Unlikely Lost-And-Found Stories From The Great Outdoors

drawing of convertible hiking pants with one leg missing—lost-and-found stories from the outdoors

In February 2010, I was pedaling a touring bicycle somewhere near Hatch, New Mexico, in a tenacious crosswind, when I realized the flag on my B.O.B. trailer had disappeared. It had been there in the morning when we left, and now it wasn’t. It could have blown off at any point in the past four or five hours, and I had no idea where. I didn’t like the feeling of creating trash, but there was no way we were going back for it.

I’m pretty careful in the outdoors, making sure to never leave bags of dog poop, wrappers from gels or energy blocks, or even coffee grounds. But sometimes, you just lose some stuff.

A pair of sunglasses slipped off my head into Lake Powell in 2015. I set a watch down on a rock while mountain biking in Buffalo Creek in Colorado in like 2008 and somehow just got up and rode off without it. I definitely failed to remove at least a couple pieces of rock climbing protection placed by my partners between 2008 and 2016, and I once accidentally dropped a camera about 300 feet off a rock climb and never found it.

I had a hunch that a few other people might have similar experiences, so I put out a request on Instagram last week asking if anyone wanted to share their stories. And wow, did I underestimate the response. I got well over 1,000 messages from people, most of whom have accidentally lost sunglasses, phones, camera lenses, whole cameras, hats, wedding rings, multi-tools, pocket knives, spoons, sporks, and other small items.

But the best stories, I thought, were the ones where the lost item came back to the person, through their own persistence, luck, or a Good Samaritan. So I collected those, and am sharing them here, with their permission (and sometimes even with their full name). I hope they give you a chuckle, and/or some faith in humanity, or the universe.

drawing of left hand with wedding ring missing

My wedding ring slipped off my finger playing innertube pond football. The pond was just deep enough that I couldn’t swim to the bottom, so I had to leave it behind. I’ve always been sentimental so that was a tough decision. A couple months later, I realized there was a scuba rental shop 30 minutes away, so we chose a weekend, drove 4 1/2 hours back to the pond, and I suited up and dove in with a cheap underwater metal detector from Amazon, full of confidence. Immediately my confidence evaporated as the visibility was so poor I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, and the water was cold enough to turn my lips blue. But I persevered. After 1 1/2 hours with about 10 minutes of air left in the tank, my metal detector vibrated and lo and behold, my flashlight revealed a sparkle of gold in my palm. Not my most glamorous adventure, but one of my proudest. I also realized I am most definitely not an expert scuba diver.

—Steven Vogel

In 2014 I did my first 14er, Bear Creek Spire in the Eastern Sierra. My boyfriend at the time (now husband) told me I would need to train for it, but being the stubborn person I am, I didn’t train. The climbing isn’t challenging but the terrain made it very challenging for an off-the-couch climb. We made it to the summit and I hadn’t drank anything or eaten anything. I was very dehydrated and hungry. I rappelled down first and found a banana fruit leather at the base. Like it was just waiting for me. I inspected it and it was unopened. As my boyfriend was rapping he saw me opening it and yelled “DO NOT EAT THAT!” But I had already eaten it like a too-fast toddler.

The winter of 2015, I was working on Mammoth Mountain ski patrol and a fellow patroller by the name of Ben Traxler was telling everyone a story about how he had led a group of climbers up Bear Creek Spire and was so bummed when he got back to the car because he had lost his banana fruit leather and he was always so careful about not dropping things. I let him know that I found his fruit leather and ate it. I had wonderfully underprepared for that adventure and he basically saved me from myself by dropping that fruit leather. We cross referenced the dates that he guided the trip and I verified the brand of fruit leather. To this day it’s one of my weirdest and coolest backcountry finds.

—Trinity Wickenhauser 

I hiked with girlfriends and we had a naked photo shoot at a glacial lake. That evening after returning home I realized I didn’t have my DSLR camera. The next day I repeated the 15-mile hike (this time as a run) to retrieve it but it was nowhere to be found. A few days later I thought to call the police and sure enough it had been turned in. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had scrolled through photos trying to identify the owner but instead just got an extensive photo shoot of four naked American twenty-somethings standing on glacial icebergs.

