When it comes to camping, funny stories abound. The funny thing is that some are only funny months or years after the incident itself. Most of the time, being in situ while a future-funny story develops is just plain awful.
The story that comes quickest to my mind is something that happened to a friend several years ago. No, it isn't me, and said friend shall remain nameless. It seems my friend and two other like-minded individuals set out on a multiday backpacking trip. They were entering bear country and as such did their duty and brought a bear-resistant container for their food. This was all well and good until one of them decided to make things more exciting by smearing honey on the outside of the bear-resistant container the first night of the trip. Sure enough, Mr. Bear showed up and demonstrated exactly why they're called “bear resistant” instead of “bear proof.” Food was strewn about, ruined, and the trio was lucky that Mr. Bear hadn't stopped by for “fillet of human” that evening. Out of food, the three had no choice but to hoof it back to the trailhead.
Funny? Maybe. When I heard the tale three years after the fact, it wasn't being laughed about just yet. Perhaps it's developed a funny bone since then.
It turns out that funny and amusing stories will happen no matter what. We're all human, and that means mistakes are part of the package. The key is to learn from the mistakes you make and refine your process.
We've compiled our Top 10 list of camping blunders. Hopefully something on this list will save you time and grief. As for the bear canister incident, never do anything to attract a bear to your campsite. Keep a clean campsite, and keep your food put away. If you act foolish and a bear bites off your leg, don't you dare come running to us!
Blunder 1: Too Much Stuff
You've either seen it or done it. You know: The rear springs are completely compressed and the rear axle is right on the bumpstops before you even leave the pavement. Even though you're only going overnight, you've brought enough food and gear to last two weeks.
Over-packing seems to be a symptom of fear, laziness, or both. In the case of fear, you imagine that everything about the trip will turn into a worst-case scenario so to prepare you bring spares on top of extras. Laziness just means you don't want to take the time to evaluate your food and supply load, so you bring spares on top of extras to avoid planning. The result is the same—an overloaded rig.
Blunder 2: Not Enough Stuff
There's traveling light and then there's traveling too light. Symptoms of traveling too light include failure to bring even the minimum tools and supplies to keep your vehicle and yourself functional and healthy. Even if it's only a short trip, you should have things such as jumper cables, a jack, a fullsize inflated spare tire, a lug wrench, and a flashlight to keep your trail rig moving in case of a basic breakdown. To keep yourself functional and healthy, you should have extra clothing, food, water, sunglasses, a hat, sunblock, a first aid kit, and toilet paper. Overconfidence and ignorance are the two most common causes of traveling too light.
Blunder 3: No Plan B
A little mystery is part of the fun. That's why we go off road: It's an adventure. Conditions can change in the backcountry. Gates can unexpectedly be closed. Spring rains may have washed out a trail. A favorite campsite might be occupied. Your "can't miss" trout stream fails to produce even a bite. Make the unknown a part of the adventure by creating alternatives in case Plan A is derailed.
Blunder 4: Over-Planning
We've done this one, too. We know our off-pavement time is limited and we've got a big list of things we'd like to do. They're all fun, and all worthwhile. Pare down your list to just a few major things. The rest of the details will take care of themselves.
Blunder 5: Relying on Too Much Technology
With today's gadgets and technology, it’s entirely possible to bring the kitchen sink, and then some. This can make you feel civilized in uncivilized surroundings, but it can also backfire. Off-road refrigerators, for instance, are very rugged and reliable. If you choose to bring nothing but perishable food and you have a "one percent" experience and your fridge/freezer dies, you're SOL (shucks out of luck). Yes, bring your fridge/freezer and your GPS, but also bring some nonperishable food, a printed map, and a magnetic compass, just in case. Old school can still be cool.
Blunder 6: Under-Informed
Even if you’ve already been to a certain place, it’s a good idea to check and make sure things are basically the same before you return. Contact the land agency or owner in advance to check on things such as open routes, camping areas, and developed campgrounds if you plan to use them. If you’ve never been there before, get a map and do some preliminary research so you know what to expect.
A foggy childhood memory is relevant here. I went with my dad and my uncle, Lowell, on an overnight trip. It wasn’t an off-road trip per se, but at one point we decided to leave the highway and travel on “the old road” and eventually find a place to sleep out under the stars. We found a dirt road that seemed like it could’ve been "the old road" and followed it for a while. We came to a wide spot and decided to rest there for a few hours. The stars overhead were clear, numerous, and glorious. Strange sounds told us that critters were scurrying about in the pre-dawn darkness, but none seemed threatening so we stayed and enjoyed our little slice of paradise. When the sun came up, we found we’d ended up in a local dump, and the critters we’d heard were the local dump rats. Oops!
Blunder 7: Under-Simplified
Even if you’re not over- or under-packing, you could be under-simplified. What’s that? It’s the trap of thinking you need every new gadget and the latest gear in order to go. Think back to when you were just starting out and didn’t have the budget for anything but simplicity. Yes, it’s still possible to enjoy the backcountry without the latest stove, solar-powered battery charger, and an onboard shower. Old stoves (or campfires) still work well, you can minimize your battery use, and you can find a way to keep clean without a shower that takes an hour to set up before you use it. Premium gear has its place, but you should pick and choose before you purchase. Don’t buy something solely to impress your friends. It’s supposed to be a camping trip, not an ego trip.
Blunder 8: Not Enough Fuel/ Unknown Fuel Sources
Depending on where your adventures take place, it could be a long way from a gas station. One favorite haunt, the Mojave National Preserve, has gas stations along its north and south borders, which coincide with Interstate 15 and Interstate 40. Once inside the preserve, you’d better have enough fuel along for the ride. This same scenario counts for other supplies, such as ice for an old-style cooler.
Blunder 9: Making Camping the End, Not the Means
If your endgame is to see new places and log some off-road miles, overly complicated camping can hinder your ability to do so. If you need to stop two hours before sunset in order to set up camp and get all your gadgets situated, it’s a sign that you might have an over-abundance of gadgets. On the flip side, if the whole point of your adventure is to see how cushy a camp you can create, you’re doing it right. Just make sure you’re in the company of like-minded friends.
Blunder 10: Not Going at All
Don’t let the other nine blunders keep you home. Get out there and enjoy the backcountry.