Best Cheap 25 cent Backpacking Gear

Best Cheap 25 cent Backpacking GearThe Best Cheap 25 cent Backpacking Gear is a Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag. These bags are a perfect size and have a ton of uses. I’ve used them to protect my iPhone and other expensive equipment packrafting in Alaska, rafting down the Grand Canyon in winter, and trekking in Patagonia and the rain forests of New Zealand. Surprisingly, they are virtually unknown and you won’t find them on grocery store shelves. But you can purchase Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag here

Pint Ziploc Freezer Bags are nearly as effective as ALOKSAKs, but far less expensive. At $0.25 each, it’s easy to carry a few spares and replace between trips as necessary.  The thick plastic and double zip work well to keep water and dust out while preventing minor scratches. Unless you plan on having your gear submerged for long periods*, they are lighter, and easier to get gear in and out of, and less expensive than fancy waterproof bags or cases that weigh and cost far more. (*Note: If you really need submersible protection; i.e. your phone will be completely under water for some time, then you will need to get a fully submersible rated bag for your phone.)

Best Cheap 25 cent Backpacking Gear

Just a few of the many uses for a $0.25 Pint Freezer Ziplock bag. Clockwise from upper right: 1) store meals, cook in bag & eat from the bag, 2) keeping TP dry in an outside pocket of your pack [normal sandwich baggies are too fragile and leak], 3) protecting expensive cameras/electronics from dust and rain like this $800 Sony RX100 Camera, 4) and my favorite use, protecting my iPhone. Photo shows the proper way to fold the bag for the iPhone for best visablity and touchscreen use.

Many uses for the Best Cheap 25 cent Backpacking Gear

Here are some my uses for $0.25 Pint Ziploc Freezer Bags but there are a ton more. Tell me your uses in the comments!

  • Protect my iPhone: see more detail on how I do this below
  • Keep the fiddle factor down: Putting like-gear in Pint Ziploc Freezer Bags organizes “gear-chaos.” Quickly finding gear saves time and sanity. E.g. all my first aid kit fits in one baggie. My cables and electronics, spare batteries go in another. My camera stuff, spare SD cards, batteries, bubble level go in another.
  • Snacks: One day of snack food goes in one baggie (Pint or Quart size, depending) and is put in the side pocket of my pack for quick access.
  • Meals: A Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag is perfect for individual meals. Just re-hydrate in the bag and eat out of the bag. When done, zip it shut and your KP is done. (I use Quart size when Alison and I share meals.)
  • Perfect for storing cheese and dried meats like salami, or a potentially leaking bottle of olive oil.
  •  Protect other electronics and optics, including small cameras, binoculars etc. My Sony RX100 Camera is a bit on the delicate side. I put it in a Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag if it is wet or very dusty (e.g. a windy day in the deserts of S. Utah). I usually leave the bag unzipped and folded over unless conditions are bad.
  • My standard travel electronics kit (when trekking worldwide) and even on extended trips in the US—spare charging battery, cables, wall-chargers, outlet adapters all fit neatly in one baggie.
  • Map & documents case. I generally don’t use heavy and bulky waterproof mapsets. I normally print my own custom maps and a time and mileage tables on non-waterproof paper. When arranged properly in a Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag or even a quart size, I can keep these in my right hip pants pocket for rapid reference—even in the rain.
  • Waterproof TP and hand sanitizer bag. Allows you to keep this easily accessible in an external pocket, even in wet conditions.

How I use the Pint Freezer Ziplock bag to protect my iPhone

I carry my iPhone in my left hip pants pocket about 95% of the time. Here’s how I keep it protected but quickly usable. First, I use a simple and Light Protective Case with a Screen Protector. Then I put my iPhone in a Pint Freezer Ziplock bag with the phone display on the clear/non-printed side and then fold the extra over so that the display is easily readable and fully touch functional (except fingerprint recognition of the home button). I put the phone in my pocket with the phone display facing against my leg so that it is protected from getting damaged if I bump into something. [Note: make sure that you fold extra bag away from the face of the phone. This prevents the bag from getting hazed by the ziplock closure rubbing against the display side of the bag.] In normal use, I usually don’t zip the bag shut since I am just interested in is protecting the phone from perspiration from my leg and dust. Folding the bag over does just fine for this. The additional benefit of folding and not sealing the bag is that I can quickly extract my phone from the bag to take a photo. Only in heavy rain or when I think I might get a brief dunking, like crossing a stream will I actually zip the bag shut.

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Some of the elements for my light travel electronics kit:  A substantial 6400 mAh external charging battery and a lightening cable and a micro USB cable. If traveling, I would add a wall charger (pictured) and a combo Power Adapter Travel Wall Charger (not pictured). All are well packaged and organized in a durable Pint Ziplock Freezer bag.

Field use kit: The iPhone 6 in a light but protective case sitting on top of a Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag used to protect the phone from dust, scratches and water (effective, lighter and less expensive than elaborate waterproof cases!). Right: a substantial 6400 mAh external charging battery and a lightening cable.

