What is the most useful piece of gear you can buy for $5? Over the years I have posted about lots of things I carry which cost less than $5 – and some which cost nothing at all! You will notice many such items in my gear list on this post: A Gorilla in the Hand but here are my first twenty which just came to mind in no particular order:
- Reflective Guy Line and reflective clam cleat cord locks, I posted about these here: The Perfect Guy Line I saw both these items over at Amazon (.com.au actually) when I was looking for something else – I had just put in a search for ‘Tent’ and then selected “Cheapest First’ (as you do) and these soon came up (eg 10 cleats for $1.38!) – and so too many other interesting items which also answer the question, the Loop Alien (under another name, for example). I realise even this early in this post that I could have posed the dollar limit of the question at $2 (or even $1, or ‘For Free’!) and still had quite a long answer.
- A 100 ml plastic ‘spice’ bottle as the foundation for the fishing kit as featured in The Ultralight Fisherman. Mine cost me $1.39 (the sticker said) but I could have used an empty Nurofen bottle ‘For Free’ (I have gone through enough of them with this bad back – it is slowly getting better, Thank You) – though it would have been a little heavier. A number of fishing essentials to fill out the fishing kit would also come in at well under $5: a couple of bubble float, a small collection of flies, swivels, leaders…
- Self Threading Needles: I bought a set of 4-5 for around $3 from Spotlight. I have only ever used one as I have never managed to lose it but it strikes me as almost certainly false economy not to carry two – how much can they weigh? I have done some pretty fancy repair work with it. Della would be quite proud of my seamstress work. The needle now lives in the fishing kit as I would use the line for the repairs.
- Minibic Lighters. I always carry 2-3 of these. They are cheap, light and reliable. Sometime (as I have often argued eg How to Light a Fire in the Wet) they will save your life – either by preventing you freezing to death or being killed by a wildfire (you start a back burn to create bare ground to survive on before the fire arrives). You could include in this category some commercial firelighters or a section of bicycle inner tube which works really well and does not deteriorate over time. It can also be used as a ‘springer’ on a set line overnight so you have fresh fish for breakfast. Is there anything better in life? I will leave the answer to that question up to you…Still talking of fishing these Speedhooks are also great.
- Ultralight Tripod: A piece of string and a plastic thumbscrew are all you need to make an excellent 4 gram tripod. A very few pennies well spent. I found the crews on eBay – where else?
- Photon Torch: I still like these little 7 gram guys guys even though there are now better ultralight torches such as these which will make an 11 gram rechargeable head torch – though they cost more than $10!
- Minnow Gripper. These are a good choice for a spare ultralight tarp clip, though there are others to choose from (which can even be used to make a kayak). These are the lightest though.
- A whole variety of stoves can be had for $5. For example there is my own Egg-Ring Stove. There is Jim Wood’s classic Super Cat Stove. The Soda Can Stove. Ray Garlington’s YACC Stove. The Fancy Feast Stove.
- Wrist Band Compass: I always have one of these on my watch band. They cost around $2, as do these excellent watch bands which ensure you never lose your self-winding watch which you should always use as they don’t go flat and let you down..
- Ultralight bottles and jars. You can use the micro-dripper bottles for liquids (the kind that eye-drops come in). The little screw top aluminium jars (in various sizes eg from eBay) are excellent for creams – and no doubt many other uses I have not dreamed of.
- Cutlery & Crockery. Most of my stuff in this category either comes from $2 stores (though often costing $1!) or they are containers left over from some type of food – like the bowls which come with Sirena tuna and beans for example. I used also to use Chinese takeaway soup spoons (as I have not found anything so light and serviceable. Carrying two is a good idea in case one breaks. This would still be good advice even if they had cost you $100 each, as it is very annoying finding you have lost your only spoon about 8 hours walk behind you! This is the voice of experience speaking!
- Mini Carabiners. Lots of these are available even for less than $1 each though the better ones (which will hold 150 lb!) such as those often sold by businesses such as Zpacks (US$6.95 Jan 2019 for 4) or Mountain Laurel Designs (from US$3) with their company logos printed on them are much better – and weigh less than 3 grams. They have many uses: I use one to attach my tent to my pack so that I don’t find myself at the end of the day without it!
- Ultralight Ultra Sharp Knives from 3 grams. These plastic scalpels are great too – and will butcher a mature sambar deer. I have.
- Ultralight Pillow. I really like these approx 17 grams (small) & 27 gram (large) Graham Medical Flexair Pillows. They are excellent for hiking and backpacking. The two sizes measure 14.5″x10.5″ & 19″x12.5″ They cost pennies: US $35.16 for the small & $43.41 for the large per box of 50! 70 cents each. Seriously!
- Tyvek. Usually costs me about A$6/metre so many useful things (such as a dog coat for example) can be made for <$5, but a bit over 3 metres or $20 worth will make a variety of excellent DIY tents which have the added advantage that they are reasonably fire resistant so that sparks anyway will not melt a hole in them. I have even trialed a square metre (around $2 worth) as a fire umbrella to keep my fire from going out in the rain. We allowed the fire to get a little big and the Tyvek a little close but the concept worked fine and weighed zilch – a couple of ounces anyway – far better than having your warming fire go out in the rain anyway!
- Whoopie Slings. As you can make these yourself from <$5 of Dyneema cord I am including them here. You can also use them for an adjustable centre line on your hammock or even for guy lines. Just a great idea.
- A Variety of hut booties can be made from material which costs less than $5 (though you may have to spend more than $5 to buy the larger quantity. For example these Toughened Foam Flip Flops or these No Sew Sandals made from a car inner tube and some blue foam or shoe inserts.
- Windscreens. You can buy a variety of very nice titanium windscreens for around $10 (I particularly like this one) but obviously you can make your own from a strip of aluminium flashing which will certainly cost under $5 unless you have to buy the whole roll. You can also make a trail baker with it.
- The Ultralight Bush Chair. This chair is a genius idea and I again thank Jenny for her contribution. If you visit sale items you will get enough fabric to make it for under $5 but you would probably be better to use a high-end fabric such as Ripstop by the Rolls Robic or Mountain Series perhaps their 1.7 oz at US$7.95 per yard (Jan 2019) as you are going to want this item to last for years.
- Dragon’s Breath Shot-Shell (each). Probably not available in Australia, and not really about hiking or even hunting – but I just love them!
Other Ultralight Hiker Budget Ideas: