Readers, what are my alternatives to a backpack?


I was reading other blogs yesterday when I stumbled across an article on “Packing your backpack” over at Wirecutter’s place.  It brought back memories.  I used to enjoy hiking, scrambling over the Cederberg and Drakensberg in South Africa, and tackling short stretches of the Appalachian Trail in the USA.  I’ve humped a backpack over many miles.

Sadly, following my disabling injury in 2004, those days are over.  When your back is held together by titanium straps, and you’ve got nerve damage in one leg, that makes hauling a heavy backpack a non-starter, to put it mildly!  I haven’t done any hiking since then.  However, that doesn’t mean I might not have to do at least some, in an emergency:  and I’d like to have some way of dealing with a bug-out bag if I ever have to use one.  I can carry a duffel bag or sports bag in my hand, but I might need both hands free to deal with other problems.  I’ve adapted a lightweight chest harness (similar to this one) to carry a few essentials, but it can’t hold much;  and besides, weight on my torso is a problem no matter where it’s carried.  My back lets me know all about that in short order!

I know there are specialized hiking trailers (such as this one or this one) out there, but I’ve never seen one “in the wild”, so to speak.

They’re also rather expensive.  Most seem to put a lot of weight on the spine and/or hips, and also have only one wheel, which would seemingly make it difficult to keep them stable and upright over rougher terrain.  Have any of you used them?  If so, how did you find them?  Do they put less strain on your back than a heavy rucksack?

I’ve heard that some people have adapted lightweight bicycle cargo trailers or game carts to carry camping or hunting gear.  This is probably fine on roads, or across flat terrain without much in the way of obstructions, but wouldn’t work across rough country.  Also, one would have to limit the weight in the trailer or cart, because on upward slopes the trailer would pull or push one back, while on downward slopes it would pull or push one forward.  Hiking poles might help stabilize one’s movement, but not if both hands are on the trailer – and if it’s heavy, it’ll need both hands.  There’s also the obvious problem of carrying a trailer like that in one’s vehicle.  Unless it was collapsible, it’d take up so much space that it would get in the way, more often than not.

Finally, for urban use, I know a couple of people have adapted golf carts to carry a backpack instead of a bag of golf clubs.  They’re small, lightweight devices that won’t take up much room when stored in a vehicle, which is a useful advantage.  However, I’m not so sure about how they’d do over rougher terrain.  Cross-country hiking can be a lot tougher than a golfing green!

Can any readers offer helpful suggestions?  (And no, I don’t mean tactical wheelbarrows!)  If so, I’d love to hear them, and I’m sure other readers would also benefit.  Please let us know in Comments.

Thanks in advance.



  1. I’m not sure there’s a satisfactory solution for you that will work in all circumstances. When you have limitations (as I do, not the same as yours and self-inflicted but equally limiting) your best bet may be to work around them in advance of need rather than be hamstrung by them under fire. In your example, a bugout that requires overland rough-country hiking sounds more like Rincewind running; he’s not running anywhere, the important part is “away”. It sounds to me like you chose your new home with care, what circumstances would make you leave it? Would it make more sense to bug in, rather than out? If you do leave, where do you go? Vanishing into the hills is the stuff of stories, but you won’t live long or well on what you can carry. You’ll be hiking back out pretty soon. Communities fare better than isolated individuals, so pick one or make one. Choose your destination in advance, and a factor in that choice should be smoothish access. If it’s your property, grade a path. If what you are fleeing is intelligent, have camouflage on-site to hide the access. Let the brain take the load off the back.

  2. Gotta say I agree with RustyGunner. Why go if staying offers the same, if not better, options? Collapsible golf bag carts aren't a bad thought. I've played many a round in the rough; didn't have a whole lot of issues with stability. You could replace the flimsy solid wheels with balloon or filled wheelbarrow wheels or there are solid, lightweight hand truck wheels with a wider footprint. It might work for hiking and such. If you're bugging and have to drive to get to your trail to hike in to your outpost, why bother? You'd be leaving your rig at the trailhead as a huge sign you're there. Get with your like minded neighbors and set up a community haven within walking distance. Mutual aid and support wins out over solitary efforts any day.

  3. Take a look at disc golf bags – not expensive, made for rugged terrain, can hold quite a bit of weight.


  4. When I was young (yes, long ago) Tote Goats were popular for moving around in the wilderness of southern Arizona. They would go almost anywhere a burro could. Fuel could be a problem over long distances; a burro can browse but needed water.

