Preparation Is Key, But So Is Adapting

By Cody Sowa

While on my first backpacking/camping trip of the (interesting) 2020 season, I re-learned a crucial lesson for the 100+ time. Check and test your gear before an adventure!

Realistically we cannot plan for everything. If we could, it probably wouldn’t feel like much of an adventure. If we did plan and prepare for every possible situation when camping or backpacking, we’d have to hire a few mules to carry all of the backup equipment and extra batteries. Kidding…. kinda. 


Last week I took my girlfriend on a camping trip to one of my favorite camp and hiking spots that is fairly close to Denver. It was a 10-mile hike so I figured a 5-mile hike in for our first trip of the season would be a challenge but also on the easier side since the season is just getting started here in Colorado. Due to some poor time management and planning, we were rushed during the packing process before we left the city. We had to get to a chiropractor’s appointment before the hike in, so there wasn’t much wiggle room in moving the day’s events around. I tested my SteriPen (water purification system) before packing it…. or at least I thought I did. I cleaned it in my sink at home and pressed the ON button and the light came on, so I figured I was good to go. Sadly, I found out that the battery was on its last leg once we had already set up camp. The light still came on but died 5 seconds into the sterilization process. I was 5 miles away from civilization with the only 2 water containers that I brought with unsanitary lake water in both. Even if I dumped both out and found a clean water source, I had nothing to put the clean water in, since both containers were now contaminated. 

The second issue we ran into was easier to fix, but still a bigger hassle than I cared for. I was in charge of bringing the tent since I was the only one with a 2/3 person tent. Normally I like to set up the tent in my living room and ensure it’s clean and also that I have all of the accessories with it. Due to the time crunch we found ourselves in while packing, I didn’t get to set up the tent or even pull it out of the stuff sack. So, when we went to put the tent up, I realized that we didn’t have tent stakes. Not the end of the world, but I knew the area we were in can get a touch breezy at times. Thankfully, I brought a smart woman with me who grabbed some loose rocks from a fire pit (since there was a fire ban and we wouldn’t be needing them) and tied some of the guylines to the rocks. This worked well except for the door area of the rainfly. We tried using sticks for the door areas but they didn’t hold up that well. Thankfully the only side effect of that was extra flapping sounds at night when the wind picked up. Definitely not the end of the world but the tent doesn’t look that great in my photos.

Back to the water situation. Thankfully, my girlfriend had a backup water filtration system with her so we had clean water to drink. I had to drink from her water bottle which was a bit of a pain but again, not the end of the world by any means. We got to discussing and brainstorming the situation as if I had hiked and camped solo on this trip and didn’t have her to bail me out.

I highly suggest practicing exercising your brain during these situations in order to prepare for potential future issues. I say this because there will be panic involved in future situations and it tends to cloud our mind when it happens. So, practice adapting when it’s not stressful, and the future issues (if they happen) will be easier to handle.

If you’re curious, here are a few of the other solutions we came up with had I been out there by myself with two contaminated water containers:

    • Ask a fellow hiker/camper to borrow their water filtration system (hoping you aren’t super remote and alone)
    • Pack up camp and start heading back immediately in case you can’t find clean water sources. Better to be closer to help if the situation gets worse.
    • Drink water directly from your camp stove/pot well after boiling the water. Boiling the water would kill off just about any bacteria and germs, but drinking hot water (even after it cools a bit) isn’t ideal. 
    • Use the boil water and then dump it into one of the contaminated containers. Do this a few times to ensure the boiled hot water kills any bacteria in the bottle. Then boil water and store it in the container and drink when it cools. 

The last one was my least favorite as I’m unsure of its effectiveness, but it would be safer than risking drinking water straight from the lake. If I had to do the last option, I’d couple it with packing up and heading back early just in case. Search and rescue services aren’t cheap from what I’m told. 

Again, if you can, prepare and check your equipment before an adventure. Also, practice working through tough situations when you’re not in them at the moment to prepare yourself and train your brain to adapt to future obstacles. Now, go have an adventure of your own and stay safe out there.