. Just fold up the empty wrapper and toss it into your trash bag. With wild animals becoming more comfortable with humans, reducing the amount of food waste you dump into the nearby bushes will keep your camp clear of critters (and bears).
Measure sunlight with your hand
When I was 17, I started my first backpacking trip in the early afternoon, thinking I would have enough sunlight to reach my first designated campsite. However, I severely misjudged the amount of daylight left and ended up lost on a cliffside, cold, wet and rather scared. Moral of the story? Always be cognizant of your remaining daylight hours.
If you don’t have a time-telling device and you don’t know the time of sunset in your area, an easy way to help with this is by using your hand. With your arm extended in front of you and hand held horizontally, line up the top edge of your index finger to the bottom of the sun. Every finger width between the bottom of the sun to the horizon is approximately 15 minutes of sunlight. While this may vary slightly depending on your arm length and finger thickness, it’s still a reliable way to estimate your daylight hours.
Waterproof your gear
One of the most important aspects of preparing your gear is making sure certain items are kept in waterproof sacks and bags, such as your GPS device, chargers, etc. Should these devices be ruined by water, you could find yourself in some serious trouble. To help prevent this, I suggest coating these devices with a waterproof spray, like NeverWet, which can be purchased at your local hardware store. Simply spray your devices, let dry and watch as water magically rolls off the surfaces of your gear. You can even opt to treat your clothing, such as socks, thermals and gloves with a waterproof spray to keep yourself warm and dry on even the rainiest days.
Finding ways to make yourself more comfortable and safe on the trail doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, some of the most ingenious hacks can be done without spending a penny, such as making your own pot cozy at home. I’m always on the lookout for new and creative ways to improve the hiking experience so please feel free to share your own backpacking hacks in the comment section. Happy trails!