  5. When I lived in Alaska, I usually backpacked with 2 large Samoyed dogs. A large dog can carry up to 30% of its body weight, so one dog would carry 10 days of food, and the other started with 25 pounds of my stuff. As the dogs are their food, I would shift stuff to their packs. Currently I'm shot with arthritis, so no more packing

  6. Peter a couple of thoughts. If you can ride a bicycle then a bicycle with a trailer is my suggestion. I've ridden single tracks all over the White Mountains with my bicycle and a Beast of Burden (BOB) single wheeled trailer camping as well as hunting. Anywhere you can fit your handlebars through the BOB will follow. Slime in the wheels, a spare tube, patch kit, some light tools and an air pump your ready for almost anything.

    I can walk around 1-2 miles per hour, I can ride slowly single tracking towing 50Kg in my BOB at 8-10 MPH pretty easily. Makes planning a Bug Out of many miles a lot more successful as you can look at your PAPER Maps, compass and figure out a get around that road block you see over there.

    In Normal times I've unloaded my bike to slide under-over fences, walked then through really rough terrain-streams and in general ANYWHERE I could go the bike can too. In SHTF scenario maybe a small bolt cutter-wire cutter might be useful but some farmer is going to be MAD at you.

    For less than 100 mile runs a folding Citizen bicycle with the solid tire upgrade means NO Flats and a BOB would still work.

    Second know where your going, otherwise your just a refugee. NEVER be a Refugee. That said PRE-Storing things you want there aka Cache or friends garage is worth while.

    Expect in lawless situations to be robbed legally (as in tolls and such) or illegally. Having the ability to give up stuff to move onward to a pre-placed cache might be the edge of survival. Dying over your stuff DOES Resolve many troubles as Paul said "to live is Christ, to die is gain" but so many PLAN on outfighting a thug ambush-robbery…

    1. How rough is the territory and how far are you going? A folding mountain bike with panniers is extremely portable. If storing it small is not a requirement look into a bikepacking setup.

  7. I'd be wary of putting critical items on a wheeled gadget that isn't 'on you'.

    I'd suggest a large "fanny pack" or belt pouches to keep critical items on you. There are some fanny packs for hunters that have up over a cubic foot of space, with a padded belt that are designed to carry a good bit of weight.

    I think it is worth considering expanding your personal loadout with smaller packs or pouches on yourself first, then adding a wheeled device like mentioned above.

  8. The Viet Cong moved tons of weapons and supplies south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail with pushed bicycles carrying hundreds of pounds. The trail was rugged and muddy. A modern mountain bike outfitted with panniers and maybe a trailer might be very useful for such a bugout scenario.
    I agree with the previous posters that bugging in and having a plan with your friends and neighbors is far superior. I am also plagued with age related arthritis and back problems and plan to bug in. I also have a Toyota 4Runner outfitted for overlanding if I need it.

  9. Peter, I'm sorry to hear about your back problems. Brainstorming…it seems answers are terrain-sensitive.

    Service dog, but an animal is a lifestyle choice, not a tool or hobby

    Trail bike, if you like them and have the skill. Perhaps street-legal. Can't be used where prohibited, though in SHTF emergencies, who's to bother you? Fuel concerns would need a strategy.

    ATV – personally, I think these are more dangerous than a trail bike. I've never known anyone to die on a dirt bike. Not so w/ATV – broken neck, due to an endo. See fuel, above.

    Horse or mule – but see service dog.

    No humor intended. Any of these might work, depending on particulars.

  10. First it sounds like you really need to determine what terrain you can navigate without a load. Identify what types of terrain you realistically might encounter in your current lifestyle. Mission dictates great after all is said and done.

  11. If there is grass in your area for grazing, I recommend horse or donkey. Donkeys are small, can carry you and 50 lbs or so of your gear, and will chase off coyotes or other aggressors. I m a 60 year old female with shot knees, and I still ride draft stallions that weigh about a ton each. They can carry lots besides me, and you can also pony a horse or donkey behind with more gear if you need to (pony is to lead with a rope). Outfitters supply is a great place to get the gear you need to do this. If you haven't ridden before, make sure to get something small and well broke. You can also get a small cart they can pull; a two seater with room for lots of gear if riding isn't for you. Get a retired standardbred track horse and you are looking at a horse that can take you, your wife, and all your gear in a two seat wagon 20 miles with no problem at about 12 miles per hour. Something to think about. Good luck.

