Fish on a bicycle – Useless gear concepts


Found on  Pinterest.

There are many items for the outdoors. A person can go to their local REI and purchase an espresso maker (The Italians go “How cute”at your backpacking espresso maker.  And then proceed to tell you about the ISS espresso maker one of their astronauts brought up.),  a toaster for your stove,  and even camp showers.

This article is not about those items or similar. We all have luxury items that may make no sense to one set of people but are perfectly fine for others. Heck, I would not mind a camp shower for a post-trail luxury item. 

This article is about items that seem popular for some unfathomable reason. Something that makes as much sense as a fish on a bicycle.

I present my very biased list for for three-season backpacking. And it is something out of my own experience. Others may have different takes.  However, after twenty years of backpacking, I doubt I’ll change my mind at this point… 🙂

Chest pockets on outdoor jackets – Hell any jackets. I am not talking about wide and deep Napoleon pockets.  A map can be put in those pockets, a phone, Chapstick and so on. It is usually placed below the chest and above the stomach.  Logical placement, utilitarian idea and useful.

REI Rhyolite. These pockets look useful. A pack strap should not get too much in the way.
REI Rhyolite. These pockets look useful. A pack strap should not get too much in the way.

No. I am talking about those tiny little pockets that seem popular on all kinds of jackets allegedly for the outdoors. They are awkwardly placed so a sternum strap covers the pockets and are generally hard to reach, they aren’t very big and don’t seem to hold much at all. Why are these chest pockets, and where they are placed, so popular? I can *almost* see them for around town. But I am presumably wearing clothing with pockets. And if I put a set of keys, my wallet, a pocket knife, etc. in this pocket,  and the pocket bulges out and feels awkward. I have owned different down jackets, fleeces, softshells  and rain gear over the years. Many with chest pockets. And I have yet to use these tiny, useless and impractical pockets.

OR Foray. It is raining buckets. You have to get at your Swiss Army Knife. But you can’t get at it easily..BECAUSE THE PACK STRAP IS COVERING THE POCKET.

Lots of buckles, straps and zippers on packs – I love simple gear. Gear that works, does the job and you do not  have to think about too much. It is, as Dave C. says: “Shit that works“. But when a lightweight gear manufacturer “matures” as a company, they seem to forget the lightweight backpacking is not just about going light. Going light is also about simplicity.  Lightweight backpacking is more than numbers on an Excel spreadsheet. It is about simplifying time spent in the outdoors. Less time is spent futzing with the gear and more time is spent using the gear to enjoy the outdoors.

From GIS. Just because you *can* use multiple buckles , straps and zippers..doesn’t mean you *have* to use multiple buckles, straps and zippers.

So why do more and more alleged lightweight packs have multiple buckle, cinch points and so on? My daypack of choice has a simple cinch, flap and buckle closure. Awesome.  As a counter example, I went back to the ULA CDTand took a five ounce weight penalty over another pack I was using for a while. The ULA CDT pack is more versatile and also has a simple and quick design.  If I am futzing with a pack, the five once weight savings ain’t worth it to me.



Tall gaiters – Tall gaiters were very popular once upon a time. Worn with shorts and leather hiking boots, no backpacker worth their salt would venture into the vast wilderness without them. Throw in a 6000 cubic inch pack and the uniform was complete!

At the Tenn/Virginia line
Many moons ago on the Appalachian Trail.

For three season backpacking, these tall gaiters make little sense. Sure, I can see maybe using them for bushwhacking. And winter use no doubt. But a low pair of gaiters will work better for most people in many situations.

But people still rock these long gaiters more than you would think.

I can already see the comments. People will say how they trekked through the Central American jungle with a machete in hand and their long gaiters saved the day. They were able to run through the jungle, avoid a large boulder, escape people who wanted to kill them and then hop on their waiting float plane and fly away to safety.

File:Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.jpg
Or they are remembering the opening scenes from “Raiders of The Lost Ark” instead. (from Wikipedia Commons).

But the majority of people are hiking on a well maintained and typically well-marked trail.

Why long gaiters? Why?

