Hiking and Outdoor Safety

Nature is something most families in the 21st century enjoy too rarely, but the outdoors can present many dangers along with its many attractions.  If you go on a hike, camp out or hunt local wildlife, it is important to know what you are doing and be prepared for a wide range of possibilities. Nature can be reinvigorating if properly managed, but it can quickly become a nightmare for the unprepared.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were more than 213,000 ER visits from 2004 to 2005 due to outdoor recreational injuries, of which more than half involving people aged 10 to 24. The most common injuries included fractures (27.4 percent) and sprains (23.9 percent). Almost 6.5 percent of all such ER visits involved a traumatic brain injury.

The Growing Popularity of Outdoor Activities

More Americans are enjoying the outdoors in the past few years. A report entitled “Federal Outdoor Recreation Trends: Effects on Economic Opportunities” found that more than 50 kinds of outdoor activities increased 7.1 percent from 1999 to 2009.  Certain activities like nature viewing and photography were ten times more popular than other outdoor activities.  Hiking is the most popular backcountry activity, while skiing and snowboarding are the fastest growing outdoor pastimes.

In total, almost half of all Americans participated in at least one outdoor activity in 2016.  More than 144 million recreationalists made more than 11 billion forays into the wilderness. There was an increase of 1.6 million participants from 2015 to 2016.

Some of the Risks of Outdoor Recreation

This growing appetite for the wilderness is potentially quite dangerous for the uninitiated, unprepared or careless. There are an almost endless number of hazards associated with going into nature, but some of the most common include

  • Infections from cuts and scrapes—Learn how to stop bleeding by applying pressure if a serious wound occurs. Carry gauze, clean water and antibiotic ointment to treat cuts.
  • Burns—exposure to open flames, hot water or the sun is usually enough to warrant medical intervention.  Soak injured tissue in cold, clean water, then apply antibiotic ointment. Wrap in gauze and provide OTC pain killers like Tylenol.
  • Lower leg injuries—among the most common injuries among hikers and outdoor enthusiasts are knee and ankle injuries like sprains, tears and fractures.  If you can still put weight on the leg, then you should tape it up.  Elevate it whenever possible. If it won’t support weight, splint the leg and seek medical attention immediately.
  • Blisters—another fairly common condition is blisters.  The result of abrasive equipment on sensitive tissue, blisters can be extremely painful. Large blisters should be slowly and carefully drained. Then treat it like a minor wound.
  • Dehydration—lack of potable water is so rare in our society, that many people fail to consider the possibility when they go out into the woods. In some cases, you may not even realize that you are dehydrated and may be making poor decisions as a result. Be sure to bring enough clean water, purification tablets or pots to boil water.
  • Allergic reactions—many people encounter plants that they react poorly to, including poison ivy or poison sumac. To minimize exposure, wear long pants and sleeves. If you suspect contact, immediately wash the contacted skin—it takes up to ten minutes for the oil to penetrate the skin.
  • Frostbite—skin that is hard and numb may be frostbitten.  Warm the area by immersing body temperature water until feeling returns. Do not expose to open flames. Unless very mild, seek medical help immediately.
  • Illness—if you contract an illness like the flu, you should rest and hydrate.  If there is a fever of 102 or higher lasting 48 hours or longer, you should visit an ER as soon as possible.
  • Bug bites—if you venture into the outdoors, you will encounter bugs in the form of gnats, mosquitos or bees. Wear full-length clothing and apply DEET repellants regularly.  Bring calamine lotion to reduce itchiness.
  • Diarrhea—many campers suffer from diarrhea caused by bacterial infection or dehydration.  Cook all food thoroughly and maintain a hydration schedule to limit this risk. Also bring along Pepto Bismol or Imodium for symptom relief.

Minimizing Safety Risks

Prior to hiking into the wilderness, you should do as much research as possible about local conditions. Familiarize yourself with local flora and fauna, weather patterns and common wilderness hazards. Talk to local outdoorsmen to learn as much as possible. Also consider the following safety tips.

  • Stay fit—walking through the woods may not seem like an extremely strenuous activity, but conditions like rain, snow or injury may make it much more difficult than initially planned.  So it is a good idea for all hikers to be in good physical condition.
  • Proper equipment—your exact pack layout is dependent upon your plans, local conditions and personal needs, but you should take care to secure the essentials.  This should include appropriate clothing, water, food and emergency supplies. Be sure to include a means of communicating with emergency responders if necessary.
  • Learn first aid—every outdoorsperson should have some knowledge of diagnosing and treating common health conditions. Always pack a first aid kit and know the fastest way to get to medical help.
  • Avoid doing anything at night—make sure that you are fully camped at night. Learn the surrounding terrain if you need to venture out at night and always use a good flashlight. Above all, don’t try to travel after sundown.
  • Don’t drink alcohol—it may be your vacation but stay smart. Intoxication can make your trip considerably more dangerous, so if you must drink, do so in moderation.
  • Plan the trip—plan on making progress in easy stages and allow for delays.  Assign various duties to members like cooking, setting up camp, maintaining map fix, and leading the party at every stage.
  • Only play in designated areas—if you intend to ski, hike or bike, make sure you do so in assigned areas where safety professionals are.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information. 

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