When Is It OK To Turn Back – Make The Right Choice

Doug Williams

Most of us have been there, that no man’s land of indecision and fear of making the wrong choice. On the path debating ‘Should I go forward,’ or, ‘Should I go back’ or even, ‘Should I hunker down here for the night?’

As keen hikers and outdoors people, there could be times when any of us find ourselves in a situation where we have to consider if it’s wise to continue with the hike or activity as planned, keep in mind that this can happen to anyone.

A climb which you were led to believe was easy, may not be easy at all, or the weather has turned, or some kit has been lost or broken or you just don’t feel up to it. The two-day hike you packed for may turn into a three-day hike. The elevation may turn out to be much higher than expected.


For me it’s often mosquitoes, I hate them and they love me so it’s a bad combination.  I’ve turned back from an amazing Island adventure before because of Breeze-flies (Horse flies), it just wasn’t worth the discomfort and stress.



There are lots of reason for things not being as you hoped or planned for and that’s just how life is, there’s no point panicking it’s not a good or useful response. You will need to take stock and carefully assess the situation. Discuss this with the others with you. Explain the trouble you are experiencing or the things that are worrying you.

It is wise and sensible to regroup and make an assessment of the situation you are in, do not keep quiet because you’re being pushed by others or because you are proud and don’t want to look bad. When you are out and about, particularity off the beaten track, your priority is to make good choices no matter what the consequences.

Questions you will need to ask yourself and anyone else that’s not doing well are:

  • How fatigued are you
  • Have you got an elevated heart rate
  • Are there any breathing difficulties
  • Have you got any nausea
  • Have you got any dizziness or light headed
  • Have you got a headache
  • Are sweating a lot or stopped sweating
  • What is the weather doing?
  • How far to get back to your camp?
  • Do you have enough supplies?


If you are going to be hiking at an altitude of above 8000 feet, these are some important questions to ask. They could indicate altitude sickness. If you are fit and you can easily walk ten miles, doing this at altitude may prove more onerous. At this elevation, you have 30% less oxygen in your lungs, and you may find yourself struggling. 70% of people battle with the altitude for the first few days.


The symptoms may also only kick in after the first day. So feeling fine on day one is no guarantee of this the following day.



If you find yourself experiencing symptoms like those listed you may have a case of altitude sickness. Get down safely to a lower area if possible. Take your backpack off, have plenty to drink, rest for a bit and make some decisions about the next step

If you are feeling unusually hot you really need to find shade and stop, remove your bag, put your feet up, get yourself well hydrated. Perhaps even drench yourself with water in order to cool off. This heat exhaustion could easily escalate to heat stroke which can be fatal.

So if you find yourself in a situation where you feel unable to cope, or there’s something worrying you, do not feel embarrassed or that you’re letting people down, you need to reassess your plans. Turn back if this is the sensible thing to do. Cut the hike down and return to base. On the other hand, you might just need to take stock, chose another route, need a bit more water or a short rest and all is well to carry on.



Ultimately you have a responsibility to look after yourself and any others you’re with, you need to return from your trip in reasonable health.

Keep within your limits. Do not become a meal for bears in the backcountry, that’s just not cool, although we will write about you! Live to tell the tales of your many adventures.


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We live in a beautiful world, get out there and enjoy it.

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fmssolution is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival