We’ve all been there. You spent hours planning your glorious outdoor adventure, and then the gremlins strike. Maybe you forgot your tent, or maybe some mischievous animal took off with your water bottle. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
13 travelers and outdoor enthusiasts offered to share their embarrassing moments and lessons learned. Sit back, have a laugh, and learn what not to do on your next trip.
The great news is that everyone survived and now has a great story to share. And that’s part of the adventure!
Never Underestimate The Weather
I used to love all the short and simple hikes I had been on in the Caribbean. Just pants and a t-shirt, and the hikes no more than one hour each way.
When I went on my first hike to a glacier in Colombia, I didn’t think too much about the elevation since I had been living in Bogotá at an elevation of 2800 meters for 2 years. And I was able to see the sights of Bogotá without altitude issues.
I did my research and knew it would be cold, so I made sure to pack a thermal top, water-resistant pants, and a puffy water-resistant jacket. I thought this would be enough to keep me warm, but little did I know that with an altitude of over 5,000 meters plus rain, it was unbelievably cold.
The group was given hiking sticks to help on the journey, but because the elevation was so high, I could barely move more than a few steps without feeling dizzy. On top of it all, it was up a steep incline making it even worse. I was already struggling immensely, but then the rain came.
Even though my hands were numb and I could barely move, I was determined to make it to the glacier. I got to see it and the hike down the hill was so much quicker because I just couldn’t wait to get out of there. After that, I wouldn’t call myself an avid hiker again!
Krystee of Vacation Geeks
My husband and I always loved photos of Yellowstone, and we thought it was amusing to choose Wyoming for our honeymoon instead of the traditional Caribbean vacation.
Since we got married in June in Texas, which is always sweltering in the summer, we were looking forward to something a little cooler. Yellowstone meant lots of hiking, seeing waterfalls, and being around the mountains. We packed shorts, light hiking boots, and one pair of jeans and a sweatshirt each (for the cool evenings).
When we got there, it was shockingly cold all day and freezing at night. Even with the cold, we decided to go on a hike, and after a slight elevation change in the mountains, we ended up being in about 3 feet of snow.
As we were walking and punching through the ice crust into the snow, there was snow in our boots, our jeans were sopping wet, and our sweatshirts just weren’t keeping us warm at all.
As soon as we got down from that hike, we went directly to the shops in Jackson Hole (who were chuckling at our condition) and spent a lot of money getting jackets, new waterproof boots, wool socks, better hiking pants, good thermals, and other warm accessories.
Our hikes were so much better after the warm gear, and we now laugh about how unprepared we were. We are known for our vacation disasters among our friends for this mishap and other incidents, and it has given us great stories over the years.
Follow Krystee and her husband at vacation-geeks.com.
Those Last Minute “Genius” Packing Ideas
Emma of Forever Lost in Travel
I spent weeks planning my first big multi-day hike, packing and re-packing my backpack. Struggling to cut down the weight so that I would be able to carry the pack for 4 days, I couldn’t decide what to let go of.
But despite cutting out some non-essentials I opted at the last minute to forego taking my waterproof jacket and instead went with an insulated, more lightweight, water-resistant coat. My reasoning was that it was the end of September and it looked more likely to be colder at night than be rainy.
However about 10 minutes into my 60km hike of the High Rim Trail in British Columbia, I regretted my decision as it started to rain. Hoping that it would just be a passing shower, and with no other choice but to continue, I spent the next 15km walking through rain that gradually got heavier.
After the first hour my jacket was so wet I could feel it on my skin.
That first night was so miserable my friend and I thought about turning back. But we continued with the hike and the next day was sunnier, allowing me to dry out my clothes.
Since then I never sacrifice any type of protective gear, especially in a place known for its rain. As my first overnight hike, this was a rookie mistake I won’t make again.
Follow Emma at foreverlostintravel.com.
Why Did It Have To Be The Tent?
Denise of Chef Denise
When my husband and I arrived in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, the incredible beauty of the mountains and Staubbach Falls took our breath away.
This was our first camping trip in Europe and we scored! However, as we gathered our gear from the train platform and prepared to trek our way to our campsite, our load was lighter than it should have been—we were missing our tent!
Unfortunately, our train just pulled away with our tent safely on the rack above our seats. Ugh!
My husband quickly found someone at the train station to help us. The station manager assured us they would try and get the tent on the next train back to us if indeed it was still there. In the meantime, we waited and planned what to do.
How can you camp without a tent?!
We still had our sleeping bags; could we sleep outside? It didn’t sound great to these 2 Californians. Even though it was summer, the temperature was quite cool, low 50’s F. And we were hiking down from Jungfraujoch the next day. We needed a good night’s sleep.
Luckily we didn’t have to wait long. The station manager miraculously had our tent within the hour!
We were amazed and beyond grateful. Needless to say, we learned a valuable lesson about making sure we have all of our belonging when leaving trains, planes, and yes, automobiles!
Follow Denise at chefdenise.com.