—Rebecca Sharar

drawing of brick cell phone

My younger brother and I were hiking Mt. Timpanogos in Utah (11,700-foot summit). This was the late ’90s so our mom insisted we take her fancy giant cell phone in case something happened. We summited uneventfully and when we stopped for a break on the way down at a shelter that sits on a glacial lake we realized we lost her phone somewhere along the way. Horrified, we finished the hike and reluctantly told her that the phone was gone. Two weeks later she gets a call from the sheriff’s office that they have her phone. Turns out the day we were hiking someone injured themselves badly glissading down a snow field off the summit. The injured person’s friends found a cell phone and used it to call search and rescue to help evacuate their injured friend. Our mom got her phone back and someone was able to be rescued after suffering a bad injury!

—Seth Gunderson

I hike with a group of friends and we have a retired military member named Jim, who is very old-school, and he uses a GPS with a stylus. He loves the stylus, and he lost it on the hike of the black forest trail in the Pennsylvania Wilds two or three years ago.

We were section hiking the trail and returned the following week to do the next section, and met some hikers who were camping for the night. Sitting at the campsite was the stylus. They had found it on the trail. He still has the stylus.


drawing of convertible hiking pants with one leg missing—lost-and-found stories from the outdoors

I lost the zip off part of my pants once. Well, just one of them. So the next day I hiked in half-short, half-pant things. Someone had found the other leg and carried it until they saw me and handed it over. Not sure what was more embarrassing, that I owned zip-off pants or how I looked with only one leg. I lost them at Vogelsang up in Tuolumne Meadows. They were graciously returned on the hike to Merced Lake.

—Bryce Funk

I once used the bed of my truck to prop up my (very nice) camera to snap some photos moments after getting engaged in the Uinta Mountains. In my post-engagement bliss, we drove off with it still on the bed of my truck. Arrived home 40 minutes later and the camera was nowhere to be found. Drive back, search in the dark, no luck. Drive back the next morning, search again, found it 20 feet from where I had last seen it, set in the perfect “won’t see it unless you’re searching for a lost camera” spot by some Good Samaritan.


A friend lost his Light My Fire striker on one of our trips. We couldn’t remember when or where it was lost. The first night into a repeat traverse of the Bailey Range, we set about making camp. He went to get water and I began setting up the stove to boil water. On the ground right next to me was his striker. Same spot we left it two years prior. Now we have two strikers.

—Justin McGregor

In 2001 I left my GoLite “Ray Way” pants somewhere along the PCT. In Bishop, an eccentric woman on rollerblades (tight painful ones, apparently) chatted me up and learned about my loss. She owned the local secondhand store and had recently gifted a friend the perfect pair of replacement pants. She drove me to her friend’s home, asked for the pants back and gave them to me free of charge. It made me feel very uncomfortable, but it was kind and thoughtful. A week later another hiker caught up to me and returned my old pants. Then I lost my hat.


map of Red Rock Natural Conservation Area labeled to show distance between Cat in the Hat and Tunnel Vision climbing routes—lost-and-found stories from the outdoors

A few of us were climbing Cat in the Hat at Red Rocks. My buddy has our camera in his pocket, lanyard girth hitched around his gear loop. At this point, we’re waiting at the pitch 5 anchors.  Another party pulls their ropes and the knot snags on the lanyard, breaking the lanyard and pulling the camera out of his pocket. We see the camera fall hundreds of feet. It’s gone though. No way we can possibly find it. We’re devastated because this camera has all our pictures from the last two weeks of this road trip.

About a year later, a friend gets a Facebook message saying they found an SD card. Apparently they recognized the ASU outing club sticker on a helmet, and messaged people there who recognized someone climbing with us. Eventually they sent us the SD card and a cute little map showing where they found it. Apparently it was about 5 canyons over from where we were, on Tunnel Vision. No idea how they found it.

