Thursday, December 27, 2012

Backcountry Subs

Even with lists, it is still possible to forget things. You run out the door, forgetting that your Leatherman is in your firefighting pack, not your day pack. At the last minute, your friend insists that everyone can fit in her car, and you leave your trekking poles in yours by mistake. When you pursue several different activities, you can't have four or five of everything and something is always in a different location.

Never fear, there are usually always substitutions that you can improvise. By trial and error, I have learned that a forgotten item need not sink a backcountry trip.

So, you forgot your...

Hat? And it's a wind-blasted day, with snow whipping around your ears? No worries! Try this. Most of us carry extra layers. Wind one around your head like so.

Not pretty, but it works!

Camp stove? No need to munch forlornly on freeze-dried noodles. If you are in a place where it is safe and legal to build a campfire, do the following: 1. Look for beer drinkers. Barring that, look in fire rings. 2. Gather a discarded beer can. 3. Rinse it out. 4. Pour in fresh water. Voila, a boiling pot of water! Note: This may sound too unhygenic for you. Not recommended if so. If desperate, proceed.

Tent poles? You can always sleep outside of your tent. However, if you are in the bottom of Hells Canyon and your co-worker has just informed you of scorpions and skunks in the area, you may wish to try this. If your tent has considerable mesh, collect some camp items such as water jugs or other things you can stack. Lay out the tent as if you were going to set it up. Slither in like a snake. Prop the items along the sides to make an impromptu bivy and keep the mesh off your face. Note: In another tent pole dilemma, if a tent pole breaks in a windstorm, use the tape from your first aid kit to splint it.

Rain fly? If no rain, no problem. However isn't it always the case? Find a dense patch of trees. If you have the right kind of tent, try this. Set it up, then flip it over so that the water resistant bottom is on top. Take extra p-cord or the tent cords and secure to the tree limbs so it is kind of a hanging shelter. Crawl carefully in. Does not work for heavier campers.

Boots? This could be a deal breaker unless, like me, you carry camp/water crossing shoes you can hike in. I always do because if I get terrible blisters, I know that I can at least finish my hike. I have backpacked 12 miles in sandals and it can work with good  quality ones.

Spoon? Take out your Leatherman and carve one out of a stick.

Hairbrush? Yes, some of us like to look pretty. And avoid dreadlocks. A spork or a fork works great for brushing hair!

Sleeping bag? This really happened, on a kayak trip in Alaska. The rain poured down. The float plane flew away. We unpacked hastily. There was that sinking feeling. Well, this can be miserable. It can be a deal breaker. Unless you have warm clothes to bundle in. On the JMT one of my hiking companions' bag got soaked. Some of us gave her our down puffys to sleep in. (I didn't. My bag was damp too. Sorry Suz.) She survived, but wasn't too happy. Word of advice: Don't roll up in a tarp. Condensation.

Sleeping Pad: Layer all your warm clothes underneath your bag. Don't sleep on a rock outcrop. Look for pine needles or grass. Heat up a water bottle if you can. It is amazing how much a layer between you and the ground is needed.

Pants? (Don't ask) Stuck in a Florida swamp with poison ivy and just shorts? Have a sweatshirt or long sleeve? Stick your feet in the arms and pull it up and tie it around your waist! Yes, you will look deranged. But you will be scratch and ivy free!

It is up to you to weigh the consequences of a lost item versus the chance of you becoming a liability. Some people feel more comfortable than others winging it. When in doubt, head back to the trailhead.

Any other bizarre subs out there? How have you managed to cope without a missing item?


  1. If your forget mittens or gloves, a spare pair of socks will work. Love your substitutions, I use a bunch of these already :)

    1. I forgot the socks and mittens trick. Perfect.

  2. One of my exes came on a camping trip in AK without a sleeping bag. Why? "Because I didn't think I'd need one." No, he wasn't super tough, he just thought if he passive aggressively "forgot" to bring any camping stuff we would be forced to hike out so he wouldn't have to camp. You can imagine how well that worked out for him.

    1. That's hilarious. I can see why he is an ex.

  3. Love this. It would make a great longer essay or column for an outdoor mag.

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  6. There's a few sports where forgetting an item is a deal breaker. Mountain biking? I remember a few times when people forgot WHEELS or a helmet. Or, left them at the trailhead and got into the car and drove home. Backcountry skiing? Oops - forgot the skins. Day wrecker. :)


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