What's in Your Pack? The Multi-Use Gear To Bring
The 10 essentials are well-known in the outdoor world — map, compass, sunglasses, sunscreen, clothing, headlamp, first-aid, matches, fire starter, and a knife. And everything on the list makes a wise addition to any hiking pack.
You likely have your own must-have gear — that goofy sun hat you love, binoculars for wildlife sightings, a plant identification guide, or your portable espresso maker. But when you’re trying to save space, it can really be handy to bring multi-use gear that can do double (or triple) duty. Let’s talk about the multi-use gear the KEEN team packs for adventures long and short:
Paracord: Sure, the DIY paracord bracelet craze might over-promise on the fix-all, self-rescue potential of a piece of basic paracord. Nonetheless, paracord is super-handy stuff, and a woven paracord bracelet can look kinda cool when done well. (And we know a thing or two about making things with cords...)
If a bracelet isn’t your thing, make a paracord keychain fob or a paracord zipper pull for your pack. It's great stuff for building a splint, hanging a lantern, and securing a tarp (to name just a few uses). There are lots of paracord how-to videos on YouTube. Here’s one on making a paracord keychain that’s under two minutes long and easy to follow.
Our pro tip for paracord accessories, be it a bracelet, keychain, lanyard, or zipper pull, is to use at least four feet of cord. Any shorter than that, and there’s just not enough cord to be very useful. Consider making several paracord keychains to hang from the gear loops on your pack. That way, you’ll have plenty of cord should you need to lash together an epic survival raft (probably not, but who knows…?)!
Neck gaiter: Few items pack as much multi-use utility into such a small, lightweight package. We at KEEN consider it the modern bandana. Traditional bandanas are still pretty useful too, but a neck gaiter is extra useful ‘cause it’s great in warm, cold, wet, and dry weather.
It’s a gaiter, a helmet liner, a facemask, a hat, a sun shade, a wind break, an insect shield, and a general winter-weather staple. When it’s hot outside, dip it in cold water and enjoy the cooling effect around your neck. When it’s cold and stormy outside, wear it around your neck to seal out wind and snow. On the water, tuck the back under your ball cap, and say goodbye to neck sunburn. If you find yourself under attack by pesky mosquitoes, tuck the bottom into your shirt and pull the top up around your ears for full neck and cheek coverage. You can even spray it with bug repellent (instead of coating your skin).
Multi-tool: We’re not all the next MacGyver. But a multi-tool offers loads of potential packed into a reasonably light and compact tool. It’s pretty useful no matter how handy you consider yourself. Plus, nearly all multi-tools have a knife, so you can check off one of the 10 essentials, too!
The beauty of the multi-tool over a more traditional pocket knife is all the quirky extras you can get, like scissors (handy for first aid applications), a saw (yes, a two-inch saw can actually be pretty useful for MacGyver-like tasks), pliers (so many uses, like holding a hot cook pot when the stock handle breaks), the always-handy screwdriver options (for tightening all those loose screws in your life), not to mention the all-important bottle opener (you can probably guess what that’s for). We like the Leatherman Skeletool for a version that balances weight, tool options, and overall size.
Carabiners: If you’ve done any climbing, you’re familiar with the versatility of carabiners, or ‘biners, as they are often called. If you’re not familiar, ‘biners are oval-shaped metal clips that climbers use to connect to the rope and climbing gear. For the rest of us, they make excellent clips for hanging gear from your pack. They are easy to open and come in a variety of sizes and shapes.
You can hang a water bottle, a ball cap, or a pair of gloves for quick access. Beyond accessorizing your pack, carabiners are also great for setting up a rain tarp, as they let you get fancy with tensioning. They also make for smooth raising and lowering systems when hanging food overnight in bear (or raccoon) country.
Our pro tip: if you’re not using them for climbing, there’s no need to buy expensive climbing-certified versions. Basic versions are lighter, less expensive, and just fine for non-technical uses.
No matter what you decide to pack on your next adventure, taking a multi-use approach will keep your load as light and small as possible. After all, life’s too short to carry a heavy pack all the time. KEEN takes a multi-use approach to our footwear, too. We design comfortable shoes for the outdoors that can go from one activity to the next without any transition time.
Women's Terradora and men's Venture hiker sneakers — hybrid town-to-trail versatility.
Hybrid footwear: our favorite multi-use tools