My wife is stronger than me. Can hike further than me. Complains less than me on trail. Complains less when it’s cold. Or wet. Or hot. Or steep. Or just plain hard. She’s smarter too. Unlike me, she has learned over the years that I tend toward the optimistic about what’s actually contained in our camping supplies box. “Oh, yeah, plenty of lighters,” I’ll say, just an assumption really, as we’re throwing the camping box in the car for a backpacking trip. “Dude, we’re loaded with coffee,” I’ll insist, totally forgetting I pilfered the camp coffee when we ran out of home coffee.

So she’s taken to packing little emergency baggies of supplies and stashing them in our backpacks, betting that we, or, I, really, will have forgotten something crucial. See? smarter.

I call them “oh shit bags” because in a semi-panic I’ll often shout something like, “Oh shit, I forgot batteries for the headlamp!” as the light from my lamp cuts out while trying to find camp in the dark, or “Oh shit, didn’t bring any sunscreen!” while sun begins to glare menacingly off slick granite slabs surrounding our trail.


Then, sure enough, I find one of her carefully packed oh shit bags and everything is fine. She’s trained me and I’ve even begun packing my own.

My wife has done a fair bit of experimenting and now has our oh shit bag packing list down to a science. A summer trip’s bag will be a sandwich baggie that contains:

• Three Starbucks Via packets
• Couple Band-aids
• Small baggie of sunscreen
• Lighter
• One foot-ish of toilet paper
• Two energy gel packets, usually from Gu 
• 2 fresh AAA batteries for headlamp
• One bootlace
• Hand sanitizer

A cold weather oh shit bag has all that plus a handwarmer and a footwarmer packet.

Literally every single thing on that bag list has come in handy on a backcountry trip. There was (were) the time(s) I forgot coffee. Last summer I forgot my first aid kit and was testing out a pair of hiking boots for review that both sucked and gave me a blister, so the bandaid was a godsend. Returned from a sun-blasted trip in Desolation Wilderness couple years back to my tube of sunscreen sitting on the hood of our truck, unused. I badly misjudged my food selection on a solo outing last spring and had nothing but the two Gu gels to get me through the final day of eight miles. Once tied a boot outsole that peeled off back onto the uppers with the extra bootlace. Traded the batteries with fellow camper for a much needed warm beer.


Crap. Did I forget a lighter? Photo: Christoph Deinet

And hand sanitizer, well, that’s just plain civilized.

Since I own approximately an REI’s worth of backpacks and will choose a different one to use for each trip based on scientific things like color, my mood, what I ate that morning, or the kind of shoes I’m wearing, my wife has stashed an oh shit bag in each. Daypacks get an oh shit bag too. There’s one in the glove compartment of each of our cars.


I hear you gram weenies. “But all…that…extra…weight.” I stopped preferring weight savings over peace of mind when I realized I’m not ever concerned with a FKT or even a PB while out there in the trail. A handful of ounces saved ain’t worth an “oh shit” moment that’s actually an oh shit moment. Thanks to my wife though, we never have those.

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