Outdoor activities like hiking and camping can bring a refreshing change of scenery and also enhance your overall health and well-being. However, there is greater risk for accidents and injuries to happen when you are outdoors. This outdoor safety guide will sum up all the ways you can keep your time outdoors fun, health-enhancing, and safe.
In this guide, you’ll learn about the importance of outdoor safety as well as tips on how to stay safe outdoors – from general safety tips to dealing with specific scenarios like what to do when there’s a storm.
- 1 Importance of Practicing Outdoor Safety
- 2 Types of Hazards Present in the Outdoors
- 3 Practicing Outdoor Safety: Tips on What To Do
- 3.1 Before You Go on Your Trip
- 3.2 During Your Trip
- 3.2.1 1. Use the Buddy System
- 3.2.2 2. Set up your campsite before dark
- 3.2.3 3. Stay near the trail
- 3.2.4 4. Avoid alcohol
- 3.2.5 5. Take frequent rests
- 3.2.6 6. Build fires only in safe areas
- 3.2.7 7. Properly dispose of your trash
- 3.2.8 8. What to do if you find yourself in an untoward situation outdoors?
- 3.2.9 9. What to do if there’s a thunderstorm with lightning?
- 3.2.10 10. What to do if you get lost in the wilderness?
- 3.2.11 11. What to do if you’re injured in the wilderness?
- 3.3 After Your Trip
- 4 Final Thoughts
Importance of Practicing Outdoor Safety
Physical activities, including outdoor activities, lead to countless health benefits. The CDC recommends adults to get at least 2.5 hours, and children and adolescents to engage in physical activities at least 1 hour daily.
Despite the health benefits of engaging in outdoor activities, it poses greater risks. That’s why more attention must be given to one’s safety when you’re planning to spend time outdoors. You will need to be adequately prepared to ensure your safety as well as those of your companions.
Before we dive into the details of how to stay safe outdoors, let’s first discuss the importance of outdoor safety as well as wilderness safety. In this section of the outdoor safety guide, we’ll take a look into some of the facts you need to know about the outdoors.
This will help you further understand the importance of outdoor safety and emphasize why the tips in the subsequent sections in this outdoor safety guide are crucial to maintaining your safety while out in the wilderness.
Facts About the Outdoors
The exact number of hikers each year is unknown but it is estimated that around 318 million people visit the various national parks and other recreational areas in the US annually.
Unfortunately, the National Park Search & Rescue Service reported 2,723 incidents in 2018. That includes 151 fatalities and 1,500 injuries which could have been averted when proper outdoor safety protocols have only been observed.
Without knowledge of wilderness safety and proper preparation, the risks for injuries, accidents, and other untoward incidents outdoors increases significantly. This becomes even more important if you and your companions are inexperienced in the outdoor activity that you are all planning to engage in.
Lack of familiarity with the area you are trekking or hiking can also increase your risks of turning your otherwise fun activity into a disaster. This outdoor safety guide will help you minimize this risk.
So, why is it important to practice outdoor safety?
It’s important to practice outdoor safety and wilderness safety because beautiful as nature may be, it still poses various hazards, both natural and man-made, that can result in injuries and sometimes even death.
Being able to anticipate potential outdoor hazards can help you better prepare for eventualities and avert possible dangers. For instance, knowing what to do if you get lost will help you stay calm until you find your way out or get rescued.
This outdoor safety guide will help you prepare before conquering the outdoors can make the difference between life and death for you and your companions.
Types of Hazards Present in the Outdoors
To further understand the importance of outdoor safety, we’ll be discussing in this section what are the different types of hazards present in the outdoors. They can be divided into two types, both of which we’ll be discussing in this outdoor safety guide.
Natural hazards are the types of dangers that occur naturally outdoors. These are natural phenomena that cannot be controlled such as inclement weather, animals, and dangerous terrain.
1. Inclement Weather
Going outdoors means being exposed to harsh weather conditions often present in nature. Things like flash floods, thunderstorms, fog, and more are natural phenomena that cannot be controlled.
It’s important to research what the weather is typically like in the area you wish to visit as this will help you plan your trip accordingly.
