Guest post by Natasha Ramirez
More people than ever are flocking to the woods for a quick hike after a long day at work, for a fun weekend getaway, or to get some exercise. But the woods can be a dangerous place for the unprepared – especially if you need to spend an extended length of time in them. Unexpected weather, dangerous animals, and new terrain can make living in these conditions particularly hard. Preppers know that if disaster strikes, the woods may become an important place to be able to survive in long-term.
As a testament to the danger of the wilderness, search-and-rescue teams were deployed almost 3,500 times across the U.S.’s national parks in 2017. With just a little more planning, preparation, and knowledge, many of those who were injured in the woods likely could have avoided their misfortune.
Here are five of the most common outdoor injuries you might experience while out in the woods, as well as how you can prevent them from happening to you.
As one of the most common injuries people get out in the woods, you’d think more people would take the basic steps to prevent blisters before going outside. But most people don’t think to prevent blisters until after they’re turned into a problem. When you’re outside for long periods of time, friction, along with pressure, heat, and moisture can form painful blisters.
Blisters often pop up on your foot due to a tight spot in your shoes, or even a wrinkle in your sock. You can prevent blisters from ruining your time outside easily:
- Break in your hiking boots before going outdoors This will stop those tight pressure points from repetitively rubbing against your skin and creating hot spots.
- Wear proper outdoor socks. Make sure to avoid cotton since that holds moisture (which blisters love). Use well-fitting synthetic or wool socks instead. Consider wearing liner socks as well for an added layer of protection between your skin and shoes.
- Always have tape and moleskin in your first aid kit. If you start to feel a hot spot forming on your foot, don’t wait to treat it. You’ll want to cover the patch to stop the friction—duct tape, moleskins, or other durable bandages will work in a pinch.
If you’re venturing outside for a long period of time (whether for fun or for survival) using the fraying backpack you wore all throughout college, your back is going to start hurting after just a couple hours. You could also be harming your back if your backpack isn’t fitting correctly. Venturing outside with an ill-fitting, poorly packed backpack can lead to lots of back pain, muscle stiffness, swelling, and reduced range of motion. If you’re going on a multi-day trip, you need to make sure your backpack won’t cause back strain:
- Pack your backpack correctly. Making sure the contents of your backpack are weighted properly can save your back from added strain. Pack your heavy items as close to your body as possible and the lighter stuff further from your body. You should also make sure the weight is evenly distributed on both sides of the pack.
- Make sure your backpack fits properly. Your backpack should have a waist band/hip belt as well as a chest strap to help distribute the weight off of your shoulders and back and throughout your upper body. Outdoor stores like REI offer backpack fittings to ensure your pack is properly adjusted before your trip. Start training with your backpack around six weeks before your trip so your back can adjust to the added weight.
- Consider using hiking poles. Going up and down steep terrain will shift your body weight to compensate for the backpack weight, causing extra strain on your back. Hiking poles can help stabilize you, redistribute the weight, and take some of the pressure off your joints.
Ankle and Knee Injuries
Knee injuries can happen to anyone, no matter their age. And when you’re in survival mode outdoors, the last thing you want is to be slowed down by joint pain. This type of injury can be kept in check by not overexerting yourself. Wearing supportive shoes and pacing yourself will ensure you don’t strain your knees while on the trail. Make sure you also stretch before walking long distances to lower the risk of strain.
While the right shoes can help prevent twisted and sprained ankles, they can still happen should you trip and fall on uneven terrain. If this happens, stop walking and follow the first aid principle of R.I.C.E.:
It’s pretty safe to assume you won’t have access to ice while out in the backcountry (unless you’re living in the snow), but follow the other R.I.C.E. steps promptly so the injury doesn’t get worse.
Staying hydrated while out on the trails doesn’t just make your day more enjoyable, it keeps you safe. Dehydration can sneak up on you—you want to make sure you’re constantly drinking water throughout your hike. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink, since that’s a sign you’re already dehydrated. Other signs of dehydration include:
- Little or no urine
- Dark urine
- Increased sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Dry mouth
- Extreme thirst
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
If you’re living in dry, desert regions, you should be drinking at least three liters of water throughout the day. Hydration packs are an easy way to easily stay hydrated on the trail since you can easily access your water through the straw on your shoulder. Since you’re probably sweating a bit when exerting yourself outdoors, you’ll want to replenish your electrolytes to make up for the ones you’re sweating out either through a sports drink or salty snack.
If you or someone in your group is showing signs of dehydration, stop whatever you’re doing immediately, find shade, and have them slowly sip water. Try not to drink too much at once however—throwing up the water will only make the dehydration worse, and you may prematurely exhaust your water supply. Try to cool your body temperature as well by soaking your clothing (bandana, shirt, hat, etc.) in water and pressing them on your wrists, your head, and the back of your neck for comfort.
You don’t have to be in direct sunlight and staying outdoors in the middle of the summer to get a sunburn (any snowboarder or skier can attest to this since you can still burn from the sun’s reflection off the snow). Even a small sunburn can make your day and the days afterwards a literal pain. Preventing a sunburn is easy: USE SUNSCREEN.
Any sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more will not only save your skin from burning, it can help prevent skin cancer. Put it on before going outside and reapply every few hours—make sure you’re also using a lip balm with sunscreen as well.
The sun is the strongest during the idle of the day and when you’re living at a high altitude. In addition to sunscreen, simply wearing light colored long sleeved clothing, a hat with a wide brim or neck flap, sunglasses, and long pants can cover your sensitive skin and prevent sunburns.
Natasha is an avid writer, hiker, and dog-lover. Her work has carried her from the bustle of New York at Inc. Magazine to the Santa Fe deserts at Outside Magazine. Natasha currently works as a copywriter, guest blogger, and freelance journalist. When she’s not at her keyboard, Natasha loves spending her time scuba diving and rock climbing.