Pack Covers – Another item popular in the past that should just (mainly) go away. Pack covers trap water, are one more piece of gear to worry about and lose. Additionally if a pack cover is not secured correctly, it can get snagged by a tree or blown away. Pack covers perhaps make more sense when using packs that are made of heavier material. These types of packs will soak up a lot of water and become heavier.  But when even mainstream manufacturers are using lighter and less water absorbent pack material that dries quickly, a pack cover makes little sense. Yet many pack covers are still sold and used on trails.  A trash compactor bag lining the pack is much lighter, less expensive, not going to get snagged and is arguably more effective.

from Trip Advisor

Pack covers do make sense if the pack is made of heavier material. And a blaze orange pack cover for hunting season is found useful by many people, too.   Otherwise? An analogy about a fish and a bicycle comes to mind..

Backpacking wallet – I’ve discussed backpacking wallets before. Still think they are pointless. Another cannonball…as Mr. Jardine would say…

I’m a Gen Xer in my early 40s. And like me, this group has some Rhode Island roots. Plus the song is still damn good…


So here is a completely biased list of useless gear items based on my experience. What’s on your list?



28 Replies to “Fish on a bicycle – Useless gear concepts”

  1. The pockets I hate in coats/parkas are the inside ones that zip closed on the side. And they are generally too small to be useful. Give me a top opening BIG inside pocket.

  2. Durn near every hip, shoulder and water bottle pocket on an Osprey pack.

    Cook pots with odd rims an ridges that simultaneously burn food and then are impossible to clean.

    Compression sacks fer any synthetic bags.

    Compression sacks for SUL down bags that weigh more than the bag itself.

    Knee high socks worn with trail runners under knee high gaiters. Bonus points when you justify them because you “are bushwhacking” when stepping off trail to pee. Triple word score when you realize the gaiters still won’t prevent poison ivy when you squat to poop in it.

    Trekking poles.

    Buying a specific shelter that works only because you bought said trekking poles.

    Complaining said shelter “failed” because the locking mechanism on the formerly mentioned poles it relied on broke.

    Adding spare tent poles to your pack, in case your trekking pole breaks and your “pole less” shelter won’t work. (But there is an awning mode so with two more stakes and extra guyline it totally is justified to carry them)

    Dry bags inside your trash compactor bag in case it fails, in case your rain cover fails.

    Anything that claims to be waterproof breathable.

  3. I was going to flame you for making fun of the many useful features of my venerable Gregory Baltoro pack, but then I saw that you embedded the Cannonball video and all was well. Instead I’ll just say that this Bill character who was commenting above is going to be eating his words about trekking poles once his knees go. 😉 Though he is dead on about Osprey’s hip pockets.

  4. Having never bought that type of jacket before, I always just assumed the tiny pockets were to pack the jacket up into a tiny little self-contained package. Right? Maybe?

  5. those tiny silly pockets are for your cell phone, of course 😉
    silly pocket for a silly item..

    confess to having a toaster for my stove, for car-camping – it’s good for quick toasted-bagel breakfasts.

    armpit zippers on supposedly ‘waterproof’ jackets.. guess what, zippers leak. In any case I’ve never had a problem with overheated armpits, in forty years of hiking/backpacking/mountaineering..

    1. Hey..all is fair in car camping. I’m excited, and quite pleased, with the new stove the Mrs and I bought from Sports Authority. Has the piezoelectric starter that I find useless on camp stoves..but is rocking for car camping. 🙂

    2. It’s amusing how much people’s needs vary. I overheat very easily and the armpit vent zips on raincoats are one lf the most important features to me of the jacket to me. I won’t buy a shell jacket unless it has them.

  6. Razor for shaving, deodorant, camp shoes, and tent footprints quickly come to mind. Actually shaving is useless and I gave that up years ago and am happy to report that a beard will not increase a backpacker’s base weight. Beards may not be appropriate for women though.

    I used to think that combs were useless — but now I have decided that haircuts & beard trimming are dumber ideas and even more useless; and after my last trip I am thinking that a comb might actually be a good piece of gear.

    I wonder if anyone makes a titanium comb.

    I find trekking poles to be useless too, even after 50+ years of backpacking. However, a staff goes well with my long white hair and white beard, plus a pyramid only needs one pole.

    I find a cell phone useless too, because I think one should hike where there is no cell phone coverage 🙂

    The most useless item of all is a Trail Guide. Despise them. I find great value in figuring out things on my own.

    Anyway, another good post, Paul.