2. Natural Elements and Extreme Temperatures
These go hand-in-hand with inclement weather. The harsh outdoor conditions can also pose dangers to visitors like you. For example, extreme heat can cause dehydration and even sunburns. Extremely cold temperatures can cause frostbite and snowstorms can cause snow blindness.
3. Dangerous Terrains
Unlike cities, natural terrains aren’t modified to provide as much safety as possible to visitors which is why it’s necessary to familiarize yourself with the area’s terrain before going on your trip.
Dangerous terrains can cause accidents and injuries like slips, falls, and even fatalities like those from drowning. Moreover, if you’re engaging in outdoor activities during winter, an avalanche is also a real possibility.
4. Getting Lost
While outdoors, it can be easy to get lost, especially since there are no visible markers like those found in the city. If you come un- or underprepared for your trip, the chances of getting lost can be high.
This can be dangerous as the isolated nature of these areas can make search and rescue operations difficult, especially if no one knows where you are. There are a few things you can do in case you get lost which we’ll be discussing in further sections of this outdoor safety guide.
Another major hazard that you can encounter outdoors is large and predatory animals. Although it’s rare for animals like bears or mountain lions to seek humans to serve as their food, they can still pose a danger to hikers and mountaineers, especially if they see them as a threat.
Aside from predators, you also have to worry about venomous animals like spiders, bees, and snakes. Insects can pose harm as well due to the possible viruses they carry such as dengue, malaria, and more.
House plants may be harmless but the ones found outdoors can pose real dangers to visitors like you. In nature, there are plenty of plants with poisonous properties as these serve as their defense mechanism against threats.
Examples of poisonous plants are stinging nettle and poison ivy which can cause rashes. Moreover, some plants have thorns that can puncture the skin, causing injuries and bleeding.
Aside from drowning, water in the great outdoors can also pose the risk of getting an infection, especially when you drink the water. Surface water in the outdoors like forests and mountains can contain bacteria, viruses, and even parasites.
Drinking the water can cause diseases like diarrhea and dysentery that can make your trip not just uncomfortable but it can also make it difficult to go back home.
For a more detailed discussion about how to stay safe in, on or near the water, supplement this outdoor safety guide with our Water Safety Guide.
These hazards are the ones caused by humans and while they can be avoidable, they still pose dangers nonetheless. Thus, these risks need to be mentioned in this outdoor safety guide.
Examples of man-made hazards are unsafe man-made structures, fires, pollution, and attacks by bystanders looking to take advantage of unsuspecting recreationists.
Practicing Outdoor Safety: Tips on What To Do
Now that we have established the importance of staying safe outdoors, let’s now dive into the details of how to stay safe outdoors.
In this section of our comprehensive outdoor safety guide, we’ll be dividing this section into three subsections, covering what to do before, during, and after your outdoor recreational activities. We’ll also cover several particular instances such as what to do when you get lost, how to find yourself in a thunderstorm, and more.
Before You Go on Your Trip
Practicing outdoor safety doesn’t mean only doing so when you’re already outdoors. It all starts before you go on your outdoor excursion, involving things like adequate planning, picking the right attire, and more.
So, what are the things you need to do before you go on your outdoor trip?
1. Make Enough Preparations
First and foremost, you need to make enough preparations for your trip. Being adequately prepared for what’s to come can help you avoid accidents and injuries as well as allow you to deal with any unforeseen circumstances.
Here’s a list of how to prepare and what to prepare.
2. Physical Fitness
For example, making sure you’re physically fit enough to engage in outdoor activities is one of the ways you can ensure that you can handle the demands of your chosen activity. This also involves making sure that you don’t have any medical conditions that can be aggravated by the intense physical activity you’re about to engage in.
Ensuring you’re physically in shape will also reduce the chances of suffering from sudden medical conditions like strokes as your body is well-prepared to endure the intense activity.
3. Mental Preparation
Another way is by preparing yourself mentally. Familiarizing yourself with what to expect on your trip allows you to be prepared for what’s to come. For example, knowing just how long a trek in the mountains would take will allow you to make the experience more bearable and allow you to endure.
