The Fundamentals of Outdoor Safety
Staying safe in the woods to me is one of the most important things to plan for when preparing for a trip to the woods. Whether you’re camping, fishing, rock climbing, alone or in a group, you name it, it’s always important to have a plan just in case disaster strikes.
The most common issue that I’ve ever run into while camping is cuts, bruises, and scrapes. These are pretty much unavoidable if you ever plan on camping, but that doesn’t mean to be careless. Thankfully I’ve never been alone when these things have happened so I’ve always had help getting my hands on a first aid kit and someone to help me bandage a wound up if it’s bad enough.
The second most common issue (per my experience) are encounters with wildlife. Jacks River Falls is my go-to weekend backpacking spot. At Jacks River alone I’ve seen three different species of snakes, wild boar, and foxes all on the same trip. Thankfully I’ve never had an encounter with a bear, but I know they’re out there.
First off, let me say that you can never be too prepared, because you never know what can happen, and you only have so much room in your pack. That being said, being prepared is more about having a plan more than it is having supplies. Having first aid kits and bear spray won’t get you out of much unless you have a plan of action.
- Always have a route plan for your hike and let others at home know of your plan. This way if anything happens your location (at least close to it) will be known. You can also purchase satellite trackers that are all weather, and can signal an SOS at the push of a button. Also, check out this DNR reference page for links to emergency numbers.
- If at all possible, don’t go alone. I know this isn’t always ideal because solitude is a big reason that many people enjoy the outdoors, but if you can do without that, take someone with you.
- Invest in a good first aid kit. I’ve had many in my day, and I’ll tell you that a tube of Neosporin and a few band-aids aren’t going to be enough.
- Make your gear work for you. If you have trekking poles, use them. If not find a sturdy stick or two. If you lose your footing they can help you regain balance before you fall, Especially on steep hills and cliffs. I can’t even count how many times mine have prevented a bad fall.
- Take bear spray on all trips just in case. Even when wishing you don’t know what wildlife you’ll encounter. (Note: Do not use bear spray on humans as self-defense, it is illegal. You can purchase regular pepper spray if you feel the need for it.)
- Take a bear canister or a bear bag when camping. Nothing draws wildlife like something that smells tasty. I usually use a regular dry bag as they are airtight and can be easily hung in a tree with paracord or tent cord.
- When fishing, read the water, especially if you’re alone. Depending on where you’re fishing the current can be more than strong enough to pull you under. I’ve thought to myself before “I have felt soles I’ll be fine”, that’s never enough to keep a strong current from making you lose your footing on rocks. If available, wear a life jacket. Many options are available now that are low profile and very lightweight. Some areas such as the Buford Dam legally require you to wear a life jacket or other floatation device.
I mentioned investing in a first aid kit in the list above, but for those of you who want to build your own, here’s a quick backpacking first aid list of what I always take. It’s out of an REI first aid kit with a few things added.
- Adhesive bandages (e.g. BandAids)
- Butterfly bandages Sterile Gauze
- Gauze Pads
- Medical Tape
- Antibacterial ointment (e.g. Neosporin)
- Alchohol wipes or antiseptic wipes
- Small scissors
- Ibuprofen or similar OTC painkiller
- Loperamide tablets (for diarrhea symptoms)
- Antacid tablets (e.g. Tums)
- EPI Pen for allergic reactions (if prescribed)
- Eye Drops
- Nail clippers
- Tweezers (for splinters)
- Ziploc bags (to keep first aid supplies in)
- Duct tape (to cover blisters)
- Rubber gloves
Here are the four simple steps to making sure you stay safe in the woods, whether alone or in a group:
- Always think ahead, prepare for the worst.
- Take someone with you, if possible.
- Make sure your first aid kit has all the essentials, and then some.
- Be careful, many injuries are the result of carelessness.