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Packing Tip: Cheap Stuff Sack Alternatives

Many of us want to try things before we buy them and see what others are using before investing our hard-earned money in a product. Others of us know what we want, but do not have the money to buy everything at once. When I began backpacking, I found myself in both of these categories. I was looking to save money anywhere I could and slowly grow my collection of gear over time.

As I near the end of this process, I thought I ought to take a moment to share some knowledge and experience regarding stuff-sack alternatives. There are two similar alternatives that I have become fond of, each with its own set of advantages.

Zip-Lock Bags offer the distinct advantage of being waterproof, if sealed well. This is not likely to often be a necessity, but in the situations of a leaky dry-bag going overboard or a downpour without a pack-cover while backpacking, a 100% waterproof container for your clothes and other essentials can be a life-saver (literally).  Zip-Lock bags can be purchased in various sizes, making it easy to tailor to your specific needs for a trip. I find 2-gallon slide-lock bags to be the best for clothes. It is very easy to sit on them while closing to purge air and make the clothes pack extremely small. These bags can be found in packs of 10-12 at many one-stop-shopping style centers for $5-10 which is cheaper than a single stuff-sack or dry-bag of good quality, and these bags can often be used for multiple trips before needing to be replaced.

Why I like them

  • 100% waterproof, if sealed correctly
  • Cheap
  • User able to see the contents without opening the bag
  • Easy to purge air for efficient packing
  • Multiple sizes available
  • Very lightweight
  • Pack in a rather flat, sheet-like shape rather than the impossible to pack “ball” like commercial stuff-sacks tend to

Drawbacks

  • Not breathable
  • Zippers may burst if bag is over-stuffed

 

Mattress Sheet Packaging is another great alternative to stuff sacks. They make a plastic ‘packing brick’ that easily fits into larger packs and can be used as a pillow. These typically zip-shut and are very easy to use. Because of the zipper, the bags are not entirely waterproof, but just like a typical stuff sack, everywhere but the opening is waterproof. This “mostly waterproof” attribute is sufficient in nearly every situation I have encountered, since the stuff-sack should only be a secondary protection and is primarily used for organization. I really like these for backpacking because of their box-like shape and ability to be stacked. They are also typically a throw-away part of packaging, so it is very nice to be able to repurpose these before throwing them in the recycle bin. If someone else went through the hassle of making it, I might as well get as much from it as possible.

Why I like them

  • Mostly waterproof
  • Free – assuming you, or someone you know, buys a mattress cover
  • See the contents without opening
  • Very lightweight
  • Makes boxes/cubes of things rather than the impossible to pack “ball” like commercial stuff-sacks tend to

Drawbacks

  • Not very breathable
  • Zippers may burst if bag is over-stuffed
  • Not entirely waterproof

 

Conclusion

Nearly anything can be used as a stuff-sack. I have seen harness packages, empty water bottles, and pant-legs sewn together at the wide end, all used for packing. The key is to find things that will be lightweight and serve the purpose you need (Waterproof? Breathable? See-through?). If you keep your eyes open, things that can be used should start jumping out at you. If you have any tips/tricks of your own or other alternatives gear for any outdoor sports, please comment them below! I would love to learn the tricks you have and I am sure other readers could benefit from them as well.

 

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GSI collapsable Fairshare Mug Gear Review

GSI collapsable Fairshare Mug

.

Specs:

Color: Green or Blue

Material: Silicone/Polypropylene

Width: Collapsed: 7.1 x 5.4 x 1.7

Open: 10.8 x 5.5 x 4.5 inches

Weight: 7 oz

Features:

  • Collapsable mug
  • Folding handle
  • Tight-sealing lid
  • Ring to allow clipping to pack when not in use
  • Internally marked gradients (Metric and U.S.)
  • 2-position locking handle

My experience:

I was in need of a mug (to drink and eat out of) for a backcountry trip months ago and picked this up at the local store. It looked decent, and has lived up to that expectation in every way. I don’t by any means love it, but I don’t hate it either. The mug holds a perfect serving-size for a hungry me and the lid locks tight my mug to prevent spilling while I rock-hop to a better seat or throw the dirty mug in my pack to be cleaned later.

The Fairshare Mug does not receive all positive marks, however. I cracked the handle after only a month of backcountry use. The handle is my least favorite part of this contraption—It is bulky and completely ruins the packing size. I wish it had arced handles that would just fold around the top frame like some of MSR’s pots have. That would be great! I also wish it was easier to clean. The Fairshare Mug loves to hold bits of food in the ridges and keep itself covered in greasy films from food. The only way I have found to successfully clean the mug in such scenarios is to first scrub it with dirt, then clean it. This method is actually quite efficient for all backcountry cookware.

Performance:

The silicone of the Fairshare Mug is thick and (barring the handle) is quite durable, I anticipate a long life (no signs of wear after 60+ days of backcountry use). The handle, however, is weak and must be treated more carefully. You will be grateful to have the handle when the mug is scorching hot because the silicone does not insulate. The lid seals the mug very well on the Fairshare Mug and allows liquids to be shaken and the mug to flip without spilling. I was happy with most aspects of the mug, but would prefer something else for my backpacking excursions.

