DUAL-PURPOSE ITEMS - A Backpacker?s Guide to Making Every Ounce Count: Tips and Tricks for Every Hike (2015)

A Backpacker?s Guide to Making Every Ounce Count: Tips and Tricks for Every Hike (2015)



One of the steps in planning right so you can pack light is concentrating on dual-purpose items. This is a hard step to take because it will force you to examine your pack and plan your trips a bit differently than you might be used to. Look at your gear that you plan on putting into that pack, the clothes on your back, and the items in your pockets. Yes, you can even look into your pockets to see if you can cut weight. Let’s look at a few items that might be found in a backpack.

Here are just a few ideas on how to limit your weight by selecting dual-purpose items. If you take a large, thick trash bag, you can use this as a rain poncho so you don’t need to take a separate one.

Use a tent stake to dig out a fire pit.


Duct tape can be used in first-aid situations or gear and pack repair. Take a medium fixed knife instead of two knives. Socks can be used as a glasses case, pot holder, gloves.

Bandanas can be used to filter water, as a signaling device (if the color is right), or even as a bandage. Trekking poles can be used as a fishing pole or tarp stand. Boot laces, if made of the right material (550 cord), can be used in an emergency to repair gear or even in a fire bow to start a fire.

There are many things you can do with 550 paracord that could go into its own book. There are several inner strands that can be used individually, or as a whole used to secure objects, set snares, repair gear, affix a broken arm into a splint, and so much more.

A coffee cup can be used as a measuring device if it has the markings. The aluminum foil can be used to block the wind from the fire of your stove while you cook but can also be used as a signaling device.


You could take an aluminum water bottle, which is much heavier than your standard Nalgene bottle. The aluminum bottle could replace your cooking pot, if all you plan on doing for dinner is boiling water for your dehydrated food. Compare one aluminum bottle to your drinking bottle plus your cooking pot before making this decision, and count the ounces.

Here you can see my canteen cup by the fire boiling water.


I don’t “cook” on the trail anymore; I simply boil water and rehydrate my dinner in freezer bags so there is less cleanup at the end of the meal.

From Your Pockets

Take only the most important keys you can think of. I take my truck key (if I am the one doing the driving) and my house key if needed. That is all. Once we get to the trailhead, those two keys are wrapped up into a bandana and stored somewhere in my pack.

To lighten my wallet I have a small pocket wallet with only my driver’s license, health insurance card, one credit card, and some cash. I take the bare minimum. I don’t need pictures, business cards, more than one credit card, yadda yadda yadda… . All I need is proof that I can drive, proof I have insurance, some cash for snacks, and stuff before and after, and one credit card for emergencies. I have my folding knife that goes everywhere I go and a lighter. That is all. Nothing more.


Hopefully you will be able to take what you have learned here and apply it to your pack and be able to go a little bit lighter, and be able to look at your pack and the gear within with a fresh perspective. Some might say we are a strange breed because of how we look at things, but the normal is as follows:

“Go ahead and pack it, it doesn’t weigh that much… . It weighs hardly anything… . You never know, you might need it… .”

We, the practitioners of Gram Weenieism, have trained our brains to think differently about our pack. We are the iconoclasts of the backpacking world. Our normal is this:

“It won’t take me long to cut the tags out of this shirt… . Ha, I cut my toothbrush in half and shaved three ounces from my pack… . I just culled one pair of socks, my Michael Connelly novel, that extra flashlight, and … and … I cut out half my toilet paper and I shaved a whole pound from my pack!”

Okay first of all, even though I am a firm believer in Gram Weenieism, there are some things I believe you should not skimp on. Toilet paper is one of these things. I have tried to gauge how many sheets I would need for a trip—no I didn’t count the sheets, I simply count the bundles I think I might need. However, those trips didn’t work out the way I planned, so now I take at least one half of a roll. No more skimping equals no more unpleasant trips. Plus, if I find that I am using less than expected, I have some nice dry tinder for fire making: dual purpose.

Bottom line here is to look at your items and see if you can use them for more than they were designed for. Now, you may not be able to find a dual purpose for every item in your pack, but if you can find more than one purpose for just a couple of items, then you are doing better than most.