Ah yes, getting back to nature. It’s not all babbling brooks and tweeting birds, you know. (Well, mostly it is.) However, if you keep your eyes, ears and common sense attuned to the following things, you’ll be fine.
Fire – It’s perhaps one of the biggest threats to our national parks. Use your brain when building a campfire. Keep it small and in a safe place (not in your tent!) with plenty of water and sand on hand in case it gets away from you. Don’t build one when you’re by yourself, and never leave it unattended. When you’re finished, make sure the fire is completely OUT. Smoldering embers are just as deadly as a flickering flame.
Hypothermia – Believe it or not, you can experience this potentially fatal decrease in body temperature even if it’s not below freezing. The symptoms include chilliness and fatigue followed by shivering and mental confusion. If you notice someone (or yourself) experiencing these symptoms, wrap them in a blanket or sleeping bag and take them to the nearest shelter immediately. If you have any high-energy foods or hot drinks handy, they can help minimize the severity of the situation. This is serious stuff. Take it seriously.
Hiking – Before lacing up your broken-in boots and hitting the trail, take these things into consideration: How long is the trail? How steep is the hill? How quickly does the elevation increase? All of these factors play a role in determining how much weight to carry in your backpack. Too much weight can lead to exhaustion and heat stroke. (And brand new boots can lead to serious blisters!) One thing NOT to scrimp on in your pack: WATER. Drink at least two quarts per day, more if it’s extremely hot.
Giardia – Even if you forget their name, you’ll remember the consequences of running into these invisible, waterborne protozoa. Severe stomach sickness. Avoid its wretched effects by purifying all of the water you plan to drink. Either use water purifying pills or boil the water for at least 10 minutes – longer at higher altitudes.
Lyme – Deer appear to be pretty unassuming, right? Well, they are. It’s their TICKS that spread Lyme disease. If you’re hiking in an area where Lyme has been detected, wear tick repellent and long pants tucked into your socks. If you find one on your skin, remove it with rubbing alcohol and tweezers. And don’t worry, if detected early enough, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics.
Plant Poisons – Everyone’s heard of them. You probably know ten people who have come into contact with one (or many) of them. They’re our friends poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. If you’re one of the unfortunate souls to lose your battle with a plant, wash the area immediately with soap and water. Calamine lotion and cortisone cream may help with the itching. Other than that, it’s a waiting game. Sorry.
Sunburn/Heat Stroke – Did you know that ultraviolet rays are stronger at higher altitudes? Oh, and watch out on cloudy days and in the snow (it reflects the sun). In both cases, you won’t think you’re getting burned, but you are. Always wear sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher), a hat and sunglasses.
If your body is exposed to extreme heat for an extended period of time, you could get heat stroke. Symptoms include headache, dizziness and fatigue that can lead to convulsions, unconsciousness and death. If someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms move them to a shady place, wrap them in wet clothing and try to keep them cool with water and ice.