How To Learn From Your Adventure Fails

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.

Bad Weath­er
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.