Lost In The Woods

Failed Overnight Hiking / Lost In The Woods And Lessons Learned

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  • Post last modified:March 7, 2021
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In this post, I just want to cover a few things I learned from my latest overnight hike. I ended up calling it quits about 3 AM and packing it back up for home. That was the plan anyway. What actually happened was I got so far off track that I spent 1 1/2 hours trying to find the trail I came in on.

It was 3 AM. It had rained all night and even though my tarp shelter was doing a great job at keeping the rain out, it couldn’t stop the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes. Everything was soaking wet and it was nasty hot.

Hiking Fail - Lost In The Woods

My back was killing me. I wanted to keep my pack light so, in a moment of pure stupidity, I decided to leave my blow-up sleeping pad at home. My 51-year-old body should be fine laying on the ground with a 12 oz. sleeping bag, right? Wow, was I wrong! If you’ve ever hurt so bad laying down and can barely manage to move, much less stand up, you know what I’m talking about. Everything hurt. My back, my hip, my shoulders… Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure even my spleen hurt. Wherever that is. LOL

It was obvious I wasn’t going to get any sleep.

Combine that with the rain, heat, and bugs, I decided it was time to pack up and head home.

Lost in the woods

I packed up very fast, once I made the decision to cut and run. I know, sissy, right? 😉

With everything dripping wet, my pack felt heavier than ever. Because it was.

Packed up and gear on my back, flashlight in one hand, trekking poles in the other, I went out to find my bear bag. Found it. I was impressed with myself on how fast I found my food bag (we call it a “Bear Bag” because we tie our food up in a tree away from camp in hopes we don’t get a big hungry visitor while we sleep). I take my bear bag FAR away from camp and usually have a tough time finding it the next morning even tough it is daylight and I marked the location. I just walked straight to it in the middle of the night.

I might have patted myself on the back a little too soon.

It was hot as all get out, raining just enough to make the bugs angry and it couldn’t have gotten darker if I’d been in a mile long cave. It was bad! I was sweating so bad that I could barely see and the mosquitoes were viciously eating me alive.

I was wearing my boonie hat with a bug head net and I was constantly lifting that up to clear the sweat from my eyes with a soaking wet rag. Keep in mind, I’m not on a trail, I’m in the woods and in the thick of it. I macheted my way through much of it to get to my campsite the previous day.

I have a tendency to go way off trail for my campsites. Is that because there’s no official overnight camping allowed in many of my hiking spots?

I’ll plead the fifth but if that were true, then campfires would be a no-no as well. One might get away with it if one was far enough away from the trail and other people. Just saying.

About the time I thought I should be coming up on the trail, I found myself walking into a swampy marsh that wanted to suck the boots from my feet.

Great, I took a wrong turn somewhere. No problem, I have my Garmin GPS. Now that $300 ($400 with the accessories) is going to come in handy. Right?

Well, that’s lesson number one – learn your equipment and use it. I didn’t set the GPS to track my course and I didn’t tag my starting point. I didn’t need to because I’m like a modern-day Daniel Boone, right? Huge mistake!

I could see the lake that I was parked on the other side of on my GPS map, but now I seemed to have another lake I didn’t even know was out there in between that spot and where I was standing.

Heavy brush, fallen trees everywhere, up and down climbs I would have found tough without a pack, and thorns. Let’s not forget the thorns. Big painful cloth-tearing thorns!

And did I mention it was raining but not enough to get rid of the mosquitoes?

At one point I actually slipped on the remains of a half-eaten deer carcass and fell into it. That “roadkill” smell was a fantastic addition to my adventure.
True story.

Eventually, I pulled my pack off to get my bearings and to pee. Am I supposed to mention peeing in a blog post? Oh well.

Once I decided on the direction of travel, I threw my backpack on and marched onward. It wasn’t until the next time I needed a break that I realized I left my $65 trekking poles back there in the freakin’ amazon rain forest. Damn.

Prediction: 10,000 years from now, when the Earth has moved on from humans and formed a different civilization, one of those creatures will discover my carbon fiber and titanium trekking poles and wonder what the ancient civilization did with those primitive tools. Because it’s going to take that long for another idiot to walk around in a mess like that.

After six months, I mean an hour and a half, I finally found the trail. Then it was a mere five-mile hike and a three-hour drive to get home. Oh, how I was going to enjoy that shower and a soft bed. So spoiled.

Lessons learned from that hiking fail

You will never stub your toe standing still. The faster you go, the more chance there is of stubbing your toe, but the more chance you have of getting somewhere. ~ Charles Kettering

I called it a “failed” trip but that’s not entirely true since the main reason for hitting the trail in the first place is to learn what we can and can’t do, what we need and don’t need, and ultimately, learn how to survive. Right?

