6 Backpacking Hacks for Thru-Hiking


The more you dig into the endless advice for long-distance hiking, the more you’ll find the best insider hacks are less about crushing the biggest miles with the fanciest gear and more about saving money, weight, and time in some of the most low-maintenance ways possible. Becoming an efficient long-distance backpacker or thru-hiker comes with its own set of challenges, a lot of which you’ll have to learn by trial and error over the miles. Here are a few suggestions to give you a head start.

1. Wrap A Few Feet of Duct Tape Around Your Trekking Poles

There are two truths about duct tape during a thru-hike: 1) you will need it, and 2) you won’t use the entire roll. Since most hikers are aiming for the lowest base weight possible, carrying a full roll of duct tape doesn’t cut it. Instead, wrap a few feet of tape around each trekking pole… bonus points for the most fun tape pattern. This will add just an ounce or two to the weight of your poles while keeping the tape accessible. If you find yourself in a spot where you need more than several feet of tape, chances are duct tape won’t solve the problem anyway.

2. Air Dry Your Socks While You Hike

You don’t need a different pair of socks for every day between town stops, but two hiking pairs means you can alternate socks every other day. When one pair is stiff and dirty enough to stand up on its own, dunk them in a stream, wring them out, then clip them to the outside of your pack. You’re outside all day anyway, and it’s better than stuffing them back into your pack to stink up the rest of your gear. If you weren’t marked as a thru-hiker before, dirty socks swinging from your pack will certainly do the trick.

3. Cold-Soaking Food isn’t as Bad as It Sounds

Start soaking your grains about 20 minutes out from your next campground. Will Saunders / Gregory Mountain Products

There’s a whole world of no-cook strategies for long-distance backpackers who want to streamline their system and go as low maintenance as possible at camp. Cold soaking is one of them. A screw-top plastic peanut butter jar or gelato jar works perfectly for cold-soaking small grains like couscous. Choose a variety of couscous flavors at your next resupply, then add a packet to the jar and cover it with water when you’re 20 minutes out from camp. By the time you reach your spot for the night, you’ll have a ready-made meal without the hassle of boiling water, carrying a cookset, and cleaning up afterward.

4. During Cold Weather, Sleep with Your Gear

Dropping temperatures can have a serious effect on your gear, whether it’s waking up to miserably stiff shoes, a frozen water filter, or a dead phone. Load up your sleeping bag with your gear that’s more susceptible to being altered by cold weather. Your water filter is one of the most critical items, as some varieties can freeze and be subsequently unusable. Throwing your canister of fuel in your sleeping bag will ensure it fires up in the morning, and even stashing a water bottle in your pack means you won’t wake up to a solid block of ice. Really want to go wild? Tuck your shoes into a gallon ZipLock bag and sleep with them at the foot of your sleeping bag. Sharing your sleeping bag with your gear is a small price to pay to avoid shoving swollen feet into frozen shoes or not having any water to drink in the morning.

5. Drink a Bottle of Water Every Time You Fill Up

Every time you fill up, try to drink an entire water bottle. It will keep you hydrated and lighten your load. Will Saunders / Gregory Mountain Products

Water is necessary. Water is also heavy. At two pounds per liter, long water carries are one of the banes of a thru-hiker’s existence. Always be sure of the location of your next source to avoid running out of water, but drinking when you fill up is a good way to carry slightly less water in your pack. Every time you stop at a water source to fill your bottle, try to drink an entire bottle of freshly filtered water. You’re already stopped, you don’t have to carry that water, and actively drinking at each source is a good way to ensure you stay as hydrated as possible for the next stretch.

6. The Sawyer Filter Threads onto a Water Bottle

Don’t worry about filtering your water and then squeezing it into a separate water bottle. Sawyer filters are one of the lightest, most efficient filters on the market, and they thread right onto a variety of plastic water bottles. Simply fill up your water bottle at the source, thread the filter onto the top, and drink right from the spout on the go. As a bonus, a lightweight plastic water bottle will save you significant weight over an insulated bottle or Nalgene.

Written by Matcha for Gregory Mountain Products.

Featured image provided by Will Saunders / Gregory Mountain Products