Hackpacking: Hacks for travellers

| January 26, 2010 | 17 Comments
hackbulb Hackpacking: Hacks for travellers

We share some of our favourite hacks for backpackers and vagabonds...

‘Hack’ has become a ubiquitous word these last forty years and is today used to refer (among other things) to a ‘solution’ to a problem or task. That being said, the word is packed tighter than a backpacker’s compression sack on a Mumbai commuter train. It has been employed variously to describe a disdained writer, a horse kept for hire and a prostitute.

For all the meanings that the word has today, its roots boil down to two different origins—one of them means “to chop” and the other means “horse”.  It was first recorded in American English in 1955, employed in the figurative sense of “getting through by some effort,” as in to ‘cut’ or ‘hack’ through a dense jungle. The term was popularized by American mathematician and ‘beautiful mind’ John Nash as a putdown; he used it to refer to a clever or quick (but clumsy) fix to a problem. Forty years on and solutions that may be inelegant (but ultimately robust and relatively quick and cheap) are called ‘hacks’.

Occasionally, Kathryn and I come across some great travel ‘hacks’. When we’ve saved up enough interesting hacks to be deserving of a post, we’ll share them with you! So, with no further ado here are a few inexpensive solutions that might be deserving of a place in (or on) your backpack:

  • Silica packages. Jeff Duford from Gap Adventures suggests saving silica gel packs (you know, those packs usually bearing warnings for the user not to eat the contents). He writes: “These take up no space and can prove to be life savers, or at least camera savers. Moisture got inside your camera? Put your camera in a zip-lock bag with a few silica packages overnight and voila, your camera works again!” Check out Jeff’s hack here.
  • Backpack cable lock. Francoise Methot describes a quick and easy method for fashioning a homemade steel cable to secure your backpack while you travel (similar to more expensive solutions from companies such as Pacsafe http://www.pacsafe.com)!  She writes: “Most of us have a padlock or two, so the only cost is the cable and the aluminum sleeves which shouldn’t cost more than $3–4”. Check out Francoise’s hack here.
  • Camping stove. In 2003 Mark Jurey posted the original instructions for a portable stove that he had been developing for many years—one that is dependable, safe, lightweight, fast, efficient but is still simple to make and use. Fashioned from three 12 oz. Heineken cans and a penny, it is good enough to compete with gas stoves and keep propane canisters out of landfills. According to Mark, “It will bake scones, or simmer a pot of real rice for 20 minutes and make tea for two with just a little denatured alcohol”. Check out Mark’s hack here.

“Hack” is a word with a rich array of connotations and need not be limited to narrow definitions. Have your own creative backpacking hacks to share—tips which may help someone to overcome a problem or limitation quickly and cheaply? Leave ‘em here. Or sound off in the comments below!

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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.

Comments (17)

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  1. I love the DIY theme. Here’s one I found the other day:

    If you’re always losing or dropping your camera lens cap when shooting, make a trusty little attachment to connect it to your strap. All you need is a shampoo bottle and a razor blade.


  2. Tango Lucy says:

    Very cute & informative. Who would have thought of using a beer bottle to make a stove?

  3. Kevin says:

    I would love to try the camping stove.

  4. Anil says:

    The silica packages are an awesome idea, never tried it before.

  5. Dave and Deb says:

    The lock is a great idea, but I like the pacsafe still. If someone breaks into your hotel room, they can easily empty out your contents, but if your valuables are locked up in a pacsafe, they will have a pretty hard time. The pacsafe is heavy though and for trains a lock works just fine. I had heard of the silica packages before and forgot all about them.. We are in some pretty humid climates right now. bummer we didn’t think of packing some.

  6. Mike says:

    Esbit is a good thing to bring along. Or at least a few. We’ve used them to get fires started when everything was really wet. It also comes with a really small compact stove and is pretty reasonable. Good to have when you find yourself somewhere without a lot of timber or wood for a fire. Here is what is looks like:
    MPI Outdoors Esbit Stove with 6 Fuel Tablets

  7. Claire says:

    These are awesome ideas! I’ve always wanted to pack light. I always carry with me zip-lock bags and never thought of putting silica packages. I gotta try that one. Thanks!

  8. Emily says:

    That stove idea is awesome! Who knew beer cans could be that useful :) Sounds like it would definitely save time and money to use that.

  9. Ooh! The silica gel packs idea is brilliant. I wish I hadn’t already eaten all of mine :/

  10. Peter says:

    The silica package idea is actually brilliant. I’ve managed to destroy a cellphone and almost lost my laptop to water damage, and now you’ve got me wondering if I could have salvaged it by trying out the Silica thing.

    I’m a little more dubious about the camping stove. Would love to see more pictures of it in action.

  11. The Silica packs are very clever and something I have thought about before, but is a great idea for any type of traveler, backpacker or not. However, the stove was my favorite. Who knew you could make a stove so conveniently!

  12. Vincent says:

    Nice article. I have been collecting Silica packs for the past couple of months and plan on putting them in my camera bag in the hopes of reducing moisture. That and some zip-lock bags will hopefully do the trick.

  13. Freddy S says:

    Stupid question – where can one BUY silica gel packs? I have traveled for nearly 40 years and never heard of taking them. But what a great idea. Now, since I am not planning to buy another few cameras or shoes (shoes I buy here in China don’t have silica gel packs), I need to locate just the packs

    • Daniel says:

      Hey Freddy — I’ve never bought them. But I have asked staff from a shoe store to throw a few extras my way on occasion. It merits a funny look or two, but I’ve collected a bunch that way!

  14. Samui Boy says:

    Great article, but gee I think of hack as breaking into! hacking and the like. The name is not my ideal for successful market branding.

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