What I liked

  • Not terribly heavy for its size and functions
  • The lid turns on tight and stays put
  • 2-position handle
  • Has gradients marked inside the mug for measuring (Metric and U.S.)
  • Dishwasher safe (nice for post-trip cleaning)

What I didn’t 

  • Mug does not insulate at all (hot things will burn your hands if you hold it from anywhere other than the handle)
  • I cracked my plastic handle way too easily
  • Doesn’t compact as small as I would like and the handle pokes out quite a distance making it difficult to fit in my backpack
  • The ribs that fold can be a challenge to properly clean

 

Bottom line

The GSI Fairshare Mug is a good all-around mug/bowl for car-camping and some backpackers, but may be too heavy/bulky for some. I am satisfied but not thrilled with my purchase.

 

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Light My Fire Spork Gear Review

Light My Fire Spork

Specs

Color: Many options (green, yellow, pink, orange, blue, grey, etc)

Image from SmallPlanetSports.co

Material: Copolyester (Heat-resistant plastic)

BPA Free: Yes

Width: 1.5 in

Length: 6.6 in

Weight: .2 oz

Features

  • One end Spoon, other end four-tine fork + knife
  • Easy to clean

My experience

After seeing many of my colleagues eating around the campfire with these Light My Fire Sporks, I had to try one. That was a year ago. I have used the spork on multiple trips but am not thrilled with it. Teeth have broken and the Spork feels clumsy in my hand when I eat. I will probably replace this with fast-food utensils until I can buy something else.

Performance

The Light My Fire Spork lacks durability. While the spork has not snapped, the teeth have broken off from the knife part—rendering it useless. The handle feels clumsy because I must always grip wither a fork/knife end or a spoon bowl. I only get to use one utensil per meal and that is rarely optimal.

What I liked

  • Light
  • Compact utensil set
  • Great color options
  • Since it is only one piece, nobody asks me to “Borrow the part I don’t use” because they forgot their utensils.

What I didn’t

  • Knife teeth keep breaking off (I think I have 3 teeth left)
  • How do you use the knife part without a separate utensil to hold the food that needs to cutting?
  • Must choose whether to use the spoon or the fork for an entire meal or else it has to be washed to keep hands from getting extremely messy

 

Bottom line

The Light My Fire Spork works just fine, but I would not recommend it. It is not very durable, and is inconvenient for eating.

 

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Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus Gear Review

Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus

Specs:

 

Prolite Plus Large in use

Top Material: Polyester

Bottom Material: Nylon

Fill Material: Urethane Foam

Foam Type: Diagonal Punched

R-value: 3.8

Thickness: 1.5 inches

Color: Pomegranate

 

Size: Small, Regular, Large

Width: 20 in, 20 in, 25 in

Length: 47 in, 66 in, 77 in

Packed Dimensions: 4 in X 11 in, 4.8 in X 11 in, 5.1 X 13 inches

Volume: 1410 cu in, 2052 cu in, 2656.5 cu In

Weight: 1lb 1oz, 1lb 8oz , 2lb 1oz

Features:

  • Bottom grips to better keep from sliding on the sleeping surface
  • Top is textured to help the sleeper remain on the mat
  • Interior foam to decrease air circulation and increase warmth factor

My experience:

After many uncomfortable nights on Ridge-Rest foam pads (The most comfortable foam pad I have tried to-date), I decided that sleep was a luxury I wanted on my excursions in the backcountry and camping in general. I bought a large Prolite Plus shortly before a canoe trip in Canada and was pleasantly surprised at the small volume on the pad when deflated and rolled. Upon inflating the pad, my experience became even more pleasant, I was astounded by that fact that with a little extra air pushed into the pad, I could sleep on top of roots without feeling they were there. I knew I had a good purchase. After spending multiple nights on slopes and precarious placements, I am confident that this sleeping pad lives up to its price-tag and would be a good investment for anyone who spends time in the outdoors. I Have used the Therm A Rest Prolite Plus on many trips now (Including Backpacking in Michigan, North Carolina, and Costa Rica) and tend to bring it with me whenever I stay over at someone’s house. I know that no matter where I go, this pad will guarantee me comfort no matter where I lay it.

Performance:

The Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus is a 4-season pad with a sufficient r-value for typical outdoor activities. The Prolite Plus feels very durable and has shown no signs of wear (I have slept on sharp rocks and on hard roots without any issues) in the time that I have owned it. The pad deflates easily, but there is a trick to it (fold it and sit on it, close the valve, unfold, roll). Deflating the pad and rolling it can be done in about 1 minute. The valve is strong and easy to use. This pad is well-constructed.

What I liked:

  • Well-built. Shows no signs of wear after months of use (and abuse!)
  • Very insulating (R-value 3.8)
  • The pad doesn’t slide on the ground and I don’t slide off the pad
  • [mostly] self inflating
  • Large size fits me (6 foot, 180lb) with plenty of room to spare
  • Adjust air pressure to fit to preference and terrain

What I didn’t:

  • The stuff sack is sold separately, and the rated size does not fit well (see my review) 

Bottom line:

This is a backpackers dream bed and a guaranteed good night sleep whether used on the trail of in a friends basement. The Therm A Rest Prolite Plus is one of my favorite pieces of gear. It is worth the price.

 

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