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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


  • 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


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



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



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


  • 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.


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


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

Image from

Material: Copolyester (Heat-resistant plastic)

BPA Free: Yes

Width: 1.5 in

Length: 6.6 in

Weight: .2 oz


  • 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.


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



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


  • 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.


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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Therm-A-Rest ProLite Plus Stuff Sack Review

Brand: Therm-A-Rest

Model: ProLite Plus Stuff Sack

Specs: (Size: Large)

Color: Pomegranite

Weight: 23g (9oz)

Width: 16cm (6.25 in)

Height: 34cm (13.5 In)

Material: sil-nylon


My experience:

I purchased the ProLite Plus stuff sack to store my Therm-A-Rest ProLite Plus in while on the trail. I purchased the large size to store my large sized Prolite Plus in (it should fit right?). Well, with a lot of effort it does, usually, but I can’t get the stuff sack to close all the way around my rolled Prolite plus unless I do it in a very specific, time consuming way. This is not acceptable on the trail as my mornings do not consist of leisure time for rolling and rerolling the sleeping pad just so it will fit (still at great effort). After practicing for extensive periods of time, I still cannot pack my Therm-A-Rest all that well. I searched for ‘the trick’ that I must have been missing – researching online only showed others having similar frustrations with this product. Nobody seems to have figured out the secret with packing into this stuff sack (if there even is one).

I tried using this stuff sack on a trip this summer and it threw me way behind in my morning routine. I was a paid leader on the trip and quickly found myself falling behind in my morning routine because I spent so much time trying to get this blasted thing around my ProLite Plus. I ended up scrapping the ProLite Plus stuff sack and packing my Therm-A-Rest in a larger stuff sack I had brought with me for clothing. The clothes that couldn’t be absorbed into other stuff sacks then had to be left to freely float in my bag. Not cool. I would recommend buying at least one size larger than your Therm-A-Rest should need (A.K.A. buy a large size stuff sack for a regular Term-A-Rest). This should solve the problem.

What I liked

  • Very light
  • Packs up very small when not in use
  • Hand slot on bottom for pulling out Therm-A-Rest from within
  • Water-resistant with a flap that goes inside the top to help seal it
  • Good size for a pillow at night if stuffed with clothes (I like this comment!)

What I didn’t like

  • The fit is way too tight – almost making the stuff sack unusable

Bottom Line

I would not recommend purchasing this product unless you purchase a larger size than your Therm-A-Rest should require. It is an impossible fit unless rolled just right and even then it takes time and effort to make it fit.

P.S. if anyone does buy this a size larger than rated please comment on how it fits, I would really like to know.

Leave a comment

Posted by on 29 October 2011 in Gear Reviews


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Sea Line Kodiak Window 25L Gear Review

Sea Line Kodiak Window 25L Gear Review

Sea Line Kodiak Window 25L


Volume: 27 Liters (about 1650 Cu In)

Length: 66cm (26 in)

Diameter: 23 cm (9 In)

Weight: 8oz (230g)

PVC-Free: Yes

Closure: Roll Down

Materials: 200D clear polyurethane coated nylon body, 400D HD TPU coated nylon bottom, clear urethane window

Made: Seattle, WA, U.S.A.


  • 1-way valve to release air during compression
  • D-ring for fastening/trying-in
  • Clear front window


  • (2011) Sea Kayaker Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Award for Best Dry Bag for 6 consecutive years
  • (2008) Sea Kayaker Magazine’s Triennial Readers’ Choice Award for Best Dry Bag

My experience:

I have used this bag on multiple trips and in multiple facets. I have used it on canoe trips where the bag was repeatedly splashed, dropped in the dirt, and even sat in water for hours. I have also used this as a bear-bag on shorter backpacking trips by tying a rope to the D-ring and filling the bag with our food before hanging it. In my experience, there has never been even a hint of water inside the bag when I open it. Everything is always as dry as when I first put it in the bag.

The bag feels durable when I grab it. The walls are a thick material that feels like it would require serious abrasion for its integrity to come into question. The seams are holding up well and the D-ring was able to support the heavy bag when we hung food in it.

