Lessons about knowing your outdoor gear…

Have you ever made a mistake?  A stupid mistake?  The kind of mistake that makes you kick yourself for doing something you KNEW you shouldn’t have done?  No?  Then stop reading, this isn’t for you.  Piss off.

We all make mistakes from time to time.  We get complacent, or hurried or distracted and we do things we otherwise wouldn’t do.  Sometimes these mistakes make us laugh at our own folly, but (particularly in the backcountry) mistakes can be very dangerous.

I’ve had my share of mistakes.  One night camping in the mountains around Mount Graham outside Safford I hurriedly tossed the rain fly on my tent in the dark as a storm was starting to move in.  It wasn’t long into a pretty solid downpour that I discovered I had put the fly on upside down.  Turns out those waterproof-breathable fabrics they use for protection only work one way.  I knew that, I just missed it.

Another time, on luckily just a short hike, I had performed a quick check of my small pack, checked the hydration hoses, filled the bladder, packed a snack and shortly thereafter shot out the door to make my hike.  It wasn’t until I arrived at the trailhead and picked up my unusually light pack that I realized I had left the full hydration bladder on the counter, right by the sink, right where I had set it after filling it up.  A stupid mistake because I wasn’t fully paying attention to the process.

There was also the time I loaded my tent for a quick backpacking trip and discovered, a day’s hike in to the middle of nowhere, that I had grabbed the rain fly, not the tent.  Luckily I was able to easily make a bivvy shelter with the fly and it wasn’t a total catastrophe.  I’ve also packed my tent with the wrong set of poles before…that was fun.

This most recent mistake learning experience was a result of simply not paying attention.  I even remember second guessing myself and some little voice telling me, “nah, it’ll be FINE…”

My Snow Peak 450 Insulated mug on the SoloStove cook system - outdoor gear

I had just built a nice little fire in my new SoloStove.  I had received one to test out and was anxious to put it to use.  I prepped my fuel, built a beautiful little top-down fire (as instructed) and had quite nice burn going.  Now I just needed to boil some water, time it, record it and round one of the testing would be in the books.

I’m in the process of moving so I don’t know where half of my stuff is currently.  I could not find a camp pot anywhere with which to boil a little water.  In haste, I grabbed my Snow Peak Titanium mug and filled it with water.  There was a piece of me that hesitated, but I couldn’t put my finger on why and dismissed it.  I set the mug on the stove and watched the flames lick at the titanium.

Now, this is for a review, so I’m taking pictures, recording a little video, talking about the technology of the burn system and why the fire was built top-down…so I’m distracted.  The nagging hesitation was set aside so I could focus on the review.  Then it hits me!

The Snow Peak Titanium 450 Double Wall mug is an insulated mug.  The outer shell of the cup is made up of two walls of titanium with air space in the middle to serve as an insulating layer.  This helps reduce heat transfer through the wall of the cup.  This means it will NOT heat efficiently, it is not a good cooking vessel.  More importantly, and the reason for my sudden anxiety, is that the super-heated air trapped between the two layers of titanium will expand when heated and can cause the weld seam to burst.  Depending on how well the seams hold, this could be a pretty dramatic rupture or simply a small hole to let the air escape.  Once I realized this error I pulled the cup off the heat.

Luckily, my seam held and the only real damage (aside from severe discoloration) is a slightly bulged and rounded bottom on the mug.  Not the end of the world.

In the privacy of my own home, I can simply kick myself for being stupid and potentially ruining an expensive piece of gear.  In the backcountry, we can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes.  This sort of thing is a reminder of how easily, and innocently, mistakes can be made.  It’s a reminder that we really do need to slow down, pay attention and think through our actions…especially in the field.  It’s also a reminder to know your gear.  Know it’s intended uses, it’s limitations, be familiar with the technology and why it works.  The proper gear can save your life, but only if you know how to use it properly and do so with thoughtfulness.

I’d love to hear about YOUR gear related mistakes.  Comment below if you’ve ever made a mistake with your outdoor gear…it’ll make me feel better about my own stupidity. 😉

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  1. says

    I once went on a bike ride with the family, I’d say about 20 miles or so with one kid in a seat on my wife’s bike and one in a trailer in my bike. When we were done we threw the bikes up on the roof and took off, only I didn’t actually attach mine to the carrier. I had just set it up there with the intention of using the strap to secure the back and tightening up the fork thingy on the front. First turn and my bike took a nice tumble off the SUV. My bike was ok but my wife’s car had a few dents and scratches from it. I just wasn’t paying attention.