4. Familiar Surroundings
Familiarizing yourself with the area before you get to it can also allow you to reduce the chances of getting lost and/or suffering from injuries and accidents due to being in unfamiliar terrain. This will also help you make adequate preparations for your trip such as what to bring and what to wear.
Familiarity with the area also means becoming familiar with the typical weather in the area, therefore, avoiding going there when it’s most dangerous.
5. Attire Preparation
When embarking on an outdoor excursion, you can’t just wear any old attire and go on your trip. Any outdoor safety guide will emphasize the need to choose the right clothes and shoes to ensure that you’re well-prepared for your chosen activity.
So what should you wear on an outdoor excursion?
When going on an outdoor excursion, it’s best to opt for underwear that manages heat and moisture well so you remain comfortable throughout your trip. It has to be quick-drying while keeping you warm, especially when engaging in outdoor activities during the colder months.
Depending on the weather and season in the area to which you’re going, it’s best to prepare adequate layers for the trip. This is especially true during the cold seasons when the temperatures can sometimes go below 0°C. Make sure that these layers can be removed or added as needed.
The first is to select the appropriate base layer. It should be thick enough to keep you warm, especially at higher altitudes like mountains, but it shouldn’t be too warm that you overheat. It also has to wick away the sweat and moisture from your body while engaging in your activity.
For warmer weather, choose something lightweight and thin enough to keep you comfortable under the hot sun. For the cooler seasons, you can select a lightweight base layer then put a thicker long-sleeve shirt on top of it.
For your external layer, you need to take into consideration the weather again. For warmer months, it’s best to choose something light and breathable but can cut the wind. Waterproofing isn’t as necessary during warmer months.
For the cooler weather, it’s best to go with a waterproof outer shell, especially if you’re expecting to get wet from the rain or snow. Choose something that’s more midweight that provides enough insulation but still breathes well.
Having the proper shoes for your excursion is a must. You must always keep in mind the function of your attire over its aesthetic. However, the type of shoes you need depends on the activity you’re engaging in.
For example, lightweight hiking shoes or trekking boots are perfect for activities that require you to walk for long periods. Moreover, they should be at least as high as your ankles to ensure that it protects you from any twisted ankles as well as help stabilize them.
Your outdoor shoes should also be waterproof, especially for crossing bodies of water like rivers and creeks. However, they should still be breathable and more importantly, comfortable, so you can enjoy your outdoor activity of choice.
6. Gear Checklist
Depending on your activity, you will need to prepare the gear you’re going to need for your activity. This is of utmost importance in any outdoor safety guide. For this, it’s best to have a checklist of all the necessary items so you can ensure that no necessity is left behind.
For example, some of the things that you need to prepare for an outdoor adventure are:
Some of the most important items you need for your outdoor adventure are navigational tools such as a map, compass, and GPS device. This is because, unlike cities, there are no roads, markers, or landmarks in the wild which can make it difficult to find your way.
This can make it easy to get lost as well, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area. Navigational tools can help you find your way in case you stray from the trail. For example, a map is a definite must-have on trips that require you to undertake longer paths that can be easy to miss.
If you don’t want to carry around a paper map, you have the option to download maps for offline use from the official website of the National Park Service wherein you can find maps for more than 400 national parks in the country.
On the other hand, a compass can help you find your way should you get lost. Although most smartphones, watches, and GPS devices have built-in electronic compasses, it’s still best to have a standard baseplate compass on-hand that can be used at any time. It’s the ultimate survival tool in this outdoor safety guide.
If you’re still unsure, then a GPS device can come in handy on your trip as it can show you your exact location on a digital map. Choose one that’s built for use for outdoor adventures as these tend to be weather-proof and can withstand the harsh conditions of the outdoors.
You can still use the one on your phone but since most smartphones are fragile, it needs additional protection. Even then, if you run out of batteries, then you’ll have no way to know your accurate location as there’s no way to charge your phone in the wild.
Multi-tool and/or knife
A multi-tool is another must-have for your outdoor excursion because as the name suggests, it’s a tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. While a foldout knife can be enough if it’s a short trip, the more complex and longer your adventure is, the more tools you might need while outdoors.
