Reader Essays: How to Botch a Gear List

Carl Mandrioli can teach (almost) anyone to pack the right stuff.
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Carl Mandrioli can teach (almost) anyone to pack the right stuff.

True, I didn’t bother to explain what “backpack” meant on the gear checklist. Do you need a dictionary to know you should be using some sort of pack that attaches to your back? I assumed that anyone signing up for a spring trek in Yosemite—with snow still on the ground—would have that part mastered. I was wrong. Moments before hitting the trailhead, newcomer Derek clipped on his fanny pack with a slumber-party sleeping bag cinched to it. So up the trail he went, carrying none of the group gear, and shivering through the first night on the snow.

After many lengthy discussions concerning the meaning of the word backpack and its inherent requirement for a trip of the same name, Derek agreed to a second Yosemite journey. Armed with a brand-new, multichambered load hauler, he immediately abandoned his minimalist ways. I emphasized that we were planning a fast-paced epic to Red Peak Pass. High mileage and steep terrain meant a light pack was essential to success. Again, the master of misinterpretation slipped by me with a pair of heavy 1980s tennis shoes dangling from his pack. “Just in case” was his response to my aggressive lunge at the laces. Just in case what, we come across a shoeless John McEnroe lost in the wild?

OK, I just needed to modify a Backpacker.com gear list to specifically address Derek’s needs. I took to writing him little notes in parentheses so that he could fully understand the nature of every required item. This, too, proved insufficient. The very next trip, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park. I emphasized that waterproof clothing was essential. Less than two hours up the trail, a hard rain pelted us. It soon turned to hail. By the time we reached our first break, Derek’s clothing had soaked through. Lucky for Derek, someone had a second jacket. But since he was most concerned about having wet shorts, Derek managed to work this nylon shell into a pair of pants. With no shirt and a jacket on his legs, he looked even less prepared for a wilderness journey than usual.

After those and subsequent trips, Derek’s inevitable miscues have become the stuff of legend. And since I never know what he’s going to do for the next hike, he’s usually the first person I invite.

Mandrioli lives in Castle Rock, CO. Favorite hike: Red Peak Pass, Yosemite.