Deb of The Visa Project
During my time working in the USA, I visited national parks and state parks many times, but Yellowstone was my favorite. Now, when you go on a road trip to a national park like Yellowstone, you need to plan a lot of things.
And if you love camping, you would definitely try to reserve a good camping spot.
You’re probably not worrying about whether or not you would be able to set up your tent. And then, since you were unable to set it up, you would sleep in the sleeping bag while everyone else talked about bears visiting campgrounds for leftover food.
Yep, you heard that right.
So I bought a brand new tent from REI on my first visit to Yellowstone in July, didn’t read the instructions, and made it to the park somewhere around 8 pm or so. It was pretty dark by then.
No matter how many times I tried, I simply couldn’t set it up, even when a couple of folks tried helping me out.
So after a while, I simply gave up, took out my sleeping bag, spread it on the grass, slid in, and slept like a log. I did have a dream or two about bears, but no real visits. What a shame!
It didn’t happen the next night though. I read the manual beforehand and set it up during the day.
Alison of ExplorationSolo
My mishap falls under this category too. I was asked to lead an overnight trip last minute and three of the participants had loaner tents. I’ve helped pitched several tents over the past few years and thought I could set up just about anything. Turns out I was wrong.
One of the tents had 2 doors, one in the front and one on the side. I’d never seen this before but thought it no big deal. However, no matter how hard I tried, I could not get the doors on the rainfly to line up with the doors on the tent and look right. If we lined up the doors, the fly didn’t come down far enough to offer protection if it rained.
I had another experienced person with me, and after 30 minutes neither of us could figure it out. With no cell signal, we couldn’t google a video. We finally decided to put it on crooked so only one door lined up. At least she could get in and out of the tent. And it was more water-tight that way.
Ever since then, whenever I’ve led a trip, I try really hard to make sure that tent is not one of the loaners. To this day, I still have no idea how to line the doors up and get the rainfly to fit correctly.
Choose Your Guide Wisely
Joseph of The Culture Portrait
Two hours from Panama City, Panama is the small town of El Valle de Anton, a volcanic valley surrounded by picturesque mountains. When the locals suggested we hike the famous “India Dormida” mountain, we said yes.
The next morning, we arrived at the start of the path and met our guide, a 10-year-old local.
After hiking for about 2 hours, with sweat running down my forehead, I asked our guide “how long until we arrive?” He hesitated to answer the question.
Initially, we did not mind that our guide was only 10. He was a native and came highly recommended as knowing the mountain inside and out. Now I know that we should have minded.
Whenever you are going to go on a difficult hike, it might be best to ask for a guide older than ten.
Somehow, we had deviated from the trail and our guide had no idea where we were. We found ourselves completely lost, and without a cell signal.
We decided to walk in the direction we had come from for half an hour, but this just led to us becoming even more lost than before.
Luckily, out of thin air, a couple of hikers appeared. Relieved, we ran towards them and explained our situation. They told us we were only 10 minutes from the top of the mountain and offered to lead us there.
We got to see the top of the mountain and learned a lesson to be a bit more punctilious when selecting our hiking guide.
Getting Locked Out
Nick of Spiritual Travels
My most embarrassing moment in all of my travels took place at the tail end of my trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. During the multi-day hike, I naturally got to know some of the other trekkers along the way.
On the return portion, we decided to go out for some celebratory drinks on the evening we arrived in Namche Bazaar. This is the largest town on the trek, and many hikers stop there to acclimatize to the altitude for a few days on the way up. Coming down, it felt like we’d returned to civilization.
Returning with a buzz to my hotel around 10 p.m., I found the huge door wooden had been locked for the night, and no, they didn’t provide guests a key. I proceeded to knock on the door, lightly at first, then harder, but still in vain. I bashed the door as hard as I could, and still nothing. Before accepting my fate of being locked out and possibly freezing to death that night, I even tried screaming at the top of my lungs.
FINALLY, a fellow trekker staying in one of the rooms came down and opened the door for me. I felt both shame and relief.
The next morning at breakfast, I overheard not one but several people at other tables talking about the crazy person they’d heard screaming out on the streets the night before. I looked out the window, ate my breakfast, and didn’t say a word.
Follow Nick at nickkembel.com.
Feeling Bullish About Pack Weight
Martha of May Cause Wanderlust
When I did the Inca Trail in Peru, I didn’t like the idea of porters carrying my backpack for me – it seemed kind of colonial, so I opted to carry my own pack. After all, being self-sufficient is what hiking is about, right?
Well, the first sign this was a mistake was at the start of the trail, when I saw that almost everyone else had given their packs to porters, and they were carrying just a small day pack with their water, lunch camera, etc. I was one of only a handful carrying their full pack!
As soon as I started up the first incline, I knew it was going to be hard. The altitude was making me breathless and the pack was much heavier than I had anticipated. Day 1 is supposed to be the easiest day of the Inca Trail, but by the end of that day, I was seriously exhausted!
