Gear · Hiking · Hiking Gear

Hiking Hacks: Keeping Warm On The Cheap

I am a frugal person in life. To the point it can be eye rolling. Kirk often has had to tell me that I worth the real thing, and to just spend money on quality. But there are times when my hiking gear hacks work just the same. And I save a lot. And so can you…..

All these hacks were trail tested, often for years.

Sarah’s Frugal Hiking Gear Hacks To Stay Warm:


The Cheap Water Bottle. I am that person who would buy a Snapple or Gatorade quart bottle for $1 and use it for her water bottle all summer, rather than buy fancy over priced water bottles. Good story why….I bent over to adjust a snowshoe binding and had a brand new $15 bottle fly out of my pack’s side pocket. Watch it take off down an icy ravine…..and to the Nisqually River……never to be seen again. Worse, it had sitting on it a brand new solar powered light cap. I was so irritated – at the backpack – and for basically burning money up.

But there is more to that hack – of buying bottles this way. First, you get a tasty drink. And in winter/cold temperatures water bladders are mostly useless (unless they are insulated in the tubing). I carry water bottles upside down, so if they freeze, you will have some fresh water at the bottom. The bottles easily fit in a packs mesh pockets, and that they are often lumpy bottles, don’t go shooting out (where as Nalgene bottles are straight and smooth).

A plastic bubble mailer. It’s multipurpose. You can find them new, or you can recycle a package mailer from USPS or UPS. If it is new, seal with the sticky strip, if used, glue it shut. I used to carry 2 of them with me. One was for a tent door step – I could get out of my tent and have a dry spot to stand on, while I crammed my feet into my shoes. The other use was for as a sit pad. You don’t need a fancy sit pad. If you want one, then go treat yourself. But all you need is something that has a little padding, and insulates you from the ground, so you don’t lose body heat. Sitting on a cold, wet fallen tree to rest, you chill out fast.

And here is a super hack: Leave the mailer open if you suffer cold feet. Sleep with your feet in them. Yeah, you will be a super dork beyond belief, but you will be warm. I didn’t say my hacks were sexy. Or fashionable.

Grocery Plastic Sacks: The multipurpose piece of junk you should have in your pack. Keep stashing them as they are slowly being banned.

Unlike many, I don’t like leaving my shoes or boots in the vestibule of the tent. You all can have all the slugs you crave in your shoes at 6 am. Not me. So I carry a bag to park my shoes in, in a corner of my tiny tent. Then my tent stays clean, and my boots stay inside. Bonus? My boots are not frozen solid in the morning. You stay warmer.

Use it to put your Ursack or bear bag in, when in your backpack, so your pack doesn’t get all dirty (especially if it rained overnight).

Use bags to smash a wet tent rainfly in, to keep it off the dry inner body, when packing out. This alone if you are on a multi night trip can mean the difference between the tent inner body being soaked and not – and you being a whole lot warmer.

And, in a pinch, plastic bags can be used to keep your feet dry when having to deal with water coming into boots.

The Emergency Mylar Blanket: If you backpack in the colder seasons or at altitude you know how it sucks to be cold, especially if windy out, and you sit in a tent feeling your body heat being sucked out. Or you are warm n’ toasty in your sleeping bag…when you roll off your sleeping bag and wake up with a block of ice for your body. Let’s just say I learned a lesson one night. I had a 45* bag with and it dropped to 30*. I had every piece of clothing on and I was still cold.

Set up your tent. Open up the emergency blanket, shake it out carefully. Lay it in your tent. Set up your nest….your mat and sleeping bag on it. Toss everything else in. When you sit down, even if your feet are off the sleeping pad, you won’t feel the cold. It works. So much. I just leave the blanket in the tent body, and roll her up. When it finally falls apart, with huge tears, then toss it.

Your Backpack: There are two ways to use your backpack for keeping you warm. One is to put it on top of your sleeping pad, and your sleeping bag on it. Especially if you thought buying a ¾ length pad was a brilliant way to save weight. Or put it under your head area, and use to create a pillow nest – on top. It’ll elevate your head as well.

Your Insulating Layer: If all else fails and you can’t get warm enough, lay in your sleeping bag and drape your insulating layer (be it fleece or better, down) and then zip up. Your core will be warmer. Bonus? If you have a dry rain jacket, drape it over your sleeping pad, then lay down on it, and so on. That will add a barrier for your spine.


3 thoughts on “Hiking Hacks: Keeping Warm On The Cheap

  1. Here’s another one for you. Lots of modern packaging includes foam inserts (I have 2 from new kitchen faucets I bought). Most of these are very light (1 oz or so) and make great sit pads, padding for the back of your frameless pack, and an extension for your 3/4 length pad. Multipurpose and free.

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