Ah, the great outdoors. The breathtaking vistas, the melodious birdsong, the rapid onset of inclement weather, the confusing or nonexistent trail markers—wait, what?
If this feels a little too familiar to you, rest assured you’re not alone. Search and rescue teams get called out hundreds of times a year for people who find themselves in dire straits. But don’t let a few mishaps deter you from getting back into the wild. Think of misadventures as experience points—each one helps you level up into a more confident and capable explorer.
You Got Lost
Getting lost doesn’t happen all at once. It’s incremental, one tiny wrong decision after another. Take a look at where you went off the trail and see if you can spot the beginning of the chain. Maybe you got swept downriver on a crossing that was supposed to be easy. Now you’ve got a better sense of your own abilities, and you know you need to learn techniques to better judge and safely cross running water. Maybe you mistook a game trail for a people trail, or just flat-out went the wrong way.
On the plus side, now you know which trail you should have taken, and you can translate that into future hikes by knowing to research ahead of time where particular pitfalls of pathfinding may be. Brush up on your land navigation skills by watching some videos on using a map and compass, and get really familiar with your GPS.
If you think poor decision-making could have been a side effect of being hungry, tired, or dehydrated, that’s information too! Next time, pack extra snacks, bring plenty of water and make sure you’re well-rested before you get going.
You Got Hurt
Hopefully, it wasn’t much more than a twisted ankle, but let’s face it, there are some really ugly ways to get injured out in Mother Nature. You’ve heard of the 127 Hours guy, right? He’s still alive and out there continuing to have great adventures! So you don’t have to let anything hold you back, you’ve just got to learn from it.
Start by taking a look at your gear to see whether it meets your needs. Back and joint strain can be reduced by using a properly-fitted pack and lightening your load; good, sturdy boots might save you a rolled ankle.
Go through your first aid kit, and learn how to customize it for the types of injuries or conditions you’re most likely to see on your trip. And since a first aid kit is useless if you don’t know how to use the stuff in it, consider taking a course in wilderness first aid, or even CPR.
Think twice before hopping down from that boulder; overconfidence is a leading cause of injuries. And don’t be that guy. Also, always give someone at home your itinerary so they know when and where to send the search party.
A little rain might make your trip miserable, but a lot of rain—or any other type of unexpected weather, be it extreme heat, a blizzard, or a big ole’ thunderstorm with wind and lightning and hail—can be a problem. If you’ve been caught out or forced to seek shelter, you know there might not be much you could have done.
Here’s where this becomes experience: you know that even the people who get paid to get it right get it wrong, and on your next trip, you’ll be a little better prepared for inclement weather.
Pack some extra layers of insulation if there’s a possibility of precipitation, which is always. Bring sunscreen and maybe even an umbrella for shade if it’s going to be warm and might get even hotter. Bring an emergency shelter of some kind, a space blanket or tarp or bivy sack, in case the safest answer is to hunker down and wait it out. Between now and your next trip, learn to read the sky for signs of oncoming weather so that you can get to shelter sooner before the sky falls on you and consider picking up a field reference guide just in case.