During my first winter in Alaska, I kept a lot of things in my car. Extra woolen blankets, a snow shovel, a bag of kitty litter, fire-starting materials, granola bars, and anything else I could think of that might come in handy if my car were to break down halfway over some isolated, snow-covered mountain pass. It wasn’t until several years later that I got smart enough to put together a similar kit for travel in the summer – not for survival purposes, but for last-minute adventures. You know, the sort where you start off heading into town to pick up milk, and before you know if you’re pulling into the parking lot for your favorite local trail. Or you’re on your lunch break and get a text from a friend that the salmon at the head of the bay are biting right now.
The key to my last-minute adventure kit is a pair of old, worn-out hiking boots. They’re missing half their tread; they’re not even partially waterproof anymore. There’s so much dirt ground into the surface it’s hard to tell what color they were originally. But throw them in the back of my car, and suddenly my old, battered and beaten-down boots become a ticket to all sorts of last-minute roadside adventures.
Eventually, my car became a resting place for all sorts of old outdoor gear – a rain jacket that seeps water at the shoulders, or a pair of binoculars with only one working eye piece. They’re the sorts of things I would never take on any planned, or lengthy hike – but are perfect for short, unplanned hikes and mini-adventures of the kind that seem to crop up frequently in the summer. Last-minute invitations from friends, inviting trailheads, or simply getting a better look at a bear lumbering through a meadow a few dozen yards off the highway.
Combine a few pieces of old gear with a couple of essentials – a water bottle, sunnies and a ball cap, a couple of granola bars, and a few tubes of sunscreen and bug repellent – and you have the beginnings of an outdoor adventure ‘emergency kit’ that will easily fit in a small tote or bag.
Whatever your outdoor passion, I encourage you to think about what you can keep in your car that will help you take advantage of last-minute opportunities – the sort that don’t always come along when you can run out to your gear shed.
So the next time you notice a crack in the leather on your favorite pair of hiking boots, or discover that the bottoms of your trail running shoes have barely any tread left, think twice about consigning them to the rubbish bin. Whether it’s for mucky jobs or last-minute hikes, consider keeping them around. Because you never know when those moments might line up – a perfect evening, an inviting trailhead, and the knowledge that you don’t need to run home to grab your gear in order to enjoy a short adventure in the woods.