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How You Can Suffer Serious Injuries in the Wilderness

by Bruce Haring

Wilderness safety is something that many people take for granted. Have you ever gone into the wilderness and expected an emergency to occur? Probably not. People typically do not expect serious injuries, but it happens every year to people in every region and state. If you do not take proper precautions, the chances of getting seriously hurt are very real.

To make sure that you and your loved ones are safe, take a look at the ways that you can be seriously injured in the wilderness and what you can do to prevent them.

Lightning and Thunderstorms – Did you know that some mountain systems can create their own weather? This means that you may hear the local news predicting clear weather in the lowlands, but sudden storms can roll in on tall mountains and take a backpacker, hunter, or camper by complete surprise.  You can go watch A Walk in the Woods and see that for sure!

If a sudden thunderstorm strikes, you should quickly make your way to shelter. If you have a vehicle close by, get inside and make sure that the doors and windows are closed. Stay away from exposed areas like mountain crests and hillsides, cliffs and ridges, meadows, and watery areas.

You should also keep away from tall, solitary trees and look for cover under a thick section of trees. If you do not find trees anywhere nearby, make your way to a low-lying area and crouch and cover your head and ears with your arms to make yourself as small a target as possible for a lightning strike.

Slips, Trips, and Falls– If you are already a couple of miles into the wilderness, and on an early or late season hike, chances are that you are the only hiker for at least several miles. If you slip or fall, it can result in a sprained ankle, broken or bruised knee, or broken foot, and it can mean serious trouble for you. Make sure that you carry elastic bandages with you, which are fabulous for light sprains. A severe sprain will need one of these – to wrap one over the other to give you more support.

If you have a broken foot or knee, you will need to crutch. Fortunately, the wilderness has everything you need to make one. Look for a sturdy branch, 4 to 5 feet in length, 3 to 4 inches in diameter at the base, with a second branch that has a “V” form.

About 4 inches from the base of the V, break off or cut the second branch. This is where your armpit will sit so you will have to create padding by tying some clothing around it. You can also use duct tape if you have it on hand. Find a second branch to make another crutch.

Forest Fire – To make sure that you do not get caught in a forest fire, research the areas where you are planning to hike, hunt, or camp. Some areas are more prone to fires while others have little danger. In areas with a high risk of forest fire, make sure that you choose a route to travel that offers ways to escape from a fire.

Extreme forest fire survival tactics include building a makeshift raft using logs that are already floating on the shore. You can use the raft to float out to the middle of a lake, etc. where you can wait out the fire. If there is no way to float, you should wade out to the water as far as possible. Make sure that you keep splashing water over your head if winds carry high temperatures in your direction.

Also, avoid choking on hot gases in the air by covering your head with a piece of clothing and breathing from inside the clothing. This can help protect your lungs and keep you safe from choking and inhaling smoke.

Poison Oak– Many people take poison oak for granted. If you are in a new place that has poison oak and you come from a place where poison oak is not native, then you should bear this warning in mind. This plant looks harmless, but contains a harmful substance that is known as urushiol oil. Within a short time of coming into contact with poison oak, your skin will break out into a blistering and burning rash.

This plant can grow anywhere outdoors, even in your backyard. Anytime you go off trail to clear an area for setting up camp or to look for firewood, you can encounter poison oak. The trick to avoiding it is to identify it and know exactly what it looks like.

One identifying factor that poison oak, poison sumac, and poison ivy all have in common is that their leaves are shiny. For poison oak, the leaves grow in clusters of three. It is a small plant that tends to grow close to the ground. At times these plants may grow into a small shrub, a foot or two in height.

Keep this common accidents and tips to prevent them in mind and you can make sure that you and your loved ones are safe in the great outdoors. You can enjoy your time in the wilderness without worrying about getting hurt and if you do get hurt you now have a little better idea on how to approach that situation.

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