  12. Why leave home? I live in the sticks in a brick home. I have plenty of food, water, and canned goods with more rounds of ammo than I could ever carry? Bug out? To where? I wonder about this because my brother owns in excess of forty rifles and a truckload of handguns. What is he going to do with the extras if he hits the bricks?

  13. You need a young, strong woman with really big tits to offset the weight of the pack to carry it for you. Find one ASAP and start training her. —ken

  14. It may sound strange but have you looked at … off-road baby strollers? I only mention it since I’ve (way too regularly recently – Oh my poor ageing ego) been overtaken whilst cross-country skiing by ladies towing converted Thule Chariots (on skis of course). There are proven accessories for waist towing, and the added benefit of allowing pushing simultaneously/instead. They have an impressive weight/volume load. There’s bound to be used that could be … re-purposed.

    The other thing (as others have alluded to) is that way too many people (I used to be as guilty) equate survival with camping. A BOB is to allow you to ‘survive’ until you get to your BOL (even if it’s only pre-staged items), not to have a nice, comfortable time doing so, and definitely not to have a comfortable few days/weeks in isolation. A BOB is only what you ‘need’, not one item more.

    My first BOB was based on my bergan (110L) and weighed nearly what I do, and still didn’t have everything I ‘wanted’. Now? I’m down to (trousers and smock) pockets, a small belt-mounted Helikon essentials pouch (titanium pot, cup and bottle, Firebox Nano Ti stove, two collapse-able bottles, water-filter, two BCB survival bags, purification tablets, boo-boo kit, small saw, knife, map, compass, pace-beads, signalling mirror, lighter, ferro-rod, tinder, signal panel, head-torch and hand-held, coffee, sugar – and I forget it’s there it’s still so light. Oh I carry extra luxury (larger versions) in either a Helikon bushcraft satchel, Maxpedition Monsoon or First Tactical 3-day pack (still under 10 lbs), but I can survive without them. Food is energy bars, biltong (sticks, sliced and dry wors) and trail-mix – nothing special but enough for 72hrs. (belt-kit is CC – where allowed, larger knife -ditto)

    If you absolutely ‘have’ to have more then some of the ultra-lightweight hiking kit is (expensive I know) but almost negligible in weight. A small kit in a large waist pack maybe? (like a Maxpedition Proteus? DD hammocks and Snugpak offer cheaper versions)


    One or two items to ‘just’ fulfil the requirements of providing for each category, no more is needed.

    P.s. I truly ‘hate’ the whole dedicated kits in a special pouches in the special back-pack thing. Survival kit should be ‘on’ you in case – you know – you lose the back-pack, when you suddenly find yourself in a survival situation and really need all that survival kit … Duh!

  15. I would try a lumbar pack with the shoulder straps and take a look at the lightweight backpacking sites for reviews on the lightest gear. I would recommend hiking poles also, they made a believer of me and you could use them for a rest for rifle shooting.

  16. Personally, I'm looking at a modified garden cart – the old school type with bicycle wheels. We had one on the farm when I was little that you could pull or push, and the legs on the front could be folded in half so they wouldn't catch on anything going through the pastures. I don't have anywhere near as large as problem as you do Peter, but I was told I have wonderful joints for a fifty year old a couple years ago. Of course, being thirty at the time this did not please me very much.

  17. Thank you all for your comments. I'm afraid dogs, goats (mechanized or otherwise), llamas, donkeys, etc. are just not on the cards; but I've learned a lot from your suggestions. I'll ponder on the subject, and maybe put up a post in future describing the solution I adopt.

    Thanks again.

  18. Peter if you think about a bicycle don't get an electric one unless your bug out is with in it's range powered. They are VERY Heavy to ride once the battery goes out. However if 45 miles and a rest time in the sunshine you CAN set up a proper voltage solar electric panels to recharge. I have a friend that did just that with his BOB trailer equipped e-bike.

  19. Game carts are more maneuverable than you might think, Peter. For that matter, a mountain bike can go anywhere you can, short of actual climbing. What I would suggest is a two person two wheeled game cart. These have (or can be easily modified to have) grab bars front and rear, and are made for two people to handle them at once (although one person is all that is usually needed). Sure, you need 30" of space to maneuver, but you'll want that anyways. A two wheeled game cart can hold 500 pounds or more, so it can hold one of you and all your stuff.
    You aren't alone, Peter, make plans that include your better half.