One of the most popular types of multi-tools is the Swiss Army knife. Due to its durability and versatility, it’s often the tool of choice for adventurers. The included tools differ from model to model but you can guarantee that the basic necessary tools are there.
Although it may not be wise to wander in the wilderness at night, it’s still important that you have some way to illuminate your path when it’s dark. As part of your wilderness safety kit, you will need a flashlight and carry extra batteries for it.
A regular flashlight would do just fine but it’s better if you use a headlamp instead. This is because a headlamp will free up your hands to do other tasks such as hold a map or carry your items.
Just make sure to carry extra batteries as there are no facilities in the wild that will allow you to charge your lamp should you run out.
Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat
Carrying items for sun protection is a must if you are to explore the great outdoors. Lack of adequate sun protection can result in things like sunburn and even snow blindness. Aside from that, too much exposure to harsh sunlight can cause conditions like cataracts, premature skin aging, and even skin cancer.
Sunscreen is necessary to keep your skin protected from the harsh ultraviolet rays of the sun while outdoors. For your eyes, sunglasses are a must as prolonged exposure to sunlight can damage your eyes. If going out in the winter months, you need dark glacier glasses to help you see and protect your eyes.
Since you will likely sweat more in the outdoors as it will require your body to exert more effort, you need to bring extra water – more than what you think you will need. Dehydration can be dangerous, especially when severe enough.
Unlike in the cities where it’s easy to find potable water, simply drinking from the available water sources can be dangerous as these can carry bacteria and parasites. Another way you can ensure you have enough water is by bringing with you a portable water filter or purifier that can help sanitize the water.
Even if you check the weather forecast beforehand, the weather can abruptly change, leading to wet conditions which, along with wind, can lead to you catching a cold.
With that said, it’s best to pack extra clothing that can help keep you warm throughout the night or while it’s raining. Keep in mind that the clothes you bring should be similar to what you’re already wearing – lightweight, warm, and easy to pack.
In case of emergencies, you will need enough supplies that will help you survive in the wild. Therefore, part of what you should bring with you is a fire starter that can help you start a campfire to cook your food, keep you warm, and possibly signal your whereabouts.
When going camping or hiking, you must carry some insect repellent with you. This is because insects like mosquitoes can bring harmful diseases like dengue fever, malaria, and yellow fever. To avoid this, you should slather some insect repellent to keep them away from you and your companions.
In case the area you’re going to is known for having wild animals, it’s best to carry a whistle with you as well. Not only will this help scare off dangerous animals, but it can also help signal someone of your location in case you’re unable to move.
Of all the things listed in this outdoor safety guide, this one is a definite must-have for any outdoor adventurer. A first-aid kit is vital as part of your outdoor safety kit as accidents can happen so it’s best to be prepared. A first-aid kit should have everything necessary to deal with medical situations like injuries and wounds.
Basic items that should be included in your First Aid Kit are:
- Adhesive bandages in a variety of sizes
- Gauze pads
- Sterilizing and rinsing solutions
- Antiseptic creams
- Over-the-counter medicine such as anti-diarrhea, pain relief, and anti-inflammatory medication
- Antihistamines for any allergic reactions
- Sunburn relief sprays or creams
- Antibiotic ointment
- Prescription medications should you have them
- Aloe vera
Aside from this, you will need to also learn basic first-aid so you can administer it should the need arise. This will help reduce the chances of any injuries or medical conditions getting worse.
Of course, you will need something to put everything in and for this, a hiking backpack is best. While you can use any bag, it’s still recommended to use something that’s meant to withstand the harsh conditions of the outdoors. Hiking backpacks are best for this as they are lightweight enough so they’re easy to carry while remaining functional and durable.
Moreover, they tend to have plenty of pockets, allowing you to properly organize your items so you’ll have an easier time getting to them when you need to.
During Your Trip
In this section of our outdoor safety guide, you’ll find what are the things you should do during your trip as well as what to do during particular instances like thunderstorms or when you get lost.
