Multi-purpose Backpacking Gear

“If you can’t ride two horses at once you shouldn’t be in the circus.”

– James Maxton (1885-1946)

Items that can fulfill more than one purpose are a great way of decreasing your base weight, as well as simplifying your packing list.  Examples include:

  • Pot: Can act as bowl, cup and washing vessel.
  • Bandana: Towel, water filter, neck protection, pot cleaner, tent drier, hanky, useful to wear on your face during sand storms, makeshift gaiters when the trail is overgrown, handy if you are low on funds and decide to rob a convenience store.
Bandana close up

Bandana in Convenience Store Mode

  • Smart Phone: Cell phone, MP3, camera, GPS, journal.
  • Hiking Poles: Can be used to hold up many lightweight tents and tarps. Very helpful when crossing fast flowing rivers (see River Crossings in HEALTH & SAFETY). Also handy for protection in Third World countries when you find yourself surrounded by a pack of potentially rabid dogs.
  • Backpack: Put under your feet at night, thus allowing you to use a ¾ length, rather than a full-length mat. It’s not as uncomfortable as it sounds. It’s good for you as well, as after a long day on the trail having your feet raised helps to decrease swelling in the lower extremities.
  • Tent Peg: In addition to its primary role in helping to keep your shelter erect, can be used in lieu (or is that loo?) of a potty trowel to dig catholes.
  • Sleeping Mat: Can be employed as a makeshift frame sheet to give structure to a frameless backpack. Foam models are good for sitting and stretching on during breaks and come in handy if you have the urge to slide head first over a waterfall.

Going over the falls on my Ridgerest sleeping mat | Tararecua Canyon | Copper Canyon Region | Mexico, 1999

  • Dental Floss: Doubles as thread for sewing.
  • Socks: Double as mittens.
  • Duct Tape: Can be used instead of bandaids, medical tape or moleskin; gear repairs in the field.
  • Baking Soda: Cleaning pots and drinking bottles; toothpaste substitute; helps to remove foot odour from shoes; antacid for tummy rumblings; helps to relieve itching associated with insect bites, bee stings and poison ivy/oak; underarm deodorant substitute……….at the end of your hike, it’s always nice to smell a little better in case you need to hitch back to your car!
  • Poncho Tarp: Whilst they may not be everyone’s cup of backcountry tea, I have been a long time fan of Poncho Tarps for most three season conditions. Shelter, pack cover and rain protection all in the one item. Along with the bandana and baking soda, they constitute my “Big 3” of multi-purpose backpacking items.

MLD Pro Poncho | Young’s Canyon, UT | Southwestern Horseshoe | 2012


Later that same day in Tarp mode.



Multi-purpose Backpacking Gear — 4 Comments

    • You are correct. I may have left out one or two bandana uses by design. Perhaps our good friend, Mr.LaRuffa, will publish a more comprehensive list in the weeks to come?

  1. +1 on the poncho tarp, especially if you prefer to cowboy camp.

    As for the bandanna, you can add to the list:
    Hillbilly air conditioner
    Emergency hat (lost mine once while crossing a stream, the bandanna saved my balding skull from getting fried)
    Coffee filter
    Hunting safety (in blaze orange)

    I always pack two

  2. It looks like a pack of rabid dogs played tug o’ war with your hat. Is that the same hat you wore for 18 months while hiking in North America? The poor thing is getting beaten into the dust from whence it came.

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