  20. I am with Able- look at off-road baby strollers. You can push them pretty much everywhere, they could be modified to fit your load, and they also provide a bit of stability instead of a walking stick.

  21. Peter,

    I've been obsessing about this problem since I was on a scouting trip with my Troop and a rather husky scout with a (not properly communicated) bone fragility condition broke his leg five miles into mountainous terrain with no access roads, no cell coverage, and really no option other than to turn a two hour hike-out into a seven hour haul-out.

    The Dixon roller pack seems to be what I've been envisioning, but I see a problem with it: the attachment to the person is non-rigid. Your concern is valid: it's ability to stay upright is entirely dependent on how well that belt is attached to the waist of the person.

    I've been thinking that a superior solution would be one where one wore a pack frame with a full technical harness, which would have a small amount of storage for personal gear like first aid, food/water, raingear and small tools, and the pack-trailer would attach rigidly to the bottom of the frame with some kind of quick release clamps. That way, the stability of the mono-wheel trailer could be addressed by the leverage of your entire spinal column, and leave your hands free, possibly to use trekking poles.

    All the heavy stuff for a camping trip would be on the cart, such as shelter, sleep system, camp stove, camp chair, camp table, water filtration, more food, large tools like axes, rope/cordage, etc.

    Ideally, at the bottom of the pack-trailer by the mono-wheel, there's be some kind of handle so if the thing has to be portered over an obstacle, two people could manipulate it like a litter.

    In my ideal design, the cargo surface could also accommodate a casualty in a sitting/reclining posture once all the cargo is offloaded, with their butt near the wheel and their legs over/around it to keep the center of gravity closer to the wheel axle.

  22. Hello Peter , have a great deal experience with bike and ski trailers. need to better understand your needs and definition of "across rough country". The device depicted connected to the person is terrible. the wheel does not carry enough weight and when you fall, you will be jabbed by the connectors. Bob trailers are very good on single track behind a bike but cannot carry as much as two wheelers. Frequently, the one wheel devices cost more than the two as a the twos are mass produced. Repurposed child trailers are better for more gear and can carry a person if needed. your readers have already mentioned the all terrain baby carriages, those are excellent. If you are using a bike or trailer with air filled wheels, know how and have the tools to repair flats. Have not used solid wheels on a bike, would be very heavy. I like the idea of repurposing a golf cart though have never used one. I advise you practice with what ever system you might use. Loading, securing to the carrier and actual movement take time to perfect. One particular aspect to fear is dragging on the wheels or the ground. It will wear though anything that drags quickly and you can lose water, food, gear etc. All the professional urban campers I see use captured supermarket carts. No good off road especially if the trail is at all damp though otherwise stable, capacious, durable, cheap. If you need something for your car in the event you have to leave your car, I suggest folding hand truck ( ) or comparable. It folds into itself and can easily stow in a trunk. For any cart, hand truck etc, get solid wheels. Inflatable wheels will eventually go flat and are useless flat. Finally, the best option is a pickup truck or ATV with some kind of bed or storage ability. An intriguing variation on the pickup would be a Japanese Kei truck. Texas probably has some or you can import one yourself very reasonably (used).

  23. A "battle-belt" for small kit and ammo, but your best answer may be a burro or pack-goats…lifting gear onto a mule would be a backbreaker.

  24. Also having back and other problems, my vote is for a bicycle. While you can ride a bicycle, you can walk alongside a very heavily laden bicycle, pushing it with little effort. Be mindful that it will cause a bit of torque or asymmetrical pressure on your back. My current “ go to bikes” are electra brand “townies” the frames are well crafted aluminum and configured to allow a comfortable fully upright riding position. While they are much more expensive than walmart bikes they are much better constructed and worth the price difference.
    I’m a big, heavy, banged up old man who has owned and ridden scores of bikes over my lifetime and unreservedly would suggest a multi geared townie. Definitely get a multi geared bike if you plan on riding it rather than just using it as a pack mule. My Michigan townie has 21 gears and my Florida townie has 7 gears.

  25. My Bernese Mountain Dog is cart trained from a puppy. He didn't actually start pulling until a year, as his joints need to catch up. He can pull his custom-made cart with about 100 pounds of gear all day if needed, with no guidance – just follow Dad. They are bred for drayage work, and actually enjoy the challenge. I keep my pack dedicated to water and snacks for the two of us. In competition, he can pull a 225 pound cart through a mile or more course with no direction. In Sweden they are used (sometimes in teams) to pull milk wagons. Coolest dogs in the world.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *