Van Beek: Make sure you’re prepared in the great outdoors
After the year we’ve had, people can’t wait to get outdoors. We are so used to visitors arriving and needing instruction on how to navigate the great outdoors, but we can sometimes become lax about safety procedures and equipment needed.
If we aren’t careful, we can quickly find ourselves in danger. Here is a review of the points we all know, but occasionally forget.
According to Kampgrounds of America and the U.S. National Park Service:
- Choose the proper shelter and camp site: Consider your age, fitness level, physical limitations and medical conditions. Staying in a tent, cabin or RV will depend on your personal needs and desires. Some want to push the envelop on adventure; others simply want a relaxing time outdoors. Determine difficulty of access to your site, and your desire/need for nearby amenities such as restrooms and showers, picnic tables, fire pits, etc.
- Check weather conditions: At high altitudes, changes in temperature and precipitation can occur quickly and create dangerous conditions if you are unprepared.
- Safely store food to avoid wildlife encounters: During the spring, wildlife is coming out of hibernation and creatures are ravenous. Animals become bolder in their attempts to secure food and campers are a prime target because they conveniently provide “take out” for wild animals. Even if they aren’t out to harm people, wild animals will knock you out of the way if you stand between them and their anticipated meal, and that “knock” can be deadly. Pack your food in tight, waterproof containers and store those containers in an insulated cooler, preferably away from where you sleep.
- Practice fire safety: We are in the midst of fire season and as much snow as we received, it never seems to be enough to reduce our fire risk. Part of the camping experience often includes a fire pit. While we have visions of roasting marshmallows, it can quickly get out of control and become a deadly forest fire, destroying property and lives within mere minutes. Make sure that you have at least a 15-foot clearance between the fire pit and trees or shrubs. Never leave a fire unattended, no matter how secure you believe it to be. Keep a bucket of water nearby to soak the entire fire pit, not just the red embers. Put out fires long before bedtime and hours before you plan on leaving the camp site.
- Protect yourself from sun and insects: UV rays are strong, especially at our altitude, and cloud cover is not protection. Wear at least a 15 SPF sunscreen, brimmed hats and sunglasses for protection. Remember that UV rays also penetrate water, and while you may feel cool in that river or lake, your body is subject to sunburn. Insects can certainly be a nuisance, but they can also carry disease. Wear waterproof insect repellent and bring long sleeve, lightweight tops and pants to help protect against ticks and other small creatures wanting to hitch a ride home with you. Upon returning home, place your clothes in the dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill any ticks that may be hidden in the creases of your clothing.
- Be prepared for an allergic reaction: It’s wise to pack an EpiPen or other allergy medication. Sometimes, an allergic reaction can occur when it had never happened before. Keep a first-aid kit handy and watch for labored breathing, swelling and dizziness. These reactions can come from plants, food, insects or even something airborne.
- Stay hydrated: By the time you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. Drinking water throughout the day keeps you alert and fit. An emergency kit should contain at least a three-day supply of bottled water. Also, limit your alcohol intake, as it contributes to dehydration.
- Remember hygiene: Pack two outfits to rotate, hanging the extras overnight to air out. Bring extra water for laundering undergarments and socks. Bring baby wipes for in-between showers and for use when nature calls. Dry shampoo is also handy.
- Wear the proper gear: Wear wicking fabrics that resist body odor and dry easily. Boots are more stable than sandals.
- Don’t get lost: Bring a GPS, compass and trail map. After a while, one trail can look just like another.
- Other tips: Always carry a flashlight or headlamp because you never know when you might get delayed, as the sun sets. Bring an emergency shelter such as a space blanket, life-bivvy or tarp. And remember that marijuana is not legal to carry or use on federal land.
In case of emergency
- Identify an outside emergency contact and leave your itinerary with them.
- Include the park’s emergency phone number to call if you do not return on schedule.
- Add the names and contact info of those in your party.
- Provide a description of your vehicle or boat, including the make, model and license plate number.
- While exploring outdoors, implement a buddy system and carry whistles.
- If an injury or emergency occurs, even when a cell signal is not present, sometimes a text can get through, while you seek alternate aid. As an added precaution, bring a locator beacon or satellite phone.
The great outdoors can be exciting and certainly a fix for the adventuresome spirit, but just be cautious. We often take our environment for granted and the risk can be deadly, even in the summer. Have fun and enjoy this amazing time of year.
James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.