Two friends check a map during their hike
Family Health

Outdoor Safety Tips for Hitting the Trails

Some people define "roughing it" as a stay in a hotel without 24-hour room service. But others are lured by the call of the great outdoors: fresh air, exercise, and new experiences through camping and hiking. If you're thinking about hitting the trail, here are some outdoor safety tips to help you get the most out of your adventures, as well as some items you should be sure to bring along.

Staying Safe

Anything can happen when you're out in nature -- that's one of its great attractions, but it also means you need to be prepared for any contingency. While you don't want to overpack, be sure you have enough clothing to handle heat, cold, and rain. If you're going out on long hikes, bring multiple layers, as well as dry socks to change into if your feet get wet.

Speaking of water, hydration should be a priority when you're on a prolonged wilderness trek. Aim to drink between 1.5 and 3 quarts of water a day -- and even more if you're working or hiking in the heat. Failure to stay hydrated can lead to heat stroke, which can be particularly dangerous if you're far from medical attention.

You should also make sure you have enough nonperishable food for your journeys -- being low on fuel while you're on a long hike can put a serious damper on the day. If you're going in a group, ask about any food allergies that your fellow campers might have. A well-stocked first aid kit is also essential in case of any trail-related injuries.

What to Pack

So how do you bring these outdoor safety tips together to form a list of what to bring? Here are some essentials to help you get started.

In your first aid kit, be sure to include:

  • Adhesive bandages of various sizes.
  • An ACE-type elastic bandage roll.
  • Butterfly strips to hold wounds closed.
  • Sterile pads.
  • Gauze and adhesive tape to hold a dressing in place.
  • Antiseptic towelettes.
  • Medications including ibuprofen, antibiotic cream, and antihistamine tablets for insect bites.
  • Calamine lotion for hikers who run into poison ivy.
  • An EpiPen or other epinephrine autoinjector for treating allergic reactions.
  • Water-purification tablets.
  • Safety pins and a sewing needle.

Other safety and health-related items to bring include:

  • Soap for cleansing perspiration and dirt.
  • Sunscreen, ideally SPF 50.
  • Sunburn lotion with aloe vera.
  • Duct tape for repairing equipment and protecting blisters.
  • A multitool with a knife, scissors, and tweezers for removing splinters and stingers.
  • A small whistle to call for help.
  • A card with important medical information and emergency contacts for every traveler.

For good snacks to keep your energy up and your mood positive, consider:

  • Energy bars.
  • Peanut butter with apples.
  • Trail mix.
  • Dried fruits.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Beef jerky.

As you're putting together your day pack, less is always more. Keep it as light as possible, and only bring the essentials. As a rule of thumb, your pack should be between 10 and 20 percent of your body weight. Shoot for the lower end of that range -- if you weigh 180 pounds, try to get your pack down to 18 to 20 pounds. The lighter you pack, the less you risk injury, and the more enjoyable your hike will be.

If you pack according to these outdoor safety tips, you'll be able to enjoy your camping or hiking trip worry-free knowing you're prepared for whatever the trails bring.

Posted in Family Health

Randy Gerber writes on health topics for print and online blogs in an effort to help people enhance their quality of life and improve the patient experience. Randy has worked on and written about national, local, and personal health care issues for 25 years. Also, he's married to an OB/GYN, which leads to lively dinner conversations.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.