Backpacking is expensive. You’ll likely shell out at least $600 by the time you invest in a decent pack, stove, sleeping bag, and tent. Thankfully, there are affordable ways to solve some of your backwoods needs. Here’s a list of eight items that I grab from my house every time I hit the trail.
Trash Compactor Bags ($4.30 for 5) and Oven Bags ($2.30 for 2)
I don’t cook with oven bags. I use them to protect water-sensitive gear like cameras and first-aid kits in my pack because they’re sturdier than Ziplocs. I also use trash compactor bags, which are tougher than normal ones, to keep larger items like sleeping bag and clothing from getting wet. They’re cheaper and work better in a downpour than a backpack rain shell.
Vaseline ($3.20 for 2.5 Ounces)
Yes, you can buy fancy anti-chafing cream for your thru-hike, or you can just slap a little of this stuff on any rubbing body parts. It will also soothe burns and other minor irritations. Even better, Vaseline is petroleum based, so it’s flammable and makes a great fire starter if your kindling isn’t cooperating.
Wet Wipes ($5 for 30)
Trailside bathroom breaks are a lot better with wet wipes, and they’re great for a dirtbag shower before you head back into town. Make sure you buy biodegradable wipes if you’re leaving them in a hole you dug in the wilderness. Or you can get regular baby wipes ($11 for 500) if you’re packing them out.
Tyvek ($0.89 Per Foot)
Tyvek, the material builders use to make houses waterproof, is cheaper—and significantly lighter—than a regular tarp. Note: If you buy Tyvek by the foot, you’ll have to tape sections together to make your own tent footprint or bivy mat.
Razor Blade ($6.70 for 100)
I pack a razor blade as a backup, in case I break or lose my main knife. Wrap it in some cardboard and duct tape, and it will help you cut everything from sausages to bandages. And at just a few grams, you won’t even notice it’s there.
Hair Ties ($2 for 14)
Long-haired backpackers likely know this trick. For everyone else, heads up: durable nylon hair ties are great for attaching things like rain jackets to the outside of your pack (loop the tie through an outside attachment point and stuff your jacket so the elastic band holds it in place). You can also use them to keep plastic bags in place around food and valuables or roll them around a tent or poles if you lose your stuff sack.
Needle and Thread ($9 for a Set of Needles and 1,500 Yards of Thread)
If you don’t want to bring a full sewing repair kit on your backpack trip, I suggest taking a basic needle and thread, just in case your jacket, tent, shoes, or sleeping bag fall apart on the trail. Tip: Choose a midweight needle and nylon thread—they’re more durable—and then store your needle capped with a small chunk of wine cork.
Bleach ($2.40 for 64 Ounces)
Bleach is an extremely effective backup for killing bacteria and viruses in water. It’s also cheap and likely already in your laundry room. If you find yourself in an emergency—say your normal water purifier stops working—you can substitute two drops of bleach per liter of clear water.