—Brian Fane

I left a camera next to a cave in Washington state. I drove away and only realized it was left behind the next day. I was 500 miles away and it was raining at the cave and so I figured it was toast. A month later, I received a call from the local police. They had found my camera. I had no identifying information on the camera nor a picture of anything useful that would identify me. But, it must have been a slow day at the office, and their considerable detective prowess was put to work. They found a picture of a puppy on my camera. It was a friend’s puppy, living hours away from the cave. The name tag was visible, as was the phone number. The detective called the puppy’s owner, described what my other pictures looked like, and she identified me as the likely owner of the camera!

—Chelsea Heveran

I left my retainer in Rocktown  (Georgia) while eating lunch at Hueco Simulator. Three years later, I came back to that same spot and found it again, buried in a pile of leaves.


My wife and I both used to be Traveling Trainers for Leave No Trace—which maybe makes this worse? Or just means that none of us are perfect when it comes to LNT.

We were hiking a peak outside Seattle and had just gotten back to the car when we realized we left our entire snack bag on the ridge. It was getting dark so we said we would come back next weekend to get it. But then it snowed, and kept snowing, and kept snowing, so we never had a chance that season to go back for it.

Next summer, once everything melted out, we went back to see if we could find the snack bag. After a few minutes of searching around we actually found it! Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, wildlife had gotten to most of it. But! The only thing completely unscathed was a mint chocolate Clif protein bar, which is apparently gross even to winter starved chipmunks.


I lost my fave hat ~100 miles into my thru hike of the Colorado Trail. Someone I met picked it up, tried to find me but couldn’t, so gave it to another hiker to carry through the trail and back to Denver. My hat completed a thru hike without me and now it’s my prized possession!


My brother set his pocket knife down on a rock by a remote lake in the Wind River Range and forgot it. Years later, he sat down on that same rock and found his knife again.

—Emily Sim

My dad and I went on an epic fishing trip in 2013 while he was driving me to Colorado for college. We spent seven days fly fishing throughout New Mexico and Colorado and on one particular day, he hooked into a huge rainbow and fought it for 15 minutes and it snapped off right at the net. We were super bummed to leave the flies in its mouth. The next day I hooked into a massive rainbow and lo and behold as we netted it we realized it had his flies in its mouth from the day before. It was great to free the flies from the fish’s mouth!

—London Krapff

My wife and I and our two kids borrowed my in-laws trimaran once and sailed to a state park island in Florida (Cao Costa), about a 20-mile sail. It was pretty windy sailing there and we were barely in control. On the way there, my favorite hat blew off and was lost in the water. It was a loss but wasn’t worth trying to turn the boat around and look for it. We stayed at the island a few days, and had really bad weather the last day. On the way home, the wind died at one point and we were sitting still in the water. My daughter, who was five at the time, turned to me and said, “Dad there’s your hat.” Sure enough there was my hat floating right next to the boat. Picked it up out of the water and a few minutes later the wind picked back up and we sailed away. It was kinda weird, through all the tough weather we went through on the trip that everything stopped for that one moment for me to get my hat back from the ocean where it had been lost days before.

—Brian G. Nicholson

flyer asking for information about lost camera

One fall day my friends and I were in the Desolation Wilderness in CA. We hiked out as the first snow of the season started. When we got home to San Francisco I realized I left my camera behind. So, we took off work on Monday and went back. It had been dumping all night. But we dogged with little avy shovels in the parking lot. Nothing. I figured we tried, and that was that. Fast-forward to the next spring and my friend is back there and there’s a handmade sign that says, “Do you know these guys? We have their camera.” It was a picture from the day we hiked out. We met up and I got the camera back. It was a fun one. Camera was a Canon G10. Workhorse.

—Jonny Burhop

My friend Jeremy had an Apple watch that fell off in Queen’s Bath on the north shore of Kauai. It was probably 40 feet under. We could see it and Find My iPhone was still working, but it was too deep and the ocean was too rough to get it. A few weeks later, he got a call from a local who found it. They scuba in tourist areas and look for stuff. They return things they can identify, list the rest on various sites for owners to find, and eventually they sell or keep stuff that can’t be returned. They mailed it back to him and it still worked. After at least a month underwater.

