25 Multipurpose Backpacking Gear Items

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

~  James Maxton (1885-1946)

One of the principal ways in which a hiker can lower his or her pack weight is by using multipurpose gear. A standard backpacking kit is literally full of such items. Before heading out into the wilderness on your next big trip, try the following exercise. Clear the living room floor and spread out all of your stuff. Examine each and every article and ask yourself three questions:

  • Do I really need it?
  • What will happen if I don’t have it?
  • Am I already packing something that would do the same job?

Umbrellas provide protection from both the sun and rain. The wind? Not so much | Death Valley, Lowest to Highest Route, CA, 2014

Hikers are often surprised at the amount of redundant gear they have been carrying out of habit rather than necessity. By eliminating duplicate items whenever possible, not only do you lighten your load, but just as importantly, you also help to simplify your wilderness experience. Funnily enough, the same principle generally holds true for our everyday lives as well.

Here are twenty-five examples of multipurpose backpacking gear:

1.  Smart Phone: Cell phone, camera, GPS, music/audiobook player, recording device, journal.

2.  Pot: Can act as a bowl, cup, washing vessel and re-hydrating container for those that are going stoveless.

For many years, a reconstituted Gatorade Powder container (Weight – 1.2 oz) has been my pot of choice when going stoveless | Yours truly with the one and only “Guy on a Buffalo”, Colorado Trail, 2015.

3.  Condom: The old Johnny bag. In addition to the obvious, connies can also be used as an emergency water holder (up to 2 liters) in case one of your bottles develops a leak. They also come in handy as a waterproof cover for your phone during river crossings.

4.  Duct Tape: Can be used instead of adhesive strips or moleskin. Great for gear repairs in the field.

5.  Trekking Poles: Can be used to hold up lightweight tents and tarps. Provide extra stability when fording fast flowing rivers. Mud, snow and water depth tester. Handy for sword fighting practice in case you’re thinking of auditioning for a part in Pirates of the Caribbean 37.

Two old favourites – the classic Tarptent Squall (no longer made) and the Fizan Compact pole | Camped above Rush Phari Glacier | Pakistan, 2008

6.  Backpack: Placing your backpack underneath your feet at night, allows you to use a ¾ length rather than a full-length sleeping 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.

7.  Tent Peg: In addition to its primary role, sturdier type pegs (e.g. snow stakes) can be used in lieu of a potty trowel to dig cat holes.

8.  Kilt or Rain Skirt:  A makeshift door for your tarp in wet weather and a ground cloth to sit on during breaks. Intangibly speaking, I suspect they help to promote a sense of community among thick-legged chafe sufferers and commando devotees.

9.  Sleeping Mat: Can be employed as a makeshift frame sheet to give structure to a frameless backpack. Closed cell foam models are good for sitting and stretching on during breaks. They also come in handy in case you are overcome by the urge to slide down a waterfall.

Thermarest Ridgerest in Toboggan mode | Taracuera Canyon, Copper Canyon Region, Mexico, 1999.

10.  Dental Floss: Doubles as sewing thread.

11.  Mylar Blanket: In addition to being used in emergencies, space blankets can also be employed as a lightweight ground sheet, signalling mirror and makeshift tarp.

12.  Reconstituted Sports Drink Bottle (600 ml): Can double as a backcountry bidet. Pro tips: A. B sure to fill the bottle to the top before use, as approximately only the first 200 ml are squirtable, and; B. Short, sharp squeezes fired at an upward angle of 45° work best.

13.  Bandana: Towel, water filter, neck protection, pot cleaner, tent drier, hanky, emergency bog roll, face covering during sand storms, can be worn as makeshift gaiters when the trail is overgrown and, finally, very useful if you are low on trail funds and decide to hold up a 7-Eleven.

Bandana……….7-11 mode.

14.  Baking Soda: Cleaning pots and drinking bottles. Toothpaste substitute. Helps to remove foot odor from shoes. Antacid for tummy rumblings. Assists in relieving 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.

15.  Potty Trowel: In soft ground can be used as a tent peg. I know there are a few gram weenies out there with questionable hygiene practices that even use them as a backup spoon and pot stirrer on occasion.

16.  Triangular Bandage: Sling, bandana, water/coffee filter, tourniquet and sprained ankles.

17.  Sleeping Quilt: If temps drop lower than expected, a quilt can be draped over your shoulders on chilly mornings and evenings around camp.

Draped in my Katabatic Alsek 22 quilt | Sandwood Bay, Cape Wrath Trail, Scotland, 2018.

18.  Hydration bladder: If extra clothes aren’t doing the job, you can inflate your empty hydration bladder and use it as a makeshift pillow.

19.  Socks: Double as mittens, and can help to keep your phone and camera batteries warm in freezing temps. 

20.  Crazy/Superglue: Useful for sleeping mat repairs, small holes in tents and at a pinch, even cuts and blisters.

21.  Umbrella: An unbeatable combo of shade, ventilation and wet weather protection. Not so great in high winds or when hiking through overgrown terrain.

Greg “Malto” Gressel wading through the appropriately named “Duck Hole.” | Adirondack Mountains, 2015.

22.  Buff: Beanie, hat, balaclava, ear warmer, neck protector, sweat band, back-up condensation wipe to the bandana.

23.  Swiss Army Classic: Scissors, tweezers, toothpick and knife.

24.  Poncho Tarp: Can serve as shelter, pack cover, rain protection and ground sheet. 

25.  Your Noggin:  Not always reliable, but the only item on the list that can’t be replaced.

“How did it go again?”

*For more ramblings on lightening your pack load, see Five Basic Principles of Going Lighter and Backpacking Gear Philosophy.

*Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links, which means The Hiking Life receives a small commission if you purchase an item after clicking on one of the links. This comes at no additional cost to the reader, and helps to support the website in its continuing goal to create quality content for backpackers and hikers. Cheers.






9 Replies to “25 Multipurpose Backpacking Gear Items”

    1. Not at the moment, but readers are more than welcome to weigh in if they have any other ideas about multipurpose gear, which can help to lighten pack weight.

  1. Swami! It was awesome running into you in the CT! Good times. A couple multi purpose ideas I’d like to add:
    1.) The cooking pot can double as a scoop to fill a trash bag with sand to put out a small forest fire. Did that on the PCT in Oregon, had the blaze almost completely gone when the hot shot crew showed up 3 hours later.
    2.) The trash compactor bag, in addition to fire fighting, can be used as a pack liner and a pump for air mattresses, just fill it with air and hold the opening tightly around the open valve and squeeze.

    – Guy on a Buffalo

    1. Hey GOAB……..Great to hear from you and thanks for the multipurpose gear contributions! That photo of us on the Colorado Trail is one of my favourites from that trip……….Cheers, Swami

      1. It’s one of my favorites, too, from the CDT! I’ve been honored to wear the trail name you gave me for all these years and hikes. Your hiking life is a huge inspiration to me. BTW, I’m going to finish the PNT this winter, just have the coast left, but school started before I could finish this summer. Still learning and playing in the mountains!

  2. I love the idea of everything having multiple purposes in everyday life and it makes even more sense when you are outdoors. There are some excellent ideas in this post, many of which I would never have considered. For example, I know how useful bicarbonate of soda is around the home, but have never considered taking it on a hike or camping.

  3. Duct tape makes the best bandaids, they stick well and are waterproof.

    Cook pot: Wash basin for trail baths, Laundromat clean your socks and underwear, water gatherer easier to fill bladders with a cook pot.

    cheap paperback Book: reading material, fire starter and butt wipe.

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