The only problem I have had with this bag is from fire. A fellow camper threw pine needles on the fire while my bag was sitting nearby. Glowing ash flew over to my bag and melted through the yellow siding. This was easily remedied with gel patching from a local store and returned the bag to full integrity. That was several trips ago and the bag is still working amazingly well for me, I just take care now to make sure it is further from the fire.

This bag is very easy to use because of the front window, two black strips at the top for rolling, and one-way valve for releasing air as the bag is rolled. I pack this on all my trips and wish I had a couple smaller ones to compliment this 25L bag.

What I liked:

  • Front window made it easy to find things within the bag and know what it contains without opening it
  • D-ring is strong enough to hang full bag from (Used as bear-bag)
  • Two-fold black strips at top make it easy to get a tight, waterproof roll
  • Air vent near bottom makes compressing the bag very easy
  • Thick walls feel very strong and resistant to abrasion

What I didn’t like:

  • Would prefer the D-ring to be metal

Bottom Line:

I was very pleased with this product; It rolls up fairly small when not in use, is easy to use,  and is water-tight. I would certainly recommend this product.


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Kershaw Leek 1660 Gear Review

Kershaw Leek 1660 Gear Review

Kershaw Leek 1660






Steel: Sandvik 14C28N stainless steel

Handle: 410 stainless-steel

Blade Length: 3 in. (7.5 cm)

Closed Length: 4 in. (10.3 cm)

Overall Length: 7 in. (17.9 cm)

Weight: 3.0 oz.


  • Reversible/removable belt clip
  • Safety tip-lock
  • Ambidextrous assisted opening system
  • Many different styles of blades and options of handle materials/properties

My experience:

I did a lot of researching and shopping around before finally deciding to purchase this knife. I have owned and carried my Kershaw Leek 1660 for three years now. In that time I have used it on an almost daily basis with little-to-no signs of wear. The blade is capable of being very sharp and holds an edge for a long time.

This knife comes in many variations of handle colors and blade styles (including serration and a tanto styled tip). My Leek is the silver handle without any serration, but I have been so impressed I bought one for my brother and we in turn purchased one for our father. My brother’s is silver with serration; my father’s is the special edition Orange County Choppers Leek. All three of us have been very impressed with the product and often recommend it to others.

The only issues I have had with this knife is that the safety is made of plastic which makes it susceptible to breaking. In the time I have owned my Leek I have dropped it on the concrete floor of my workshop twice from chest height. The impact in both cases was enough to break the plastic safety. In the first case, Kershaw replaced my entire knife; in the second case, they repaired it. The turn around time from sending in the knife was a couple weeks – not too bad for such a great warranty. I must add that I have also dropped the knife many other times onto my feet, in the dirt, in the grass, etc. Only when dropped 3+ feet onto concrete did the safety ever break. This is the only semi-fragile part of the knife.


            The Leek is designed to be completely operable with one hand and minimal effort. There is a safety on the lower backside of the handle (can be disengaged with the pinky finger) and an index finger tab that opens the blade to about 30%. Once the blade is open this far, the assisted opening feature takes over and whips the blade around into the lock position. After playing with the knife for under a minute, I had already fallen in love with it. Its no wonder to me why this knife tops so many assisted opening knife lists for its length.

What I liked

  • Very easy to use
  • Holds and edge well
  • Backed by a lifetime warranty from Kershaw
  • Sturdy belt clip
  • Can generally be found between $30 and $40 online and automatically comes with the manufacturers lifetime warranty
  • 410 stainless steel is resistant to rusting

What I didn’t

  • The safety is made of plastic and is susceptible to breaking

Bottom line

This is my favorite knife (of many), it serves many purposes and is built tough. I recommend this product to anyone looking for a pocket/utility/sport knife of this size. It works great, holds up well, and stays sharp long.


For a shorter/smaller version of this knife: look at the Kershaw Chive


Posted by on 9 October 2011 in Gear Reviews, Kershaw Leek 1660


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