—Eric Russell

Fall 2000, Backcountry of Fort Campbell, Kentucky: We were on an exercise for like three weeks. My driver and I were pretty independent due to the nature of my job. Had my Humvee decked out as a relatively comfortable living space. Well one morning I was getting out and noticed that my wedding ring was gone. Just gone. Looked inside, in my gear, nothing. Oh well. We left and went to a different location for the day but came back to our cozy little spot with a view that evening. My driver got out of the truck, bent over and picked up my ring off the fall leaves scattered around. It was a miracle. Until a few weeks later and it seems my asshole cat brushed it off of the desk into a trash can. Never found it.

—Mike Curtis

My husband lost one of his go-to pieces of gear, a North Face fleece, on a local trail during a ride. Unbeknownst to us, our friend JT picked it up and it became one of his go-to pieces of gear. No one knew till I snapped a selfie with JT at a winter race and my husband recognized the tell-tale orange zipper. In any case, this fleece has some serious mileage on it.

—Katie Benzel

Back in the 2000s I was a fly fishing guide working in Idaho/Montana in the summer/fall and in Arizona in the winter/spring. In Arizona I was working out of Lees Ferry on the Colorado. Every morning before my trip I’d get up early and take my dogs out on a 2.5-3-mile hike out to the edge of the Grand Canyon. In 2008, I had just gotten a brand-new pocket knife before heading to AZ for the winter. On my very first hike of the year, I lost said pocket knife. I looked everywhere for it with no luck. Over the next two years I went on that same hike probably 80 times and never found the knife. Fast-forward to 2010 and I’m on one of the last hikes of the season. As I was getting back to my truck I happened to look down and see the partially covered knife sitting in the dirt not 6 inches from my truck tire. I have no idea how many times I’d done that hike (or how many others had as well) in the two years since I lost the knife but I always thought the odds of finding it like that were extraordinarily low. I still have that pocket knife and still carry it today.


My dad lost a small Tupperware of salt/spices in the Jasper National Park backcountry in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Unfortunately, my mum is one of those people who always knows where their Tupperwares are, who they’ve been loaned out to, and makes sure to get them back. Growing up, there was only one small Tupperware of the set in the house because “your dad lost the other one.” In 2011ish, my dad and I went on a backcountry trip through Jasper for a month, doing remote fisheries work (we’re both fisheries biologists). Two weeks in, we go into the cupboards of the backcountry warden cabin where we were staying and THERE IS MUM’S TUPPERWARE. It had been there for 20+ years (spices had gone stale), but it was in good shape and we brought it home. Mum was pleased to see the Tupperware (and hopefully us after a month in the backcountry) but mostly scolded Dad for having misplaced it for 20-odd years.

—Sierra Sullivan

I once found a guy’s driver’s license within the first couple miles of a 20-mile backpacking trip in New Hampshire and sometime towards the end of the day we were climbing up a steep trail and I looked up and two guys were hiking down and I recognized one of them from the license picture! I was winded so I was just like, “Frank!” He was so confused until I could explain further.

—Erin Donovan

I accidentally lost my car key while trail running. Getting back to the trailhead parking lot, some Good Samaritans drove me AND my pup back home (one hour back to the city). When my friend drove me back to the trailhead with my spare key, I find a note on my car from someone who found my car key on the trail. They put it on top of my passenger side back wheel. This person realized the key matched my car and could have even driven away with it but they were kind enough to keep it discreetly hidden for me to find again. Two sets of Good Samaritans on the same day and my friend who graciously drove me to the trail. I’m very grateful.

—Vivian Tang

timeline of baseball cap being found, lost, found again, and lost again — lost-and-found stories from the outdoors

I found a worn baseball cap with a patch of a trout sewn on the front in Tuolumne Meadows (Yosemite NP) near the south end of Matthes Crest in 1979. I wore that hat a LOT because I love found objects. I lost it two summers later—it flew off my head while sitting in the bed of a pickup truck on Hwy 395. Two years LATER, I’m in Mammoth. I see a guy wearing it in a grocery store, explain to him how I lost it, and he simply hands it to me.

