10 Random Pack Hacks

by •

Whether you’re battling the notorious winds

of the Chic Choc Mountain range or trying to keep dry in a West Coast storm, you need to be prepared. Backcountry travel, from east to west, poses hazards that we all need to be aware of.

You’ve seen the standard lists for backpack essentials, but what about some new additions?

Here are 10 Random Pack Hacks you can add to your bag of tricks.

10. Jello

Setting the tone for the ~random~ theme of this pack list, Jello comes in hot at #10. Hypothermia (a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat) is the leading cause of death in the backcountry, and it can happen fast.

Dissolving ½ pack of Jello in some warm water can be a lifesaver for your partner in the latter stages of hypothermia, or simply give you the sugar and heat you need to stay toasty through a cold night.


9. SPF Lip Chap

Sun protection tends to be forgotten about in the winter months or when heading out on an overcast day. Chapped lips are annoying and there’s a good chance that cracked feeling is actually from sunburn. Do yourself and your loved one a favour and cover those suckers up with some sun protection. General rule of thumb is SPF 15 or higher.

8. Heli Straps

Debatably the most versatile item on this pack list, Heli straps are a must have that come in multiple lengths for different functions. If you don’t already have a solid collection of these, be sure to stock up and maybe buy a few extra for friends. They can be used in first aid emergencies (tightening a splint, building a litter to carry someone out), to tie skis together (for travel or when you need to hike with your skis), and they can fix a variety of gear issues (like broken binding or boot buckle).

Bonus tip: Write your initials on them with a sharpie, because these are notorious for mysteriously disappearing.

7. Pot Scrubber

This pot scrubber, made by MSR (Mountain Safety Research), is another versatile and inexpensive hack for your pack. Use it to scrape snow or ice off your skis or board, brush snow out of bindings and clean your pot or pan after a warm dinner.


6. Glow Sticks

Assuming your headlamp and extra batteries are already part of your packing list (if they aren’t, add them to the essential pile), cyalume sticks are a nice addition as a backup. These can be kept in your first aid kit, and cracked open as a last resort for light. They can illuminate the trail if you’re lost, or help to mark your location during a rescue.

5. Thermos

A little hot liquid on a winter tour goes a long way. A good, sealable thermos can keep water almost boiling temperature for hours, and can save the day when the cold threatens to send you home early. Tea, miso soup, and coffee are just a couple alpine fan favourites.

4. A Communication Device

Cell service is about as common as the Sasquatch in the backcountry, so don’t count on it. Invest in yourself with one of the many communication devices on the market. With options for all types of users, you won’t regret the comfort it gives you.

Shown in the photo is the Garmin InReach, but there are many options that fit anyone’s lifestyle and budget. If you’re looking to weigh out your options, check out this review:




Maybe my favourite part of ski touring is the fact that everything tastes better outside, at higher altitudes. Calories not only keep you way warmer, but they can be a serious morale booster for yourself and your group. Keeping some high caloric snacks (about twice as many as you think you’ll need for your time out) can be a trip saver. And keeping them ready-to-eat in a sealable bag is the way to go, that way you aren’t digging around the depths of your backpack or scrambling for what to bring for lunch at 6am.

I use an old climbing harness pouch, but have found drawstring bags (like the felt one from a Crown Royale purchase, or one that holds your puffy jacket) just as useful.

2. Butt Pad

Not a customary item to see around the backcountry, so I’d deem them the most underrated on the list. I use the accordion-style Thermarest Z-Seat, but a square piece of an old camping pad or yoga mat works just as well. On top of being super light, they take up virtually no space- just attach it to the outside of your pack, or slide it down the frame to give yourself some extra back padding. Pull it out at lunch to create a warm layer between you and the ground, or pair it with a Heli strap for first aid emergencies.

1. Compass

(and local map, plus the knowledge to use them.)

Often overshadowed by its younger cousins, the smartphone or GPS, the 2000 year-old compass is a highly underrated pack essential. Although they are less intuitive, they function regardless of weather, service or battery power. So take a few minutes and watch a YouTube video on how to use one, and when technology fails, your group will thank you for taking the time to pay homage to the oldest form of navigation.


*Honourable Mention: Zip Ties

Zip ties are an excellent, lightweight and cheap addition to your jacket and pack pockets. They can be used as a first aid kit addition, or to fix a binding or boot. Unlike the premium Heli straps, they are a lot easier on the pocket book to give away if you see a friend or fellow skier on the trail in need.


Photos and text by Heidi Nixon, Orage ambassador