Luckily, I was able to arrange for a porter to carry my pack for the rest of the hike. Otherwise, I am not sure I would have made it the rest of the trail. I am so thankful for those super-strong porters!
So I learned the hard way that you should both practice hiking with the actual weight you intend to carry AND you should carry extra cash just in case you need help along the way. These are just two of the many tips I have for anyone preparing to hike the Inca Trail.
Chantae of Chantae Reden
A few friends and I wanted to see just how far we could run in one day, with the goal of finishing a 90-kilometer out-and-back trail in the highlands of Fiji. One friend decided to go as light as possible, holding a pack of Skittles in one hand and a water bottle in the other. She tucked her phone into her pocket.
I, on the other hand, packed as if I planned to go for four days with multiple water bottles, tons of snacks, a first aid kit large enough to treat an army, a GoPro, my phone, a power bank, and a change of spare clothes.
While the first 15 kilometers were fine to do with my turtle shell, I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete the whole run carrying so much gear. At around the 25-kilometer mark, I threw my backpack into the back of a truck and carried a large water bottle in my hands. I wished I had a snack, and hoped I’d get my backpack back eventually.
I was grateful not to have the turtle shell on my back the next 10 kilometers as nearly all of it was uphill. In the end, my friends and I made it to the halfway mark of the trail – a little over 40 kilometers in total.
As soon as I got home, I ordered a backpack specifically for trail running, and my behemoth of a backpack I wore during my long run has been retired to weekend trips only.
Hiking Boots – Essential Gear
Victoria of Guide Your Travel
How do you go on a trip without packing any shoes?
Well, it happened to me and I’m still not really sure how. We were going on a camping trip and packing the car with all sorts of gear. Since it was summer I was walking around barefoot and hadn’t really been wearing shoes the past few days.
We got the car packed and headed out in a rush because it was already late afternoon and we had a long way to drive. Since we had been shoving bags into the car and picking up things last-minute, it wasn’t until about half an hour into the drive that I realized I’d left without shoes.
I was barefoot and hadn’t packed any shoes, not even a pair of flip-flops. We didn’t have time to turn back so I had to buy a pair at a random shop during our trip. It made for a funny story to tell though.
Follow Victoria at guideyourtravel.com.
Nina of Nina Out and About
I moved back to Canada during the pandemic, leaving most of my belongings with a friend in the UK. Unfortunately, that included my hiking boots.
I spent two months finding small hikes around Toronto that I could do in sneakers confidently, like the Scarborough Bluffs Trail. Eventually, I got too big for my boots and decided to take on Algonquin Park in the fall.
Fall in Algonquin is notoriously muddy – a fact I’d forgotten in my years away from my home country.
The hike began with my sneakers squelching deep into a puddle of mud. You’d think I’d turn around at that point. Nope! I decided I’d driven an hour for the view, so I was damn well going to see it.
The climb I did was uphill, with patches of mud and large swaths of rock making it challenging to get my footing. When I reached the top successfully, I got too cocky. I thought I’d bested the mountain, but as every hiker knows, you shouldn’t underestimate the terrain.
My foot caught on the edge of a boulder on my descent. I tripped downwards, jarring my foot as I tried to right myself. It ended up slamming into a rock while my knee landed hard on the Canadian shield.
Lesson learned: hiking boots are essential!
A sprained foot and six hours in emergency are worth spending the $80 on an extra pair of hiking boots.
Always Carry Extra Water
Cecilie of Worldwide Walkers
One of my greatest travel blunders is underestimating one of New Zealand’s toughest day hikes. Roy’s Peak Track is a 16-kilometer hike with an elevation greater than 1200 meters. Basically, it’s 8 kilometers up and then 8 kilometers down.
And I was not prepared, at all.
My boyfriend and I began the hike at the worst possible time of the day – at midday on a hot, clear summer day. There was not a hint of shadow on the trail, so we would be climbing this beast of a mountain in the sun. But worst of all, we didn’t bring enough water with us.
We were halfway up the mountain when we realized that we would soon run out of water. Should we turn around and admit defeat or keep on walking and face dehydration? We knew that turning around was the right thing to do, yet we stubbornly decided to continue up the trail.
We rationed our water all the way to the top. And when we were standing at the 1578 meters tall peak, we drank our last drop of water. Already feeling the dehydration kicking in, we couldn’t enjoy the incredible viewpoint and instead walked straight down the remaining 8 kilometers.
We luckily made it back to ground level in one piece just feeling dizzy, tired, and thirsty. But dehydration is a serious thing, and it could have gone terribly wrong. So, my lesson learned is ALWAYS bring double the water you think you need when you go on a hike, and NEVER underestimate a trail.
Outdoor Mishaps Wrapped Up
As you can see, even experienced travelers and outdoor enthusiasts make mistakes. Things happen and sometimes you have to move to Plan B – even if it’s not the greatest. Looking back now, we all just shake our heads and laugh.
I’m sure these won’t be our only outdoor moments of “uh oh”. But we’ll all keep going because having fun is what it’s all about!