PS: I lost it again the next year but I’m still on the lookout. If anyone who reads this has my trout hat—no questions asked.

—Even Handy

I was tubing on the Poudre River in Fort Collins in 2014. Shooting with a waterproof point and shoot camera, I flipped off the tube and slammed into a fallen tree in the river. In my attempts to get free, the camera departed my hands, lost in the river currents, I assumed lost forever.

Summer time 2022, I received two Facebook messages from people who saw an ad on Facebook marketplace by a person who, while hanging with their kids by the Poudre River, found a camera! The FB ad had pictures they recovered from the memory card and one of them was a goofy selfie of me! So my friends pointed me to the ad, I reach out to the family (who lives in Utah) and they emailed me the memory card. All photos intact. In eight years, the camera migrated five miles down a river, and was found by some kids.

—Colin Gould

I was climbing the First Flatiron with my buddy and we were simul-climbing as far as we could. I was running out of gear, so I placed one of my approach shoes and slung it as protection. My buddy got to it, cleaned it, and then we later discovered he accidentally left it and didn’t clip it to his harness. So I did the descent in one approach shoe and one TC Pro. Months later he was out simuling in the flatirons and he ran into someone who had seen the shoe! She said she could show him where it was. Believe it or not, we were reunited months after losing it.

—Scott Guinn

when I worked wilderness therapy, my pee rag fell off my backpack

and a boys’ group at our company found it and flew it like a flag

until I texted my friend who was guiding that group to see if she saw it (also operating in the same area that week) and she sent me back a photo of the flag and she told the boys what it was

—Louise Halaburt

Not proud of this, but I once left my waders on an environmental study trip in high school. We were specifically told not to wear waders to the marsh, and to wear wading boots instead. I wore waders and got stuck trying to jump from one bank to the next. I had to be cut out of the waders. Leaving me only in my boxers (another mistake) for the three-mile walk home with my high school classmates. We tried to pull what remained of my waders out of the marsh so as to not litter and effectively create an environmental issue out of an environmental studies trip—but the pieces kept ripping off, as they were cheap rubber waders, but we were able to get most of them out of the mud. We were supposed to be studying the crab population, but spent the entire time dealing with me and my waders. Not my proudest moment.

My wife now teaches at this school and almost 20 years later, she says it is used as an example every year.


I once left my glasses resting on a balsam fir branch as I changed into dry gear near the summit of Camel’s Hump. I then popped on my sunglasses and forgot my glasses on the fir branch. Life got busy and I wasn’t able to return in a timely manner. Figured it was a loss. Winter came. Winter went. I returned seven months later to find my glasses waiting patiently for my return on the same fir branch I’d first set them on.

—Quinn Keating

In my earliest days recreating in and appreciating wilderness areas, I set my camouflage day pack down on the ground and walked up the ridge to a lookout vista. Came back to retrieve my pack and couldn’t find it, as it did what camouflage is made to do. Spent about 35-40 minutes searching as it had my phone, wallet, keys, other necessities. Finally found it in an embarrassingly small area between a ridgeline and lake.


In winter 2012, I lost a GoPro while snowshoeing up in Nome, Alaska. Went back up in near darkness to look for it but couldn’t find it in the snow, so I cut my losses and eventually got a new one. The following summer, I was back in Nome for work, and saw a message on the local listserv about a GoPro that a family found on the tundra while they were out berry picking. I got in touch with them, and they brought it over so we could see if the SD card still worked. Sure enough, it was my old GoPro with all my winter footage on it. Since I had already upgraded, I gave the GoPro to their kid (who was STOKED!). It turned out his mom was a local artist, and a few days later she brought me a gorgeous painting she made of the spot where they found the GoPro.


Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems, a collection of some of my adventure stories with full-color illustrations, is celebrating its fourth anniversary of publication this week, and if I can believe my email, people are still discovering it and getting laughs out of it:

bears don't care about your problems book cover

Signed copies are available here, and unsigned copies here: