Tips to stay safe in the great outdoors
by Dr. Michele Roberts Casey
Fall is an ideal time to pack up the family and head to your favorite camping spot. Good preparation and camping safety smarts can help guarantee a fun-filled trip free of minor and major emergencies.
There are a few things you should know before heading out, though. What’s the weather forecast? What kind of security is available at the campsite? Where is the nearest hospital? Who can help if there is an emergency?
Here are some more things you can do to play it safe in the great outdoors.
Make sure everyone’s vaccinations are up to date, and tell your family doctor where you plan to go. An updated tetanus shot is the most common vaccine needed for people involved in outdoor activities. Even adults should have the tetanus vaccine, which includes the recently added pertussis vaccine (Tdap). Additional vaccines can be recommended for the area in which you are camping. If pets are coming along, then make sure they have all of their shots as well.
To avoid food-borne illness, keep raw foods separate from cooked foods using airtight, waterproof containers and bags. Cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees or below, and meats should be cooked to the proper temperatures — ground beef should have an internal temperature of 160 degrees or more. Snacks like trail mix, protein bars, and whole fruits are handy to take to the beach or on hikes.
Clear a five-foot area down to the soil around the spot where you plan to put a fire pit, and make sure it isn’t located below overhanging branches. Use a standard metal fire pit ring or rocks around the edge of the pit, and keep a full bucket of water and shovel nearby. Use only fireproof cooking equipment. Most importantly, never leave a fire unattended.
To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, never use fuel-burning stoves, lanterns, heaters or charcoal grills in campers, tents, or enclosed shelters where no ventilation is present.
Hike, swim, bike and enjoy the great outdoors, but be sure to play it safe to avoid injury. Warm up before exercising. Wear sturdy shoes when hiking. Use sport-specific safety equipment. Blisters can occur during hiking. They’re especially common with improperly broken-in or poor-fitting shoes. Moleskin or mole foam is a great cover for blisters that do form.
Days can be hot and nights can be cold in the wilderness, so it’s important to dress in layers that you can take off and put on as needed. Drink alcohol- and sugar-free beverages to stay hydrated. Have a warm sleeping bag to protect you from the cold, and add layers of blankets. A plastic ground cover also can protect you from the cool, damp ground.
Drink four to eight ounces of water or sports beverages every 15 to 20 minutes during mild to moderate exertion. If you spend more than an hour or two in a hot environment, then consume salty foods or add salt to water.
Also, check with the campsite before your trip to see where drinking water is available, though it’s best to bring your own. Avoid swallowing water when in a campsite shower or nearby lake or river.
Insects and poisonous plants
Mosquitoes and ticks can cause illness in people and pets, so it’s essential to use and reapply insect repellent while camping. Check your family and pets for ticks several times a day. Wear long sleeves and pants, and tuck in pants to keep bugs away from your skin. Permethrin can be applied to clothing for added protection, and putting a flea collar in the bottom of a sleeping bag can help at night.
Before your trip, it’s also important to look up what poison sumac, poison ivy and poison oak look like so that you can avoid these plants.
Lightning can strike a person directly, while jumping from another object such as a tree, through contact with an object that was hit by lightning and through the ground. When the time between seeing lightning and hearing thunder is 30 seconds or less, seek cover in a shelter with four walls. Metal vehicles are safe because metal diffuses the current. Do not stand near single trees or metal objects during a lightning storm. Groups should spread apart. Squat down with your knees fully bent and your feet together, or kneel on the ground.
Dr. Michele Roberts Casey, a family medicine physician with Falls Pointe Medical Group in Raleigh, currently is working on a fellowship in advanced wilderness medicine. Falls Pointe Medical Group is a member of the WakeMed Physician Practices network. To learn more, call (919) 848-9451 or visit www.wakespecialtyphysicians.com.
Here are a few must-haves for every campsite.
- First aid kit
- Mole skin or blister pads
- GPS or compass
- Area map
- Blankets and sleeping bags
- Insect repellent
- Sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher)
- Hand sanitizer
- Barrier creams to prevent poison ivy, such as bentoquatam or Ivy Block
- Fresh water
- Emergency contact numbers
- Can opener
- Garbage bags
- Toilet paper
- Chlorine dioxide tablets (for water disinfection when clean water is not available) or a water filtration device
- Safety pins
- Duct tape