When thinking about outdoor safety, most Americans will recall the Boy Scouts’ famous motto, “Be Prepared.” In many respects, that motto has formed the cornerstone of modern outdoor safety education.
Whether you are enjoying a relaxing beach vacation in St. Augustine, Florida, or embarking on a months-long hike up the Pacific Crest Trail, accounting for your safety remains a crucial part of the planning process. This list of tips will serve you well as you get ready to embark on your next outdoor journey:
- Know Your Limits
You don’t need to worry about your level of fitness when the most physically challenging part of your vacation will involve carrying a beach towel from your hotel room to the shore. However, you should pay some attention to your physical conditioning if your vacation will involve activities that could be considered even slightly strenuous. What a guidebook calls an “easy hike” may turn out to be a grueling journey for those not used to walking for miles on uneven paths. To make sure everyone in your group enjoys the vacation, you should design an itinerary that is appropriate for the group’s slowest or weakest member. Those with health issues should also discuss their vacation plans with their doctors.
- Put First Aid First
Many Americans have the notion that wherever they are, emergency health care is just a phone call away. In reality, your outdoor vacation destination may be hours away from any kind of trauma center. Because hypothermia, heat exhaustion, dehydration, and altitude sickness can be extremely dangerous if left untreated, you should learn how to respond to any of these health crises before you depart on your trip. It’s also important to bring a fully stocked first aid kit that is tailored to your group’s needs. At a minimum, most experts recommend that you pack a snake bite kit, insect spray or repellant, antiseptics, painkillers, and a basic assortment of bandages and gauze pads.
- Make Camp Early, Make Camp Smart
Although most vacations today involve spending nights in a comfortable hotel or lodge, camping remains incredibly popular. It is also often the only choice for those looking to enjoy some of the most beautiful and untrammeled parts of the country. If your vacation plans include camping, you should be sure to start your outing early to avoid having to hike or set up your camp in the dark, both of which could lead to injury. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with safe fire-making practices, like building fires well away from flammable materials and dousing flames fully with water before leaving your camp.
- Do Your Homework
What does poison ivy look like? Where does the trail lead? How do you protect your belongings from curious bears? The natural world’s incredible diversity of geography, flora, and fauna is what makes the outdoors exciting, but that excitement should be tempered with considerable respect. Before leaving for any trip, be sure to familiarize yourself with the local dangers and the best ways to avoid them. If you plan on spending any time in the backcountry, it is essential to learn to read a map and compass. Avoid relying on electronic tools, which have a nasty habit of breaking when they’re needed most.
- Dress for Success
As a general rule, it’s best to wear several layers when venturing into the outdoors. Few places have consistent weather all day and all night, especially when your itinerary includes significant altitude changes or a lengthy time spent away from civilization. Unless you are planning on spelunking, remember to protect yourself from the sun. Bring a hat and wear plenty of sunscreen regardless of the season. You can burn just as easily on a snowy mountainside as you can on the beach.
- Plan for the Worst
For the most part, the best way to respond to an emergency is preemptively. Even if you plan on taking a simple day hike, it’s important to bring extra water, water treatment chemicals or filters, and energy bars or other quick sources of nutrition. Spend some time with the whole group establishing an emergency plan that includes where to go if anyone becomes separated from the group. Experts also recommend that you inform friends or family members of your itinerary and leave instructions with them to inform the authorities if you fail to check in by a certain date or time.
- Be Weather Wise
One of the most obvious ways to stay safe when headed into the great outdoors is to check the weather report before setting out. However, the weather can change without warning, and you need to be prepared to seek shelter immediately. Even summer showers can cause hypothermia. If you encounter a thunderstorm, stay below the tree line, spread groups out to avoid multiple people being struck, keep away from metal equipment or open vehicles, and get out of any bodies of water.