1. Use the Buddy System
When going on an outdoor adventure, it’s best to travel with a companion as this will make it somewhat easier to handle an emergency. After all, you wouldn’t want to find yourself alone in the wilderness when you encounter any untoward incident.
Aside from that, make sure that someone reliable knows where you are by leaving your itinerary with them. This will allow them to alert the proper authorities in case you don’t return as scheduled.
If you’re traveling to a remote area, make sure that there are at least four people in your group. This will allow you to divide the roles in case there’s an emergency like injuries.
Having a local tour guide or someone familiar with the wilderness where you’re headed also decreases the possibility of getting lost or running into dangers and other potential risks.
2. Set up your campsite before dark
If your trip involves staying the night, then make sure that you set up camp before it gets dark. This allows for ample time to make adjustments in case something unexpected happens. This also prevents you and your companions from wandering in the dark in case something unforeseen happens.
3. Stay near the trail
It might be tempting to explore the entire area but make sure not to wander off too far from the trail. This will help you avoid getting lost. It also makes it easier for you to find your way back in case you do get lost.
4. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol will affect your judgment and coordination so it’s best if you avoid alcohol during your outdoor excursion. This is especially important if the area you’re going to has plenty of cliffs as this can be dangerous.
5. Take frequent rests
Resting when you’re tired can help prevent injuries and accidents as your body will have enough time to recover from the physical strain it’s undergoing. During your rest periods, make sure to drink plenty of water as well to avoid dehydration.
6. Build fires only in safe areas
When setting up camp and building a fire, make sure that it’s far away enough from anything that can catch fire due to the heat. Also, ensure that your fires are always attended to as this can start an unintentional fire, especially in forests.
7. Properly dispose of your trash
Make sure to bring plenty of trash bags where you can properly dispose of your trash as garbage can cause pollution and harm to the animals and the environment.
8. What to do if you find yourself in an untoward situation outdoors?
Here are three scenarios that you may encounter while outdoors with corresponding pointers on how you can better cope if you find yourself in these situations:
9. What to do if there’s a thunderstorm with lightning?
In case of a thunderstorm and lightning is present, make sure to avoid isolated trees at all costs. This is because lightning can hit it and electrocute you. Moreover, make sure to stay away from metal objects and drop any metal objects you may be holding.
Metal conducts electricity so being near or holding metal objects can cause electrocution. Get out of any body of water as well and make sure to find a low spot and avoid tall trees during a storm. Stay at least 100 yards away from the shore to ensure your safety.
10. What to do if you get lost in the wilderness?
First, do not panic and try to keep as calm as you can. If you get lost, panicking and getting even more disoriented increase your risks for accidents and injuries. Instead, try to observe your surroundings and look for landmarks.
Check your map if you can pinpoint your exact location at the moment. Moreover, don’t wander aimlessly. If you find yourself lost, it’s best to rely on your map and compass to help retrace your steps.
11. What to do if you’re injured in the wilderness?
First, you need to stop bleeding if there’s any. Make sure to apply firm pressure on the wound until the bleeding stops. Don’t touch the bone if it’s sticking out as this might make the injury worse.
You can take over-the-counter pain medication in your first-aid should the pain be unbearable. Make sure the injured person has no allergies to pain medication.
Last, seek medical attention as soon as you can. If traveling in groups, one should stay with the injured person, with two others seeking help.
After Your Trip
Last on our outdoor safety guide is what you need to do after your outdoor adventure. First, if you’re injured or one of your companions are, make sure to seek medical help immediately. This also applies if you’re experiencing anything different after your trip like diarrhea.
If there are no injuries or other medical emergencies, when you get home, make sure to properly clean and store your outdoor gear.
Going on an outdoor adventure can prove to be beneficial for one’s physical and mental well-being. It’s a great change of pace from the usual hustle and bustle of daily life, especially in the city where life can be hectic and busy.
However, to ensure that you can enjoy everything nature has to offer without worrying about what could happen outdoors, it’s best to come prepared. Proper preparation and knowing what to do in case something unexpected happens can not only help you enjoy the wilderness but it can also be what saves your life.
Hopefully, with this comprehensive outdoor safety guide, you learned everything you need to learn to enjoy the great outdoors.
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