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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Gear Gone Wrong

Updated: Feb 18, 2018

Inspired by Cheryl Strayed's incredible book "Wild," I explore the things that can and do make camping terrible.

Previously published here.

Gear. It’s where a lot of great hikes and camping trips begin. Laying out the bags to fluff in the sun, trips to the camping store for more stove fuel, gathering up the sleeping pads and tucking them into tight rolls—all camping begins with gear. Even a simple day hike requires water, snacks, good shoes, lightweight clothing, hats, sunscreen, and more. So while your gear can be an important point of departure for any trip, it can also be a sticking point. You don’t have to feel terrible if your barefoot running sneakers aren’t right for glacier-running—there have been plenty before who went with the basics—or way too much—and came back alive to tell about it.

“ Ansel Adams, whose photographs capture the richness of our American landscape, wore only basketball shoes on his forays into the wilderness.”

There’s a lot about camping and hiking gear in the memoir Wild, and in the subsequent movie starring Reese Witherspoon. The gigantic backpack, named Monster by Strayed, is practically its own character. And who could forget that famous moment of frustration and fury that opens the movie in which Witherspoon throws her hiking boot over the cliff on the Pacific Crest Trail just as Strayed had a few years before? Just recently, hikers Chris Kesting and Tim Pate retrieved Reese’s boot, which now resides in Kesting’s Camas, Oregon home.

In the packing heavy narrative, there is the fleet of covered wagons that Lewis and Clark loaded and dragged across the country, tossing over and trading away what they could just to get themselves and all that stuff to the Pacific. On the light side, John Muir wore an overcoat and some hobnail worker boots, and famously camped with a couple of books and a roll of canvas, and not much else. Ansel Adams, whose photographs capture the richness of our American landscape, wore only basketball shoes on his forays into the wilderness.

Sir Robert Baden-Powell penned the first guide to boy scouting, and in it he details the specs for a compass, thermometer, and other essentials. He described the idea hiking boots as “Boots or shoes with good nails.”  (

Gear can be a vexing situation for beginners, but when you look at some of the rougher components that successful hikers have carried in the near past as well as a century ago, you can be rest assured that you might not make it comfortably to the next mile marker, others have worked with worse and succeeded.

Photo: Alex Holt from Unsplash.

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