Well then, mission freakin’ accomplished.

☒ Know your gear: I already mentioned the lesson on the GPS. Understand how to use your equipment and then actually put it to use.

Off-topic: While I believe we need to be familiar with our equipment, we should also strive to survive without it.

For example, as a truck driver, I know many younger drivers that couldn’t find a city, much less an address, without using a GPS. Even today I avoid using GPS as a crutch.

☒ Don’t be a stubborn fool: A buddy of mine called and said it was going to rain all weekend and thought I would wait. I didn’t go last week because it was in the mid-nineties. I’m so stubborn I said I wasn’t waiting another week and went anyway.

☒ Pack the right gear. I already mentioned the sleeping pad. I also forgot to bring a bag cover. I hung my pack on a tree and it didn’t seem to be getting too wet so I didn’t cram it into my already tight shelter. After several hours of drizzle, that pack got pretty wet. The contents survived but the pack itself soaked up a lot of rain.

At the same time, I had pounds of things that I didn’t need or use. For example, I had enough ways to start a fire that I could have supplied my local Boy Scouts for a month. Overkill.

I also ended up with two med kits for some reason. And enough paracord to weave a blanket.

☒ Give yourself the time you need to accomplish the mission: So this is the second time I STARTED an overnight hike late in the afternoon. Actually, some people would consider 7 PM evening time. That’s ridiculously late to start something that requires travel and setup.

I could have overcome the lack of padding by taking advantage of the natural resources around me if it wasn’t already midnight by the time I was set-up. A bed of pine needles and/or leaves under a tarp or space blanket, which I had, can be even better than a sleeping pad.

What I did right on the hiking trip

Sure, there were mistakes but we can’t only focus on the bad.

You have to try before you came claim victory: I’d have to say the biggest thing I did right was going out in the first place.

Seriously, how many preppers and “survivalists” buy up thousands of dollars in gear and supplies and have never put that stuff to work to see if it works or is right for them?

I won’t name names but we’ve all seen the YouTube videos where someone is showing all the survival gear they own and every bit of it is brand new – never used.

Sometimes it’s still in the original wrapping with tags hanging from it. How can they possibly know what they need and be sure they know how to use it?

Better yet, how on Earth can they recommend to others what to buy when they never used what they’re recommending? </soapbox>

This is why I keep going out on these trips while my family and friends think I’m a nut job. Well, that and the fact that it is as fun as it sounds.

Even when things go as wrong as they did on this trip, I have no regrets about going. The survival skill training alone is worth every second of that kind of frustration.

In fact, had I waited for the perfect weather for every trip, I would have limited my training.

I mean, every disaster situation waits for a nice sunny day, right?

Phone screenshot of a text message showing where I was hiking and camping.

Tell others exactly where you’ll be and when to expect you home: I didn’t wander out into the woods without letting others know where I’d be. I mean, how are they going to find my body if they don’t know where I went. 😉

Shown is a screenshot of a previous hike (Last month) in an image-text message using Google maps that I sent to a friend.

I couldn’t do that on this hike because there was no cell service but he knew where I was going, what I was doing, and when I expected to be back.

That way, should something had gone really wrong, he would have contacted the authorities with my intended location. This can literally mean the difference between life and death.

☑ Don’t Panic: I never allowed myself to panic. I knew I wasn’t “that far” off track and I’d eventually find my way out.

At one point, I stopped, tossed my backpack on the ground, and took a seat on it. I needed to think of my next move.

Walking around aimlessly hoping to find the trail is a dumb thing to do. That’s reacting and reacting can get you into deeper trouble in situations like this.

In a worst-case scenario, I knew the sun would be up in a couple of hours. Hikers and bikers would start traveling close by and I’d probably be able to hear that.

Even if I couldn’t, I’d at least be able to see that I was heading into wetlands or thorny brush again. And, OMG, I might actually see another half-eaten animal before I slip in it.

Also, I could have been set-up with shelter and fire within minutes had I decided to wait for daylight. As it turned out, I felt confident I was heading in the right direction and found my way soon after.

Don’t panic!

Have you ever been lost?

Have you ever been lost in the woods? After dark? How did you get out? Did you have gear? Did you panic? Tell the truth, were you scared? I’d love to read your story.

Share If You Care – Comment If You dare

Hawkins Out.

Brian Hawkins

Father, grandfather, Veteran, animal lover, law-abiding taxpayer, homeowner, trucker, and a United States Citizen. Oh, and I'm also a prepper, survivalist, responsible gun owner, and hiker.

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