2: Assess my gear stash
Picture yourself in the woods of Kentucky, right outside of Mammoth Cave National Park. It’s a warm summer night and you’re crouching beside your tent, unfurling your sleeping bag as dusk falls around you. Suddenly, you locate a foreign-object in the hood of your mummy bag. Initially, you think it’s some sort of spore. Then, a familiar scent hits your nostrils and you realize, with horror, the mystery chunk is regurgitated cat food that’s been left to petrify over the winter.
“Damn cat,” you mutter as you try to wet wipe away the smell. But it’s no use – the scent will fire up each night with your body heat, filling the tent with the pungent reminder of your cat’s belligerent act.
The moral of this story is to always check your gear before leaving home.
I start organizing my things a week before heading out. I’ll lay out each and every piece I intend to bring and assess its purpose and condition. Doing this helps me think critically about what gets packed, what gets put back and what items need to be replaced or purchased.
It’s really tempting to use an upcoming trip as an excuse to buy new stuff. I try to avoid making emotional purchases (these new leggings will make me look so cute on the trail) and stick to the items that are tried and true. Knowing how my gear is going to perform before heading out saves me from having to worry about it when it really matters. A middle of the night downpour is the worst time to find out the tent is no longer waterproof. And saving those new hikers for the trail will only lead to blisters and hot spots.
Avoid the temptation of buying into an ideal image of the type of traveler you want to be, rather than the one you actually are. A few years ago, Luke and I got really enthusiastic about backpacking, so we started streamlining our gear to be more appropriate for long-haul hikes in the backcountry. We purchased a new ultralight tent and took it straight to Tennessee.
The tent had large panels made of sheer mesh that were incredibly fragile. The very first time I zipped it shut, I managed to catch a section of fabric in the zipper. I tried to tug it free as gently as possible, but the damage was already done. For the next week, I slept next to a gaping hole that invited bugs and rain indoors with us. Numerous little holes mysteriously sprung up on other panels throughout the course of our trip, so we returned it for a more appropriate car camping tent.
Buy what works for your reality, not whatever fantasy you’ve envisioned for yourself.
Finally, it’s always the little things that make or break a trip. Luggage locks, a travel-sized bottle of wrinkle release, wet wipes and extra batteries have saved my butt on numerous occasions. Laying out the big-ticket items ahead of time gives me the head space to think about the small details that I’ll probably forget in a rush. (Like clean underpants. Totally did that on a camping trip last summer.)
Working out the kinks ahead of time allows you to dedicate all of your time and energy to enjoying your precious time away. Covering your bases gives you the freedom to be more spontaneous for whatever comes your way on the road.