10 Tips For Idiot-Proofing Your Adventures—From An Idiot

I could have offered some excuses—I did have a cold, and I hadn’t been sleeping much—but the truth was pretty simple: I had just forgotten to put the rope in the car. So as we stood there in the parking area for the crag, it didn’t take long to determine that without that one piece of essential equipment, we were not going to be climbing that afternoon. Whoops.

This was probably 15 years ago, and I still remember it. I guess it’s a reminder that while I may not identify as a full-time idiot, I can occasionally be an idiot. It was one of a few catalysts that led me to take steps to idiot-proof my life, using a few techniques that have helped me avoid injury, death, and probably lots of embarrassment over the years since then. Idiot-proofing, to me, is basically decreasing the distance between “Ideal Me” and “Actual Me.” For example:

Chart: Ideal Me Vs Actual Me


I do not believe you have to be an idiot to benefit from these tactics:

1. Be optimistic about potential fun, be pessimistic about time
I’m a big fan of optimism, except when it comes to being optimistic about time—because there seems to be a correlation between optimism and being late.

Do we need to get to the airport 14 hours early? No, but a little wiggle room might be nice, just in case it takes longer to find parking, or a couple of the ticketing kiosks aren’t working, or the security line is for some reason way longer than usual.

x-y chart: I Am Enough vs. I Have Enough Time

2. When in doubt, be early

The easiest way to “make up time” is to start early. Meeting someone at the trailhead 60 miles away at 7:00 a.m.? If you need to drive 65 mph to get there on time, but you get hung up and leave 15 minutes late, you now need to average 89.1 mph on your drive to get there on time.

Chart: How Late Are You?

3. Pack when you’re smartest
Some people are at their most alert and function best during the first 30 minutes after they get out of bed. I don’t know any of these people personally, and maybe they exist, but I am surely not one of them. So I do everything I can to prepare the day or night before. Including:

  • Packing everything I possibly can
  • Filling up water bottles
  • Packing enough food (OK, more than enough)
  • Making sure the car has enough gas in it

Line Graph: My Cognitive Ability Throughout The Day

4. Block your exit with essential items

Surely, you might think, someone could not plan to go for a ski lap or two and forget their skis? Or boots? I would not put it past myself. If I can safely put my skis in the car or roofbox the night before, I do that. Boots, and backpack: In front of the door I’ll exit in the morning, so I literally cannot open the door to leave in my half-asleep state without physically picking up the backpack and boots and taking them with me. Can’t place something important in front of the door overnight (i.e. lunch burrito in fridge)? I tape a giant note to the doorknob or steering wheel of the car.

photo of backpack sitting in front of door


5. Set 2-3 alarms
This is the sleep version of always having a backup. Worst-case scenario here: My second and third alarms go off while I’m brushing my teeth or eating breakfast, and I have to shut them off. Actually, no, worst-case scenario is that I shut off the first two, go back to sleep, and by the third time, my wife is annoyed enough to divorce or bludgeon me with a lamp. Which is why I always bolt out of bed after the first alarm.

photo of watch with 3 alarms set


6. Plan for some delays
You can control some things, but unfortunately you can’t control someone in front of you driving 15 mph below the speed limit, or needing to make an emergency stop for coffee/bathroom/gas station roller grill taquitos, or when your friend’s backpack malfunctions, or you get a flat on your bike.

Chart: Things You Can Control

7. Bring a map

Not to date myself, but I remember the days when you had to BRING A PAPER MAP with you to know where the hell you were in nature. Now you can just use one of approximately 500,000+ smartphone apps that can tell you exactly where you are! (Even if you don’t have a cell phone signal!) And I am the opposite of curmudgeonly about it! I think it’s great!
Caveat: Your phone runs on a battery, and if that battery dies, none of your apps will work. So charge your phone (the night before).

Chart: Number of Maps You Can Fit In Your Pocket


8. Be pessimistic about the weather forecast
Sure, I know meteorology is a science, and humans have spent bajillions of hours and endless amounts of money trying to understand and predict weather. BUT: As of the present date, the only scientifically proven way to predict whether or not it will rain is whether or not I brought a rain jacket with me.

Flow chart: Is It Going To Rain?


9. Always take a headlamp
If all of the above punctuality and planning techniques fail, completely or partially, and you end up trying to get back to your car in the dark, at least you’ll be able to see where you’re going—which, in my experience, means you can move faster.

Chart: Ability to see 10 Feet In Front of My Face Vs. My ability to navigate

10. Don’t be afraid to bail
To quote someone smarter than me: Bailing is not failing. Especially if you avoid a costly rescue and/or death.

Chart: Desirability of Selected Adventure Outcomes

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