When Camping Goes Wrong


Sometimes things just don’t go according to the plan.

You can buy or borrow almost any product that adapts to an outdoor lifestyle and experience, but sometimes oversight, lack of experience, or unexpected weather conditions can cause the best laid camping plans to run afoul.

Like forgetting a can opener when camp meals depend on canned goods or arriving at camp to find the tent poles never made it into the car, and heaven forbid there is no wine or bottle opener!

I’ve lived through a few camping mishaps of my own.

CampRue19

Rue  Mapp, age 19

For example, I can now (after 20 years) fondly recall a car camping trip along the California coast with my University Women’s Center staff back in college when I was 19. We were so determined to do the trip – women can and will do anything was our internal motivating mantra. And in the face of an incoming storm, a little predicted rain and cold was not going to stop us!

The day of our trip, I dug out and threw my 2-person hand-me-down day tent and sleeping bag into the car. Our group stopped at a Safeway along the way where we impulsively filed our basket with every comfort food and drink we could find.

By the time we reached camp with our bags of groceries, it was late afternoon, and light rain had begun to fall. I do remember how beautiful the redwoods were, filtering rays of sunlight on our camp.

CampRue191

But the rain picked up toward the evening, extinguishing our fledgling fire. The air chilled in character and on queue for the region.  So an early retreat to our tents was the best option– or so I thought, until I discovered my tent had a small leak.

I managed to plug the hole with tape, and rearrange my belongings and sleeping bag away from the moisture, forcing me to curl up on one side of the tent.

I knew it was going to be a long night.

After drifting off to sleep for a few hours, I woke to the sound of pouring rain and a soaked sleeping bag. Now, my tent was leaking all over, and without a tarp beneath me I felt moisture from the ground seeping in. All my earlier feminist bravado came to a screeching halt. I was wet, cold, and groggy. And as far as I was concerned, our camping trip had come to an end.

Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since those early days of planning camping trips on my own as a young adult. Camping with my children over the years has necessarily sharpened my skills. I now make sure we have the right tools for the type and location of camping we do. Thinking back, I know that with some basic skills, research on where we were going; packing the right tent (tarps!), sleeping bag, and better layers of clothing, our camping trip would have been a more dry and cozy adventure versus a cold and wet one.

A Warm Winter Camping Option in Yosemite

This is one reason the correct gear and the knowledge of when and how to use it matters. If you don’t have a camping role model in your friend or family network, many REI stores, and organizations like Outdoors Empowered Network are answering the call with free and low cost gear closets and technical assistance to help groups like my Women’s Center crew get camping right the first time so participants can look forward to participating again and again.

Has camping ever gone awry for you? How did you make the best of it? – Or did you roll up your sleeping bag and go home? Leave a comment and tell us!


2 Thoughts on “When Camping Goes Wrong”

  • We were camping this past Labor Day weekend. We ran out of firewood and went to buy more (since we weren’t allowed to use anything outside the park), but my debit card wouldn’t work and I’d already spent all our cash. Dumb me had told the man this trip was on me so I’d made him leave his card and cash at home. When we got back to the camp site, I pulled out my cell phone (which I felt awful about doing) to check my balance and saw I had plenty of money in my checking account, but had to wait until after the holiday to learn that my account had been frozen due to suspicious activity. So, we had to spend our last evening camping without any firewood or the means to cook our food. We strictly cook over a campfire but were too shy to ask anyone for some firewood.

  • For a spring trip last year, I offered to share my tent with another woman I didn’t know well so that she could hike in other gear. Rain wasn’t forecast for the night. Apparently, the skies didn’t know that. It rained, and I mean rained, from about 9 p.m. until wee morning. I had weather treated my tent and rainfly, but it wasn’t enough. We stayed dry, but only by huddling in the middle of the tent. Our gear got wet or damp, I kept popping awake worried about my tent mate. It was horrible. By daybreak, we were done. Thankfully, she has a great spirit and by that afternoon’s waterfall hike, we were joking about it. Whew!

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