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Freezer Ziplock used both for in bag cooking (re-hydration) and to eat from. Zero clean-up after the meal. Zip the bag shut, put it with your trash and you are done. This is especially useful at dry camps or when it’s really cold when washing pots at below freezing is not fun.

Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors

Great Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors

This is an excellent Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors. It’s fast and simple to use. It keeps the tarp doors neatly and securely out of the way in dry weather or when you are getting in and out of the hammock. But it quickly secures the tarp doors if needed—like when a rain storm quickly moves in. This is a great do-it-yourself DIY project—instructions are below.

I learned about this Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors from David Meck of Hammeck at a fall hammock hang along the Appalachian Trail in PA. After the hammock hang, David kindly sent me some photos of his setup. (BTW my wife, Alison currently uses an Envy-S Hammeck.)

If this post interests you you might also like these two gear lists that feature hammock camping:
Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail (5-6 lb) and 8 Pound – Appalachian Trail Gear List and this three part intro to hammock camping: Hammock Camping Part I: Advantages & disadvantages versus ground systems

This is a Great DIY Project 

Materials

Notes

  • You need to appropriately alternate male and female clips ends. Clips need to correctly mate in both open-and-stowed position (Picture 1), & in the closed position (Picture 3 & Picture 5) .
  • Use about 3 ft. of shock cord attached to each clip. This is a starting point as tarps are different.

Instructions – Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors

The instructions on how to setup this “Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors” are in the photo captions below. The tarp pictured is a Hammock Gear Standard Cuben Fiber Tarp with doors

Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors

Photo 1: This shows the attachment points for the door cordage and hardware. On the top, each door corner’s D-ring has about 3 feet of shock cord tied to it with a clip at the other end. The two door clips fasten to each other in the middle, “Detail,” to secure the doors in the open-and-stowed position. The bottom two arrows indicate where clips are attached to lower D-rings (these are used to secure the doors in the closed position). [Photo D. Meck]

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Photo 2: Detail of Photo 1 showing the Safety Side Release Buckle clips securing the doors in the open-and-stowed position. Note that you need to make sure you have the right female-male connections to work in both open-and-stowed position (Picture 1), & in the closed position (Picture 3 & Picture 5). [Photo D. Meck]

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This shows the left door closed and attached to the mating clip on the opposite side of the tarp (yellow arrow on lower right). On the lower left arrow you can see the hanging clip for the opposite (right) door that is currently in the open-and-stowed position. In the upper right you can see the two right-hand-side doors clipped in the open-and-stowed position. [Photo D. Meck]

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Photo 4: Detail of Photo 3 showing the shock cord and clip from the left (left arrow) door secured to the clip in the lower right. [Photo D. Meck]

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Photo 5: Shows both doors closed and secured to clips on the opposite tarp side (yellow arrows). [Photo D. Meck]

 

Benefits of Early Spring Backpacking

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Introduction to Benefits of Early Spring Backpacking

Each year Alison and I look forward to our early spring backpacking trip. Usually a 3-day weekend in early spring, this trip is a key element for the success of our upcoming backpacking trips for the year. We thought others might be interested in the Benefits of Early Spring Backpacking, and possibly to incorporate some version of it into their own backpacking routine.

[Lead photo above: Alison overlooking an entirely misted-in Canaan Valley on a frosty spring morning.]

For us, early spring is the perfect time to get out for a shakedown trip in preparation for the upcoming year of backpacking. The primary Benefits of Early Spring Backpacking:

Benefits Early Spring Backpacking

See the AT Section Hike gear I was evaluating: Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail

  1. Evaluate our physical conditioning to hike long back-to-back days. We planned to cover 40-45 miles with at least one 20-25 mile day. See the training schedule we follow: Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking
  2. Evaluate new gear we intend to use on upcoming trips. In this case, Alan was evaluating gear for an upcoming 100-mile section hike of the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park. See: the Light gear he was evaluating
  3. Other benefits: Shake he winter blues, lack of crowds & cool temperatures make great hiking (& sleeping) conditions; spring wildflowers, no bugs, great views with leaves off trees.

Lack of crowds is a definite advantage to early spring trips: This lovely waterfall in Dolly Sods is by an extremely popular backcountry campsite. In high season it can be hard to find a place to pitch a tent. In early spring, this campsite area (day 2 of our trip) was nearly deserted and we got the best campsite in the place with this view!

Challenges of spring camping, at least on the east coast, include a higher probability of cold rain (we had 35 degree rain the first afternoon/evening), wet and muddy trails, and the possibility of quite cold nights (it went down to 20F our second night out). We managed all of these with the right gear and technique.

Our Early Spring Backpacking Trip Report

Living on the East Coast, many people think there are limited options for hiking. Not so! See: AMC’s Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic: A Guide To 30 Of The Best Multiday Trips From New York To Virginia. Although we don’t have the famous places like Yosemite or Yellowstone, there are plenty of options for a good weekend outing. This year, we chose one of our favorites, Dolly Sods Wilderness Area for our early spring backpacking trip. Even though we’ve been to the Sods (or “the Sogs” as this wet area is affectionally known) for over a dozen years. But there is always something new and different for us to explore. This year, not only did we discover a new trail with spectacular views (lead photo for this post), but we’ve never quite had such a magically misty morning like the one that greet us our second day out. It was a welcome antidote to sleeping in a 25-degree pine grove with the weather spitting on us most of the night.

