Camping Mishaps: Forgot it or broke it

repair a broken tent

We can rebuild it (photo by Tim Eschaton)

It happens to the best of us. No matter how well you prepare, or how many checklists you use, it is inevitable that someday you will show up in the backcountry only to discover that you forgot to pack something important.  It might be as simple as a can opener or maybe the fuel for your camp stove, but it’s important to stay calm and not let the situation ruin your weekend.

Fortunately, the vast majority of campers are a friendly bunch. If you have camping neighbors, don’t be shy about taking your can of soup over and asking if you can use their can opener. I find that asking to use someone else’s item at their campsite is generally preferable to asking if you can borrow it and bring it back later. Keep in mind that many of us would hesitate about loaning our gear out to our own relatives!

If you don’t have camping neighbors, the next course of action is to hunt-down a Park Ranger. Believe me, these people have heard it all and, while they may not be able to assist you directly (remember, they’re probably not camping), they will surely be able to recommend a solution to your problem.

If the neighbors can’t help you out and the Rangers are scarce, then you’re down to doing what our ancestors did when they crossed the prairie: improvise. Being able to improvise when you forget something, or even break something, requires a little foresight and preparation, though, so make sure you stock an emergency kit before heading off on your adventure. Some items that you will hopefully never have to use, but you’ll sure be happy to have them if you do:

Duct tape

It was always MacGyver’s best friend and it can be your best friend too, if you need to patch a rip in your tent, or splint a broken tent pole. You don’t have to pack around the big roll, either. To save space you can wrap 20 or 30 feet of duct tape around a wooden dowel.

Aluminum foil

Preferably the heavy-duty variety, aluminum foil works great for cooking if you find yourself without pots and pans. If you run out of gas, you can wrap aluminum foil into a cone shape, and use it as a funnel. Like the duct tape, you don’t have to pack the entire roll. Just strip-off 6 to 10 feet and fold it up into a little square.

Parachute cord

An amazingly small and strong cord, parachute cord is actually a small diameter kernmantle rope that has a 550-pound breaking strength (it’s also known as “550 cord”). Parachute cord has as many uses as duct tape, from hanging laundry and hanging food in trees (something we do in bear country), to replacing tent guy lines and broken boot laces. Because of its small diameter, 30 or 40 feet of parachute cord doesn’t take up much room. Note that when you cut parachute cord you need to burn the ends or they will unravel.

Seam Grip

McNett Seam Grip is like super glue for the outdoors. You can use it to glue everything from the shoulder strap on your pack to the sole of your boot. If it can’t be duct taped and it can’t be tied, Seam Grip will probably do the trick.

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17 thoughts on “Camping Mishaps: Forgot it or broke it

  1. James – duct tape can be a lifesaver. Heard it makes a pretty good cast, in a pinch. Can’t imagine trying to get all that gunk off, though!

    John – good point, there is no trip in the backcountry that is too short for carrying some emergency gear.

  2. I definately agree, duct tape is the number one must have item for a ill-prepared camper. You can complete 80% of your tasks with duct tape. Also good to have: a quality muti-tool, lighter, and dryer lint (just in case for those rainy days).

    For more info check out my site:

    James’s last blog post..Dangerous Animals

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  4. Thank you, David – a dry run is absolutely the way to go, particularly if the gear has been in storage all winter.

  5. Even Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts FORGET things, even though the MOTTO is: “Be Prepared”. You can be surprised what can be left behind. Those Never forget items mentioned should be at the top of the list and restocked if used once you get back to civilization. Doing a dry run of setting up the tents before the trip is a good prep work. Making sure you have all the poles and looking for rips, tears and Just flat out holes before you leave will let you know if you need to re-invest in a new one. Thanks for the information.

  6. Those are all great ideas, Brian. I always carry a few of those big, 1-gallon, ziplocks. They even make great map cases!

  7. Good Tips. I have ziplock baggies, zipties, plumbers putty & Krazy glue on my list instead of the seam grip. I think I’ll add that one.

    The baggies are good for waterproofing, collecting and storage of the broken parts. + half a dozen take up no space so why not. Zipties are the same.

    I’m in love with plumbers putty. It fixes anything from canoes to tent poles and you can even refab broken snapped gear parts if you must.

    The Krazy glue’s multiple uses are obvious and include first aid by sealing deep cuts. I don’t think seam seal would be a likely substitute for that.

    Brian Layman’s last blog post..Brian Layman’s Weekly Twitter Update for 2009-03-29

  8. Great list! I’ll have to share it with others so all my Boy and Girl Scouts show up with these essentials.

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  12. Right – trying to get all the residue off is a real pain. I’ve been somewhat successful with plastic tape, but only for patching holes in inflatables. It’s almost useless for heavier jobs, like splinting a broken tent pole. It’s similar with Seam Grip – it works great, but it’s still sticky after it cures so it picks up a lot of dirt.

  13. Duct tape is normally a good quick fix but cleaning it up for a permanent job is a real hassle. Another good place to store it is wrapped around your nalgene bottle…

  14. Great Article. I’ve had many campers borrow, and I think you are right about preferring to lend in front of me then lend out of sight.

    I’ve had two experiences myself when camping where I forgot some needs. My wife and I split packing for one (bad idea), and we both thought each other packed the sleeping bags. Not much to do about that, other than bundle up for a cold night.

    In my other experience, a friend I brought some beef stew for a meal, and forgot in utensils to eat it. Our solution… do as the ancestors, and carve a spoon out of a flat piece of sturdy bark. Sure it wasn’t the cleanest thing, but there was something very manly about making your own spoon to eat with.

    Thanks for the great advice. I’d add a good sharp knife to the list of needs not to ever forget.’s last blog post..Easterlin Park Disc Golf Course

  15. I think duct tape and parachute cord will fix anything except major surgery! 🙂