In the game of 20 Questions, asking "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" is a surefire way to narrow the scope of the mystery object. In the realm of outdoor pursuits, small items can deliver big rewards when they fill an immediate need. Of course, regardless of size no item is good if it's left at home. The dilemma for outdoor junkies is what to bring and what to leave at home. In many cases the decision is largely influenced by the size of the object itself. So, to take the guesswork out of packing, here are some outstanding accessories that are smaller than a breadbox, but big on utility in the outdoors.
You're tempting fate if you head outdoors and you don't bring a pocketknife or a multi-tool.
Beyond the Basics:
You're tempting fate if you head outdoors and you don't bring a pocketknife or a multi-tool. Both these items come in various sizes right down to models only a few inches in length. You can even get a knife kit the size of a credit card that fits in your wallet. Folding pliers, scissors, tweezers, and can openers - all these things are really handy when outdoors. I seldom stray into the bush without carrying a blade - no matter how small.
Following on the heels of pocket knives and multi tools, flashlights are also worthy of packing for most outings. I have a small light I bring whenever I'm sleeping somewhere new. It's great to use on late night bathroom breaks so I don't fumble around in the dark, stubbing my toe or knocking something over.
LED lights have reduced the overall size of flashlights in the last several years. LED lights last longer than regular bulbs and draw a very small amount of battery power. Even the super-small keychain LED lights can come in handy.
I also find the tiny headlamps excellent add-ons. They'll easily fit in a pack and help you find your way back to a boat launch or campsite during dusk. Headlamps are the type of gear that once you own one, you wonder how you managed without it. Gift buyers take note!
Tying it Down:
I find myself regularly securing things in place when outdoors, whether it's a canoe to a car top or a baseball cap to a backpack. I find carrying some rope and stretch cords always seem to be useful outdoors.
Another multifunctional product is a carabiner, and you don't have to be mountain climbing to use them. I clip all sorts of things to my backpack with them (including water bottles and hats) and have used them as makeshift rope guides on canoes and around camp. They're small, lightweight and extremely handy.
Garmin's Rhino unit even features a 2-Way Radio so you can communicate with family and friends as well as know their location.
While on the subject of small electronics, a hand-held GPS unit packs a phenomenal punch for its size when it comes to information outdoors. Plot a route, store your campsite as a waypoint or know your traveling speed. Garmin's Rhino unit even features a 2-Way Radio so you can communicate with family and friends as well as know their location. Don't forget to bring a lot of batteries for these units and remember that battery life is reduced in cold temperatures. If planning serious backcountry navigation, bring a traditional compass and a map as backup, and be confident navigating with these tools.
I can remember being in Boy Scouts and hanging out in outdoor shops looking at all the gear. Outdoor containers were key back then, but in the past two decades there have been major advancements in their design and materials.
Old film cases are excellent for packing matches, fishing weights and hooks, or other small odds and ends. Of course, you could also buy specialty small-sized container for any of the above. I also like the soft and hard plastic, waterproof containers for carrying electronics and cameras when around water. Compression sacks are a great way to squish bulky items (like sleeping bags) down to a small, compact size. Stuff sacks and duffel bags are also basic but extremely useful for outings.
Water Bottles and Packs:
Carrying adequate water is critical when outdoors to ensure you stay hydrated. Both hard plastic bottles and soft plastic packs have their utility outdoors. Today's high-end products are leak-proof, often don't absorb odors or dyes, and are extremely durable. My Nalgene water bottles have joined me on my travels for over 10 years and they're still in great shape. An awesome investment for less than 10 dollars!
Small Stoves and Lanterns:
One burner stoves and lanterns are extremely lightweight and compact. Available in propane or gas fueled models, consider sticking to one fuel to simplify your packing. Lanterns also come in battery powered models. Complement the stove with a small cook set and utensils and you're ready to go. Don't forget that you don't need to be camping to use these items. I've gotten hooked on bringing my stove ice fishing. It only takes a few minutes to fire up some hearty soup or chili to keep me toasty.
Of course, carrying a Thermos with hot coffee or tea is another great way to pack some heat in a relatively small container. In hot weather, it's easy to keep cool if you carry small ice packs. Slip them in a small cooler to have refreshing drinks at your fingertips.
Seasonings, Sauces and Condiments:
I'll confess, it took multiple outings where I forgot things like pepper, salt, and ketchup before their importance outdoors was etched in my mind. Of course, you don't need a whole spice rack, but carrying a few spices and a sauce or two can aid in making outdoor cooking savory. Coghlan's Backpacker's Salt and Pepper Shakers are great to have to carry some simple spices.
This list could go on for pages, but some basic and small items can really make a difference in your comfort when outdoors. Here are just a few. A wool hat can be worth its weight in gold on cold, windy days. In hot weather, a bandana is a simple but versatile accessory. Wear it to shade your head from heat; turn it into a wash cloth; or, use it as a temporary tie down to keep things secure in your canoe. Quality socks are also critical if you're taking long hikes. Padded to protect your feet from hotspots with moisture-wicking fabric to prevent blisters, good socks are a must.
Sun protection is more important than ever when outdoors. Both sunglasses and a bottle of sunscreen take up little room in a backpack and offer protection from the sun's rays. If you invest in a quality pair of sunglasses also drop a few dollars on a decent protective case.
Just as important is a rimmed hat and lightweight clothing that will cover your limbs. Some clothing lines even boast UV protection, worthy of consideration if you'll be out in extreme conditions.
When outdoors you have to sacrifice a few luxuries now and then, but you don't have to go to extremes. Small packs, or toiletry kits, are a simple way to have all the products you need for multi-day trips. Look for environmentally-friendly, biodegradable soaps when washing outdoors and follow their directions. Another good addition to your cleaning kit is a micro-fiber towel. These cloths have amazing absorption ability but take up little space in a pack. They also dry extremely fast.
The above are just a few items that aren't bigger than a breadbox, but are great to carry outdoors. Consider them the next time you're gearing up for your next trip. Small in size, they deliver big rewards in terms of comfort, safety and utility. Oh, and one more small but critical item to pack - bug spray. Forget this, and you might find yourself wishing you could forget the whole trip.