Day 1 Friday – a 1/2 day to backpack about 10 miles

Day 1 was more late winter than early spring. This was a 1/2 day as we both worked in the morning. We arrived at Trail Head at 2:00 pm. By early evening it was 35 degrees, spitting rain, and skies were ominously dark while ridges and high meadows were shrouded in mist. The Dunkenbarger Trail, notoriously wet in normal times, was more lake/mud river than trail due to rain storm the night before. About 70% of the Dunkenbarger Trail was 6-18 inches deep in near freezing water and mud. Sections of other trails were only marginally better. We arrived in camp with soaking wet shoes and socks, and pants bottoms covered in mud up to the knee. We quickly got into all the down we could muster and hung our hammocks in a sheltered grove of pine trees.

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Downside of spring camping, at least on the east coast, is higher probability of wet and muddy trails. While moderately unpleasant on a sunny 60 degree day, hiking on a “trail” like this in 35 degree rain can be near misery (as was our hike along the Dunkebarger Trail on Day 1).

Backpacking Spring Training

Warm and snug in our hammocks sheltered in grove of pines. It was spitting rain when we went to bed and dropped to 25 degrees by the next morning. Alan was evaluating a very light hammock system for his upcoming Appalachian Trail Section Hike. [Alan on left: Dutchware Netless Hammock with Dutchware suspension/hardware, Hammock Gear (HG) top & bottom quilts, and HG Cuben Hex Tarp Alison on right: Hammeck Envy hammock, HG top & bottom quilts, and Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Hex Tarp] We both stayed warm, dry and happy in our hammocks.

Day 2 Saturday – our long mileage day

The day started cold. Temps were in the mid 20’s and there is no joy quite like putting on frozen shoes and socks onto already cold feet. It was cold enough that we had our tea and coffee while packing up but left without eating breakfast. Still wearing our down jackets we quickly hammered out some fast trail miles to warm up those frozen toes.

We hoped to hike around 25 miles on Day 2 since this trip was training for upcoming backpacking trips (based on our Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking). Getting the miles in was going to be a challenge with most trails either muddy or running small streams. But the sunny day semi-dried up the Sogs, and by noon the trails were in better condition than Day 1. We carefully chained together “drier” trails in the northern sections of the Sods, and managed to get 25 miles in before hitting camp that evening.

Benefits

Then the Spring Magic started to happen. We took an innocuous and faint tread of a trail to the top of a ridge and got a spectacular view of the Canaan Valley spread out below us filled with morning mists. It was a perfect spot to sit and watch the mists while we ate our breakfast on the frost covered hill side. Our REI Sahara Convertible Pants seem to go on just about every trip in every weather.

By the time we were done with breakfast, the mists were gone. It never ceases to amaze us how a trip can change from slogging along in near misery, to near bliss in just a few hours. Spring backpacking is like that.

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Mid-morning the grass is still covered in frost, and Alison is still hiking in her fleece and down jacket to stay warm. The mist is almost gone from the Canaan Valley.

Spring arrived around 11 am with sunshine, blue skies and temps nearing the 60s, just as the national Wx service had forecast—and the reason we had headed out this weekend.

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By mid-afternoon we came by this day-hiking couple eating apples under this tree. As far cry, from wearing a down jacket while hiking just a few hours earlier.

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Snuggled into our hammocks and warm down quilts for a great sleep on a cold night (20 degrees). No tarps needed as it was clear skies and we wanted to stargaze. Again, Alan was evaluating a very light hammock system for his upcoming Appalachian Trail Section Hike. [Alan’s hammock in front: Dutchware Netless Hammock with Dutchware suspension/hardware, Hammock Gear (HG) top & bottom quilts. Alison on right: Hammeck Envy hammock, HG top & bottom quilts. Both hammock systems performed flawlessly on two nights, both in the 20s.

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Our Day 2 campsite is one of our all-time favorites with a great view of one of the nicest waterfalls in the Sods.

Backpacking Spring Training

It froze hard overnight, registering 20F on my thermometer. In the morning our socks where frozen stiff as boards as were our shoes (since we were walking out that morning, we transformed our “sleeping” socks into trail socks and started walking. Our shoes un-froze and our feet were warm in a few minutes).

Day 3 Sunday – quick hike out – brunch – home in time for an evening play

We did a quick 6-7 miles back to the car and our early spring camping trip was done and dusted. In keeping with a Dolly Sods traditiona, we stopped for brunch at a favorite local haunt, Cristina’s Cafe – Strasburg, VA, for whole grain, sourdough french toast topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, and excellent, just-brewed coffee. Highly recommended! We were back in DC in time to unload gear out of the car, shower, take a quick nap, have dinner and easily make our evening play. That’s what we call a full and fun weekend!

-Alan & Alison

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Drying out all our damp gear from a couple of cold and wet nights. Actually, the down jackets and quilts were spread out in the back of our wagon and already drying on the way home.