Desert Backpacking Tips: 6 Lightweight Swap-Outs That’ll Keep You Clean and Help Create Space For More Water


When back­pack­ing in remote desert wilder­ness areas, you typ­i­cal­ly car­ry up to half of a loaded pack­’s weight in water. Giv­en a choice between car­ry­ing extra water or extra gear, expe­ri­enced back­pack­ers choose water—even when it comes to small per­son­al items that at first glance look like they would add only min­i­mal weight. The fact is, every ounce counts. But there is a way to have your tooth­paste and show­er too. Here are 8 light­weight options that can replace heav­ier items so you can still stay clean and com­fort­able on the trail:

Mum­my Lin­er
Aver­ag­ing a scant 4.7 ounces, silk sleep­ing bag lin­ers add lit­tle weight but add up to 10 degrees to your bag’s warmth rat­ing, plus they improve bag longevi­ty and clean­li­ness by help­ing keep the lin­ing and insu­la­tion free of body oil and the inevitable trail dust you drag in on your un-show­ered carcass. 

Tita­ni­um Water Bot­tle
Arguably, this is a spendy splurge. But when every ounce counts, it’s worth the cost, espe­cial­ly if you’re not keen on drink­ing all of your water through a tube or still need a bot­tle for fill­ing a grav­i­ty fil­ter bag or a hydra­tion blad­der out in the field. Tita­ni­um con­struc­tion means com­plete bio-com­pat­i­bil­i­ty with any kind of liq­uid, and no wor­ry of leach­ing chem­i­cals. Clean­ing is also a snap. But the best rea­son to car­ry this over a heav­ier plas­tic bot­tle is the weight: a mere 3.9 ounces (111 grams).

Show­er in a Spray Bot­tleSpray Bottle
Mix this at home before you hit the trail, then just spray and wipe off, as need­ed. Com­bine in a jar 8 ounces of witch hazel, 1/8 of tea­spoon each of tea tree, pep­per­mint and basil essen­tial oils, 2 vit­a­min E gel caps (pierced and squeezed into the jar), and ½ tsp. of grape­fruit seed oil. Shake well, and then add half of it to a 4‑ounce plas­tic spray bot­tle (find in the trav­el-size sec­tion of your local out­door, gro­cer or depart­ment store). You can also use it to clean your hands before cook­ing or eat­ing, or as an under­arm or foot deodor­ant. It doesn’t just mask odors but actu­al­ly kills the bac­te­ria that cause them. Once you wipe away the spray, the fra­grance dis­si­pates with no sticky residue left behind.

Den­tal duties
For­get the reg­u­lar tooth­brush and tooth­paste. Bring some floss—removed from its plas­tic dis­penser, in pre­cut lengths—and place the strands in a tiny plas­tic bag. Buy a pack of ultra­light mini-brush­es. They’re pre-treat­ed with tooth­paste, but if you’re sen­si­tive to the flu­o­ride or sodi­um lau­ryl sul­fate in tooth­paste, rinse each brush thor­ough­ly and fill a small plas­tic zip bag with an ounce or two of toothpowder. 

Loo Duties
When it comes to back­yard edicts to bury your waste, for­get met­al or plas­tic cat-hole spades. Hit the thrift store and pick up a light­weight met­al soup­spoon to do the dig­ging job. Most weigh just 2 or 3 grams. Drill a hole in the spoon han­dle or tie a teth­er on it to hang out­side your pack. Use baby wipes stored in small plas­tic bags for cleanup and car­ry­out disposal.

Undies and Socks
The weight of under­wear and socks adds up. Women back­pack­ers should con­sid­er leav­ing behind the dai­ly change of undies they may be in the habit of using at home and pack­ing along sev­er­al thin pan­ti­lin­ers to save them­selves the added weight. Whether you’re male or female, con­sid­er pack­ing a cou­ple of pairs of light­weight lin­er socks to elim­i­nate the added weight of extra hik­er-weight socks. Wear a pair of lin­ers with your hik­ing socks for a day, then switch out to new lin­ers the next. Rinse the lin­ers you were wear­ing and hang them on your pack to dry for the next wear cycle. Doing this, you can get away with two pairs of wool crew hik­ers and two-to-three pairs of super light polypro lin­er socks on a 5‑day trip.