That Time Your Through Hike Turned Into An Epic Fail…

The best laid plans of mice and men! Those would be the words I use to describe our last hike.

We had a group of six on a through hike of the Buffalo River Trail. The first evening the hike started out splendidly. But by the end of the second day, a friend and I had to come off the trail. Frustrated is the mildest term I could use to describe our feelings.

On the drive home we spent most of our time talking about what went wrong. I am writing this somewhat humbling post in hopes that it may help you prevent your own epic fail hike…

[bctt tweet=”A bad day hiking is better than a good day at work!” username=”michaelkduff”]

Here is our evaluation.

More Information About The Trail

Though we had hiked in this area many times, this trail was more difficult than others we had hiked. The websites noted we were facing 500 feet of elevation change. What we were not ready for was, it changed 500 feet every mile or so.

Had we consulted a good trail guide we could have saved ourselves a lot of discouragement. Better information about elevation change, water sources, trail conditions etc., would have changed everything.

Another good source of information is to talk to locals. After we came off the trail we spoke with a knowledgeable lady at the Buffalo Outdoor Center. She told us she normally recommends people skip the first part of the trail (that we were on) because the views and landmarks are not worth the effort – heavy sigh…

Test All Gear

By far the biggest mistake I made was taking untested gear on the trail. A five-star review on Amazon does not mean it will work for you on the trail.

I had used everything in my pack with the exception of the water filtration system. I’m not going to mention the brand because it was my fault not theirs.

Last minute, I changed from my normal camel pack to a water bottle with a mini-filter on it. The filter worked great, but in trying to drink though it, I found it hard to get good flow and it was hard to access from the pack unless you were taking a rest stop.

At the end of a day that turned out hotter than expected, I realized I had drunk less water than I would on a normal day at work. Had I tested this hydration system on an overnight or longer day hike, I would have used the filter to pump water into my camel back or Nalgeen.

Hike Your Own Hike

It’s hard to admit, but we had to acknowledge that we were 20-30 years older than the others we were hiking with. Though it’s painful to admit, age makes a huge difference.

Hiking at anything other than your own pace can bring on serious issues. Walking too fast can change your gate causing blisters and sore joints. Not hiking your own hike can mean you are not taking  the breaks you need which can lead to exhaustion and dehydration.

Be sure to hike at your own pace and not someone else’s.


It’s easy to say, “Yeah I can do that!” Our hike was only ten miles a day which is doable. But when we unexpectedly started changing 500 feet of elevation, things changed quickly, and adding a 35lb pack changes everything.

Walking four miles around city streets with your pack on is not adequate conditioning. If possible find an area where the terrain matches the conditions of your hike, even if you hike up and down the same hill multiple times.


The best response to a failed hike is to evaluate, adjust and get back out there. The longer you wait the less likely you are to try again. We are already planning to go back and finish the rest of this trail as section hikes!

The most encouragement I can offer after a failed hike is, “A bad day hiking is better than a good day at work!”

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