With roots in time immemorial, “sandbagging” is when an invitation is made to go out on an excursion, but crucial details are intentionally left out. The art of the sandbag is a delicate and sometimes necessary way of coaxing friends into unwanted escapades. Personally, I have been the instigator to many a memorable sandbag, along with a few ending in tears. I have also been on the receiving end of plenty—white-knuckled and somewhat annoyed—but it’s all water under the bridge.
Learning the appropriate time and place for a sandbag is of the utmost importance. For example: convincing a friend that he should leave the rope at home because the route is “mostly third-class” (read: 5.6) is a shitty thing to do. But suggesting that a route is a quick-and-classic 5.9, but in reality is a slightly more challenging 5.10, might be a recipe for a good time.
Not everyone in your life is ready for a sandbag. People such as your mom, your boss, or maybe your significant other (use your discretion with this one) might not be the right people to take off with on a wild goose chase.
As a general rule, if it could result in true danger, avoid the sandbag. Telling someone who’s never touched an ice tool to try her hand at a stiff pitch is never a good idea, and can result in not only injury, but the end of a friendship. Another area where the sandbag is best avoided is in the realm of whitewater. In scenarios where swims are safe, have at it. But if there are rocks, sieves, and branches that take things beyond a casual swim, don’t drag your unprepared amigos down the river. Of course, we all must draw our own lines, but proper precautions should be taken.
Sometimes, however, sandbags are accidental. I remember one fateful night in particular, hiking 4,000 feet out of a canyon under the light of a full moon, exhausted, famished, and out of water. The worst part? It was a trip I’d planned myself, and I’d genuinely thought that we’d “be home by five.” After that, I learned to read topographic maps. Other classics include accidental 30-mile bike rides, “shortcuts” that turn out to be the opposite, unplanned rappels without headlamps, and comically sloping bivy ledges.
When it comes to the “art form” of the sandbag itself, there are a couple of tricks I’ve learned over the years. The most utilitarian is the “time estimate.” It’s also easy and rarely dangerous. Here’s how it works: claim an adventure will be nothing more than three hours round-trip.
It should also be noted that not everyone in your life is ready for a sandbag. People such as your mom, your boss, or maybe your significant other (use your discretion with this one) might not be the right people to take off with on a wild goose chase. Roommates, friends, or anyone a little too full of himself, on the other hand, are candidates ripe for a sandbag. A good humbling can push them to have an adventure, or perhaps rein in their bloated egos.
When it comes to the “art form” of the sandbag itself, there are a couple of tricks I’ve learned over the years. The most utilitarian is the “time estimate.” It’s also easy and rarely dangerous. Here’s how it works: claim an adventure will be nothing more than three hours round-trip. Then, when hour eight sets in and the sun is well below the horizon, memories will be made, stories will be told, and headlamps will be pined for. Other great sandbags include the fudging of mileage, climbing grades, weather forecasts, trail conditions, or general “bike-ability.”
In an era of generous trail descriptions, outdoor vlogs (that’s “video blogs,” for those older than 40), and guides on every stretch of whitewater in the area, a healthy sandbag is what we need to even the keel back toward adventure. There is no better recipe for a memorable time than biting off a bit more than you can chew. I dare say sandbagging will not only make you a better adventurer, but possibly a better person, too—as a little humbling can help us all. So get out your phone and text a friend: “Wanna do a fun climb in the Bridgers this afternoon? It’ll only take a couple hours.” Then proceed to enjoy the dark and confused stumble of a long night out.