January 2018
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When Good Outdoor Gear Goes Bad

We’ve all had camping equipment become defective from time to time. A tent pole that breaks, kayak skegs that leak, hiking boots that don’t fit any more and cause blisters. But sometimes you get gear that actually turns on you… that tries to kill you.

If there is anything that is ubiquitous in the camping/hiking/kayaking works it’s velcro. Velcro is wonderful when it works right but a PITA when it doesn’t. I have an older pair of sandals that use velcro fasteners. They’re wonderful sandals but they no longer stay on my feet. The velcro has somehow worn out. At first I thought it was just dog hair (we had huskies) so I managed to remove all of that but they still wouldn’t stick well. They stick a little bit and then, at the worst possible moment, suddenly release. Like when I was carefully picking my way across some logs at the beach.

I once had a pair of tennis shoes try to drown me. My Mariner Express kayak, one of my favorite boats, is a little narrow in the foot room department. Probably not for most people but for my size 12-1/2 feet it is. I know about this problem and I am careful about what footwear I have on when I paddle. I buy my  paddling footwear with an eye to minimalism. No long, hard soles and not much heel overlap. Next to bare feet, I want minimum extra stuff in my paddle shoes.

But one day I wore my tennis shoes. A tennis court doesn’t care that much how big your feet are.

So I climbed into the kayak, moved my feet around to get them onto the foot pegs, and pushed off. And when I was just a few feet from the dock I edged smartly and started to turn the kayak, caught the paddle in the water when I moved it forward for another stroke and went over. Capsized accidentally for the first time in I dunno when. The paddle was gone, ripped out of my hands when it caught the water. So I popped the spray deck and prepared to swim out.

However my tennis shoes had other ideas. They were not built for water (they were actual tennis shoes) and resisted getting out of the boat. Never mind that it was upside down and I was in a position that made breathing difficult; if not impossible. My tennis shoes were wedged into the farthest part of the cockpit and would not come out. I dog-paddled a half-roll to the surface, and got a big (but wet) breath and thought about this for a minute. Then I gave a mighty heave and pulled my feet out of the tennis shoes, exited and swam to the surface. For once, the velcro had held.

Then my tennis shoes popped out of the cockpit on their own and floated to the surface!

My friend, Pam, bought a new mummy sleeping bag after years of sleeping in rectangular bags. On her first trip she erected her new tent (a replacement for her 1972 dome tent and one that did not leak for a change), had a nice evening meal, and crawled into her new sleeping bag. A short while later she discovered that she had neglected her good-night tinkle and so prepared to get out and fix that little problem.

But her mummy bag had a velcro flap which closed and secured itself when she zipped herself up in it. Pam could not get out of her bag. The flap didn’t just hold the bag closed around her face, it locked the zipper tag so tugging on the inside tag wouldn’t pull the zipper down. Only after herculean effort did Pam manage to finally free herself from the mummy-bag-of-death.

Next time, she says, she’s sleeping with a knife.

Craig Jungers
Moses Lake, WA


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