    1. I have decided to grow my beard back. A lot more gray in it than when I last had a beard back in 2008. A comb is definitely useless for me…I have little hair on my head! 🙂

  7. I was nodding in total agreement with you until you mentioned pack covers.
    It’s somewhat ironic that I started carrying and using a pack cover AFTER I made the switch to lightweight backpacking. Using a shorty sleeping pad, I use my pack to rest my legs and feet on. Pulling into camp late on a rainy day, and tossing my legs onto a wet pack isn’t pleasant at all. Sure, lightweight synthetic pack materials don’t absorb water the way wool or cotton does, but it still gets wet. I’ll keep carrying my 1.1 oz cuben fiber pack cover, but maybe ditch my thigh high gaiters. 🙂

    1. I do the same and have found in even moist climates like the AT, the heat from my back and the non-absorbent nature of my GG Crown backpanel kept the soaking to a minimum.

  8. There’s a lot of hate on cell phones, but they make a great light-weight alternative to a dedicated camera if you’re not too picky about image quality. You just have to put it in airplane mode so as not to run down the battery (and not use it as an actual phone).

  9. Paul, you and Bill make me feel stupid sometimes.

    I use trekking poles. My knees thank me.

    I have said trekking-pole-supported tent. I’ve never had it collapse because of a trekking pole failure. I can just hear Bill saying, “not yet, you havent!”

    I have tall gaiters. I use them for winter, bushwhacks, and trips on trails that are so unpopular that they might as well be bushwhacks. Sometimes I put them on and discover that the conditions are friendlier than I thought. If I’ve brought them, wearing them is the easiest way to carry them.

    I have the orange pack cover. I also have a pack cover for my day pack, of all things. It helps with the day pack because the day pack has a zipper closure, and as was observed above, zippers leak. (The day pack had other features that I did like, but I do wish it had a rolltop closure instead of zippers.)

    I had a pack with a lot of excess attachment points, that was always getting fouled in brush. Now I have one with fewer. I’ve used just about all of them, I think, but some of them I use only in winter. An ice axe loop isn’t very useful unless you’re carrying an ice axe.

    I use a backpacking wallet. It’s called a Ziploc baggie. Sometimes I put it in that little chest pocket that doesn’t seem to be good for anything else.

    And I bring a coffee maker. And for that matter, a cell phone, even though coverage is scarce to nonexistent where I go. It’s my GPS. And a lot of times, mapping the trails is one of the reasons why I’m on a given trail. It’s a tool.

    I guess I’ll never be one of the cool kids.

    1. AK: I suspect you and I (and Nick. WE have corresponded a lot.) have similar gear, nay outdoor, philosophies. But I don’t think you read The Fine Articles I linked. 😀 I said three-season backpacking on trails for a reason. Winter backpacking ( you know how much I ski!), hunting season (look at my photo!) and bushwhacking are a different balls of wax. And I use a Ziplock bag as my “wallet”. Read The Fine Article I linked to… 🙂

      I’ll never be a cool kid either. You are in good company…

      ps. Though I think chest pockets are still useless…

  10. AK,

    There is no right way to hike. Each person should assemble the gear that works for them. Experienced hikers, like Paul, can provide insights on what works for them, but we don’t need to blindly follow their preferences. There is a saying, “If you learn from your mistakes, I must be a genius.” Therein lays the value of evaluating what others have learned. The growing number of quality blogs, like this one, provide hikers with so much more quality information that was not available even 10 years ago. The greatest value Paul provides, IMO, is the emphasis on the journey itself, not the tools.

  11. Sometimes I think I learn more from reading the comments section then from the article itself. No offense intended PMags

  12. Carrying a Rambo knife when going SUL. I might have to fight off a bear or crazed marmot. Cut down a small tree to replace my trekking pole that was broken by a bear before I was able to deploy my Rambo knife or the crazed marmot, dragged it off, because it needed salt. I wish the marmot would have given it my ultralight weight salt shaker. I needed to disembowel the bear so I could crawl inside because, I could not setup my tent and, a freak bilzard came on suddenly. I need to cut a short path off trail to dig a cat hole using my multipurpose Rambo knife. Make a spear, with the Rambo knife, to fight off the next bear or crazed marmot. Finally to take on a heavyweight backpacker, who made fun of me when I asked for extra food, because I am a SUL pack packer and did not bring enough to eat. The list is endless

    1. Not a lot of marmots in our old neck of the woods I’m afraid. The Portuguese sweet bread is delightful, however. Slice a hunk of that with the Rambo knife? 🙂

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