I’m not the careful backpacking organizer that I probably should be. Oh, once upon a time I was. But over the past few summers, anytime we’re headed for the backcountry, my wife and I basically throw the big camp gear box in the back of our truck along with our packs and clothes and shoes and frantically drive east toward the Sierra as fast as we can. “We’ll pack when we get there,” we mumble through mouthfuls of scone and coffee.
You won’t be surprised to learn that sometimes mistakes are made.
Our first backpacking trip a couple of summers ago was to a gem of a spot that shall remain nameless, somewhere north of Yosemite and south of the North Pole. The snow had thawed, the mosquitos were merrily multiplying, and we were thrilled to be on the trail and among the wildflowers. Our first morning, however, we were met with near disaster. I’d forgotten to pack coffee. I emptied and refilled the bear canister three, four, five times, hoping that somehow a collection of Starbucks Via packets would magically appear, but even as I did so, I could picture the precious box of coffee packets sitting on the backseat of the truck, absentmindedly left behind in our haste to feel the gravel beneath our boots.
There was a tent peeking out from some trees across the lake from we were set up, and though it pained me, I made my way over to beg for any spare coffee. I learned a valuable lesson that morning. That lesson was: when begging for coffee, bring along something to trade. The nice young family sitting around a bubbling pot of oatmeal had some spare instant coffee packets and they graciously gave me two. Crisis averted, but I felt like a jerk for offering nothing but my blubbering thanks in return.
I really felt like a jerk two weeks later on our next backcountry trip when I forgot the coffee again. You see, I’d just purchased a new Sawyer water filter, and was eager to try it out, and this was my first fly-fishing backpack trip of the summer, and blah blah blah. I blew it.
But I’d learned from my previous coffee panhandling experience and this time, when I arrived at the next campsite over with my hat in my hands, I came with granola bars AND a pot of boiling hot water to trade.
Horrifically, these campers had no spare coffee—they were tea drinkers. I offered to leave them the granola bars anyway, as a karmic offering, and as a “sorry” for the confused face I made when they told me they drank only tea. They insisted I take a teabag or two, and I did, just to be polite, but who are we kidding.
That was the last time I forgot the coffee on a backpacking trip. Our bear canister is now home to our camp coffee supplies, so that no matter what, when we assemble our food, we can’t help but rest assured that we’ve got the joe covered.
Here are the lessons I learned:
• Take a moment to collect yourself when packing, even if you’ve done it a thousand times. You might forget something crucially important, like the damn coffee.
• If you must borrow coffee from neighbors, ALWAYS offer something in trade. That would I suppose make it trading for coffee, not borrowing, but you get the idea.
• Stash extra instant coffee packets in a few of your pack’s pockets, just in case. The added grams are worth it. And if some poor, bedraggled soul sheepishly approaches your campsite looking for that caffeine fix, you have a spare you can offer.
• Assemble what I like to call “oh shit” bags. Sandwich bags with a handful of coffee packets, a granola bar or two, and waterproof matches. Toss the bags in your camp gear, so that if you’re packing at the trailhead and you’ve done something as idiotic as leave the coffee behind, you can stuff one of these bags in your pack, just to be sure.
• Arriving at a chosen campsite and spotting another tent nearby doesn’t have to be a bummer. The mercy of fellow campers can be a godsend.
Photo: McKayla Crump