    • says

      Dude, that sucks! hehehe It’s easy enough to happen though. I’ve lost so much stuff by setting on the top of the car, or the bed of the truck, while getting in. Especially after long meetings, my mind is still on the meeting and the work and I just set stuff down and drive off.

      A friend of mine has a big sign in his garage that says “STOP! There are bikes on your roof.” so that he won’t forget. When he showed it to me I thought it was at the same time Genius and Insane. But I guess it works.

      • says

        Ha! That reminds me, awhile back I was going through the bank drive through with two bikes in the roof, I stopped just in time and had a heck of a time getting people to let me back up.

  2. says

    This summer there was a particular night when a meteor shower was to light up the night sky. I knew it was happening and my wife and I even discussed how cool it would be for the boys to see it.

    We packed the truck with camping gear and set out for Mt Charleston. It’s an hour and fifteen minute drive from the house.

    I had contemplated taking my backpacking gear but decided not to in the last minutes of our prep.

    We arrived at the campground to grab one of the walk-in sites. It was full. On to the next campground. Repeat. In fact, it was a repeat experience at all 5 campgrounds on the mountain.

    As we drove to the lodge we passed a half dozen people toting telescopes along the road. It hit me. All of the sites are full because of the meteor shower that was happening that night.

    I was pissed. My mind went back to the decision to not bring the backpacking gear which would have been fine for my wife and I and the two boys. This is when regret struck.

    We stopped at the North Loop Trailhead to talk through the options. Driving back to town was not an option nor was surrender.

    I remembered a cool spot on the North Loop Trail about a 1/2 mile in that would accomodate the gigantic family tent and offer a great view for morning coffee.

    To keep this story shorter, it ends like this.

    My wife and I took 6 trips between us to get all the car camping gear to the spot. We took turns so that one of us could stay with the boys and let them burn off energy. It took almost 3 hours to shuttle all the gear, set up camp, and start cooking dinner.

    This trip was to celebrate my wife’s birthday. The icing on the cake was seeing her face when I pulled out the birthday cake and lit the candles. It was a great save and the boys had a blast. I wouldn’t change anything about the trip.

    But I won’t do it again.

    • says

      I got caught sleeping out in some random trees on a trip because i had failed to note that there was a huge mountain bike race that weekend and all the camp grounds were full. It sucks when you don’t see the obvious.

  3. ronda says

    Not sure if gear related, but brain related and stupid. I was cooking with a canister stove and a thunderstorm started. I shut the stove off and started to gather my gear to toss in the tent. I set the pot off the stove and without thinking grabbed the stove by the metal support wings – the second I did I knew ‘oh my what did I do!’ I instantly had charred and blistered skin my thumb, index, and middle fingers. Who grabs a hot stove?! I had first aid supplies so was able to finish out the weekend. But that one stupid mistake will always stay with me about keeping my brain engaged.

  4. says

    My wife and I went on a winter car camping and kayaking trip. We decided to save time by throwing our backpacking stuff in the back of the van rather than put it in our packs. 100 miles, a meal, and a few hours later, we had the tent up, laid out our sleeping pads and noticed the tent was looking rather empty. We’d left our sleeping bags behind. We each thought the other had put them in the van.

    With freezing temps forecast, we briefly discussed and discarded the possibility of sleeping in the van and running the engine to keep warm. There was only one thing for it; a further 200 round trip to get the bags. We unloaded our kayaks and set off back home. As soon as we got to a point where we had cell ‘phone reception we called ahead and got one of the kids to find a friend to drive up with our bags and meet us partway. That saved us about 75 miles and probably a couple of hours. It was nine pm before we got back to our campsite and lit the campfire.

    Now we pack our backpacks even when we car camp. That way we are each responsible for our own stuff and omissions are much more obvious.

    • says

      Gary, I’ve done almost that exact same thing except it was a solo trip. I tried to tough it out in my truck eventually wearing ALL my clothes and a blanket to keep warm and froze my ass off all night. That was a rough night…

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