Alternative Gear

Ground Cloths and Tarps

Tyvek or the Lowe's brand of house wrap works wonders in the desert. Cactus needles can't penetrate it.

Backpackers have used it as a shelter/tarp. It can be sewn, but is hard to work with because of its bulkiness. Cut it to fit your tent, making a footprint custom ground cloth.

I tried washing it in a machine, then tested it. The agitation of the machine softened it but caused water to penetrate it more readily. Trail use and many foldings will soften tyvek as well.

Plastic sheeting of various strengths make good ground cloths, and can also be used as shelters. Be careful to give yourself plenty of fresh air if constructing a shelter, however. Use the ball and loop technique to stake and guy it out.

A large plastic contractors garbage bag is an excellent survival item. You can make an emergency rain poncho with it by simply cutting a hole for the face, and holes in the sides for arms.

Gutter nails make great stakes: light, strong, packable. Find them in hardware stores.

You can make cordage with plastic bags too. Check out my September 6 blog to see the footage of trail testing and how to make the cordage. Its free, strong, and very versatile. Make it as long as you need with loops at each end, or make a serious amount of cordage. I used Walmart bags.

Water and Purification

Simple and nearly indestructible, lightweight plastic soda bottles are my favorite choice. I like at least one with a wider neck for picking up water in difficult places, filtering it through a bandanna or mixing powders.

I use a simple chlorine (bleach) for purification. Studies show Guardia is more an issue of improper hygiene than poor water quality. Keep unsanitary hands from sharing your gorp bag, always wash and use rubbing alcohol to clean hands after digging cat holes or using toilets. Bring rubbing alcohol in a squirt bottle, apply a few drops and rub over your hands.


I have created whole cook sets and stoves using just recycled plastic bowls, plastic containers and soda cans. Wind screens are made from oven liners or aluminum foil folded over several times for added strength.

One of my favorite cook sets weighs only 3 ounces. The nesting container is made from a kool-aide powdered drink container. Cut to desired height, a soda can stove fits inside it. See photo.

Slow cooking with the slow burning soda can stove is my new project. You can watch videos at

I use plastic peanut butter jars for instant pudding shakers, cooking Ramen in the sun (solar powered cooking) and as a beverage container. When preparing for hot liquids, slowly pour the near boiling water into the jar and screw the lid back on to keep the plastic from warping. The lid makes a great spoon holder on the trail.

I use my trail shoes as cup holders while in camp. See the September 17, 2010 for a video clip and details.
The hobo backpacking stove which weighs just 3.5 ounces can be made with simple tools, uses minimal natural fuel sources of small twigs, pinecones and bark. See more on my You Tube channel:


You can find thrift store clothing for short term trail use. My rule is Pants with Pockets and Jackets with hoods, no cotton. Silk is very comfortable, but will break down after a lot of trail use. I loved a long sleeved button down for those cool evenings or windy ridge walks.

Skirts and kilts have become popular. I had a trail friend who used a wrap: a colorful piece of cloth finished on the edges (a large scarf) measuring 3 feet wide by 6 feet long. This had multiple purposed later when she'd change into long pants.

I'm not a fan of zippers on the trail because of the Murphy factor: what can break usually will. Zip off pants weigh more than nylon shorts and long underwear together, and have fewer options.

If your shoes have good tread, but the inserts are nasty, replace the inserts and keep going. Its easy to wear the tread out on the trail before you wear out the uppers.

I love the clog style shoe for base camping use. Just get the cheap ones at the dollar store. Very useful for fording streams and hanging out around camp use.


An 8 ounce homemade hobo sterno stove.

I just bought two solar powered LED lights at Walmart for 4 bucks each. Only 16 grams (5/8 ounce) they're very bright, but have no fixed on/off switch. Even still, for the amount of light I use on the trail, that is my flashlight.

Create a custom gear loft from an onion sack. Photo and directions are posted at
on October 7, 2010
I use a small razor knife, 5 grams, from office supply stores.

If you're on a budget, check out Walmart's stuff. I weigh it on the produce scale because after all, weight does matter.

for more ideas and information, visit

Make your own pole repair sleeve by cutting down an old hiking pole. For complete instructions, visit